Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reasons I'm Not a Mechanic

A few weeks ago I went to a bike maintenance seminar at one of the local bike shops. I figured since I've been doing a lot of biking lately, I should at least know a little something about how my bike works. I know the basics, pedal, you go, pedal faster, you go faster, etc. But there are a lot of things I don't know, like chain maintenance, how to know when your headset is about to fail and turn left when you want to turn right, and the real reason I went.....how to change a flat tire.

You see, I've already had two flat tires this year. The first one occurred while I was jumping over a curb and didn't jump high enough. My back tire landed hard on the curb causing the actual tire to rip. That resulted in a 5 mile walk home in bike shoes. For those who don't have bike shoes, walking in them is kind of like walking in downhill ski boots, not pleasant. That prompted me to go and buy a pack for my bike which contained a tube, patch kit, tire irons (which aren't iron at all, they're made out of plastic), and a fancy Co2 tire inflater thing.

A few weeks after I put that pack on my bike, I was out in the middle of a field (that I probably wasn't supposed to be in) and noticed that my front tire was suddenly much rounder on the bottom than it was 5 minutes earlier. Another flat! Well, at least this time I had the tire changing kit....of course, I have know idea what to do with it. I found a nice spot to flip my bike upside down and start working on it. Since the air was already out of the tire, all I had to do was take the tire and tube off, put a new tube on, and I'd be off in a jiffy. Well, for someone who's not trained in changing tires, it's not as easy as it sounds.

I made a call to my friend Kevin, who's an avid biker, and he patiently tried to talk me through the process. I really wanted to call AAA and ask if they helped stranded bikers but I stuck it out. After 3 broken tire irons and a frustrating 45 minutes in a hot field with no shade for miles, I got the tube and tire back on, I figured out how my Co2 tire pump worked and filled the tire up with air. I started packing up my stuff and before I even had my tire back on my bike, it was flat again! Ahhhhhhhhhh! I made a phone call to a friend of the family, told them where I was, and they came to pick me up.

A week or so later, I noticed the advertisement for a class called Bike Maintenance 101 at the local bike shop. I decided it would be just the class for me. The advertisement said to bring your front bike tire so you could practice changing it hands on. I showed up and found my place in the front row (yep, I'm a nerd). The bike mechanic spent the first hour going through basic chain maintenance and explained how to tell when something on your bike needs the attention of a mechanic.

The next hour was spent on changing tires. He talked about different types of tires, valves, and brake systems. I was very proud of my bike because I was the only guy with a tread specific tire (meaning that the tread is designed to go a certain way on the wheel), I was the only guy with disc brakes, I was the only guy with a fancy presta valve which is usually only found on high pressure road tires or better mountain bike tires. I was surprised they didn't have me teaching the class at this point.

He explained how to get the tire and tube off the wheel, which was really very easy (although it didn't seem easy when I was in the sweltering sun a few weeks earlier). Once we had the tube and tire off we inspected the tire for any foreign objects like thorns, nails, railroad ties, etc. Then he explained how to put the tube back in the tire, put the tire on the wheel while using the tire iron to work it onto the rim. Before I knew it, I had the tire put back together and was ready to fill it up with air. I pumped it up and was very proud of myself, now I knew how to change a tire. I decided, since I was pretty much an expert now, I would help the girl next to me who seemed to be struggling a little bit.

After helping this other girl, we got our tires and were leaving the store. I noticed that the air in my tire was a little lower than when I had filled it up. I didn't think much of it, but by the time I got home, my tire was flat. You have to be kidding me! There wasn't even anything wrong with this tire! There's something wrong about going to a bike class and coming home and not being able to ride your bike.

I couldn't consider myself checked out on changing tires if the one I changed went flat for no apparent reason so the next night I decided I would try to change the tire again on my own. I pulled out the tube and found a small hole by putting the tube in a sink full of water and looking for bubbles.....yes, the same sink I wash dishes in. I decided since it was just a small pin sized hole, I would try my efforts at patching it. I pulled out my patch kit, patched the hole, and put the tube and tire back on my bike. Well, that was going to work great, except when I hooked the pump onto the valve, the tip of the valve broke off in the pump which let all the air out. Time for a new tube.

Fortunately, I happened to have a new tube. I took the old tube out of the tire, put the new one in, filled it up with air, and put the tire on the wheel. Alright, now we're getting somewhere. Remember how I said my tire was tread specific, meaning it needs to rotate a certain direction. Well, I wasn't paying attention to that and only after it was back on the wheel did I realize that the tire was on backwards. Okay, so now I need to take the tube and tire off again, turn the wheel over and put the tire on the right way.

I took the tire and tube off (which I was getting really good at by this point) and realized I had it on the right way the first time. I thought it was on backwards because the bike was upside down it didn't appear to be on the right way....but it was. Alright, I put the tire and tube back on wheel and installed the wheel onto my bike.

The next morning I went for a long, well deserved bike ride with my new tube! It felt nice to know that I had changed the tube myself (even though it took me 5 tries). Next time when I'm stranded in the middle of nowhere, I'll know that I can change my tire.....of course, I'll probably go through 3 tubes and a patch kit before I'm ready to ride again.

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