Summer Sunday: Flat

imagesI love to mountain bike. But, I hate the logistics. I hate fumbling with car racks, bike pumps, C02 cartridges, shock pumps, chain tools, pedal screws and allen wrenches. However, as a girl playing in a male-dominated sport, I’ve always made sure I could manage all of these logistics on my own.

I quickly changed my own flats, swiftly secured my bike on top of the car, and aptly modified  tire pressure for different conditions. I prided myself on being independent, doing it myself.  I didn’t need no stinking guy to put my bike on the car.

That was all until I got married and found a stinking guy that would do all of these tedious things for me. I had earned my stripes. I’d impressed the boys. It was my turn to be a girl.

I stopped putting my bike on top of the car, I stopped changing my own flats and I stopped greasing my own chain. I could still put on the independent bravado with friends, showing them how to use CO2 cartridges, micro-adjust their brakes and clean their drive trains. But the truth was, I hadn’t so much as put my own front tire back on my bike using a quick release for years.

The dependence was like a drug. Who wouldn’t take advantage of a private bike mechanic if they could? I was pretty sure if I had to do any of these things myself, I still could. I could draw on all of that previous knowledge from years of doing it. But, over the years, as I did less and less, the bikes began to change. Disc brakes made the seemingly easy task of putting your front tire back on, a little trickier. A through-axle replaced the skewer system. Did you turn it? Push it? Hammer it? How did the damn wheel even come off?

I went from the cool girl who could do it all herself, to the frantic crazy chic calling her husband at the trailhead because her brakes were jammed and she couldn’t get her tire on. Oh and not just once. Another phone call from another trailhead. This time in tears. The car rack’s quick-release was jammed.  I couldn’t even get the bike off the top of the car.

You’d think I’d learn my lesson. But the only thing I learned was never to go on a ride without my cell phone.

Then came tubeless tires and 29ers. I would find out the hard way that you can’t fix a flat for a 29-inch wheel with a 26-inch tube. Ooops. That would be a long walk out of the woods.

The writing was on the wall; I should have paid attention. I should have started taking care of my bike by myself again. A return to that 20-year old badass who didn’t need no stinking guy to fix her bike.

But then the miraculous happened. A period of bliss came over my world of cycling. A long period of good karma in which I experienced no mechanicals – no flats, no broken derailers, no broken chains. My new strategy when riding alone was simple: Don’t break down. Get lucky. If this worked, I could simply continue to ignore my current bike maintenance incompetency.

But of course, that miraculous period, in a sport full of mechanical logistics, would come to an end. And just last week, as I was riding a ridge back into town, my back tire began to swim. My biggest fear had materialized: A flat. I had changed plenty of flats in my day; it’s really very easy—at least how I remembered it. But, I hadn’t flatted on my mountain bike in a long time. Or maybe, I just didn’t ride fast enough anymore to get a flat.

I assessed the situation. I had everything I needed to change the tire; the correct size tube, tire irons to dislodge the tire from the rim and CO2 cartridges to blow it back up again. But then I started thinking. This was a tubeless tire. At least I thought it was. I realized I didn’t even know which tires on which of my bikes were tubeless. I assumed all of them and made a mental note to check with my husband, Jake, about that.  If it was in fact tubeless, it meant the tire had no tube in it. How did one change a tire with no tube?

Maybe, I could just put air in it and somehow the hole would seal itself and I could continue on my merry way. That way I wouldn’t have to take the wheel off the bike, dislodge the tire from the rim, put a tube in, play the never-ending tension game to get the tire back on the rim, blow it up, then wrestle with my back bracket and chain to get the wheel back on the bike.

It seemed like a foolproof plan. As I released the air from the CO2 cartridge into the tire, I heard two sounds. The air swooshing into the tire and the air leaking back out of the tire’s hole. Shit. I resorted to the only reasonable alternative. I got out my cell phone.

photoI walked my bike the mile or so to the trailhead where Jake met me with the car. I promised this was it. My dependency was over. I would take care of my bike by myself again. All of it.  Tires, seats, chains and shocks. As a matter of fact, I’d start right away — right after he took my front tire off and put my bike in the car.

Postscript on changing a tubeless flat: For those who are still wondering about the tubeless tire conundrum, you can put a tube in a tubeless tire if you get a flat. Then, when you get down, take it to the shop and they’ll put this milky liquid stuff called Stan’s in your tire to seal the hole so you can go tubeless again.

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