Thursday, January 19, 2012

the elephant in my bicycling room

Changing a flat tire on a bicycle is worse than being a turkey on Thanksgiving.  There.  Done.  Now we can talk about this painful experience that we suffer through silently at unpredictable intervals.  Changing out a flat on a bicycle sucks monkey tits.  Although I can change a bike tire if my life depends on it (so please to not be shooting) my life does not usually depend on bicycle tire swappage so mostly I strike out.

Before you jump to conclusions about my inadequacies, I raise you whatever bicycle tire you have changed out successfully and see you an ancient butterscotch-colored fifteen passenger van loaded with (mostly) medicated schizophrenics.  Now that was a tire change, my friends!  Stuck by the side of the road, agency too cheap to pay for Triple AAA and me on tire swap duty while also well being the only one playing with a full deck.  As I jacked that baby up I did a mental finger crossing and and hoped that none of the mentally challenged would wander into traffic.

Q:  What's the secret to an easy car tire swap?
A:  Always loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the tire.

Back to bicycles.  I have a long un-proud history of striking out at bicycle tire change.  My failures (and the failures I just stood around for) in no particular order:
  1. break tire levers without getting tire off wheel.  
  2. not finding the puncture at all.  stand around looking confused.
  3. put the mysteriously flat tire with no puncture back on and pump it up and whoa, still flat!
  4. patching a tire and having the puncture open up again.  twice.
  5. pinching the tube in such a way that the tire goes flat all over again
  6. not being able to get the tire back on with the tube inside
  7. no pump. lost it somewhere.
  8. got the pump but do not have the right attachment for my tire type
  9. got pump and attachment but pump got broken somewhere along the way
  10. got a better pump but it was heavy so left it at home and now, yeah, no pump again..
  11. no patch kit.  lost it somewhere.
  12. have patch kit but no glue and these are the patches that need glue
Fast Forward and I meet that Man of Bicycling Mystery, that recumbent rider, the Contraption Captain.  I was sure all this tube-changing angst was finally going to change and the secrets of a happy tube swap would finally be mine to lord over the area lesser bicyclists.  This is, after all, the guy who took apart our broken piece of shit plastic ice-maker and made it over again but this time with metal parts that he had machined himself with stuff he found lying around his garage-shop.  True story!  This must be a guy who can both change a bicycle tire and teach me how to do it for myself?

Lesson was with with my old Specialized Rockhopper bicycle.  I appreciate that it wasn't the youngest horse in the barn but it's not like this thing was built by labor busting monkeys at Wal-Mart either.  He gets out tire levers, shows me where to put them (ha) and then demonstrates how to break the seal and then invites me to try.  I can't get the tire off.  He tries.  And tries.  The veins stand out on his neck and his face shows mild annoyance.  "Some are harder than others" he says as he pries and yanks.  The tire comes off.  I look doubtful.

The in between parts are not that bad.  Blow up the tube and stick it in water or eyeball or feel along the rubber as you look for the leak.  Patch the leak.  That's all ok.  Checking the inside of your tire for more bullshit dropped by automobiles is ok also although I advise not using your finger for this if what you are checking for is broken glass.

Now it's time to put the tube in the tire and put tire and tube back on the naked wheel.  The entire struggle of getting the tire off has to happen in reverse with the added caveat that you now need to be careful not to pinch your tube or damage it in some fresh way.  So it's a miserable struggle and it's also stressful.

Why is this all so awful?  Car people refer to a "spare tire" but what they have is a "spare wheel."  We are not all that comfortable carrying a spare wheel around because unlike the petroleum people we have no giant trunk.

I guess I'm just saying, couldn't this be any better?  Please?


  1. I carry a spare tube specifically so that I can look forward to a) patching the tube with boozy beverage of choice nearby or b) batting eyelashes at the Husband to see if I can con him into doing it for me.

    I'm also prone to breaking levers, I like Park R1s, because they don't break very easily, but are cheap enough to lose (another problem of mine).


    It's ridiculous how hard it is. Waaay easier to change a car tire. The other secret to changing a car tire is a very long lever arm- forget those POS wrenches that come with the car- I have a 30" long torque wrench that gets the job done in no time. Every time I replace bike tires or tubes I'm gobsmacked by how hard it is, and wonder what the *!@&() I'm doing wrong.

    Glad to know that I'm with you not only in frustration but in feeling there must be a better way....
    I don't even try to change a flat on the road. No F'n way am I taking the chaincase off on the side of the road, even if I did carry all the tools with me. And even if it's the front wheel, I have the luxury of locking it to a pole and walking to the nearest T station, so that's the plan if I ever flat en route. OTOH, I didn't have a single flat in 4,000K on my last set of tires, so either I'm due, or I'm going to be really glad that I replaced them with the same kind of tires.

  3. My most recent tire repair mishaps were: putting in a spare tube after flatting about a mile from home, then breaking off the little presta nut thing while pumping up the spare and just walking home in disgust, and, pumping up a new tube in a new road tire in my house, and probably through pinching it or something, having the tube go BOOM when I got it up to 100psi. I use Slime tubes and puncture resistant tires on my commuter and haven't had a commuting flat in a long, long time, though.

  4. This has been my worst fear since I started riding regularly with a group – I so do not want to be that person who gets a flat and causes the whole group to have to pull over and wait (and stare) while I fumble around frantically trying to get the damn thing off and on again! And it doesn’t matter how many times I practice it, it’s just awkward :-/