Roadside Repairs - Part the Third / by Erin Wade

Although I write about cycling here a lot - it’s the majority of the posts on Applied Life at this point - I do try to vary the subject within that topic from week to week. But sometimes the fates have other ideas (apparently).

Last week I had a sudden, but fortunately non-catastrophic,disassembly of my left front axle to to write about. I wrote that up, got dressed for a ride, did a careful walk-around on the trike, and hit the road.

Somewhere just after mile 6 my rear wheel started to get squirrelly and, when I looked back at it (this is a bit of a stretching feat on the trike) I could see that it was uncomfortably low on air. I had a flat.

My first strategy was to hope that it had somehow just gotten the air knocked out of it (I know, I know - wishful thinking). So I pulled out the hand-pump that I keep in what is almost certainly a purpose-designed pocket on the back of the seat (there are several of these pockets on the back of my Catrike Pocket seat - it’s a clever design) and pumped it up. And it seemed to hold air, so I remounted and rode away.

...for maybe 100 feet.

Yes - then it was flat again, and it was clear something more permanent had happened to the tire. I’m frankly not sure what - there was no clear event to proceed this, but there I was, regardless (which is why I think the Norns may have been having a little fun with me).

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So there I was, a little less than halfway into my ride, and at the furthest point from home in the route, and I began to debate in my head about whether to call for a ride.

The thing is, I’ve never successfully changed a tire on the trike. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever done so on any bike or cycle. If I have, it’s been a very long time. And by successfully, I mean that I’ve tried on a number of occasions, but those efforts have ended up in failure for various and sundry reasons - either I’ve flattened the tube in the effort to install it, or I’ve been unable to get the tire back on the wheel, or encountered similar such issues. I managed to do both when I tried to change a tire on the Pocket myself the last time, and ultimately gave up and took it the 20 minutes down the road to the local bike shop. And that is my general approach, for better or worse, because I’d typically rather spend my time riding than repairing.

But here I was, at the side of the road, with a choice to either tuck my tail between my legs and slink off, or take a shot at rectifying the situation myself.

After a bit of thought I reasoned that there was very little to lose by giving it a try. First, I was already immobile and had a bad tube. This was pretty much the worst the situation could get, and if I failed I’d still be making that call for a ride.

Second, and more important, the situation was different than in the past. I’ve now watched the guys at Peru Bike Works change the tires on the Pocket’s wheels multiple times, plus I’ve spent a bit of time on the subject on YouTube as a result of my last adventure in this area, and so I’ve learned a bit about the technique. Perhaps even more important still, that watching made me realize that something existed that I, even more embarrassingly still, had previously been unaware of: tire levers.

You’d think that, in forty-plus years of riding, I’d have come across these little marvels before. I’m quite certain they are nothing new, and I fear they may be nearly as old as the pneumatic tire itself. Still, I had previously been ignorant of their very existence, and so every time I’ve tried to change a tire I’ve employed the tool within my toolbox that most closely seems to fit the task: a flat-bladed screwdriver. Which works, of course, to move the tire off and on the wheel, but routinely pinches or pokes and flattens the tube. At which point I then have to go to the bike shop...

This time, however, I was armed with both new knowledge, and new tools that were appropriate to the job. I was also emboldened by the fact that it was the 20" rear tire, which would probably be a little more pliable and easy to move than the 16" fronts had been. So I gave it a shot.

I rolled the trike to an easement area aside the street and started to work. I was in a residential area of the town of Mendota, which at least meant I was in the shade and out of the wind, and didn’t have to contend with traffic moving at rural road speeds near me as I worked. Of course, it also meant that I was on display to everyone in the neigborhood, making a public event of my potential failure.

The wheel came off of the back and out of the chain perfectly, and the tire levers absolutely did their job. I was, frankly, astonished at how easily the tire came off the wheel.

Wheel off trike

I inspected the tire and found no cuts or holes. And the leak in the tube itself had to be very small, as it would hold air for a bit before deflating. This was encouraging, since it suggested that the tire was fine to continue riding once (if) I managed to get everything up and running.

Tire off wheel

Going back on was a little more effort, but not as much as I’d feared it would be. The levers were a big help in this respect and, after noodling with it a bit, I was able to reseat the tire around the new tube. Then I went to pump it up with the hand pump and...

...nothing. The new tube would not hold air. I tried pumping it up for several minutes (or at least so it felt) with absolutely no progress made.

I really do not think I’d pinched it or damaged it putting it on. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but I don’t think I ever even came near it, even with the tire levers, so I suspect it was faulty from the get-go. Fortunately I had another (I carry two tubes to match the rear, and three for the fronts, which always seemed like overkill given that I couldn't change them myself anyway, but sometimes things work out...).

I reversed the process, pulled the first tube off, put the second one on (I pumped it up a bit to test it first), and that one held air. So - you know - success!

I popped it back on, and continued with the rest of the ride. The entire process took a long time, relatively speaking - Cyclemeter says my stopped time on this route was nearly 52 minutes, and I can verify that 50 of those were due to the flat; So I certainly wasn’t speedy. But that was nearly an hour spent developing experience at something that, if I continue riding (and I will) I will almost certainly need to do again.

I had never before used either of the two tire levers, or the little hand pump (which I’d purchased for that pocket on the back of the seat shortly after getting the trike two years ago). This one use more than justified the purchase of both, and I’m glad I had them - and the extra tubes - along for the ride. I probably won’t be so quick to run to the bike shop next time this needs to be done.

And when I got home, I immediately ordered two new 20" tubes from Amazon - Fortuna favet paratus...