It started off routinely enough: basically the part of the trail still within the city is a shared road between cyclists, joggers, bladers, and moseying pedestrians, so there's lots of speeding up, slowing down, weaving around, and general, overall cursing of the people who don't respect the "walk on the right" rule. During one particularly sharp weave, though, I detected a definite...shift...in the traction on my rear wheel.
That felt strange, I thought to myself. I had thought at the time that I had just slid or skidded slightly to the side during my turn, and I was counting myself lucky that I didn't wipe out. However, as time went on, things started to feel a lot more draggy, so then it dawned on me that I might have a problem with my tire. I glanced down and, sure enough, the rear tire was looking pretty low. I pulled over to see what was up.
Ordinarily when you squeeze a tire to check for pressure, you want to encounter a whole lot of resistance. Squeezing my tire on this occasion was like squeezing a marshmallow. Not just low...a full-on flat. Bummer! Thankfully, I had my patch kit and other dealing-with-flats-gear on me, since I make it a habit to pack all that stuff when I go out for extended ride. My sister had actually, a while back, given me a whole kit to address this very situation, so I was at least kind of excited to finally put it to use! I've done the repair job a few times before; all I needed to do was pop the tube out, do a quick patch job, reassemble, reinflate, and be one my way. In fact, I thought to myself as I rummaged through my bag, I think I actually have a spare inner tube on me, which would probably be a preferable option to doing a patch job right out there on the road, and I could patch later...
I stared at my bike. I kept staring. In my head, I started to curse.
I like preparedness. I like making preparedness a habit, in fact, in the hopes of minimizing the times I am unprepared. Once it becomes a habit, you know that just by following your habits you'll be prepared, and you don't really have to think about it any more. Of course, when you don't have to think about it any more, you don't really think about it any more.
As some of you may recall, my bike was stolen some months back. I got a replacement through kawaiiryuko a little while ago, and I've been putting a lot of work and such into it to get it back in working order. It serves its purpose well, and I've been happy with it, though there are some differences between this bike and my old one. Single-speed, for one, and some other little changes, but by and large I've gotten used to it all. I'm pretty used to thinking of this bike as "my bike." It turns out, though, that there's another major difference that had slipped my attention.
My old bike had what they call "quick-release" axles that held the wheels in place. Basically it just means tool-less; there's a kind of locking lever that you use to secure the wheel to the frame and take it off again; you don't need a wrench to undo the nuts or anything holding the wheels on. This new bike...doesn't do that. I knew that, of course; I've taken the wheels off and put them back on dozens of times now, but always either in the shop or in my house. My preparedness kit for being out on the road, the one driven by habit, sadly does not contain a wrench.
So...back to the scene. I'm sitting there staring at my bike, realizing that I have no way of getting the wheel off. Which, of course, is a necessary step in fixing the tire. I started pondering the engineering of it: theoretically, I guess would be possible to slide the tube out of the wheel while it was still attached, but I quickly realized that I still wouldn't be able to get it actually disentangled from the bike; there's no way to get it around the axle holding the wheel on. I could actually give up the tube for lost, since it's a ratty old thing anyway, and cut the tube to get it out, but even then there would be no way to get the new tube in there. I definitely needed to take that wheel off to fix this. Either that, or I could actually try to patch the old tube while it was still attached to the bike and try to work from there. The downside to this course of action was that, if anything were to go wrong, I wasn't going to be walking that bike back home; I was going to be carrying it home.
There was nothing for it; I basically just had to start the long walk home. I wasn't far down the trail, so...I figured I couldn't be more than a couple hours away from home on foot. I got to thinking, though...I don't think I totally blew out the tire or anything; maybe it was just a slow leak. If that was the case, maybe I could just reinflate the tire enough to get me home. Here's where another quirk of my kit comes into play.
Jeff, for example, carries a tiny version of a bike pump around in his kit. This is an elegant solution, and one that I figured I'd one day start using, myself, but so far that day has not come. What I carry, instead, is a little pressurized CO2 cartridge. If you've ever played paintball (or are into whippets), you know the kind of thing I'm talking about. My kit has one of those and a neat little gasket/flange/spigot/whatever thingy to connect it to the tube (which, admittedly, I've always wanted to try). So basically I had one dose of reinflation on me.
