Well, if you can’t tell by the title, I didn’t get a full ride in this morning. Everything started out fine. I got out of the house good, got on the road good, there was very little traffic compared to normal, and I was moving along very good. I get to the 10 minute point in my ride, pass through an intersection, and on the other side experience the dreaded flat. It occurred right after I ran over something because I heard a sound as I ran over it followed by the dreaded, terrible, hissing sound that indicates that my ride has just changed from a good, Friday morning ride, to one of just making it home.


photo courtesy of: doviende

I immediately pulled off the road to verify the flat; hoping that I was just imagining things. Sadly, it wasn’t so. The tire was already flat. I was only about 3 miles from home and had plenty of time to walk back so I started the long, slow walk of a cyclist whose steed had thrown him. That sucks. Then I thought, “I’ve got a patch kit and CO2 inflater in my bag; why don’t I just fix this thing and ride back home?” So that’s what I set out to do. It was still dark so I found a spot under a street light where I could sit on the sidewalk and work. I pulled the tire off and set to work.

As many of you know, I just started cycling again about 2.5 months ago after a lay-off of many years. Even thinking back to when I was riding back then, I can’t remember the last time I had changed a flat. Better yet, I can’t remember the last time I had changed a flat while out on a road. It’s got to be at least ten years. You see where I’m going with this? That’s right, I have some re-learning to do.

Everything started fine. I actually remembered to shift down to the smallest cog for ease of removal and re-installing the rear wheel. I had a couple of plastic tire irons with me and got the tube out in short order. So far so good. This is where I start the death spiral.

I immediately set out trying to find the hole. I’ve still just got light from the street lamp so the lighting is poor. The first check of the tube and I can’t find it. I start compressing the tube up to compress what air is left to see if I can hear it. I hear it but still can’t find it. Now there’s no air left in the tube. I continue trying to find the hole with no luck. After about 10 minutes I realize that I can put more air in the tube to help. It’s a presta valve so all I have to do is open the valve and blow some air in. Because I use a CO2 inflater, I don’t carry a pump with me. I’m actually embarrassed it took me so long to figure this out. So, I blow up the tube a little and set about searching for the leak again. I can hear it, I can feel it, but I can’t see it. It must be microscopic. Then I realize, like an idiot, that I can put some saliva around the area to find where it bubbles up. Did I mention that it’s been years since I’ve done this?

About this time, I look up and a rider is going by me. He slowed and asked me if everything was OK and if I need any help? I told him I was good. Wow, somebody actually asked if I needed help. I was floored.

Anyway, after blowing the tube up several more times and spitting on the tube enough to spit shine my shoes when I was in the military, I finally found the culprit. Man, it was small. It was located near the intersection of two seams in the rubber and was barely noticeable. No wonder I had a hard time finding it. I pulled out the patch kit I had with me and put a patch on in short order.

Another rider goes by me. This guy doesn’t even slow down. He looks at me and keeps on going. Doesn’t say a word. Now that’s typical.

Now, I sad earlier that “I use a CO2 inflater.” That’s actually a little bit of a white lie. I’ve carried a CO2 inflater in my bag for, I don’t know, 8 years. In fact, I’ve carried the same inflater and CO2 cartridge in my bag for those 8 years. What I’m really trying to say is that I’ve never actually used it. I know, hard to believe, but I do know how to use it. It’s very simple in fact. Put the cartridge in the inflater, place the nozzle on the valve, and pull the trigger. It’s a no-brainer. There’s no way I can screw it up. Those, my friends, are famous last words.

I pulled out the inflater, put the cartridge in, and set about inflating my tire. I placed the nozzle over the valve and pulled the trigger. Then the unexpected happened. For some reason the CO2 didn’t go in the tube. The CO2 just escaped around the back of the trigger area. I knew something wasn’t right so I pulled the inflater off to look at it. I made sure the cartridge was secured tightly and tried again. Same result. What in the world was going on? I pulled the inflater off again and couldn’t find anything wrong. That’s when I saw it. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I told you I blew the tube up a couple of times to aid in finding the leak? Well, after blowing the tube up I had closed the valve and forgotten to open it up before inflating. I know, I’m an idiot. I open the valve, put the inflater back on, and pull the trigger. What CO2 is left shoots into the tube but it’s not enough to ride on. Please, no emails about me contributing to the greenhouse effect. I feel bad enough, and embarrassed enough, about the whole thing as it is.

What do I do now? I’m running out of options. There’s a gas station/convenience store about a 100 yards away. I pack up and head to the gas station in hopes they have air. I get there and sure enough they have air, but, as you may have already figured out, it costs money to turn on the compressor. Of course, I have no cash with me so now I’m stuck.

I’m now officially out of options of making it home under my own power. This is when I have to suck it up and make the call. That’s right, I whip out the cell phone and call home. After calling my wife’s cell phone, the home phone, my daughters cell phone, then the home phone again, I managed to wake one of my sleeping beauties. My wife answers the phone and it takes me a minute to get her coherent enough to understand where I’m at. She’ll be here in a few minutes. In the back of my mind I’m sure my oldest daughter would have answered her phone if it had been her boyfriend calling. Oh well.

Anyway, my wife eventually shows up, I get the bike in the back, and head home. The time elapsed from flat to pick up was right around 40 minutes. That’s right, it took me 40 minutes to utterly fail at fixing a flat. Pathetic isn’t it.

So, what are the lessons learned? I have several:

1. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed a flat, on the road, re-familiarize yourself with the process so you don’t forget the easy stuff.
2. Understand your equipment. I understood the use of the inflater, but because of either stupidity or frustration on my part, I failed to use it properly.
3. Carry a spare CO2 cartridge with you if you use them to re-inflate your tires.
4. Carry a spare tube.
5. Carry some cash with you. I used to carry a few quarters in my bag a long, long time ago. I need to re-start that practice and probably stick a few dollars in there as well.
6. Carry your cell phone with you. I actually did this but I wonder if there are some of you who don’t.

I guess there were a couple of positives in this whole thing. One is that I could probably change a flat pretty quickly the next time it happens. It’s amazing how an experience like this can bring you back up to speed so quickly. Second, this whole episode got me up close and personal with my tires. They’re shot and need to be replaced ASAP. If anybody has recommendations for some good, inexpensive tires, I’m all ears.

Now that I’ve had a day to think back on the whole event it’s actually quite funny. I’m not mad about it so feel free to throw in your jokes and jibes.