Tag Archive: flat tire

Bike Commuter Reality Check

As the theme song to the 80’s tv show “The Facts of Life” says – “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

Those words ring just as true for the realities of bike commuting, too. My blissful rides home this week with the south winds pushing at my back have been countered by the more difficult bike commutes into the forceful 20mph winds going to work. On the up-note — I’m getting in my resistance training. 🙂

And then yesterday morning – feeling invincible as a bike commuter sailing past traffic at rush hour and loving the warmer weather – I experienced my first flat tire since starting to ride my current commuter bike ‘Toro’. Luckily the air pressure held to get me to my workplace destination where it promptly went completely flat. With the bike propped upside down in my office, I called on the help of a fellow bike commuter colleague and he provided support as a patched my barely punctured tube. It’s always more fun to face these bummer realities with a friend at your side. We both got our hands dirty and shared tricks and tips for flat repairs. In this case, I patched the tube – even left the wheel on the bike; sadly the skewer system I have in place on my wheels were on their too tight for either me or my co-worker to loosen. Then on my way home I did pick up a couple new tubes from the local bike shop along my route… and got my skewer unstuck so that I can remove the wheel when needed.

The flat tire totally surprised me and left me floundering — until I realized that I just need to reach out to the bike commuter community. I was not alone in my need and support was only an email away. The bad reality brought the good community back to bike commuting. It also reminds me that in this weather — with the snow all nearly melted — to look out for all the debris in the roadway that can cause flats.

There you have it – the good along with the not-so-good = the fact that I would (usually) always rather be bike commuting.

Tool-less Bicycle Repairs?

The other day, Moe and were talking about an article idea: presenting ways to repair common bicycle breakdowns without tools. If you were stranded out in the middle of nowhere without tools, could you fix a broken derailleur, repair a flat tire, reconnect a broken chain? It sounded like a great idea for an article — tips that could be QUITE useful in an emergency.

After some research, though, we found very little to go on…

Take a broken or damaged derailleur — while it might be possible to “massage” a bent cage or hanger back into place without tools, what about if the derailleur is completely trashed, or you snap a cable out in the wilds? If you had a screwdriver, you could turn the high/low adjustment screws enough to force the derailleur to stay in one place, resulting in a rideable (if not exactly comfortable) singlespeed configuration that could get you back to civilization. Without a screwdriver or knife blade to turn those screws, though, you’re dead in the water…

Same with a broken chain — without SOME kind of tool, connecting a broken chain is virtually impossible. You must have a way to punch out the pins in the chain to remove a mangled section or to get the chain ready to lash together with a piece of wire. Back in the old days, before I had amassed a large collection of bicycle tools, my friends and I would use a finishing nail and a hammer to drive the pins in and out. In a pinch, I suppose you could use a nail or similar sharp piece of metal and a fist-sized rock to pound in a pin and bind the two broken ends of the chain with a piece of wire looped through the links’ pin holes. But, this qualifies as still needing tools. Strike two for our great idea!

I did manage to find a couple tool-less wheel and tire repair tricks, though. Master tinkerer, expert ratrod builder and funny guy Gerry Lauzon of Montreal has a nice tutorial on fixing a taco-ed rim on his blog.

Another trick (one which I hope to never have to try) is one I saw in Barbara Savage’s excellent Miles From Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure…at least that’s where I think I remember seeing it! Anyway, she got a flat tire out in the wilds somewhere, and she wound up stuffing clothing into the tire to replace the tube. That made the bike rideable enough that she could keep going until she reached a place where she could properly fix her tube.

Finally, a lot of people know that gashes in a tire’s sidewall can be repaired temporarily (or even permanently) by a piece or two of duct tape. Did you know that a folded dollar bill or an empty Powerbar wrapper also work excellently as emergency tire boots?

I guess the moral of this story is don’t travel without tools. At minimum, carry a patch kit and tire levers, a pump, a small screwdriver and a set of hex keys. There are plenty of multitools on the market that have all the tools you might need (including chain tools on several models) to facilitate an emergency roadside repair. If you insist on traveling light and don’t want to carry any tools, at least bring a cellphone with you so you can call for help when (not if) you get stranded.

And, if any of you have had to “MacGyver” any emergency repairs, we’d love to hear about ’em. Leave those stories and tips in the comment section below.