bike commute from hell

The other day, I wrote in a different forum, about why I like to commute by bike. I'm not sure if I was being tested by the bike gods, or I just needed to be reminded about the role of irony in life, but Friday's bike commute was anything but what is a typically enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Though weather is not usually much of a factor in my rides to work, because I have all sorts of gear for just about any weather sort, including waterproof socks and insulated shoe covers (plus silk socks to go inside the waterproof socks, balaclavas, skull caps, gloves of varying wind and cold blocking capability, and glasses or goggles, plus jackets for wind and rain. In short, weather is generally nothing more than something to anticipate and deal with.

That being said, it was about 20F when I set off for work. As has been the case as of late, the streets with the most snow and ice were the few blocks I ride to a main arterial. However, upon reaching that arterial, Ben Garret Way, there was a lot more ice than usual and the cars, rather than zipping down the hill, were in single file and going slow. Part of the reason for the single file was one lane still partially covered by plowed snow. The other was the melt from the previous day had frozen, leaving a lot of ice to be navigated, making it dicey for anyone headed down the hill. However, since I have studded tires on my bike, all I had to do was take it slow and be safe and there would be little dangers beyond slipping and falling on my butt. But I was able to avoid that.

Trouble started, though, about half-way down the hill, near Lewis and Clark High School. I felt the tell-tale "thumping" in the rear tire that signals either low pressure or a flat. Looking at the tire as I was headed down hill I could tell the pressure was very low, but I was hoping that, since I was running just 50 pounds of pressure, that was just how the tire was going to act. At the stop light at the bottom of the hill, I felt the tire and found it was flat. There was almost no air in it at all. Not a good sign, but since the tire has so much rubber, and such deep tread, I didn't have to worry about damaging the rim. After turning onto second I stopped after clearing the next green light where I found a parking space that had been plowed clear. I detached my pump from the frame and pumped up the tire, hoping it was just a slow leak, or no leak at all, but it lasted but a block and I was once again riding my rim. I debated riding the next five miles (I had gone about a half mile) on the flat tire, but knew it would take too long and that sooner or later I would damage the rim, which was on its first ride, having been purchased just before Christmas so I wouldn't have to swap tires on one rim, but could instead just swap out complete wheels when the weather changed. With a gear cluster, I spent nearly $200 so I didn't want to go back to the shop and tell them what an idiot I was, so I stopped by the Saturn dealership on Second and changed out the tube.

This is where things went wrong, and it was all my fault. Because it was cold, I was in a hurry. I tried to do as much work as I could with gloves on, and I was able to dismount the wheel and start taking the tire of the rim, but I had to resort to a tire lever to get things started. None of that was unexpected because a good fitting tire is always hard to roll off the rim by hand. In fact, when I have a tire I can roll off by hand, I get paranoid that during a tough corner it will roll itself off, leaving my skidding along the pavement, on my butt and thigh. That hurts. Having got the tire off, I pulled my spare tube from my pack and stuffed it into the tire. First I put in a bit of air to give it some shape, but still ended up, though I didn't know it at the time, twisting the tube so much I punctured it. Like I said, I didn't know this so I was furiously pumping the tire and it wasn't inflating. I thought the problem was the pump wasn't seating properly on the valve stem, so I kept adjusting that, and trying and retrying to fill the tire. All to no avail. I had pumped the tube and let the air out, so I knew the tube was fine (at least before I put it on the rim.

As I was about to remount the wheel on the bike, futilely it would prove, a woman from down the street came and invited me in so I could work in relative warmth. I'm not sure if she was from the Wild Sage restaurant or the women's shelter/drop in center, but it's always nice when someone is nice. But I was about done so I declined, thanking her. Plus, because this is how my brain works, she was attractive and for some reason I didn't want to accept the graciousness of some attractive woman. My thinking was that this attractive woman was being nice to be because I was attractive, but because I was all bundled up, cap and helmet on my head, rain jacket on my bike, she could have no idea whether I was attractive or not. I'm weird.

Anyway, with the wheel back on the bike, I was off, and it soon became apparent I was still riding a flat tire. I couldn't decide whether to soldier on or take the bus or give up and go home and get the car. My first idea was to ride the flat tire to the nearest gas station and get some air. It was only a few blocks, but I couldn't find an air pump, which is because it was being repaired. After that I decided to head for my local bike shop, which was just around the corner. It was 8:30 and I was 30 minutes late (though I had nearly an hour until my first class) but the bike shop wouldn't be opening until 10. I was hoping someone might be there, that I could pound on it and they would let me in and help. I do spent a lot of money there, at least I think I do, and rarely ask for deals. But it didn't matter, because there was no sign of life in the shop. (More coming after I go for a walk)

(walk over) When I got to the Rocket, I ordered some coffee and sat down to work. First, I started pumping and pumping, all to no avail. I kept thinking the problem was the pump not seating on the value, but I was wrong. In trying to make things right, I found that the tube wasn't getting up inside the tire between the bead and the rim. That's what caused problems with the new tube. I tried to inflate it a little then let the air out, which usually takes care of that sort of thing. But it didn't. I tried everything I could and finally had to pull the tube out of the tire to reinstall it. When I pulled it out, I found I had twisted it around several times inside the tire, and that led to a pinch flat with several tiny holes where the tube was jammed between the tire and the rim. This is usually something I do as a matter of course, but didn't due to the cold and hurrying. I straightened it out, reinstalled it and once again began pumping, all to no avail. Finally I was able to hear the tube leaking, and leaking fast, after I took off the pump. I don't know how long it all took before I became frustrated and decided to give up, but it was about half way through my cup of coffee. I had also been looking for the leak in the first tube but it was so small I couldn't find it.

After deciding to give up, I waited a few minutes, and decided to try again. I pulled the spare tube from the tire, pumped it up, found the leaks (several of them, all in the same vicinity, covered by one good sized patch. I was afraid that when I went outside to get the patch kit from the bike that I would have used it, that the glue would have been opened and dried out. Thankfully, it was a fresh tube of glue. What I know now is that I also need to keep some glueless patches even though they aren't as good overall. Better a so-so patch than no patch at all. I was also able to find the leak in the first tube. It was a pin-hole sized leak. Both tubes were punctured near the stem, making me think there might be something in the tire, but I couldn't find anything. Most likely it was sloppy work the first time around as well. That tube turned out to have more than one puncture as well.

By this time I had called into the department secretary several times. The first to let him know I might be late and to let those I work with in the writing lab know. The second call was to let him know I would surely be late. And I was. Even though I usually get to campus at least 90 minutes before I have to be anywhere, I was over an hour late overall once I got the two tubes patched and the tire mounted and pumped up. When I got to campus, my hands were filthy but I was finally there, having burned off a little bit of the frustration and anxiety on the ride. This was the first time I had ever flatted on my way to work since moving to Spokane (having flatted only once on a regular commute home at least two years ago and once again on an extended commute home on a sunny spring afternoon, which I don't count because I was miles beyond my normal commute distance when I did flat.) I can only hope this is a better week, and that the tubes have been properly installed and mounted. Only time will tell but I'm sure I'll write about it if it goes wrong.