Riding on the rims

My old bro’ Dr. Schenkenstein practices the mystical art of puncture resolution during a February 2011 ride around Bibleburg.

Do you remember when you learned how to fix a flat?

I don’t. But I’m pretty sure that in my first incarnation as a cyclist I served my time as one of those guys you occasionally see trudging gloomily along, pushing a bike, instead of spending a few moments at roadside swapping tubes and getting back after the riding of the thing.

No doubt some lucky shop handled flats for me until I got “serious” about cycling in the mid-Eighties. I didn’t have any mentors, or friends who were deeply into the sport, so I read every bike magazine and book I could lay my hands on and got my basic training and maintenance tips from a distance as I moved around from job to job, town to town, Pueblo to Colorado Springs to Denver to Española to Santa Fe, where I finally joined my first club and started taking instruction the hard way.

Flats, it seemed, were part of the price of admission to the game. You want to play? You got to pay. It’s like taking your pulls, or sharing food, water and kit as circumstances dictate. Sooner or later you have to give it up. Patch it up. Whatevs.

It’s no big deal. Unless you have been seduced by what the engineers call “progress,” fixing a flat on the fly is not rocket surgery or brain science. Open the brake caliper, flip the quick release, remove the wheel, pry off the bead, remove the old tube, check to make sure that whatever violated its integrity is no longer in the tire, install the new tube, inflate, replace the wheel, close the QR and caliper, stuff the flat tube in a jersey pocket, and get on about your business. Easy peasy. Even the Irish can manage it.

Of course, they’d have to make a short story out of it. Perhaps a song. Or maybe a podcast.

A podcast?

Yes, yes, yes — pull out your patch kits and push in the earbuds, it’s time for another thumb-fingered edition of Radio Free Dogpatch.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with an Audio-Technica AT2035 microphone and a Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. I altered the recording setup a bit, breaking out an old Auray reflection filter to help isolate the large-diaphragm condenser mic, then edited the hot mess using Apple’s GarageBand on the 13-inch 2014 MacBook Pro. The background music is “Out of Step” and “In His Own Way” from Zapsplat.com. The rim shot is from xtrgamr at Freesound.org, which also supplied the pop! (gniffelbaf) and the squeaky chain (Jamesrodavidson), because you just know that a pro like me would never, ever have a squeaky chain. Yeah, right.

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42 Responses to “Riding on the rims”

  1. carl duellman Says:

    i remember prying the tire off my bmx bike with a craftsman screwdriver, fixing the flat and then prying it back on with same said craftsman screwdriver. of course the screwdriver punctured the tube so i had to repatch the tube and pry the tire back on more carefully.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      That may be my favorite part of flat repair: Puncturing the new tube with a tool. Ever leave the tube slightly pinched between bead and rim and re-flat the sonofabitch that way? Another winner.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        I love when the tube squeezes out of the bead and just when you think you have it up to pressure, boom!

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          After a couple of those I started thumbing my way around the rim to make sure I hadn’t left any tube bound up under the bead. That kapow! will scare the Clif Blox right out of you. Especially in Albuquerque, home of the drive-by shooting.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Yep. That’s one of my least favorite flat fixing stories.

          • Tony Geller Says:

            Even worse when the tube is filled with sealant.

          • Patrick O'Grady Says:

            Once at a ’cross when I was racing sewups doctored with a hypo full of Slime by my mechanic buddy I hit something with the front tire that the sealant couldn’t handle right away. For the next few moments I got a squirt of green goo in the chops with every rotation of the tire. It was as though my own personal malevolent demon was having an “Exorcist” moment at my expense.

    • carl duellman Says:

      i have so few flats now my tubes actually dry rot in my seat bag.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Ah, yes, the cousin to the ancient patch kit with the fossilized tube of glue.

      Another keeper: Having the wrong tube for the bike you’re riding at the moment. Like, a 26×2.0 for a 700×32, or vice versa.

    • Dale Says:

      Any screwdriver or even a dull Barlow knife was the tool of choice to remove the tire. That was followed by a lot of looking, tube stretching, and usually a slow walk to where there was a tire pump.

      After providing some pressure to the tube, there would be a conference. If water and soap were handy, a consensus would be reached and someone would ride to the nearest service station and purchase a Monkey Grip tube patch kit along with a pack of matches.

