Lessons from my first flat bike tire

Cycling / Ideas & Advice

After nearly a year and a half and 1900 miles of riding my Masi Partenza, I finally got my first flat bike tire when I was about 8 miles from home. Lots of people have told me it’s a miracle it didn’t happen to me sooner. I, on the other hand, am still pretty irritated It happened in the first place.

I was cruising down a nice downhill stretch of Route 12 in my home town of Keene, NH. It was late in the afternoon and instead of sunglasses, I had my prescription glasses on which proved to be inferior at blocking the wind. At 32mph my eyes were watering and my vision was compromised. Instead of slowing down, I kept on pushing and saw the black, wallet-size rock a split second before I ran over it with both tires and immediately heard the hissing sound I’d been dreading.

Fortunately, as our local marketing specialist/former bike tech Ben Hall told me, I did not experience a total blowout because there’s a better than average chance I would have been launched from my bike. Considering the size of the rock I hit and how fast I was going. I consider myself very lucky. Which brings me to Lesson One of dealing with a flat bike tire:

RELAX

I didn’t panic when I hit the rock. I shouted a few expletives, for sure, but I absorbed the shock with my body (specifically, my unlocked arms), kept my balance. and remained rubber side down. I didn’t jam on the brakes, in fact, I didn’t even use them until I heard the tire starting to sound like a beach ball being squeezed by a wet toddler. At the time, I thought I should slow down to save the tire from falling off but Ben assured me that would not have happened. If anything, applying the brakes could have caused me to lose control. Ben says the rules for a flat bike tire are the same for a flat car tire, keep calm, coast to a stop and then heed the next lesson of flat bike tire repair:

BE SMART

The road I got my flat bike tire on has a speed limit of 50mph with cars routinely going 10-15mph faster than that. Once I got off my bike, I moved it and myself onto the grass beyond the break down lane and took no chances having an irritating situation turn into something far worse in the form of a car clipping me. As I went about the business of removing the tire, I placed all the parts where I could find them easily and made sure my chain didn’t get clogged with sand and dirt. Once the tire was off and the tube was removed, I was grateful I had the third lesson covered:

BE PREPARED

Having tire levers, a spare tube and a pump or CO2 cartridge goes without saying but the thing I found most helpful after my flat was knowing how to use them. Three weeks before my first flat bike tire, I was forced to change my rear tube due to a broken valve stem (I have a very bad habit of bending them which I have remedied by upgrading my pump). FULL DISCLOSURE – I have a tough time changing my tire the way 98% of the how-to videos on YouTube say I should do it. Which is, mounting one side of the tire on the rim, inserting the tube between the tire and the rim and then mounting the second side of the tire on to rim. The bike techs and triathletes on YouTube make this look ridiculously easy, but every time I try to do it, I get a bubble. I’m sure there’s something I’m doing wrong, but I found a different video with a different technique that works better for me. I figured, if this girl can do it without the help of her boyfriend, then surely I can do it, right? Right.


Removing the tire completely, threading the tube inside and then mounting tire and tube to the rim simultaneously works for me. However you choose to do it, practice at home so you’ll be able to do it flawlessly when the pressure is on.

I’m sorry I don’t have photos of the experience but I was a bit busy at the time so you’ll just have to take my word for it. One final bit of advice for newbies like me on tire repair relates to C02 cartridges. Ben tells me the two most common mistakes riders make with C02 cartridges is

A) Not having a bike pump to activate the C02 cartridge (you can’t just press the cartridge to your valve stem and inflate your tire).
B) Not realizing that a single C02 cartridge is only good for one inflation.

If you’re worried about mishandling a C02 cartridge, you can always go with a portable hand pump that mounts to your frame but that means you have room for one less water bottle which is not good on long rides.

If like me, you’re still fairly new to road cycling, I hope my experience takes some of the fear out of getting a flat bike tire when you’re miles from home. When you you ride on thin, skinny tires over roads loaded with hazards like glass, nails, rocks and potholes, it’s an inevitable experience. As Ben likes to say “flat bike tires come in threes.” I hope he’s wrong about that, but with a little planning ahead and practice, you’ll know exactly what to do the next time you get a flat bike tire while riding. And like me, you’ll find out it’s really not that big a deal.

 

Jim Darroch


Jim's love for the outdoors began with family camping trips in "Brady Bunch" style canvas tents and progressed to backpacking adventures with the Boy Scouts. In 2007, he fulfilled his teenage dream by joining Eastern Mountain Sports as Brand Communications Manager. When he's not in the office, you'll find Jim kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking around the Monadnock Region and throughout New England with his wife Brenda and his dog Brewski.

1 Comment

  1. SteveP
    September 25, 2013, 9:03 am

    Interesting technique. I think you can get by without a pump if you are careful, although having even a small pump makes it easy to pre-inflate the new tube (you can patch the old one usually). I have a CO2 inflator that screws onto Presta valves and has a regulator, so I can screw on a cartridge, screw the inflator onto the valve, and just bleed in a tiny amount of gas to pre-inflate. Then, once remounted, I can fully inflate the tire. So a pump is not a necessity, but makes good sense. It would be good to know that most MTB tires need two standard cartridges to re-inflate due to the greater volume.

    If you want a pump big enough to inflate a tire all by itself, there are some good ones, but most are large enough you will need a bag, or so large they actually mount to the bike frame. That means you have to carry the pump in some sort of bag or worry about someone stealing the pump. I always carry a small pump, a spare tube, a patch kit, and my CO2 valve with two cartridges. But I live in an area where I can have two flats in one day. I consider myself lucky if it’s the front tire (easier to remove & replace :-)

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