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Tag Archives: Inner tube

I Hope I Don’t Get One Tonight

A flat tire.  What a buzzkill!

Most cyclists are prepared for a flat.  All cyclists hope that they don’t get one.  The odds are against us though.  Flat tires are inevitable.  It is not a case of “if,” but “when.”

On rare occasions inner tubes have manufacturing defects.  This causes tubes to split along a seam, or tear at the junction with the valve.  There is not much you can do to prevent inner tube failures.

A self-inflicted inner tube failure is the pinch flat, also known as a snake bite.

Puncture Pinch Flat

A pinch flat most commonly occurs when you run over something that causes the tire to deform enough that the inner tube is squashed against the wheel rim.  This puts two small holes in the inner tube, at the pinch points.

I said ‘self inflicted’ because pinch flats are much more likely to occur with under-inflated tires.  Bike tires leak over time.  You will need to add more air from time-to-time to maintain the proper pressure.  Run your tires too soft, and you will be snake bit.

I have been guilty of doing this.  I like to run my tires at between 80psi and 90psi.  Softer tires means a more comfortable ride.  I have let my tires get too soft, with predictable results.

In most cases flats happen because you ran over something sharp.  Roads are littered with sharp objects.

Bits of glass, either from broken bottles or shattered windscreens, are usually visible.  If you see it in time, you can avoid running over glass.  Unless you are riding at night, which is when I picked up this chunk.

Puncture Glass

Small stones are less visible.  It is worth examining your tires after every ride to remove any sharp stones stuck in the tread.  Before they work their way through the tire and into the inner tube.

Puncture Flint 2

Then there are the pointy things which are invisible while you are riding.  So small that a thorough search is often needed before you find the offending object, embedded in your tire.

The majority of my flats are caused by staples or Michelin wire.  Those fine bits of steel wire on the right come from steel-belted radial tires, which were invented by Monsieur Michelin.  Hence the name.

Given that most flat tires are caused by essentially invisible road debris. there is little you can do to avoid them.  Even “puncture proof” tires are not 100% resistant to being pierced by staples, Michelin wire and the like.

So learn how to repair a flat tire, and carry tire levers, a spare tube, and a pump or CO2 inflator on your rides.

And be thankful that we don’t have these in Malaysia.

Puncture Goathead Thorns

A Sucker for Punishment

I must have been dropped on my head as a baby.  My aborted first ride with the Six Thirty group should have been my cue to stick to gentle solo rides along the Columbia Tap Rail to Trail.  Instead, at the very next opportunity, I planted myself, clad in Cordura and polyester, amongst the others resplendent in their Coolmax and Lycra, outside West End Bicycles.  This time toward the front of the group in the hope that it was not possible to be overtaken by everyone behind me before the first traffic light.

This photograph of some of the group was taken many many rides later, after I had swallowed the red pill and was worthy of wearing the Six Thirty jersey.  Alisa K. is second from the right.  Tom B., who features later in this post, is third from the left.

Most of the group did get past me by the first traffic light.  But not everyone.  Call it competitiveness or plain bull-headedness but I stayed ahead of a few other riders. If I was going to get lost again I was determined to have company.  Apart from the constant struggle to keep the group ahead of me in sight I don’t remember much about the 18 km / 11 mi to the old Houston Scottish Rite Temple on Brompton Street.  I was just glad that it was getting easier to see the flashing rear lights ahead of me as it got darker and darker.  What a relief it was to get to the midpoint of the route and to see the gaggle of faster riders who had stopped to wait for slowpokes like myself to catch up.

Naturally the stronger riders, having had a rest and a chat while waiting, were raring to get going again.  Red tail lights twinkled off into the distance as I leaned over my handlebars, struggling for breath and wondering if the hammering in my ears would ever stop.  Pounding heart or not, I had to start riding again.  I didn’t know the way back to the bike shop.  To get home I had to keep the group in view.  I pushed down on my pedals and bumped and clunked along for a few metres.  I had my first ever flat tire.

A feeling of dread descended upon me.  I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  I was in total darkness and had just a small headlight that provided minimal illumination.  I had never changed a flat tire before.  Which was irrelevant because I didn’t have any tools or a spare inner tube.  The prospect of having a flat tire had never occurred to me.  Neither had the notion that I would ever need to call for help to get home.

As I was trying to figure out the name of the street that I was on I heard a voice say “Are you okay?”  Tom B. appeared out of the gloom.  I don’t remember hearing it but he must have been accompanied by the sound of angelic harp music.  Tom changed my inner tube for me and guided me back to the bike shop.  A kindness for which I remain eternally grateful.  He is a very dear friend to this day.

I was at West End Bicycles the very next morning to buy inner tubes and tools both for myself and to replace what Tom had used to get me back on the road.  Before I rode again I practiced taking a wheel off and replacing the inner tube.  And I am happy to say that I have had opportunities since then to make my own contributions to good bicycle karma by helping other new cyclists who unexpectedly find themselves unprepared to fix a flat.