Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oh No! A Flat Tire!

A commenter mentioned in a previous blog that one of the reasons women may not feel comfortable using a bicycle as a means of transportation is mechanical failure: what happens if you get a flat far from civilization?

Having the luck of the Irish on my side (my right side, actually) I have been extremely lucky to never have suffered a flat on any of my commuting or pleasure rides. I did have a few flats at work, but they are very rare. However, those times that I have flatted, the situation was easily remedied. (I am absolutely positive that I have jinxed myself and will have no less than 8 flat tires this week.)

Fixing a flat is fairly easy, but its one of those things that you don't realize HOW easy it is until you actually do it yourself, and that's the problem. I remember when I was in a bike shop last year (I am not going to mention the name),  a young woman came in and asked if someone could show her how to fix a flat tire. She didn't have a flat tire, she was just trying to take the initiative and learn how to do it herself in case she did end up with a flat tire in the future, and I could sense that she was a little intimidated. The shop refused and instead pointed her to a bicycle maintenance course that she could pay for.  This was a fairly busy bike shop (although, I think I was the only other customer there at the time), and I understand they don't have the time to demonstrate a flat tire fix to every customer, and that they make money on the courses they offer. However, she just wanted help with one particular task, and I could see the frustration in her eyes. I wouldn't doubt that she never returned to that particular shop. It makes me wonder how many other women out there go through the same thing. The only reason I know how to fix a flat tire is because I was lucky enough to have a knowledgable cyclist take the time and show me (and lot of trial and error on my part).

Bicycles are pretty simple, yet fascinating, machines. Keeping them in good working order is also fairly simple, and I hope to outline a few basic mechanical stuff that may come in handy. Today's topic will be flat tires.

It's a good idea to keep a few simple tools with you so you can make basic repairs while you're on the go. My little bike kit contains:
-Multitool (Betty is a nuts & bolt bike and doesn't have any quick releases, so this is a must)
-Patch kit
-Extra tube
-tire levers
-small handpump
-small flashlight
-small penknife
-sharpie (for marking leaky holes!)
-a few zip-ties
-band-aids and alcohol wipes for boo-boos.

Here is a hastily taken photo of my my portable bike kit.

All of these items can fit into a small bag (I just use a ziplock bag) that you can carry with you. Bike shops also sell small bags that you can attach to your bike (usually under your saddle) so its unobtrusive.

At home, I have a small tool collection that I add to whenever the occasion calls for it. Right now it contains:
-A bike stand (this is a little pricey, but it makes doing home repairs sooooo much easier)
-Floor pump
-Extra tubes
-Pedal wrench (I had to change a broken pedal on one of my bikes, this made my life so much easier)
-zip-ties in various sizes and colors
-extra hex wrenches
-more tire levers
-bike grease
-chain lube (wet & dry)
-drivetrain cleaner (sooooo worth the money. I will explain what this is in a future post)
-extra rags
-various extra parts that I've collected along the way

Do you need to buy all of these things immediately? No. I collected these over time depending on which repair I had to make. I do recommend at least picking up tire levers and a few extra tubes for your tires. Very few of those tools I listed are for fixing flats. At the very least I suggest getting tire levers (they are cheap!), a patch kit (also cheap!) and an air pump (depends on what kind you get).

Books I recommend:

-The Chainbreaker: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance. Besides being a pretty good how-to book, there are also some really interesting stories as well. I love this book.

-ParkTool's Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair: Basically the Bible when it comes to bicycle repair and maintenance.

I also recommend The Bicycle Tutor website for good basic tutorial videos!

Flat Tires

I recommend getting a cyclist friend to show you in person if you happen to have someone handy. Nothing beats learning how to do it than actually doing it, though. So if you happen to be bored one evening and have a little time on your hands, practice! I find a beer or two to be immensely helpful as well. You won't break anything, I promise. And if you do manage to mess it up, you can always patronize your local bike shop and they can show you how to fix a flat while they do it for you. They appreciate your business :)

First, a clarification on terms: Tire refers to the rubber thing that actually touches the road. Tube refers to the inner tube that is between the tire and the wheel, which you inflate with air. Wheel refers to the metal round thing that the tire sits on, and the Rim is the side of the wheel. Got it? Good. Oh, let's not forget the valve either. It's that little metal thing that you attach an air pump to get air in.

Step one: Flip your bike over (or mount it in a bike stand if you have one handy). Slowly rotate the flat tire and examine it. If you can see what caused the flat (i.e. nail, glass, etc) is still in the tire, see if you can carefully remove it.

