Flatitudes

The day is dawning and you’re feeling invincible. You race the birds and you tell the squirrels to scoot and shoo and get up the trees and it seems like you’re the only one on the roads. Two miles, three, five… then you get your sixth flat.

Six flats in five months and two of them were in the garage when the bike was parked. Not a good way to start any day. It’s one of the top three reasons people stop riding a bike. That’s based on pure opinion and informal chitchat with people who claim they stopped riding a bike years ago because they could get a flat. When people start talking about what they hate about bike riding, flat tires are in close proximity to the other classic reason, “Because it makes my butt hurt.” For me, this summer was all about getting under the rim of the whole issue of my flat tires.

I’ve biked for as long as I can recall and I have commuted for 20 years. I ride all the time. What’s the “normal” amount of flats a rider might get? I have no idea. My normal was about twice a year. Usually there was a giant nail involved. Sometimes a staple that didn’t look like much but ends up being a slow leak. Nothing too extreme. I’m a fanatic about checking my tires, so for me this flat issue is out of the ordinary.

Over the summer that changed significantly. Let’s say that I was thinking by the time I had my third flat that I should learn the fine art of fixing a tire. In July, that’s what I did. Good for me, right? I learned and when I had my fourth flat, I fixed it and thought that was it. The bike gods were testing me.

I was gone for three weeks and did not ride the bike experiencing all the flats. Then I started to analyze the number of flats. Six flats in 13 weeks seems out of the norm. Seems extreme and even careless, as if I’m intentionally riding in glass or looking for contruction sites and purposely riding in lanes made of tacks or something. I was flummuxed. Was it the tire? I was thinking my bike hated me and I needed some sort of tire-exorcism. Did someone have a voodoo bike and puncturing the tires?

Two weeks ago, I went on a 30 mile ride and I came home and parked my bike in the garage just like always. I looked over the tires and everything seemed fine. They were inflated. Then it happened again. I went to the garage the next morning and I had another flat. Can you imagine my utter shock and dismay at the whole situation?

Later in the day I drove my bike to the bike shop because something bigger had to be going on. Owning the bike for only 13 weeks, maybe I used the wrong tube or didn’t pay attention to some detail. Let’s go over it all again. We did. The owner, Wake was very helpful and we went through the tire with a little vacuum and he did give me some great tips on getting the tire back on the rim. I was a sponge soaking up all the technical details and thinking I would like to be a bike mechanic. It was very satisfying. He lubed up the chain and I was feeling great about it. I concluded that yes, it was me. I had missed a step and this would be the end of the cycle of flats.

Thanks Wake for all your help!

I came home and went for a ride to clear out the funky feelings I was having about a variety of issues not related to biking. What a great ride. I had a renewed sense of joy. The chain was lubed and not squeaking like a broken swing, and after 10 miles I felt like my bike was healed.

The next morning… yep, flat as a pancake. Again.

At this juncture, I’m done. I’m want my money back. My bike is clearly defective. I couldn’t deliver the bike back to the shop. I had to be somewhere else, so my husband offered to help me out. He took the bike back and this time the tire and rim were replaced on the back and the front tire was also changed. I was happy that the shop could see what I’d been dealing with over the last several weeks. My husband texted me he was on his way home and the bike was in great shape.

I was home when he pulled the car into the garage. I was thrilled to see my bike and filled with certainty that this was the end of the flat period. I’m looking at the bike on the rack and guess what? Another flat! The bike was on the rack and this time the front tire was flat. The flat disease was spreading! I was shocked and dismayed and so frustrated. My husband pulled right out of the garage anddrove back to the bike shop. Come to find out, they were out of the Shrader valve tubes in the size needed, so they resued one of my old tubes with the intent of replacing it when they got more tubes. The old tube split during the drive home. They did have some new Presta valve tubes, so one of those replaced the one in the front tire. My husband reported that there might be some concerns about two different valves on the same bike, but someone said, “This is Bike Goddess you’re talking about.” I love that and I really like that I have two different valves. How cool am I?

It’s been two weeks…

It has been two weeks since my last flat. Flat tires can deflate a person’s confidence about riding a bike. I still go out to the garage just to see with my own eyes that the tires on the bike are fine and fully inflated. It’s reassuring. There could have been something on the rim that was not sitting right with the whole tube and when I think about the slow leaks and the types of flats my bike was getting it does seem like something was happening that was harder to diagnose. I’m grateful that the bike shop techs were asking questions and trying get me to articulate exactly what was happening.

Flats make even the most experienced rider apprehensive about riding. Have you ever had so many episodes of flats? How did you handle it?

Thanks for reading! Get out there and ride!

Bike Goddess

About bikegoddess

I love to ride bikes. I'm a zealot about commuting. I also think that biking can save the world. It's an elegant solution to most of the world's energy problems. I've been a commuter for over a decade, but I also just love the ride.

4 Responses

  1. biking2work

    That sounds like something to do with the rim like you say. You are lucky to have a good bike shop with helpful mechanics. I went through a series of flats in autumn last year. The culprits were mainly cut thorns from the hedge and shrubs that surround the trails on farmland. While these trails have public right of way on their land, Farmers usually “chop and drop” so there is a lot of spikey debris left everywhere Oct/Nov. It was not unusual for me to discover 3 of them in my tyre after work. I ended up avoiding a couple of routes just to avoid yet another puncture. I’ll do the same this year too. In the end, I replaced the tyre. It was worn and should’ve been replaced earlier. It was called “flak-jacket” but seems not to be suited to the heavy flak of autumn.

  2. Did the bike shop tell you what the reason behind your run of flats was? Were they all holes in the tube in the same spot? Tyre side or wheel side of the tube?

    I don’t get many flats. Mostly if I pick up a nail or thorn or more likely broken glass. My mountain bike has tubeless tyres filled with sealant to prevent flats! Works a charm! Something to consider if you keep getting more.

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