A Rookie Mistake

 Saturday, May 15th was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, sky was blue, air was warm and full of the scent of freshly cut grass and wild flowers and I had time for a ride. I wasn’t going to be able to get in as long a ride as I would have liked, but a short ride is better than no ride. So, I pumped up my tires, changed my clothes, hopped on my bike and off I went. 

I took off on a challenging 40 mile loop that I done many times. The challenge was not in the distance but in the number and size of the hills. On this route there was almost no such thing as flat. A number of the hills were some of the toughest I’d ever ridden. It is great training for Ironman Lake Placid because there is nothing on that course that can match a couple of the hills.

I was about midway through the ride when BAM! I blew my rear tire. This caught me as a shock because despite all of the riding I do it had been years since I’d flatted. I’m always very good at making sure I replace tires and tubes regularly before they get too many miles on them. I don’t know whether that is part of why it had been so long or whether it was blind luck that I’d rode thousands of miles since my last flat.

Anyway, here I was 20 miles out on my ride, just having started my turn back and I had a flat. No big deal. I popped my rear wheel off, opened my bike bag, pulled out my multi-tool and slid off the nothing… My tire levers, which were supposed to be on the side of the tool, weren’t there. I dug back into my bag, pulled everything out and still nothing. I searched the ground around me hoping I had dropped them and didn’t see them. I frantically researched through everything, and still nothing. 

Now I started to get concerned. How was I going to fix a flat without tire levers? And, where were mine? I sat there in the grass pondering what to do and turning my wheel hoping it would give an idea.

About midway through the first turn of the wheel I realized getting tire off was my smaller problem, I had a huge hole in my tire. It looked like the tire had literally disintegrated on me. As I looked further I found a second smaller hole. Even if I got tire off and repaired or replaced the tube it wouldn’t matter. I would only be able to go a very short distance before the tire would blow again.

I started to realize I may have to do what I’d never done before, call to be picked up. After literally thousands of miles running and cycling I’ve always made it back in on my own. Distances may have been shortened and creativity pressed, but always I did it. But now it was starting to look like the streak was at an end. What was I to do? I started thinking about who might be around and able to help me.

 While sitting there an idea came to me, it might render tube unrepairable, but I might be able to pry tire off with my keys. I also had a patch kit and could try and use patches to repair tire enough to get me home. I wasn’t sure idea would work due to size of hole and the fact that the rest of the tire looked like it could disintegrate at any second, but it was worth a try. 

Prying the tire off with keys wasn’t that bad. I got it off almost as quickly as with tire levers. I quickly took tire fully off of wheel, stripped the tube out of it (which I stuck in jersey pocket so I wouldn’t forget it) and set about patching the tire. I put 1 patch over the smaller cut and 4 over the big hole and another patch inside the hole. For a little extra protection incase patches didn’t work, I folded up a $1 bill and stuck it on inside of tire covering hole.

Patching done, I put tire back on wheel, put in a new tube and finished mounting tire. I slowly and cautiously inflated tube with my CO2 checking carefully for leaks and signs of a problem. Once tire was fully inflated I put wheel back on bike, packed my tools and cautiously got back on my bike. 

I rode slowly and tentatively at first and with each mile got a little more confident that my patch job would hold. As my confidence grew my pace quickened. I knew that even if patch held another part of tire could give way and leave me stranded, but I decided to make the most of whatever ride I may have left. As it turned out patch job and tire held the rest of the way home, almost 20 miles. In fact the patch was the strongest part of tire by the time I finished. In the remaining miles most of the remaining rubber bubbled up and was ready to go.

Over the course of the remaining miles I was slowly able to figure out what had happened. The previous season I had bought new wheels for the bike. The tires on the old wheels were due to be replaced, but since I took them off of the bike and put on the new ones I saw no reason to spend the money on them. Then, at the end of the season, I put the old wheels back on, to save wear and tear on the new ones if I did any riding over the winter. I never took the bike out all winter and over the 5 months I was off of the bike I forgot about changing the wheels back. When I started riding again, I assumed that it was on the fairly new tires and not the old shot ones. The fact that I had got any rides in without flatting to that point was actually pretty incredible.

As for the missing tire tools, the previous week I had used them to change the tubes on my girl friends bike. I wasn’t positive until I got home, but I realized that I must have left them on my coffee table after I was done, a simply, but almost costly mistake. 

As far as mistakes go, the two I had made were rather simple, but both were something that I have enough experience with that should never have happened. I know to make sure that I do proper and regular maintenance on my bike and to check it before every ride. I know to replace worn part before they become a problem. I also know that I should always put my tools back when I’m done and that I should have everything I need with me when I go out on a ride, especially when I’m going solo. Despite this, I still found myself out in the middle of nowhere, and in danger of not being able to get back in. Fortunately, experience and a little ingenuity got me home, but it was a nice reminder to never just take things for granted and to make sure everything is set before heading out on a ride.


About Douglas Sawyer, MS, ATC

I am an athletic trainer who is also a very avid athlete. My first love is running, but I also love cycling and triathlons and many other activities. I'm not a swimmer though, I just don't drown for 2.4 miles... As a athletic trainer I work with sports injuries. I currently work at a school with athletes in 7th-12th grade in a wide variety of sports. I can be found on twitter at two different names: @IronmanLongRunr - where I tweet about run, bike, tri, & more @Longrunr - where I tweet about athletic training
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