Toss, replace, move on.

I’ve flatted four or five times over the past couple of weeks – enough that I’ve actually lost track of the precise number. Flats, like Karma, really are a bitch. This is especially true if one has neglected to check and ensure there’s adequate kit in the road bag to facilitate a remedy for said flat. Or when a flat occurs, say, two kilometers from home and one becomes engaged in that internal debate over whether to fix the flat right there on the spot or to sling one’s bike over the right shoulder with a profound, robust, and totally disgusted, “Well fuck it. I’ll just fix it at home.” That long, fuming walk up the hill, bicycle hanging upon one’s torso always seems a whole lot longer in this situation.

I’ve had a really great run of good luck, apparently. If memory serves, it’s been over two years since the last flat. This leads one to become somewhat delusional. One begins to feel downright bulletproof, to believe that “it won’t happen to me.”

But of course it does. Eventually, the odds catch up.

It’s at this point I begin to worry about the odds catching up in every facet. Dammit, I don’t want to have to change a road flat on the rear wheel of the fixed gear, especially since I’ve got that thing so nicely aligned and the chain so perfectly tensioned. And double dammit, I don’t want to think about road changing a flat on the three-speed. I’m too big a wuss to properly adjust the cable after putting the wheel back on without a bike stand.

Another issue with flatting is money. I’m cheap. Tubes, which used to  seem to me inexpensive – at least in my rose colored memory – have gotten to be expensive. Ten bucks for an inner tube? Yikes! In my cheapness – heck, let’s give me the benefit of the doubt and refer to this characteristic as “frugality” – well, in my frugality, I’ve always patched tubes that were patchable, and even made a valiant effort to patch a few that weren’t even close to repairable.

Patches were, at one time, a nearly permanent solution. They were made of rubber, and used rubber cement or something very much like it. I had the art of patching down to a deliberate science. I actually rather enjoyed patching a tire, feeling like I had crafted my repair. Feeling like I had extended the life of the tube.

But the tubes I buy today seem to have fallen victim to a philosophy of planned obsolescence. Don’t repair them – toss them, replace them, and move on! This grates at my craw. The patch kits no longer come with rubber patches. They are self-adhesive stickers. No tiny tube of glue. No rubber – they’re made of thin vinyl. They are a far cry from permanent: I imagine their sole purpose is to simply get you home in a dire emergency, where one is then expected to remove the repaired tube, toss it, replace it, and move on.

All winter long I rode on bikes that had patched tubes. All winter long I had nary a problem. On two occasions this spring those bikes were in the back of my car, basking in the interior warmth from sitting in the parking lot at work all afternoon. And on both occasions, the tubes failed. The adhesive on the patches warmed enough to soften, allowing air to leach out; the tire flatted. This, without actually having moved an inch.

Toss, replace, move on.




7 thoughts on “Toss, replace, move on.

  1. I’ll confess to being a little on the lazier side of your more admirable position. But my thought process is quite similar. If I flatted more I’d probably organize more patching sessions and reuse more tubes. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

  2. Yeah, I hate flatting on the three speed because of the cable adjustment issue. I try to keep it “right” when taking the wheel off, but inevitably it’s not the same when I put it back on.

    I think I might try to do more patching “Dutch” style, where you don’t even remove the wheel, just open up the tire bead enough to get the tube out and patch. The only problem with Dutch style is that the puncture has to be pretty obvious, otherwise I have to remove the wheel and tube and listen for hiss.

    I’ve managed to find patch kits with the glue tube. I know Ye Olde Rivendell sells some…

    On another note, I take it you still can’t make it to Pepin?

    • If I’m out on the road and there’s a convenient place to lean my bike, I’ll usually try to patch the tube without removing the wheel. “Usually” is a relative thing though, because flats have been fewer and farther between over the past ten years – I think tires, in general, must have improved a lot since my younger days. I also run a lot wider tire now than I used to. Back in the day, attempting this sort of maneuver with a really tight 700 x 20 was a foolhardy lesson in frustration!

      Regarding Pepin: Unfortunately no, we won’t make it up north this year. I definitely want to return though – last year was a blast (although the drive up was stinkin’ long!) Lake Pepin will be high on our 2016 list.

  3. I have good luck with the Rema patches (they are not the glueless ones.) If you can’t get them around there, I run a bike shop (we are the only shop in town who will patch tubes) and would gladly send you some! I also don’t bother with the glue included and just get a tub of regular Elmer’s rubber cement that costs a lot less (and you can save the little tubes for on-the-go.) Also, I just started following your blog, so nice to meet you! -Jen

    • Good to know about the Rema patches, Jen. I’ll be sure to check and see if there are any shops locally that carry that product. As a design professor, I still keep a gallon of good quality rubber cement on hand. I’ve been known to cut up old tubes and use the “contact cement” method (coat both surfaces with rubber cement, allow to dry, press together to bond) to patch a tube on more than one occasion. Seems to hold up far better than the “convenient” nonsense patch kits that seem to be available on counter tops.

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