      The offending puncture was cleaned, scrubbed with the cheap rasp from the kit, and finally glued and set afire. Only then was the patch affixed.

  2. kat holoch Says:

    You lived in Pueblo AND Espanola? How lucky can a guy get? 🙂

  3. Larry T. atCycleItalia Says:

    I remember my first “real” bike – for some dumb reason I figured those tires wouldn’t go flat, until I had to call my father to rescue me 20 miles from home! I’d fixed flats/mounted tires on various 2-wheelers for years so I just had to pop down to the LBS and get all the stuff so next time I could just fix it. In my tubular daze I carried two of ’em for the same reason you carried 2 tubes – and needed both one time so I was damn glad I had ’em! I do have to confess to a time or two pulling a spare tube out of the under-saddle bag and finding it less-than-ready-to-go…Grrrrrrr! Not from just throwing a punctured tube in there the last time and forgetting about it, but more like Carl describes. Each time I vow to inspect ’em more often so it’ll never happen again….you know how that goes.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I didn’t have the hand strength for tubies. Raced ’em, of course, because everybody did, but trained on clinchers and eventually just stayed that course. I never learned to trust glue, friction, or momentum, which is one reason I was such a lousy bike racer.

  4. SAO' Says:

    Real fun is riding in Greater East GoatHeadThorntopia with the whole fam damily, where every rider has her own wheel size and axel mounting system. Gotta carry the General Mechanics Tool Kit on each ride. So you bring the Burley trailer, and now you have one more wheel size to worry about.

  5. Stan Thomas Says:

    I learned to fix flats and patch inner tubes as a kid at my grandfather’s knee. Then, when I got serious, I started carrying spare tubes. Still with a puncture repair kit for when two tubes aren’t enough. And there I was to be found, on a dark, lonely lane as dusk and light rain fell, at least once a fortnight, fixing flats by the side of the road.

    Until 10 years ago – when I went tubeless. And I don’t get flats anymore*. Now I laugh in the face of hawthorn hedge trimmings. Time for the ‘dog to enter the 21st century too.

    *Not strictly true, I split a tyre and had to ride 20 miles home on the flat. Slowly. No harm done, the tyre was trash anyway.

  6. Pat O'Brien Says:

    I hate flats. Didn’t have one this year despite goat heads, glass, and mesquite thorns. But, I always carry a spare tube, Park Tool Super patches, and a Topeak Road Morph pump with built in gauge which hangs from the top tube.

    Nice microphone! I use a Shure SM-58 right now, but my amp has phantom power so I could go with a condenser mike. Like to get a single mike that would handle both a guitar and vocal without having to sit on top of it.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I haven’t settled on a mic yet, Paddy me lad. The SM58 is one of my favorites, and the AT2035 is good, too. Both are affordable, which doesn’t hurt. I’m not gonna be in the market for a Shure SM7B anytime soon.

      I dunno about mic’ing both voice and guitar with the AT2035, though. Is your guitar-playing pal an expert in such things? Here’s a detailed read that came up during a quick chat with Kindly Old Doc Google, if you’d like to dive deep into the audio weeds.

      FYI, for this most recent episode I had the 10db pad off and the 80hz high-pass filter on.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        Alan and I went to see the Ronstadt brother perform this month. They had two mikes, one for each of them. They played a cello and guitar that were not plugged in. Those mikes picked up the instruments and vocal beautifully with no feedback and with them standing and sitting a few feet away. Didn’t have a chance to ask them what kind of mikes they were. The SM58 is all I need. I am doing a couple of songs, Sitting On Top Of The World and Last Thing On My Mind, with my buddy Allen at a neighborhood get together on Saturday. That’s the first time the SM58 has been out of the house.

        Thanks for the link. The more I look the more I am satisfied with what I have.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          Glad to obleeege, Hoss. If you should find yourself with a hankering to experiment with a second mic, one with both XLR and USB outputs, think about the Samson Q2U. With the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB having been discontinued, it may be the last nickel bargain in audio.

  7. khal spencer Says:

    I’m waiting for one of these Marathon Plus tires on the Long Haul Trucker to flat. The ones I had to mount with motorcycle tire levers. That will be fun fixing.

    First time I seriously had a Come to Jesus talk about flats was when I first started Riding Seriously(tm) back in the early eighties. I had two friends in Rochester who wanted to visit Niagara Falls but their own car was dead. I arranged for the three of us to drive to Buffalo and they dropped me off at my parent’s house, would visit the Falls, and we would meet up back at their house as I would bicycle back to Rochester, about sixty miles.

