Flat as a tack

March 24, 2011 at 22:13 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I got that flat feeling today. On the way back to the office from a meeting I turn the penultimate corner prior to my destination, and it feels all weird. Like the back wheel skidded out a little.I continue to roll along, and the weird feeling continues. It just all feels wrong, like some alien force is trying to take over the bike.

I pull up outside the office, and feel the tyres. Sure enough, the rear one is nearly flat. I have a puncture. Bugger. ‘This can’t be!’, I think. ‘I never get punctures!’.

It’s kind of true. I haven’t had a puncture for about four years – ever since I started riding on Conti Sports Contact tyres. I’m not really one for brand endorsements, but I love those tyres. I guess they travel about 5000 km per year, so that’s 20,000 km without a puncture. And they are grippy and fast too.

I get up to the office to survey the damage. I also have a quick check of the equipment I have with me; I am now so complacent about punctures that I quite often neglect to take any of the basics with me. Tonight I am in luck, though. I have a repair kit, tyre levers, a new tube, and the all important spanner to get the wheel off – it’s the rear wheel on the fixie, so it doesn’t have a quick release.

The first challenge is getting the wheel off. I hardly ever do it, and the last time the nuts were tightened were at the LBS. For a few minutes I wonder if my little spanner is going to give me enough leverage, but with some brute force they turn. I examine the exterior of the tyre, and immediately see the culprit. A tack is embedded in the rubber. I’m surprised that the tyre didn’t go down much faster; I must have ridden several hundred metres with it pushed into the wheel.

The good news about it being so obvious is that I can repair the tube easily, as I know where the hole is. I lever the tyre off the rim at that point, and pull out enough of the inner tube to carry out a repair. I have a sudden thought that the  puncture repair kit might contain a four-year old tube of dried-up rubber cement, but luckily it’s unused and the seal is not broken.

Thee is one thing about puncture repair kits that bugs me, though. Why on earth do they make the patches so huge? This particular kit comes with two different sizes; the small one is about three centimetres by two centimetres, and the large one is about double that. Do people actually mend holes that are two centimetres across? Good luck to them if they do, but my punctures are invariably little pin holes that only need a small patch about the size of a thumbnail. Huge patches are really hard to apply; you have to roll them around a crease in the tube and it’s hard to get them flat and bonded all the way to the edge. I take some scissors to one of the patches and trim it to about a third of its original size to make it usable. (I’ve never found that not having a tapered edge to the patch matters. I remember at one time you could buy sheets of patch stuff and just cut it off in squares as you need it.)

Rough up the tube with sandpaper (repair kits seem to come with little cheesegrater things these days, but I prefer old-school and evidently remembered to put a small square of sandpaper in the repair kit) and apply a coating of rubber cement. Then wait. And wait some more. And then just a bit longer for luck.

I peel the backing off the trimmed patch, and place it over the hole before squeezing it between two 20c pieces to hold it in place. After a minute or so, it’s ready to go. (Except there’s no French chalk. Honestly, standards are slipping. in my day, young man, let me tell you that you always dusted your repair with powdered French chalk.)

Put a little air into the tube and relocate it, then pop the tyre back onto the rim. Check the tube isn’t being pinched by the tyre bead, and then inflate the thing properly. This is where things get a little difficult. I do have a mini-pump, but I’ve never used it. I purchased it ages ago when my previous one fell off my bike and was squashed under a car before I could retrieve it. My old one had two holes, one for Presta and one for Schrader. This one has only one hole, apparently for Schrader. And there’s an adapter thingo clipped under the lever.

I have no idea how this works. I know such adapters exist, but I’ve never used one.What do you do? Put it into the pump, and then onto the valve? Screw it onto the valve and then put the pump over? Do I use the lever on the pump before or after inserting the adapter thingo?

I actually still don’t know the right way, but I do know one thing. The answer to ‘how do these adapter thingos work’ is ‘badly‘. I tried it every which way, but each time I got a moderate amount of air into the tyre any subsequent thrusts of the pump wobbled it enough to cause more air to leak out than I was pumping in. At this rate I was going to be riding home on a tyre barely inflated enough to keep me off the rims!

I eventually worked out how to get some air in, by jamming the wheel upright under my desk with the valve at the top, and then pulling upwards very hard on the valve as I pumped. A manoeuvre that could be tricky at the side of the road. Perhaps I need to invest in a better pump.

Anyway, I do actually quite enjoy mending punctures, provided it’s not at the side of the road in the rain when you are late. I like the satisfaction of actually mending something that is damaged – a feeling that is rather rare in today’s disposable society. I know several friends who think I am bonkers, and just buy a new tube each time; I’ve been known to rescue their punctured tubes from the bin, repair then, and present them back to them to use next time.

Not that I’m looking to get another puncture any time soon, thanks. But in another 20,000 km or so’s time I might be ready!

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