Saturday, September 25, 2010


My friend, Randy, at Natchez Trace Travel asked me to jot down a few tips on what to take when doing the Trace, or any other ride for that matter. He advises these will be on his website next week. While cycling this morning, it occurred to me that I had seen many riders, whom I considered experienced, flumoxed when it came to a simple tire change. In my tips, I assumed good changing abilities, but to cover myself, I'll expand on the tire/tube changing experience.

The three most common causes of flats are: 1) Tube malfunction, e.g. the stem leaks; 2) Pinch flat, caused when you hit a hole or rock and the tire momentarily allows the tube to crash against the rim, resulting in two holes that look like a snake bite; 3) Puncture, as when glass, nail or staple, or sharp rock, penetrates the tire and tube. I shan't mention operator error, when you goof up when installing the tube. We will assume this was done correctly.
If you are going on a long ride, like the 444 miles of the Natchez Trace, put new tubes in before you go, practically eliminating cause #1. Keep your tires properly inflated, thus minimizing cause #2. Use a product like Tire Tuffy, minimizing cause #3.

But, things happen. Let's assume you are cycling along (not racing) and a flat occurs. Here is what you do:
1. Find a safe and comfortable place (as best you can) to work.
2. Remove the wheel (we all hope it is the front but it usually is the rear).
3. Remove and arrange your tire changing tools and the spare tube (I use new tubes on the road, patched at home, as this cuts down on the frustration of a installing a defective tube and having to start over).
4. Before doing anything else, inspect the tire to determine the source of the flat. If found, mark the spot with the chalk you carry in your saddle pack.
5. Release one side of the tire, pull out the tube, again marking the tube at the site of the puncture before completely removing it. (I'm assuming knowledge of tire lever usage)
6. Run your fingers (slowly) around the inside of the tire, with special attention to the chalked area, to find the pin, glass etc. that caused the puncture. You may have to remove the tire completely and turn it inside-out in order to find and remove the offending object. I saw one person go through 3 tubes before an experienced traveler interceded and found the glass. Don't skip this step, even if you removed the nail (for instance) from the outside. It is an opportunity to inspect the whole tire. Once satisfied all is clean, move to the next step.
7. Blow a little air into the tube, enough to give it a round shape (maybe 10 pounds). This makes it easier to move out of the way when re-installing the tire. Be sure one side of the tire is already in place before putting in the tube.
8. Be very careful not to catch a piece of the tube with the tire lever when putting on the tire. This will cause a pinch-flat before you even get started. That is also why you put some air in the tire first.
9. After the tire is re-installed, with hands about 3 inches apart, pinch the tire away from the rim, visually making sure the tube didn't sneak out under the tire bead, all the way round the tire. This only takes about 30 seconds and is very important.
10. Air up the tire half-way. Inspect again for bulges or the tube not being inside the tire.
11. Air it up completely. You are finished, except for cleaning up and putting the wheel back on.

Forcing yourself to take the time to go through all the steps will result in much less frustration and only adds a few minutes to the whole operation.

Occasionally you will receive a gaping hole in the tire, usually a nail or staple. Simply installing a new tube is inadequate, in that when inflated, it will push through the hole in the tire. I carry a 3 inch section of old tire (called a boot) in my saddle pack, and put this over the hole between the tire and tube. This works quite well, especially when the hole is in the sidewall, although each revolution of the tire produces a slight (annoying) bump. I also carry some duct tape and a small section of this over the inside of the tire also works well. In an emergency, paper currency will work, as will a mylar candy wrapper.

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