Lately I’ve had a string of bad luck with holes in my tires. It’s like Jack Alehurst of Life Behind Bars said, if he were Jerry Seinfeld: “Doncha hate it when you’ve been off your bike for a while and finally decide to go for a ride, only to find it has a flat tire?” Or maybe Robin would say to the caped crusader: “Holy holes, Batman!” Well that’s been a factor for me this last week. Some mysterious, one my fault, and well, it gets frustrating and expensive. So here’s a little recap and then a little advice.
It’s Not If You’re Going to Get Flats, But When
Rubber is not indestructible, so even with kevlar lining, rim strips, heavy duty tubes, or other tricks like putting an extra tube cut in half inside your tire, flats are inevitable. Even tubeless tires filled with goo or powder are going to fail at some point. There are just too many hazards out in the world to never get a flat: nails, glass, tiny rocks, wires, and the like. It’s a rule of the road, and if you’re a mountain biker, maybe your knobby tires will save you for a while, but off-road there are plenty of hazards, too.
My first flat of recent times came just before the recent breast cancer ride. Turns out, the tire was worn (from so much riding, thank you very much), and a gash in it allowed something to create a small hole. This is a common thing. In some cases you can put electrical or duct tape on the tire to block further incursions, but since it’s a weak spot, that’s not a long-term fix.
Eventually you’re just going to need a new tire. So get one! It’s well worth the peace of mind to not be constantly worried if you’re going to have a blow out. You could lose control, skid out, or just plain crash, and none of those are good. Of course, tires aren’t cheap, and good tires are downright expensive. But you can’t skimp on safety.
Flats Come in Threes, or However They Want
The first long ride on my new tire and tube was the 40 miles I did for the Mamma Jamma Ride in which I biked 40 miles to raise money for breast cancer services. (Make your donation today at this link!) I was a few miles from a rest stop and started feeling something was wrong. My speed was decreasing and I wasn’t particularly tired (pun unintended). I looked down, and saw my tire was pooching out more than it should. It turned out to be a thorn. Since as a fathlete using flat-bar bikes, I tend to put alot more of my weight on the rear tire anyway. That leads to things like thorns puncturing. Fortunately on that day, the SAG car came by and helped me out, even though I didn’t need assistance, it reduced the aggravation.
But then this week I got punctures on both bikes. And in both cases, I could not find the reason why. This is super frustrating, because there’s that doubt in the back of your mind that you’re going to get another flat, and not be at home. Or worse, unable to get home. So after a speech from mechanic Jacob at Bicycle Sport Shop that flats happen (basically, the first paragraph in the previous section), I just sucked it up and put on a new tube.
Here are A Dude Abikes’ five keys to not getting irritated:
- Check your bike before going to bed and upon waking. If you have a flat, the more time you have to address it, the better.
- Having some thin nitrile gloves around will reduce the amount of grease you get on your hands. Lava, Dawn or other grease-cutting soaps are good to have on hand if you don’t have gloves. (Now where did I put mine!)
- If you don’t have a bike stand, turn the bike upside down. But first, shift to the smallest outer gear to aid in removing the wheel and then returning it to the frame.
- When you have removed the tire, feel around with your hands and visually inspect the tire. If you find a tiny shard of glass, you may need a knife edge to pry it out.
- Always start to reinsert the tube at the valve so you finish opposite the valve. Ending that process at the valve is a great way to get pinch flats.
OK, I lied, there are six tips here, but that wasn’t as alliterative, so call this a Bonus:
I like to use a flat tire tool between the tire and rim to make sure the tube is inserted properly before airing up.
Sometimes, You Gotta Call in the Pros
After you’ve done all you can to find the source of the offending puncture, remove it, you put your new tube back on, and you’re ready to roll. If you’re lucky, you’ve solved the problem and will ride many more miles without a flat. But in my case, I was not so skilled or lucky. I was in the nearest shop, my old favorite The Peddler Bike Shop, talking to the guys about the recent spate of flats. As if on cue, Sophie the Fairdale lets out a loud PSSSTTTTT! It was like a sigh, but angrier. The timing was impeccable. Sixteen dollars later (with my 10% preferred customer discount), I was on my way again.
Another time you may need a pro is when you simply can’t figure out what caused the flat. Sometimes you may need to overinflate a tube and leave it for some time to see how fast it deflates. If it has a microscopic hole, you may not find it. A surefire way to do that is hold the entire tube under water in a bucket or sink. Find the bubbles and you’ve found the hole.Store manager and cool dude Finley offered to take care of it, and lo and behold, he found it: the dreaded pinch flat.
This is caused by the cyclist when putting a new tube in, and not preventing the tube to get stuck between the tire and the rim of the wheel. In my defense, this is a brand new tire and very tight. Over time, you can twist and force the rubber into place alot more easily. And even though I had run the tire tool between the tire and rim, I did something wrong.
A Word on Patches
I’m not a fan. Maybe it’s because I never got good at waiting for the glue to set, so my patches inevitably failed. Now I’m needing to be frugal, I plan to give it another try. And since I won’t be in the middle of a ride, I can sit there while it dries, and hopefully that will work. But your mileage may literally vary (been waiting a while to use that one!). In the end, whether to patch or not to patch is a personal choice. Trial and error is unfortunately the main way to learn if you can fix a flat on the go or not. Having a back-up fressh new tube or two is preferable, if you can.
Well, I’m back up and rolling on Sophie, and tomorrow will take the Fuji wheel in to see if what I fear is true: time for another new tire. After 10,000+ miles on the bike, I’ve gone through numerous tires. Even though I ride Gatorskins, they wear out too. I suppose it’s a tesstament to my mileage. But you can’t patch a tire. So it’s more money. Biking can be an expensive habit/hobby, that’s for sure. To keep on riding, it goes without saying that you must have wheels and tubes that work.
Here’s to hoping you keep the rubber side down and are free from frustrating those pucking functures! Share your flat tire stories in the comments, y’all!
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