The Unprepared Cyclist

What a day! Sunny, a nice breeze, and 84 degrees (29C). There was nothing to keep me off my bike, even at the expense of foregoing yard work, and putting off a chore I promised to do for my wife.

I wasn’t going to go too long — maybe 20-23 miles — something that would keep me out about an hour and half. I could tell I haven’t been riding as much as I should, but over the years, I’ve built a good base, so getting back into a rhythm wasn’t difficult.

A fellow from my cycling club caught up to me and passed me like I was standing still. But then I caught a group of unfamiliar riders, and went by them. I felt strong pushing up some small hills, and had fun reaching 35 mph going down a sweeping bend on an empty road in a new housing development.

About 13 miles in though, something wasn’t right. I had just gone through a 90-degree turn on a busy road, and was heading up another small hill, but my rear wheel felt unstable. Uh-oh — a flat!

I wasn’t comfortable changing it in the shoulder of a 65 mph highway, so I walked the bike about a quarter mile to a pulloff, and set about changing the tube. It turned out that the smallest possible shard of glass had punctured the tire and the tube. I picked it out of the tire, checked for any other debris inside the tread, yanked out the punctured tube, and got out a new one.

Some time ago, I stopped bringing my small pump on rides, deciding to stick with CO2 cartridges. I had some recently-purchased cartridges in my seat bag, but when I went to attach the inflator chuck to one, I made an unwelcome discovery. The cartridge was one of those unthreaded ones. I needed the threaded kind.

So there I was, at the side of the road, the bike upside down with the chain hanging forlornly, and doing the only thing I could think to do: Call my wife.

She was there in less than 10 minutes, and we headed home. I inflated the tube in a matter of minutes and got the tire back on the bike, but by then, it was too late. My cycling window for the day had closed.

I’ll be stopping by the bike store for a few new, threaded cartridges. And I think I’ll start carrying the mini-pump again. Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to be a belt and suspenders kind of guy.

And you wonder why I still call this blog Bike Noob.

Starting the New Year with a Pfsst!

Finally got a break from the cold, rainy weather that started 2015, and I was anxious to get out on the bike Saturday. My wife had already done her ride for the day, and I was moving too slow to go with her. Once I finally did get saddled up, she was back, showered, and already hard at work in our home office.

I figured I’d start the new year with one of my most frequent rides, about an hour and a half through the neighborhood. The bike was performing well. It shifted silently and rolled smoothly. On this sunny, 55-degree (12C) afternoon, I saw a number of other bikers, but no one I knew.

I turned south to go to a hilly subdivision. While climbing an easy hill toward a highway that I had to cross, I became aware of a click from the rear wheel. It came regularly, with every revolution. Oh, great! Another broken spoke!

I stopped the bike and spun the rear wheel. No broken spoke, but the click was still there. I slowed the wheel and located the problem. A staple had punctured the tire, and its trailing end was catching the seat stay with every turn.

Hm. I was a little over two miles from home, and the staple seemed to be holding air in the tire. At least, it hadn’t gone flat yet. I seriously considered trying to make the return trip with the staple in the tire. But then, I had a change of heart, and pulled the staple out.

Pfsst! The tire flattened out immediately. Okay. I carried the bike up onto an adjacent sidewalk and started to work. The spare tube I carried was a patched tube, and I always wonder if the patch will hold. In addition, I had abandoned my trusty Road Morph pump awhile ago (I still have it — I just don’t carry it with me anymore) and I had one CO2 cartridge and a valve chuck. I had to get it right the first time. My track record in this area is pretty dismal.

But it worked! The tire filled, and it held. As I put the wheel back on the bike, a couple pulled up and offered to help.

“it’s all done,” I said.

“All done?” asked the man, who was about my age. “Fan-tastic! Our timing is perfect!” We chatted for awhile, but his wife wanted to move on, so we said our goodbyes.

