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

Going Flat

Water sans waves is flat.

In music a sharp rasies the pitch while a flat lowers it. On a piano keyboard you learn in one of your first lessons that sharps are up and flats are d-o-w-n. When someone sings off key they are flat. When you hear them sing you often make a face to show disdain for what you heard. When pop has “gone flat” it has lost it’s fizz. Being stretched out, outstretched, spreadeagled, prone, reclining, sprawling, supine, prostrate, or recumbent is to lay flat. Lacking interest, being dull, lifeless and level is also uh, flat.

One of the top five reasons people don’t ride their bikes is they could get a flat. I hear that excuse anytime someone talks about riding their bike to work. “Are you afraid of getting a flat tire?” Well, yes, I am. But it really hasn’t been an issue for me until this year. Actually until about May. Since May I have had three flat tires. All on the back tire.

After my second flat tire I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wanted to be less dependent on others to get me back on the road. My family is not handy. I don’t recall my father ever changing a tire on a car. I never learned how to change a car tire and usually any flats I would have on my bike happened on a group ride and there were resources around to change a tire. You know, bike mechanic people who race against eachother to see how fast they can change a tire and get you back out there.

Who’s the real cat eye here?

All in all, after 30 some years of riding, it hasn’t been a big deal until now. I went to a bike shop near me, Bad Boyz Bikes and Larry helped me out. Larry is not the cat. Larry isn’t pictured. Larry is the owner and he’s a great guy. He helped me out with flat #1 and that’s when I thought about learning how to do this for real but decided to get a mani instead and leave it to the experts.

But when I had the second flat I was on my way to co-lead a bike tour and my husband had to come rescue me and deliver me to the bike shop and they fixed the tire. At that time I had an Armidillo tire put on the back. I thought that would be the end of it but I knew it was time to step up and put on the mechanic’s apron and learn how to be self sufficient.

Before another flat would sideline my bike adventures, I went to visit Larry, the tire whisperer. Beforehand I popped in on him to see if he’d help me get over my fear of flats. He said yes, and we set up a day. He doesn’t drink coffee but a smoothie any my gratitude would be his only payment. In about a hour he taught me how to get the tire off the rim and break the bead and check the inside of the tire for debris and get the new tube on the rim and inflate it and get going. He had me flip over my bike and do everything as if I was out on the road. I did mention how much I despise getting grease under my nails and he gave me a pair of shop gloves. He admitted he didn’t like that either. Well, alright then! We did this on the front tire and he took some time to show me how to handle my back tire. He didn’t just talk through it with me, he let me work it out and learn. I felt like I was in 8th grade shop but instead of talking to my friends I was paying attention.

Cute, but doesn’t hold everything I need. Plus it’s less likely that I’ll patch while on the road. Better to replace the tube and patch at home.

I left Larry’s armed with new skills and ready to fix a flat. I looked for bikers in distress and in need of my skills. That’s how confident I was feeling. I worked out all the bits that are needed in my flat repair kit: hex key, patch kit, tire levers, CO2, gloves, mints, Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer. I’d rather not carry a pump even though mine is one of those Lezyne mini pumps, but I’m still not adept at using CO2 so for now I’ll keep the bike pump. It’s great for building upper body strength.

After flat #2 I had Armidillo tires put on the back in the hope that those would help. I prefer Continental tires, but sure, I’ll give those Armidillos a try. That was about a month ago.

Flat #3 happened today. I was at mile 16 and I stopped for awhile and when I returned to my bike I had my third flat. I was weirdly ready to fix that flat. Except in all my arranging and rearranging of my flat repair kit and bags I didn’t have my hex wrench. Texted my guy and he came to the parking lot and we loaded up my bike and in the safety of my own driveway I took my time and fixed my first flat.

There’s the culprit. Looks like a white hair. Slow leak from a staple puncture.

The first hardest part was breaking that bead. Once I got the tube out I inflated to twices it’s size to find the puncture.

It took me and hour and 45 minutes and that includes watching a couple of YouTube videos to get some help with the bead bond. My husband helped me a little when he came to see what was taking me so long. Getting the tire on and off the rim really requires some finesse. I had it on one side but not the other. I was waiting for that satisfying PHEW it makes and I really couldn’t see that it needed to happen on both sides.

Now the last part was the most frustrating was getting the tire back into place. I felt like it was an archery contest trying to pull the derailleur back and the chain out of the way so the wheel wouldn’t hang up on anything. It should be as easy as putting bread into the toaster, but instead it’s like putting a toaster into a piece of bread. Larry said the secret was to have the bike in its lowest gear, so I played with that for another 30 minutes but at last it came together.

I haven’t patched the tube yet. I think I’ll go visit Larry and buy a new one for my flat repair kit and have him show me the finer points of patching. I think I’m ready.

Flats aren’t fun. They are flats after all, but I feel better about fixing them. I don’t fear them. No bike is flat proof.

Flats happen. Bottom line, I’m rolling again and that’s what important. I learned a lot and I’m more confident about what to do the next time.

Any advice for me on fixing a flat? How long should it take to fix a flat? What’s in your patch kit?

Thanks for reading.

Get out there and ride your bike!
Bike Goddess