Friday, September 11, 2015

Wire in the Tire

Let's talk flat tires.

When I bought my bike a few years ago, I was terrified of crashing it.  (Yes, I *did* name my bike "the SPDM", for "Sudden Painful Death Machine").  I was terrified of corners; I was terrified of gravel; and I lived with a low-level constant trepidation of getting flat tires.

It turns out that practice helps overcome fears, especially with the first two of those.  By now, with over 3000 miles on the SPDM, I've been through a lot of corners and I've zoomed through a lot of gravel. I have a much better body-feel of how to handle those.

A flat tire, on the other hand, is something that's harder to practice, because it happens so rarely.  So, for those who are about as fearful of the unknown as I am, here's a little history of my own three flat tires (well, actually more than that, but you'll see as I describe these why I just count it as 3).

I used to think that getting a flat would be dramatic:  the tire would pop, the wheel would explode, the bike would slam to a halt, I'd be flung violently to the ground, and I'd die a horrible painful death.

So, um, it's not like that.

In fact, my first and last flat tires were super-slow leaks, and all I could feel while I was riding was that the bike was a little harder to pedal (like running on a sandy beach instead of running on pavement), and that steering felt a bit more iffy.  The first time I got a flat, it grew gradually flat over the course of a 25-mile training ride; it started getting soft on me a little after the halfway point, and the leak was so gradual that I couldn't really figure out what was going on at first.  Even after it was clear that I was losing air,  I could still ride the last 5 miles home on an essentially flat tire.   Riding on a squooshy-to-flat tire is totally possible if it's the rear tire.  You have to ride a bit more slowly and take corners more carefully, but it's perfectly doable.  (We'll get to front tires in a while -- different story there).

My second flat tire was again the rear tire, and it was at mile 2 of my 112-mile triathlon.  That was much more sudden, but again, it wasn't an explosion -- it was just that all of a sudden, my rear tire felt really sluggish:  sand on the beach.  I put on a new inner tube, and I was on my way again --- and I STILL thank the bicycle gods almost daily that the new tube didn't wig out on me, so I could finish that danged event.  The main point of this is that I never felt unsafe when my tire popped; I just was bummed that I might not get to finish the event I'd trained 20 hours a week for for an entire %$@& summer.  Y'know.

My repaired tire (on the left),
getting ready to jump back on the SPDM
with my husband's wheel playing substitute for a week.

Fast forward from last August to this August.  I went to grab the SPDM for a round of yard saling, and saw my front tire was flat.  I pumped it up; the tire seemed to hold air, and because I was just toodling around the neighborhood (and could walk the bike home if I had trouble), I took the bike out. No problem with the tire.  Yay!

Next day, I went out to grab the SPDM for a long Sunday ride:  the front tire was flat again.  (Notice how non-scary this is: I wasn't on the bike when the tire deflated).  Since this was twice in a row, and since I was going for a long ride, I removed the inner tube, checked for glass/debris inside the tire, and put in new inner tube.  All was good.

A week and 70-ish miles on the bike later, I came out in the morning to see that the tire had gone flat again.  This time, we took the wheel off the bike, took the wheel to our local bike shop to fix. They declared the flat tire a fluke and sent the wheel back.  More riding ensued.

This Tuesday as I was riding downtown, I noticed the front tire was squooshy.  And getting squooshier. So when I got where I was going, I called my husband and asked him to bring me a new wheel.  We took my wheel back to the bike shop for another inspection.  If the tire (not the inner tube, but the "outer tube") had gone bad, replacing that would cost about $60-ish.  But this time around, the eagle-eyed bike mechanics noticed a small wire embedded in the tire; it had been scraping the inner tubes ever so gently, causing eventual slow leaks.  The bike mechanics pulled out the wire, and I'm back to my usual 110 psi.    Although I love being able to do things myself, I have to say that I love our local bike shop.

Here are some other random bike tire observations.
  • We get "gator skin" tires (made with kevlar), even though they cost more, just because they're much less likely to lead to a flat tire.  So far, I've been really happy with them (although, really, what do I know about this?)
  • It's cool that we can swap wheels between my husband's bike and my sons' bike and my bike.  I don't know that it's worth going out and buying extra bikes just for that reason, but if you already have them and the wheels are interchangeable,  . . . well, yay!
  • My-husband-the-bike-racer says it's dangerous to ride on a flat front tire -- the tire can peel off the rim and dump you on your face.  I am just totally going to believe him on this one.   
  • The same guy I trust on the danger of front tires says that flat tires are much more likely to happen on the back.  He gets about 3000 miles out of a rear tire, and only 1500 out of a front tire.  That means that the scarier kinds of flat tires happen less often.  Another reason to breathe easier.  

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