Support Your Local Bike Shop / by Erin Wade

A short while back I went for a ride on the Catrike Pocket on the Perryville bike path in Loves Park, with a goal of riding up into Rock Cut State Park. This is a route I've taken many times, and riding it from the vicinity of Rockford Bicycle Company up into and around the park road and back is just shy of 12 miles. It's a winding path that follows along Perryville road in Loves Park for a couple of miles, and then up through the woodland that leads into and surrounds the park.

Unfortunately, on this particular ride I came up with a flat tire about 3 miles in. It had occurred to me that it would be good to have replacement tubes in the bags on the trike for just such an occasion. Unfortunately, occurring doesn't equal doing, so I had only that thought to accompany and comfort me as I walked myself and the trike the nearly three miles back to the car.

I did stop in at Rockford Bicycle Company to see if they could address my tire. The folks there have worked on my bikes many times, and they've always been very pleasant and helpful, and this day was no exception. Unfortunately, the wheels on the Catrike are smaller than typical bike wheels, and no shop in the area carries recumbent trikes as a sale item. After a valiant effort of looking throughout the store, they did not turn out to have the correct size. I thanked them, loaded up the trike in the car, and moved on.

This issue in mind, I took to Amazon and ordered tubes to fit both of the front wheels and the back wheel (the back is a different size - larger - than the fronts). This all happened shortly ahead of our trip to Detroit, so when the tubes arrived I set them aside and resolved to address it when we returned.

It occurred to me, as it has on several previous occasions, that I really don't have much experience changing bike tubes, and that it would be good to practice so that I would be more adept the next time this happens and I need to change the tire at the side of the road or trail. With this impeachable logic, I resolved to do it myself. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and, armed with my multi tool, I took my shot.

What happened next was not an inspiring tale of self-sufficiency...

I have changed bike tubes once or twice before. It's been a very long time between events - I've been riding bicycles of one stripe or another for something in the neighborhood of forty years, so my ratio of ride time to tube changes is minuscule at best. And that poor ratio shone like a laser pointer in my eye through the entire experience.

For example, I didn't have tire levers, or I thought I didn't. The multi-tool handles turned out to be meant to function as such, which I figured out after a bit. And the tire over the tube turned out to be extremely tight. I suspect this is a function of its small diameter compared with a typical bike tire. While I was able, with quite a bit of effort, to get it off the wheel and get the tube out, getting it back on was considerably harder. It ultimately took about two hours of bending and pulling (and sweating and swearing) before I resorted to using a screwdriver to get the tire back on the rest of the way.

This is the sort of decision that one realizes is probably a mistake when one makes it. The use of a metal implement around a rubber item that is meant to hold air is less than ideal. But it's the sort of decision that one makes out of fatigue and desperation with the hope that this time, this one time, it will work out okay.

It did not.

After a bit of swearing and stomping about (yes - I am sure you would be much more mature than I in such a moment) I decided learning time was over, and checked the hours for Bike Works in Peru. It looked like I had time (Peru is about a half-hour away).

As has been my experience there in the past, the folks at Bike Works were very pleasant and helpful. They also do not, to my knowledge, carry recumbent trikes, and so did not have a tube in the correct size. Anticipating this, I'd brought mine along and, that settled, they got to work on my trike.

Watching this was a little like watching Norm build a chair on New Yankee Workshop. He used real tire levers to pop off the tire and pop out the old tube. The new tube went on, and he did say that the tire itself was very tight, which made me feel vindicated. That feeling lasted for about five seconds - right up to the point at which he then popped the tire back on using his bare hands...

All told, they got me in and out in about 15-20 minutes, and the repair itself was an extremely reasonable - it cost me less than ten bucks.

All of this is a reminder that illustrates for me how important it is to support your local bike shop. Over the years I've had experiences with multiple local bike shops, in multiple towns. To a place and a person I've found them to be helpful in getting and keeping my bikes on the road. In this case, the total time I spent traveling to and from Bike Works, and getting the repair finished, was less than the time spent in the garage working on it myself. It also involved considerably less sweating and swearing on my part.

And - lessons learned from this in relation to my ongoing recumbent trike experience:

  • Order and carry your own tubes. It's always a good idea to have spares on the bike or trike if possible as a general rule, but with the trike you should be prepared to provide them when getting a repair.
  • Your local bike shop can almost certainly repair or replace your tubes faster than you. Let them when you can. It's not expensive - the time spent unfrustrated and getting back to riding alone more than makes up for it.
  • The rule above also applies for virtually all bike or trike repairs and tune-ups that don't need to be done on an emergency basis. Let your bike shop handle it - you will be happier.
  • I do still need to learn to change my own tubes - at some point I'm going to be out somewhere where I'm too far out to want to walk back - and I did buy a set of tire levers to keep on the trike in case of just such a situation. But probably this will need to involve practicing with the right equipment, and when I'm not also really, really wanting just to get it done so I can ride.