Friday, July 27, 2012

[LOABkw] Feeling Flat

Life On A Bike in KW is a series of posts about Chris' attempt to get as much done as possible on two wheels, while Erin takes the car out of town to observe birds. How cycle-friendly is KW? 

Monday: disaster! About three blocks away from work on my way home, I notice that my bike seat feels... springier... than usual. I look down, and it's not the seat, it's the tire.

What a deflating feeling.

No slow leak here: within a minute or two, the tire is completely flat. And I am completely unprepared. A patch kit in my pannier, but no pump!

Getting home was not too bad. Despite having a good idea of the bus system around work, I missed the first attempt, but I caught one in the direction of Conestoga Mall. Thankfully, all GRT buses have bike racks. You've seen these, right?

Nice rack.

So getting home wasn't too bad, though I imagine some people were wondering why I was walking my bike up and down the same street.

I should have been able to repair the flat where I was, but it turns out I wasn't even able to repair it at home:

  • I didn't have a working emergency pump.
  • My patch kit was so old the rubber compound had fossilized!
  • I didn't have a replacement tube.
  • I had just loaned Erin my floor pump the day before because of her own flat tire woes.
This may seem unforgivable, but here's a secret: this is my first bike flat ever. You could excuse my complacency.

The next morning, I resolved to take the old Jamis to work via Canadian Tire, where I could correct all these things. It worked, but I discovered that in the two months since I had last rode the Jamis, it had gone from being my trusty steed for the last 12 years to an almost unrideable, painful, ill-fitting, dilapidated torture device.

Wow. I can't believe I rode that bike for over a decade.

None the less, I made it through the day (albeit with some of the neck and shoulder pain that characterized the last couple of years.) I brought home a new mini-pump, a tube, and a couple of new patch kits. And I hoped to hell the a patch would work because taking the wheel off would be a major chore...

Internal hub & brake: low maintenance != easy maintenance.

You see, the same piece of high tech on the Brodie that makes it low-maintenance and reliable also makes it much harder to get a wheel off. And the unforgiving topology of tori requires wheel removal. The Nexus hub pictured above requires both brake and gear cables to be detached and has an extra mount point to worry about too, along with alignment issues when you put it back together.

This guy didn't have to contend with a hub in his record-setting tube switch:

Fortunately, while you can't change a tube without completely removing the wheel, you can patch it in place. But you have to have a patch kit that hasn't expired, and you have to have a pump. Even if you can't patch it perfectly, it may be the difference between being stranded, and being able to nurse your way home or to a bike shop.

So, some lessons from this event:

  • Have a pump and a patch kit. Preferably attached to your bike so they're always there. (My patch kit still has no home but the pannier.)
  • Keep some bus tickets in your wallet. If you're in town and have a smart phone, Google Maps is invaluable for finding bus stops and will tell you when the next one is coming. It can also give you transit directions home.
  • Also with the bus, if the racks are full but the bus is not, be prepared to remind the driver that GRT says you can bring the bike on board.
  • If you're entirely carless, a spare beater bike is not a bad idea. After all, you may not even have a shop with bike repair equipment within walking distance.
Good news though: I've patched the tube and it seems to be holding. If this bike is susceptible to flats, I'll have to invest in some different tires that are puncture-resistant: Schwalbe makes a line of them that a friend recommended to me. I really don't want to have to take the back wheel off, ever.

And I don't want to be caught flat-footed.


  1. My patch kits are probably in the same state - at least one of them is probably 20 years old.

    1. Then they aren't patch kits anymore! It's a problem you can fix at crappy tire for $2.50. I even kept the "kit" part and replaced the patches and cement.

  2. Two suggestions for you:

    Bike shops will sell slightly more expensive patch kits where the "patch" is a square of rubber with an adhesive backing. Like a rubber sticker. No need to worry about the rubber cement solidifying after years of disuse.

    Consider an seat bag like this:
    for storing your patch kit, or even a spare tube. As cheap as it is, you can just leave it on your bike when you lock it up.

  3. When you buy a new patch kit, look for ones with vulcanizing fluid instead of glue. It works a whole lot better.