Monday, May 16, 2011

Bicycle Safety 101: Fixin' Flats

I had the worst luck with my bike tires last week. My back tire had gone flat, and I finally got the nerve to fix it. (About a month ago, I tried to fix my back tire, but things did not go so well. So this would be bike flat is #2 in a month.) After fixing it on Sunday, I rode on Monday. By Tuesday morning, it had gone flat. (Flat #3) After only a 6 mile bike ride. I decided I needed some expert advice, so I sought out Derrick at Clemson Cyclery.

Since this was my second flat with a new tube in short period of time, I was extremely frustrated. Derrick runs the bike shop, and had offered to give me a few tips and pointers about flats, enabling me to fix 'em and get back on my bike asap.

After talking with him, he reassured me that this happens from time to time - having many flats in a short period of time. And to take it in stride. It happens to all bike riders. Keeping that in mind, I learned some really great things from him.

When it comes to flats, a cyclist can do some detective work and have a good idea why the tube popped. (Of course, make sure that you also have the right bike tools to take apart your machine. Park Tools is one of the best, and they have how-to guides available.):
  • If the tube has a puncture on the top, debris has penetrated through the actual bike tire into the tube. Run your finger carefully along the inside of the tire, feeling for any rough spots. The tire should be smooth, so if you feel anything, no matter how small, that is probably the cause of the puncture. If you can carefully remove the debris, your tire will still be ridable.  (This is what actually happened to me. It was fixed, and the tire was still safe to use).
  • If the tube has a puncture on the bottom, exam the rim for any issues or rough spots. The rim should be covered in "tape." If the tape is old or you see anything suspicious, purchasing new rim tape and installing it will fix most problems.
  • Exam the sidewalls and tire tread. Tires can last a while, however, they still need to be replaced from time to time. If the sidewalls or the tire tread looks worn, this could be the cause of your flat. If you can see through the tire, it's time for a new one.
Once you have figured out what caused the puncture, make sure the patch job is top notch or buy a new tube. Just follow the instructions that came with your patch kit and cover extra space around the puncture to ensure a good patching job. There's not a rule of thumb about how many times a bike tube can be patched before it's not good any more. It's all about how old (as in miles or years) the tube is, your comfort level, your flat fixin' skills, etc. So, I went home that evening, and fixed bike flat #3.

Thursday morning, getting ready to ride to work, I came out to another flat (#4). I grumbled, but also chuckled. At least I felt better about the situation now having a little bit more information on fixing a flat tire (tube). I finally got a chance to fix #4 on Sunday. Comes to find out, my original patch job was now leaking. Since I didn't feel comfortable patching a patch or repatching it, I just scrapped it and put a new tube on all together.

I am happy to report that my bike tire this morning was full, and I got to ride to work. I hope this whole fixing a flat is behind me - at least for a while. Happy Bike to Work Week!

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