I headed straight home, not willing to trust the replacement tube any further. So, my first ride of 2015 was a whopping 10.7 miles — a little less than half of what I’d planned. But there was a silver lining. It seems that Strava wipes the slate clean at the beginning of the year. The hill I was climbing when I hit the staple is a Strava segment — and I got a King of the Mountain! Of course, my time on that segment was 16 seconds slower than my best time on it in 2014, but hey — it’s good to be king.

Out of Commission

I haven’t gotten in a lot of biking lately. Not only have I been caught up in the end of the semester crunch at the university, but my road bike has been acting up.

A week ago, I found myself unable to shift from the small chainring to the big one. I had to abandon a ride and get home, although that was the same ride where I discovered the broken spoke. I finally got the bike into the shop on Wednesday, where the mechanic listened to my shifting complaint and examined the bike. The chain is okay, since it’s fairly new. But he didn’t like the look of the big chainring.

“You’re missing the little pin that grabs the chain so it can move onto the big ring,” he said. “You’re going to need a new chainring.”

He thought he could get one into the shop the next day. But that didn’t happen, and I didn’t pick up the bike until Friday afternoon, after getting home from some Christmas shopping. Because of the lateness of the afternoon, I was unable to get the bike out for a shakedown cruise.

Saturday was mountain biking day, as we headed for a mountain bike park more than 60 miles from home. The ride was great fun, and although my friend Maggie and I took the “beginner” ride with an experienced leader, we agreed it provided plenty of challenges for us, and was just the ticket.

We figured that Sunday would be a recovery ride day on the road bikes. On the way over to the meetup place, I noticed that shifting to the big ring wasn’t as smooth as I’d like, but at least it worked. I liked the sound of a silent bike again.

We broke away from the main group several miles into the ride, and pointed ourselves toward the Veloway to do some slow laps. But as I pedaled along, I felt a snap.

The errant shift cable.

The errant shift cable.

The shift cable for the rear cassette broke away from the shifter. I was stuck in the smallest rear cog, and while I could pedal, it wasn’t going to be easy. I parted ways with Maggie and limped home.

After parking the bike in the garage, and showering and changing, I went back out to get a picture of the problem. And there it was — the rear tire had gone flat. First flat on the tire since I bought it last summer. Fixing the flat will be no problem, but the bike goes back to the mechanic this week — and I hope the shift cable can be repaired without me having to buy a whole new shifter.

In the meantime, I’m back to mountain biking for awhile.

Garage Flats

Boy, I was excited to get out for a rare weekday afternoon ride! I hadn’t been on the bike in several days, and my body was craving for some fresh air and exercise. 

I grabbed the bike and guided it between the garage wall and my car, out to the driveway where I was going to top off the tires with air. But something didn’t quite feel right.

I looked down at the rear tire. It was flat.

That was really odd, because the last time I had been out for a ride, everything was fine. I had no inkling that the tire had been punctured, or even that it was lower at the end of the ride than it was at the start. But there it was.

I took the wheel off the bike, and took it and my flat-fixing gear into the kitchen.

Finding the leak was a problem.  I finally had to submerge the tube in the kitchen sink to discover the telltale trail of bubbles that indicated a tiny hole in the tube.

I patched the tube and got it back on the bike. My afternoon ride had to be cut short — to around only 12 miles. Better than nothing, I suppose.

But if it hadn’t been for the “garage flat,” I could have gotten in something closer to a full hour.

I’m pretty sure the garage didn’t cause the flat. Something punched the tiny hole in the tube out there — on the road. But it was in the chilly air in the garage that the tire deflated, so the garage gets the blame.

I’m hoping that now that spring is just about here, garage flats will disappear until the cold weather returns.

The Bulging Tube

My wife’s bike needed some attention. It’s an old steel hybrid, but she rides it like a road bike — sort of. Anyway, it gets a lot of use.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the tires were showing signs of wear. Heavy wear. They’re excellent tires — an “urban” model called the Session by Fyxation. It’s just that when the bike is ridden as much as hers is, the center tread wears out, and a flat spot appears all around the circumference of the tire. I rotated the back to the front and vice-versa, but then she got a puncture in the front tire. It was worn past the point of replacement. I paid a visit to the bike store where I had bought the tire.

