Flats (I ain’t talkin’ shoes)

A few days ago I did a beautiful 41 mile ride. I was 38 miles in – about 3 miles from home – when I hear the dreaded “PSSSSSSHHH”. That’s right folks, my front tire had a flat. Flats – suck. No better way of putting it. There’re a lot worse ways I could put it, but I’m trying to be nice (we all know I shall fail).¬†Getting a flat less than 3 miles from home? Sucks bad.

Replacing a tube isn’t hard, usually. If you have brand new tires it’s harder because the rubber isn’t as soft, which’ll make it harder to get off the rim. And the back tire is a little harder than the front because you have to deal with the cogs and the derailleurs. It’s more mental than physical. At the beginning of a ride, it kills your enthusiasm. At the end of a ride, it can ruin the feeling of a good ride. ¬†When riding with a group, you know that either now you have to play catch-up, or you’re holding them back (most groups are nice and won’t make you feel this way… purposefully). I was on my own, so it wasn’t too bad, but I don’t know any crack-head that would say “Yay! I got a flat!”.

There are umpteen-thousand demos on changing a flat online. I’ve watched several to compare how they do it. I won’t say there’s a best way, cause I don’t think that exists. But I will cover some things that’ve made my tube-changing life a whole lot better.

1) Check the tire: often people are so upset about having a flat and changing it, they forget to check for what mighta caused it in the first place. I take both hands, and run my fingers on the inside of the tire while my thumbs feel the outside. Make sure to check both the rolling surface and the sidewalls as well. If whatever made the leak is still there, take it out. Sounds simple, right? That’s what makes it easy to forget.

2) Get yourself a CO2 pump: I was skeptical at first, but MAN! My big bro El Willito bought this for me, and it’s a helluva lot better than trying to pump to 110psi on a mini-pump. If you buy the cartridges in bulk they’ll run you about $1 per 16 gram cartridge. Only takes one to fill up the tire, and takes seconds to fill instead of days.

a) Let’s say you have a CO2 pump: make sure you know how much you can fill your tire. A 16 gram cartridge can fill up to about 120-130psi for a typical road tire. That’s usually slightly too much for a normal tire/tube. I use 16g cartridges, and need to fill to about 110 or so. I literally play it by ear. When you don’t hear the tire filling anymore, you’re probably close. If you use the whole thing and your tire can’t handle it, you could be in for some really bad times. At minimum, you could just blow the new tube and have to start over. Another option is if you have a manual mini-pump with a gauge (as backup), you can pop on the gauge and check.

3) The pre-fill: When you’re going to put the tube in the tire, pump the tube up a little bit, at least until it’s got a shape. This will make it easier to place into the tire. It’ll also help to keep the tube from getting caught between the tire and the rim wall when filling it up. If you have a CO2 pump, hook it up and give it a quick shot – usually one quick trigger pull-and-release is enough.

4) Nesting the tube: I call it nesting, there might be other terms. But basically what I mean is before you fill to full pressure, rock the tire back and forth perpendicular to the direction of the rim. What you’re feeling for is the inner-tube should be seating within the tire itself, and not between the edge of the tire and rim. This also helps to seat the bead of the tire against the edge of the rim. If the tube isn’t fully nestled into the tire, when you fill to full pressure it can get between the tire and rim, where it can bust. Or it can unseat the tire from the rim and bulge.

5) Rolling the tire: ok, so you’ve got the wheel back on. Good to go, right? Nope. One last thing to do. Pick up the end of the bike that had the flat, and spin the wheel. Look at the tire edge from above. What you’re looking for is whether there are any bumps – either on the sides or on the rolling surface. Bumps could mean bulges in the tube, bad seating of the tire or tube, etc. Basically it means you have to deflate the tube and attempt to re-seat it. Another tell tale sign if you didn’t roll the bike is a bouncy feel on each revolution.

Those five points have no doubt saved me from some multiple flats, and saved days off my repair times. By the way, don’t throw out the tube! They ain’t exactly cheap, and in most cases the cost of a $0.25 patch will save you buying another $6 tube.

The last thing I want to mention is a piece of advice that unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read it. I wish I could, because it’s some of the best advice I’ve never followed. What, you thought I’d use it? Well, I should, but I’m lazy. Here it is:

Practice changing flats just like you would practice any other cycling skill.

AMAZING, RIGHT?! Actually practice changing a flat! First time I read that I thought “Man, that’s just genius!” It’s a cycling skill like any other. You work on your cadence, your form, your sprinting, your endurance. Why not your flats? Makes perfect sense… in a perfect world. And sometimes I’m really tempted to do it. But it feels wrong! I mean, I’d have to purposefully deflate a tire that’s already inflated. I’d have to take off the wheel, take off the tire, take out the tube, check the tire, pop in a new tube, put the tire back on, yada yada. But right now – it works. So what would possess me to redo what’s already been done? Especially when I don’t like it?

I saw one person change a flat in just a couple of minutes – that’s why. He stopped, popped the wheel off, the tire, the tube, checked it, reloaded, filled, put it back on, packed up, and was ready to roll. Honestly, a thing of beauty.

So some day… some day… I will take the time to sit down and DEFLATE my tire, and run through the motions. Front tire a few times, then back tire a few times. Next week – rinse and repeat. Some day. But not today. Today, I keep rolling.

Until the next flat. :p