    I was riding a Motobecane Mirage (seen on my 60th birthday blog post) with lightweight panniers and, since I thought it was cool to go fast, a couple of early vintage Specialized 27×1 Turbos. I promptly flatted several times between Buffalo and Rochester but fortunately had packed spare tubes, a frame pump, and patch kit, which I needed. What I had not planned on was fixing flats on the side of a 55 mph truck route, which made it more interesting. The fact that the rear wheel bolted on made it more interesting, too.

    That was a learning experience, so to speak. First thing I did after that was put a quick release axle on the bike.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      You will be waiting a long time for that Marathon Plus to flat or wear out. Heavy, yeh. Hard to mount, yeh, but it gets easier after the first time. Not the most supple ride, yeh. I have been riding the same set (700×35) on the Soma Disc Double Cross for over a year with no flats. The only flat I had with therm was over a year ago, and it was a roofing nail!

      • khal spencer Says:

        I have them on the Long Haul Trucker in 26×1.375 size and with the smaller diameter, they spin up fast and ride well. I was more impressed with the ride quality than I thought I would be. Today I did a tour de city in honor of the wind and cold and had them pumped a little too hard for comfort but still, aside from the land war in Asia getting them on the bike, I like them.

  8. JD Dallager Says:

    You folks are jinxing yourselves, especially the ones talking about how long it’s been since flatting. Tubes and tires have not had sensitivity training and you are definitely infringing on their self esteem! 🙂

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires solved that self esteem problem. Those tires are tougher than a $2 steak.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Have you ever noticed that the people who care the least about bicycles are often the ones who have the fewest mechanical problems? My man Hal in Weirdcliffe is a bicycle’s worst nightmare, but I’ll bet he’s spent less time than I have hoofing it home after some ride-ending SNAFU.

  9. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Ahh… the old Craftsman screwdriver debacles. I was so damn stupid that I figured for sure it was the right tool for tire fixing, I just needed to learn the technique. So I kept trying with patch after patch..all six of them!
    Figuring at my age I better get around to creating some good karma, you know, just in case. Bought a bunch of cheap bike tubes in assorted sizes so I could be a hero on the nearby bike path. Once a week I’d see some poor blighter walking their wheels the long path to the trailhead. Know this, the cheaper the bike and more doughy the rider, the more profuse the thanks and even offers of cash. And, I helped two separate riders of high falutin racing bikes with nary a thanks. Like it was expected that I’d stop and give the fekkers a tube or lend a pump. So….I now only stop for those beginners as we all were at one time. And while showing them how to put a new tube in I entertain them with my Craftsman screwdriver story.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Good on yis for helping the downtrodden, brudda. That’s how you keep people in the activity. “Huh, at least one of these bicycle people isn’t an outlandish douchebag. Maybe this is the sport for me.”

      The ubiquity of cell phones often saves the noob from him/herself. I’ve stopped to render aid a time or two and been told, “Thanks, but I’ve already phoned home.” Whatever works, I guess. My go-to thought when the irresistible force meets the immovable object is “Goddamnit, I got myself into this mess, I’m gonna get myself out.”

      • Larry T. atCycleItalia Says:

        Driving around in a van or car with a roof rack and advertising stickers all over it tends to attract the unfortunate, but I usually stop even if they don’t see me first. The only time I turned someone away (rather quickly) was a dolt who walked around the van when my bib-shorts were only halfway up, asking for a spare tubular. For some reason I inquired as to a) where he’d come from and b) what happened to his spare. The answers were both so dumb (and I had no tubulars or even a gas/sealer can) that I just shrugged while continuing to get dressed for my own ride.
        Nowadays I throw a cheap tubular AND a gas/sealer can in the car/van along with the usual spare tubes and tires, just-in-case. Road tubeless users are out-of-luck…they never have flats anyway…or so they say.

  10. DownhillBill Says:

    I always carry at least 2 tubes and at least 2 patch kits. I prefer the traditional patches above all else, but I tested the Park (I think) glueless patches by helping someone with a flat on the rear of their tandem. Made it to the end of the ride, to my surprise. Back In The Day™ I too favored Turbo R’s. Don’t think that was when I learned to patch, but that was definitely when I got good at it through the constant practice. Of course, I was running 20psi more than I do now.