Sure enough, none were in stock. The alternatives the sales person suggested were too race-oriented. I ordered a replacement tire and waited. About a week later, it was in.

Some tires, when they’re new, are the uncooperative sort. That was the case with this one. Those last three to five inches over the rim refuse to seat. I did what you’re not supposed to do — I used a tire lever to get the bead over the rim, checked the seating, and pumped it up.

Or at least, I tried to pump it up. Sure enough, the tire lever had punched a small hole in the tube.

I retrieved another tube from the garage and started the process again. This time, it took even longer, because I was determined to get the bead seated only by using my fingers. Finally, it was there.

Again, I tested the bead to make sure it was in properly. I pumped the tire to 30 pounds and carefully checked it again. Then I pumped it up and put it on the bike.

A few days later, my wife went for a ride in the middle of the day (She works from home — she can do that). I figured that since the tire survived its shakedown cruise, things were well.

Saturday, we decided to get in a quick morning ride before the weather turned foul Sunday morning. I got the bikes onto the driveway and pumped up the tires of my bike. Hers, I let sit. Based on my past experience, her tires wouldn’t need topping off for another week.

I stood in the driveway with my bike, watching the comings and goings at a garage sale down the block while I waited for my wife to finish getting her helmet and shoes on. Suddenly, the peace of a Saturday morning was shattered by a loud bang! At first, I thought the sound had come from somewhere else. But then, I glanced at her bike. Three inches of tire bead were outside the rim.

I brought the offending wheel and tire into the kitchen. “The ride will be delayed,” I said. “Your tire blew.”

“Oh, I was going to tell you about that,” she answered. “When I was riding the other day, I noticed the tube sticking out from under the bead.”

Since she had made it home, she didn’t consider the situation to be too serious. But I showed her the ruined tube, with a half-inch hole where it had blown out.

I retrieved another tube from the garage. This one had been patched, and when I pumped it up, air escaped from a weak seal on the patch. Another trip to the garage for another tube.

As short as her ride had been the other day (less than 10 miles), it must have had the effect of getting some of the stiffness out of the tire. The tube went in easily, and I had little trouble getting the bead over the rim this time. After two or three checks to make sure the tube was staying where it should, I pumped up the tire (a little less than normal) and we set out on our ride.

Except for being cut off twice by impatient drivers who think it’s just fine to stick their cars out into the bike lane when bikes are coming at them at 15-20 mph, the ride was uneventful. I hadn’t had to deal with a tube that peeked out from the rim in almost seven years, so this was a good reminder that those things can always happen.

But I reminded her that whenever she sees a tube sticking out from under the tire, that means there’s no ride in store, and she should have me fix it right away.

Changing a Flat

I was delighted when my friend Debra invited everyone out to ride with her and Russ south of Dripping Springs. I haven’t been out there for some time. Debra is just about recovered from foot surgery, and is easing back into riding. So I responded that I would be there.

The usual B contingent bowed out, because of injuries or out-of-town commitments. I thought I would be the only one joining them on this morning’s ride.

So I was pleased see a group of people unloading bikes when I arrived at the park on the west side of Dripping Springs at 8:15 Sunday morning. Brian, one of the B’s, had just returned from out of the country, and George and Steve, two A riders, had showed up. So had Don, who is new to the club. An eighth, Ira, was running late, but said by phone that he would catch up to us.

He did, about nine or ten miles into the ride. Ira is really fast when he wants to be, although he maintains that distance riding is what he does best. It wasn’t long before he and the other A’s were well ahead of us.

But we had agreed to meet him at the crest of a hill with a great view, and even though he joined us before that point, everyone stopped when we got there. Debra was befuddled, and wondered why we weren’t going down the hill. But we all seemed content to rest and chat a bit.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we'll soon enjoy.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we’ll soon enjoy.

