Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sir Fix-a-Flat: A Comedy of (Many) Errors

Error #1: As I was leaving my desk, a co-worker noticed my helmet, commented on how crazy I was to ride in the winter (true), and asked if my tires went flat when the weather got this cold. Although my nerd brain was buzzing with, "Holding volume constant, the pressure of a gas does decrease with decreasing temperature, so yes, I suppose technically, my tires do go flat in the cold. But given that the volume of a tire is quite small, the difference in pressure is negligible," I've long ago learned that most people DO NOT CARE about what goes on in my nerd brain. So instead, I gave a devil-may-care laugh and said, "Nope!" (If this tale had a soundtrack, it would be the ominous sound of low strings right now.)

Having tempted the gods, I walked to the bike parking cage and found -- on cue -- a completely flat front tire. (Soundtrack: The "wah-wah" noise my nephew describes as "sad trombone.") And did I mention that it was barely 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the parking garage that houses the bike cage? I removed the offending wheel, collected my kit of minipump, tire lever, and spare tube, and retreated to the (inexplicably but thankfully) heated elevator lobby of the parking garage.

Error #2: Did you notice the mention of tire LEVER, singular? When I'm riding my loose-fitting summer tires, that's more than enough to pop a bead. On the tight-fitting (and cold-stiffened) tank treads I roll in the winter, not a chance. I wrestled for what seemed like hours, popping a section of bead, gently removing the lever, and trying the next section of bead while I watched the first one drop back into place as if taunting me. This is also where Error #3 reared its ugly head: I was wearing thick wool mittens with no liner gloves underneath -- and while the elevator lobby was heated, it was still cold enough that I had the choice of mittens with zero dexterity or bare hands that were rendered equally useless from the cold.

I finally managed to wrestle the tire off and extract the flaccid tube, which led to Error #4: Feeling around the tire for the cause of the flat (a smart move) with bare fingers (a dumb move). I found the wire that was stuck in the casing, but not before it gave me a couple nasty cuts across the pads of two fingertips. Had I been wearing those wool mittens from Error #3, the wire would have just snagged them, no harm done. Luckily, my fingertips were so numb (see Error #3 again) that I didn't feel the wounds until later.

But having extracted the wire, I was free to install a fresh tube and pump up the tire. Error #5: Minipump. Though on the bright side, the hundreds of strokes it took to get a semblance of rideable pressure into the tire did warm me up a bit. (Whose tire volume is so small as to render the difference in pressure negligible NOW, nerd brain?)

With a (mostly) pumped-up tire, it was now time to gird my loins for the frigid outdoors again. I returned to the cage, stuffed my kit and the dead tube back in my seat bag, and tried to reinstall the front wheel. Error #6: Those winter tank treads are just a tiny bit wider than my summer tires, so my brakes don't quite open wide enough to install a wheel with an inflated tire (remember that the tire was completely flat when the wheel came out). So I was left with two choices: One, deflate the tire, which would mean all those hundreds of minipump strokes had been wasted and would have to be repeated. Two, just jam the wheel in there, possibly knocking the brake pads out of alignment, which would at best render the front brake useless and at worst, put a pad into the tire, wrecking the sidewall.

I took my chances on the second brute-force option, since the cold was quickly shutting down all higher brain function. Thankfully, the brake remained functional and I was able to complete the ride home with all digits still attached. I'll be hunting through the parts bins for thinner brake pads, borrowing a real frame pump from another bike, and making smarter layering choices from now on, though.


Pondero said...

Ah ha...a tragic story well told, my friend! I didn't burst out laughing far as you know. Happy to hear you survived.

Anonymous said...

remember, if you didn't know better, then you're merely ignorant. If you fail to learn from this incident, though, that's when you get promoted to "idiot". (insert smiley face here).

I've also come out of work to find a flat tire, and only then realized how nice it is to be able to grab the wheel and tools and go fix the darned thing indoors! Sure beats getting the flat halfway home in the dark and cold!

So are you now packing a full size pump and a set of tire irons in your bags? Don't forget to throw a pair of light gloves in the bag too. I even carry a little Petzl head/helmet lamp to make it easy to fix the inevitable flat on a pitch black night out among the cornfields. I can't wait to find out what sort of problem eventually exceeds all of my precautions. (insert "rolling eyes" face here)

Steve in Peoria