Gentle Lesson on the Road

The tube, which had been telegraphing its impending demise for a week, went out with a bang so impressive it unseated the tire's bead for 3 inches.

I was excited to ride. Another great fall day, and what looked like at least two solid hours after work to ride. Then the contractors started filing in to get new badges activated, which obviously had to be done 15 minutes after my usual departure time. OK, two hours became 90 minutes, but it still was an incredible day. I'd up the intensity and take a slightly shorter route. I suited up and rushed out the door before anyone else could stop me.

Two miles into the ride the explosion happened.

No problem, I had a spare tube, CO2, a miniature frame pump, and a well-stocked patch kit. A quick fix and I would be on my way. As I unpacked my saddle bag, I noticed the spare tube's valve stem was too short for the wheel, and I had no extender with me. I'd actually thought about sticking one in the bag before, but for some reason had never done it. That tube was essentially useless to me.

No problem, I have that patch kit. I removed the old tube, which I immediately recognized as one that I had purchased solely to meet the minimum free shipping order from one of those internet bike shops. I knew it was crap when I got it, but always though it would end up as an emergency spare. Somehow I had installed it a couple weeks before instead of my usual brand, which I've had nothing but good luck with. Those slow leaks should have told me something, but I was being lazy.

I quickly found the leak, which was a one-inch gash where a seam had separated. I broke out the patch kit and got to work. I initially tried one long patch, which seemed to hold air well enough. I pumped it up with the frame pump, checked to make sure everything was properly aligned, and then filled it the rest of the way with the CO2 to get a good pressure. Maybe I could get in an hour.

I threw my leg over the saddle, rode 10 feet, and heard the air rush out of the tube again. Crap. I tore it down yet again, only to find the tear had extended a half inch on either side of the patch. I added two more patches along the seam, filled the tire with the pump to a marginal pressure (the CO2 was gone), and finally started moving again. This time I wasn't taking any chance, and I was retracing my path back to the car. I was done. Every time I hit a crack I tensed up, willing the fragile tube to live just a little longer so I wouldn't have to walk in cleats. Four whole miles of riding for the day.

When I returned to my car, I opened the hatch to find a brand-new, premium quality tube sitting in plain sight, trading jokes with the floor pump about the idiot in lycra standing before them. I bore their mocking in silence as I replaced the frankentube. I deserved it, because I had gotten off extremely easy.

This hadn't happened on one of those recent rainy rides. It hadn't happened the previous night while I was descending at nearly 50MPH down Upper Potter Valley. It hadn't happened while I was sprinting to beat traffic at one point or another. It hadn't happened 20 miles from the car. I was lucky, and I knew it.

The road reminded me that maintenance, even marginal maintenance like I'm usually associated with, beats neglect.

I have a fresh spare tube with the right length valve stem in the bag, nestled beside two CO2 cartridges. The patch kit has been refilled. The bike got a good once-over to make sure nothing else was obviously wrong with it.

I'm not saying it's 100% perfect, or that it won't fail, but I can say I finally wised up and did my part to try to keep that from happening again.

The road was forgiving this time. If I don't take the hint, it might not be so nice next time.


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