A curious sound made everyone pay attention. It sounded just like air escaping from a tire. We pinpointed it to Ira’s bike.

“Yep,” he said, pinching the rear tire. “It’s dead.”

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

Okay, we were going to be here awhile. There are worse places to take a break. Ira fiddled with the tire a bit, trying to find the cause of the leak. And why, when he was stopped for several minutes, would it suddenly start leaking?

He narrowed it down to a faulty tire valve, and began the process of replacing the tube.

Ira works on his flat.

Ira works on his flat.

Now, Ira is old school, and prefers to use a hand pump to inflate his tires, but he had neglected to bring one on today’s ride. Don offered him a mini-pump, and Ira started pumping up the tire, but the process was slow, and another rider suggested he use a CO2 inflator.

“Here, I’ve got the kind with threads,” said one.

“I’ve got this kind, unthreaded,” said another

Debra was getting impatient. “I’ve got this, I’ve got that, you got that? I got this!” she muttered.

Ira came up with one of those hand-held containers for a cartridge, but couldn’t figure out how to get it to trigger. He was concerned his cartridges would misfire, and wanted to get it right the first time.

He tried a little chuck that screws onto the cartridge, and fires by turning it slightly. “It works!”

“Hey, I got this one to work, too,” said George, who had been messing with the plastic unit with the trigger.

Didn’t matter, Ira was satisfied with the pressure in his tire, and he mounted it back on the bike.

"I know what you're doing," Steve says. "You're getting proof that I do slow rides, too."

“I know what you’re doing,” Steve says. “You’re getting proof that I do slow rides, too.”

The odd thing about this whole adventure was, every one of the riders out today has been at it for years, and every one can change a flat in about 10 minutes. And yet, we resembled the Keystone Cops getting this one tube replaced.

And that’s probably why our Sunday B rides are such low-key events. No pressure, no sense of urgency to complete the repair and get back on the road. We flew down the hill, through a ranch, and then decided to take the short route back to the start. It would mean only about 26 miles for us, although with the hills it felt like 40. Several of us capped off the ride with Mexican food for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

“What do you think?” asked Ira, sipping his iced tea. “Was that a typical B ride?”

“More like a B-minus, I think,” I replied. The A’s did 57 miles and had several flats on messy roads. Once again, their ride broke up as some riders shot off the front, and others were unsure about the route. We finished mostly together.

“I like riding out here,” said Steve, who has been the state champion in his age group for both the time trial and the road race. “I can look at the scenery and talk with my friends. Not every ride has to be a hammerfest.”

I agree.

Patch Party

After my flat tire disappointments the last two weekends, I decided it was time to take action. So this evening, I spent some time at the kitchen table with a couple of patch kits and a pile of tire tubes.

I don’t mind patching tubes, it’s easy enough to do. And I don’t mind riding on them, either. I have in the past ridden on tubes with as many as four patches, and that held together fine. Some biking acquaintances tell me they’ve put on even more — one guy said he was happy riding on a tube with a dozen patches.

It turns out I’ve been slipping in my repair routines. I had several tubes in boxes — not their original boxes — stacked in a cabinet in the garage. I’d marked the condition of the tube on each box, so I was able to grab a new tube to replace the one that flatted on me Sunday. But I like to keep a stock of patched tubes handy. Several of the boxes indicated that their tubes needed patches. Wonder why I didn’t attend to that some time ago?

I carefully examined each tube by eyeball — then inflated them and took them over to the kitchen sink, which I had filled with water. One by one, I submerged the tubes to find the telltale trail of air bubbles that indicated a leak. Some of the leaks were so tiny, they were hard to see — even after the bubbles told me where to look. That’s what happened with the tube I used Sunday. I patched one puncture, but missed another one altogether.

I hope my efforts have paid off. I’ve got a new tube in the tire of my bike, and a freshly patched tube in the seat bag, ready for use in the future if I need it. And in that cabinet, three other patched tubes in their boxes — labeled “OK.” I hope they stay that way.