Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Silent Movie: Anna Fixes a Flat

It was bound to happen eventually -- after a whole spring riding on the new bike with no mishaps, I got a flat tire right after dropping Nimue at camp this morning. Of course it had to be the rear tire, which I hate. No big deal for anyone who is actually competent -- others seem to be able to just pop the wheel off and back on, but the geometric conundrum of getting the wheel around the chain and derailleur there always takes a lot of fiddling, and I swear one needs black magic to get the wheel back on without getting one's fingers covered in grease.

Normally, this would really irritate me, but it was nice out and I was feeling a bit slow getting going this morning, so I pulled over onto the sidewalk and sat down in the sunshine to fix the tube. While I was taking the wheel off, I noticed a big, obvious piece of glass embedded in the tire, so it was going to be nice and straightforward to find the hole in the tube.


Now as I mentioned before, this is the first time I've had to take off the tire on this bike. Sometimes it's hard to get the tire off the rim when it's relatively new. Fortunately, that wasn't too bad. However, once I got the bead free from the rim, I ran into the other potential new tire woe: the tire and tube had been so new and squeaky clean when first installed that the tube welded itself to the inside of the tire. (Recent riding in the heat probably didn't help either...) Not just sorta sticky, but downright bonded together as one. I must've spent about 10 minutes just trying to peel it all apart without destroying anything.

Tube out. Phew. Time to put a little air in to find the hole in the tube and patch it. It should've been easy, since I kept track of generally what part of the tube to expect the hole from the glass that I had already picked out of the tire.

Of course, it wasn't so simple... I found that the tube wouldn't even hold enough air for me to stop pumping long enough to feel for the escaping air. Pump pump pump pump pump. Contort self to listen all around tube while simultaneosly pumping. Feel strong breeze emitting from an unexpected part of the tube. Big hole. Gotcha!

A closer examination of this break revealed a hole with edges that looked like the rubber had literally been pulled apart -- probably when I was painstakingly trying to get the tube out of the tire. So now there are two holes to patch. Argh.

As I put a patch on the first hole, a older Filipino guy out for his morning walk passed by on the sidewalk. He looked at me curiously; I said "Hi" and smiled back to indicate that there was no problem.

A minute or two later, I looked up to find that he had crossed the street to come back to investigate more closely, so I cheerfully pointed out that I was fixing a flat tire. He smiled back with an expression that seemed to say "I don't understand a word you are saying." and hunkered down to watch.

Great. I suck at fixing flats (mostly due to impatience), and now I had an audience.

After getting the first hole patched, it was very easy to add a little air to the tube and find the second hole. My observer continued to watch. Every time I moved something, he would shift a little to get a better view of the process, so I started taking that into account, holding things at a visible angle and moving very deliberately -- sort of a wordless demonstration of how to fix a flat tire. After a while, it felt like I was watching my own hands to the job rather than actually doing it. Quite odd.

At this point, it was a fairly straightforward job (probably because I was being more careful than usual). The fellow watching me looked a little alarmed when I let some air out of the tube after I started to inflate it, as I don't think he realized that all I was doing was making sure the tube would seat properly without getting part of it caught between the tire bead and the rim. For once, I got the wheel back on the bike without too much fiddling, reengaged the brake, and checked it before looking up and saying "All done!" He smiled, gave me a big thumbs-up gesture, and we both went on our merry separate ways.

I had a nice mellow ride with no further incident, just as I wanted. He probably had a very nice walk. I still wonder what he was thinking as he watched me. It really seemed like genuine curiosity, though it is a mystery whether it was about the flat-tire fixing process itself or just about the fact that someone might sit on the side of the road and do it themselves. Either way, both of our mornings were punctuated by an out-of-the-ordinary encounter.

Footnote: Upon arriving home after the ride, I found that I have a big blood blister on the tip of my index finger. Ow. I blame it on the peel-the-sticky-tube-from-the-tire process. The flat fix held up just fine. :)

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