Flat-Tire Funk

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After waxing farmy and poetic with my last post, I was struck yesterday with inspiration for an actually practical update for y’all.

With the season officially commencing at Brooklyn Grange, there’s lots of work to be done. I was up bright and early yesterday getting ready to head in to start some seed in our hoophouse, among other things.

Of course, the homesteading fairy bopped me on the head as I grabbed my bicycle for the morning commute.

I have been a devout cyclist for a while now. I tell everyone I can how great it is to ride a bicycle in the city: the sights, the thrill, the sovereignty over your transportation. But what still can throw me for a loop is a good ol’ flat tire.


I feel kind of lucky to admit that in all my city riding, I’ve only had one major blowout during a ride. Knock on wood. But I have had more than my fair share of flats.

And it almost always goes just like this: I’d have been riding problem-free, a little pump here and there, for what seemed like ages. And then, on a day when I really need to be somewhere at a certain time, I go to leave with my bike and one of the tires is puddled on the floor.

My reaction inevitably is a quick runthrough of the seven stages of grief. And since I’ve got somewhere to be, it’s especially heavy on the ornery. I call it the flat-tire funk, and it can last well beyond the fix and trip and just really ruin my whole darn day.

The good news is it can be a piece of cake to fix a flat, depending on the kind and severity.

Remove the wheel by loosening axel nuts. Back wheel is a bit harder due to powertrain stuff, but still easy!

Use tire levers to loosen and remove tire from wheel and tube.

Patch kits usually include sandpaper for roughing up the surface near the leak, vulcanizing fluid, and patches.

The finished patch.

There are a bajillion resources online – descriptions, photos, and videos – that describe the process in detail. If you haven’t done it before, make it a lazy-Sunday afternoon project where you’ll have time to spare. Remember, it’s easy and you’ll do just fine, so don’t shy away from learning.

Here’s a pretty good video from a bike shop down south:

Also, this crazy guy Sheldon Brown has pretty much a one-stop site for all things bicycle. I have it bookmarked.

Here are some extra tips for ye:
-Before you do any fixing, look for any obvious foreign objects in the tire: glass, metal, prickers. If you find what is probably causing the flat, put a piece of tape or something right near it on the wheel rim and/or tire to remember its location. It can really help save time when searching the tube for a hole.
-City streets are harsh. If you can, think about investing in strong, “puncture-proof” tires. My Gatorskins weren’t cheap but have paid for themselves many times over and saved lots of tubes from the landfill.
-Don’t feel too bad about buying a new inner tube. Sometimes it’s just not worth the time and effort to patch, especially if you’ve made good use out of the old tube and there are several holes.
-If you’re not in a rush, give the ol’ hog a little extra TLC while you’re at it: clean and lube your chain. You can never do it enough in the city.
-*Prevention prevents lots of unnecessary headaches. Try to get into the habit of very regularly checking your tires for any imbedded things that will eventually cause leaks and flats, and pull them out if you can (tweeze!). A small piece of glass might not hurt your tire today but can dig in over time.


*I am hereby promising myself that I’ll be better about this last one. No more flat-tire funk for me. Please.

Special thanks to the great Steven Ma for teaching me about bike maintenance many moons ago. He is a superstar cyclist, bicycle advocate, and mechanic/designer/inventor, and he even comes down to earth from time to time to teach bike maintenance classes at 3rd Ward in Bushwick. If you don’t know your way around an innertube, definitely do yourself a favor and learn from the best.


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