    I once changed a flat tire on the car (and switched another to avoid running the spare on the front) at 7AM on the side of I-95 while wearing a kilt. The spectators seemed to enjoy the process more than I did,

    I’ve never had more than 2 flats at a time, but I’ve had way more than that on a ride.

  11. DownhillBill Says:

    BTW slicks seem to me to be the best way to minimize flats. The only reasons for tread on a road tire are marketing and picking up more @#$& to cause more flats. Jobs Brandt did the math to disprove the aquaplaning thing. He said you’d have to be going 120 to aquaplane on a road bike tire. I’m still looking for that hill.

    • Larry T. atCycleItalia Says:

      That idea has been updated a bit https://www.renehersecycles.com/optimizing-tire-tread/

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Interesting discussion. I mostly ride mixed surfaces — asphalt suburban streets, chip-sealed highway, bike paths in various flavors, and rocky, sandy trails. This makes tire choice difficult.

        Lately I’ve been getting good service from Clement (now Donnelly) MXPs. I don’t ask much of them on the road, but they do quite well on the trails.

        I like pretty much anything Panaracer, too. And the old Michelin Jets wewre a fine all-rounder.

      • DownhillBill Says:

        Thanks for posting that link, Larry. I think the back-and-forth in the comments is the best discussion of the subject(s) I’ve ever seen. Not sure either side has an overwhelming argument, but food for thought is always good. I am convinced that slicks tend to pick up less flat-causing pointy stuff when dry, but that advantage evaporates (sorry) in the wet.

        I’m not so inclined to push the cornering envelope as far as I once was, and I have a supply of Victoria slicks I laid in when they were discontinued, so it’ll be a while before I need more everyday tires. I do keep a pair of wheels shod with more state-of-the-art tires, despite their having tread (bitch, moan), mostly for the placebo effect.

        • Larry T. atCycleItalia Says:

          I use Compass, Challenge, Veloflex and mostly Vittoria tires. All have a hint of a pattern in the rubber while the Michelin tires my wife likes are (like me) bald.
          I doubt there are huge differences but neither of us push any sort of limit in cornering unless the road is clear, clean and dry so our experience may not reveal them?
          One thing I can say for sure, NOTHING will ruin the nice ride of any bike more than crappy tires. They might not go flat, but they don’t make we wanna get out and ride either. The last set of Challenge Strada tires I tried convinced me of this and they weren’t even designed to resist punctures. They were simply crappy while the earlier versions were great. Still have a pair of the earlier ones that’ll go on next when the Vittoria’s on the bike now are worn-out.

    • JD Dallager Says:

      Downhill Bill: Gotta agree. Back in my F-4 flying days, we were told hydroplaning could start at 8 times the square root of the tire pressure. Just Googled it and today it seems to be 9 times the square root of the tire pressure.

      To make the math easy, for a road bike, lets assume 100psi. The square root would be 10……and 9 times that equals 90mph!! I’ll never go that fast!! 🙂

      For an MTB, assuming a tire pressure of 25 psi leads to a hydroplaning speed of 45mph. Again, you won’t find me in that speed regime.

      Fat bikes might be a problem if you ride them on wet tarmac?

      E-bikes may be a different story altogether?

      You Vespa riders may want to consider staying below 40mph on wet streets!!! 🙂

  12. carl duellman Says:

    i’ve got those schwalbes on my fargo. nothing gets through them. the only time they feel the least bit subtle is when the bike is loaded or when they are almost flat. i’ve got compass antelope hill 55mm set up tubeless on my gravel bike. i’ve ridden them over a year from smooth pavement to rooty single track with no flats. now i’ve jinxed myself but i aint scared.

    • DownhillBill Says:

      I know a fair number of riders who use Gatorskins to avoid flats. IMHO they score a “ridiculous” on the categories of weight, stiffness, and difficulty of mounting. Those folks seem to get just as many flats as I do with my thin, supple, light Victorias. Another triumph of marketing?

      Then again, we don’t have goatheads.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        I used Gatorkins for a number of years. I live in goat head country. I had fewer flats, but they are not even close to Schwalbe Marathon or Marathon Plus. And, if you ride to the trail head on pavement, the Smart Sam Plus tires work just as well in preventing flats with good all purpose traction.

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