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Flat Tires: Another Lesson Learned (the hard way)

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

In the last six years I’ve only had two flats. That’s probably because I’m fanatical about checking my tires and keeping them pumped up and I’m lucky to have fairly good surfaces to ride on. The only downside is that there’s been plenty of time to forget how to fix one. I found that out last month while cycling with my buddy Victoria.

After racing down a steep hill out on a country road, I noticed my speed dropped dramatically and my back tire ca-thunked, ca-thunked, ca-thunked as it rotated. We were out about 40 km (24 miles) from home but I wasn’t too concerned. Victoria, who had changed several flat tires last season, had the experience and I had all the tools in my saddlebag (which I lug around year after year in preparation for just such an event). I rifled through the bag and pulled out: a spare inner tube (check), 2 tire calipers (check), 1 monkey wipe (check), a pump. . . well, yes and no. I retired my tiny pump a couple of years earlier—it seemed to always be in the way of everything I really needed in my saddlebag—and replaced it with 2 nifty C02 cartridges.

C02 cartridge with inflator attached

With a sense of foreboding, I recalled that when I bought the C02 cartridges the clerk had asked me if I’d used them before. He had recommended practising at home first, since there’s a bit of a learning curve. Did I heed his advice? No. How hard can they be to use, I thought? Instead, I cleverly put the C02 instruction sheet in my saddle bag, figuring I could sort out the details when circumstances required it.

Now, stranded on the side of a quiet country road, that day had come. In a flash, Victoria had the back wheel off, one side of the tire off the rim and the old inner tube pulled out. I handed her the new inner tube and started reading the instructions that came with the C02 cartridges. First challenge: the teeny-weeny print. Once I had deciphered that, I figured out what the inflator was, and easily got the cartridge threaded onto it. Thanks to Victoria’s expertise, everything was going smoothly and I anticipated being back on the bike in mere minutes—until I tried connecting the inflator to the tire valve. I pressed and pushed and pressed some more. Why isn’t it working? Then Victoria tried, and tried again. Why isn’t the blasted thing working? Okay, back to the instructions.

While we read and reread the instructions and wrestled with the C02 cartridge, a farmer drove by in his pickup truck and asked if he could help. I walked over to ask him if he happened to have a bicycle pump. At exactly that moment Victoria figured out how to get the air out of the cartridge and into the tire. Then . . . BANG! . . . Oops. It turns out you also need to know how to stop the airflow. The store clerk was right. Those cartridges are tricky to use.

The farmer kindly offered to drive me home. Victoria continued down the road on her own while I ignominiously loaded my bike in the pickup bed. The next day I bought a new inner tube, and learned how to use the C02 cartridge. Which, like everything, is easy once you know how. And I fixed the flat tire. This experience taught me four things:

  • It’s important to know how to use the tools you carry in your saddle bag
  • If you don’t know how to change a flat, learn at home (this article shows you how)
  • If you do know how to change a flat but seldom have to, review the how-to steps annually, or even better, do an annual trial run in your garage
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a good-natured cycling buddy, even a flat tire on the road can be fun (thanks Victoria!)

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