Monday, April 4, 2011

Flat tires: The ultimate cycling buzz kill

No matter what kind of bike you have, if you ride enough miles, you're going to encounter a flat tire at some point.

There's never really a convenient time for it, and unless you do the majority of your biking within two blocks of your house or a bike shop, it's not going to happen at a convenient location either.

Anybody who's kept up with my blog knows that I've encountered my fair share of flats on a bike. Three during a trip to Blue Earth, a flat at the the turnaround point of a 20-mile ride (long run home), and a valve breaking in the middle of Minneapolis.

Some people might wonder why I ride so much if I encounter so many flats, and the answer simple: I'm not afraid to deal with them. It's a pain in the rear to change a flat -- especially if you've got some place to be at a certain time -- but to avoid riding because of it is idiot's logic. By that reasoning, you shouldn't drive your car either because you might have to fix a flat.

I bring this up because I encountered my first flat of 2011 on my way to the mall yesterday (more specifically Barnes & Noble). It occurred on Adams Street about a block shy of the BioLife Plasma Center, which meant I was about half a mile from the mall.

Taken at face value, this doesn't seem like a bad place to encounter a flat, what with Scheel's being in the mall and all. But being the prepared cyclist that I am, I happened to have a patch kit and air pump with me and decided to fix the flat right there and then. After a few tire lever struggles, a lot of grease and a little swearing, my bike was right for riding again.

This worked out fine for getting to mall. I locked my bike up, read for a couple hours at Barnes & Noble, and the tire was still inflated when I left the mall.

But on the way home, guess what happened? Another flat.

This time, while removing the tube, I determined that there was a small hole in the tire itself (for terminology's sake, the tube is the inner part of the tire with air in it, and the tire is the outer shell). Even if I had replaced the tube, the tire likely would've gone flat again shortly, as a hole in the outer shell makes the tube more susceptible to rocks,glass and whatever else is on the road.

Luckily, the flat occurred about five blocks from my apartment. So the walk home was relatively short. However, in order to get my bike in working condition again, I was going to have to (gasp!) drive to a bike shop to get a new tire.

Since I'm currently trying to run/bike more miles than I drive in my car for a month (blog entry here plus you can view my monthly totals on the right-hand side of the blog), I'm obviously reluctant to use my car unless it's absolutely necessary. But I really didn't have much of a choice, unless I wanted to walk it the 4+ miles to Scheel's (the only bike shop in town that's open on Sundays).

Had I not been so adamant about fixing the initial flat myself, I could've walked over the Scheel's while at the mall, gotten my bike fixed and saved the car trip -- a trip I had to make a hours later anyway.

Oh well, I guess hindsight's 20/20.

As a reference point, here is a pretty decent YouTube video on how to change a flat tire on a bike.

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