I did a quick evaluation, and I figured it'd be worth a shot to try it out. If it didn't work, I wouldn't be any worse off than when I started. All I had to lose was a cartridge, basically, so that's fine. I had another one at home anyway, which would have to tide me over until I got myself a mini-pump. :) So I set to work figuring out the little spigot jobby, and I was pleased to find that I could open and close the cartridge once I attached it, so I was thinking maybe I could stretch this one cartridge out into a couple of doses.
I finally got everything set up, and gave reinflation a try. It was working! I had no way of gauging how much air was left in the canister or anything, but I basically just inflated the tire until I felt it had enough air in it for emergency riding, and then shut it off. I packed everything back up, including the partial canister with the spigot still attached, handling it gingerly and hoping that it wouldn't jostle and take off in my bag like some kind of tiny little rocket. I hopped back on and started to bike home, going as gingerly as I could and trying to put as much weight as I could on the front end of the bike. :)
It worked out fairly well; I made some pretty good distance before the thing was obviously too flat to continue. I hopped off again and repeated the reinflation process, finding that the first time around, I guess I had used a little more than half of the cartridge, since it ran out during my second session and the tire was still a little soft. Regardless, I jumped back on and made a pretty good second leg of the journey. So between those two stopgap inflations, I more or less made it back to the Art Museum, which is only like a half-hour's walk from home, so I hoofed it back from there, feeling pretty okay about how things transpired, all things considered.
Once home, I went through the usual flat tire routine. In fixing the tube, I realized that this was my last patch in my patch kit, so I need a new one of those, now, too. The first time I reinflated the tube after patching it, it was clear that the patch didn't take, so I had to do the damn thing over again. Second time around actually was only marginally more successful, but I figured it would hold good enough to get me to the bike store so I could pick up more supplies -- which would have to happen like next week, because there are apparently no bike stores in Philly that are open on a Sunday. I was compiling a shopping list in my head while I was reassembling and remounting my rear wheel and getting ready to reinflate again.
I had attached the pump and was getting it back up to riding pressure when the tube I was inflating (the one I had just patched) suddenly and violently exploded. I was completely unaware that my bike had any kind of capacity to make a noise that loud. I was actually deafened for a short period of time, and my ears continued ringing for quite a while afterward. It was totally unruly. And it's not like my head was even next to the tire or anything! I mean...it's a floor pump; I was standing and pumping, like driving an old handcart on the rails in the Old West, you know? I had to be like a foot or two away, as the hose length would allow. I could not believe the noise I had just heard. And then not heard.
Anyway. So once I regained my senses, I disassembled the wheel yet again, and this time mounted on the as-yet-unused inner tube I keep in my kit. I don't know if these things have a shelf life or what, but I inflated it to riding pressure and took it out for a few minutes just to test things out, and it seems fine so far, so...that's good. Hopefully it will be enough to get me back out to the store to restock. :) I decided not to push my luck by going out for another ride that day. ;)
So. In the final analysis, I'm going to call this one a wash. I'm thankful that the emergency reinflation out on the trail was enough to at least get me most of the way home, so that's a win. But in the end, I wound up blowing a cartridge and using up my patch kit on an inner tube that self-destructed rather than take advantage of the new life I had granted it, so there's that. Upon examination, the actual explosion site on the tube was right next to the valve, and was apparently unrelated to the leak that had developed, so I took a small measure of pride in that, by the tube exploding from inflation, apparently my patch job had held well enough. ;)
Anyway. So just yesterday I had finally gotten myself some lamps so I could ride at night, and I was feeling pretty good about that, since it's like a tangible reward for being back at work. Now, though, I won't feel good about going back out on any long trips unless I get at least a new patch kit and inner tube (and a wrench to carry around, too!). I guess for preference I'd like a mini-pump as well, but I can wait on that; I still have one CO2 cartridge left! :) Plus that gasket thing is mad fun to use. ;)
So that's the latest from Bicycle Land around here. I've started to hear strange noises coming from my front wheel; I think that the front wheel spokes may need a some adjustment, but that's definitely something I should do in the shop. My rear brake calipers are still giving me some concern, so that's something else that bears some examination -- and probably replacement. In any case, the list goes on for shit that needs work, but on the whole, I don't mind. I mean, in the scheme of things, the bike is still a luxury and all, so I won't die without it, and it's still cheaper than (and superior to) car ownership, so...at the end of the day, it's still all worth it.
Still, man. That shit was crazy loud.