Step Two: Let out the remaining air. If your tire still has some air in it, go ahead and empty it out. Usually you can just press on the valve (that little metal tube that sticks out of the inside of the wheel where the air goes in) and the air will come out.

Step Three: Remove your wheel. This is probably the trickiest part. If it's your front wheel  than it should be fairly easy. If it's the rear, you just gotta maneuver around the rear derailleur a bit. This is where practice makes perfect. Most bikes use quick release skewers rather than nuts & bolts nowadays. This video is pretty instructive if you have no idea what I'm talking about. Sometimes you may have to also unhook the brakes to get the wheel out. This is pretty easy depending on what type of brake you have. I've found that as long as I let all the air out of the tire, it will slide out without having to unhook the brakes. Folks with disc brakes don't need to worry about this.

Step Four: Loosen the tire from the wheel. This is where your tire levers come in handy. Basically you insert one lever between the tire and the rim, lifting the tire lip over the rim (giving you a bit of an opening). Then you can slide another lever in that opening, and then slide it along the entire rim, lifting the rest of the tire lip over the rim.  You don't have to actually remove the tire, just make it so you can get to the tube inside.

Step Five: Grab the tube and pull it out. Mind the valve! It will come out with the tube.

Step Six: I call this the "Blood Test". If you didn't find what caused the flat the first time you visually examined the tire, you need to make sure that whatever it was isn't still inside the tire. If you've left the tire on the wheel, you can do this by feel. Simply (and slowly) run your fingers along the inside of your tire to feel for any pieces of glass or other sharp objects. If you're fingers come back bloody, then you know you found your culprit. HA! Seriously, be careful (this is what the band-aids are for!). You want to make sure that whatever caused your flat in the first place won't cause another one when you fix your tube!

The rest of the steps depend on whether you are going to fix that particular tube or just replace it with a new tube. For purposes of this post, I'll assume you are going to fix it. There are times when simply replacing a tube is just easier (i.e. its dark/rainy out, you just don't have the time or the tear is not fixable).

Step Six: "Over"-inflate the tube. (You did remember to bring a pump or CO2 canister with you, right?) This will make it easier to locate where the leak is, because you can hear the air leaking out. If you can't locate the leak by ear, you can submerge the tube in water and find the leak by where the bubbles are coming out. Once you've located your leak, mark it with your marker (you remembered to bring that too, right?) so you'll know where to place your patch. Let the air out of the tube again.

Step Seven: Use your patch kit (you did pick one up, right?) These come with directions, but in case you lost yours: use the little piece of sandpaper to scrub the area around the leak (this helps the patch to stick).  Then apply the glue to your tube around the leak. WAIT. You need the glue to dry before you slap on the patch. This takes about five minutes. Remove the patch from the backing (the clear plastic stays with the patch for now). Apply the patch over your leak. Press really hard on it. Standing on it is even better. Hold it for at least a minute. Now you should be able to peel off the clear plastic from the patch. If the patch comes off with the plastic, you did something wrong. Try again, but better! Re-inflate the tube to make sure its no longer leaking air. Voila! You have patched your very first flat.

Step Eight: Oh wait. You need to get that tube back in the tire. So go ahead and let out the air from the tube. Not all of it though. It makes it easier to maneuver the tube back under the tire if there is at least a little bit of air in it. Put the valve stem through the hole in the rim, then tuck the rest of the tube back between the tire and wheel.

Step Nine: Using your fingers, work the tire lip back under the rim. This can be a real pain in the ass, especially towards the end. You can use your tire levers to help you out, but be careful that you don't pinch the tube between the tire and the rim.

Step Ten: Put your wheel back on. Remember what you did to get it off? Do that, only backwards. Make sure your quick release is secure! If you unhooked your brakes, make sure you rehook them!

Step Eleven: Inflate your tire.

Step Twelve: Take a step back and admire your handiwork. And your grease covered hands/clothes. You did it!

I know that sounds like a lot of work, but with practice it will become second nature.

Of course the best course of action is to prevent getting a flat in the first place! A combination of careful riding and good tires can help. First, watch out for glass and other debris in the road.  Slow down around potholes and bumps.  You can also buy special tires (like Armadillo tires) that are puncture resistant. I have these on my work tires, and I'm always riding around in crappy alleys and rarely get a flat. They contain kevlar, so it makes the tires a bit stiffer to work with when it comes to changing them, but I like them. You can also purchase tire liners as well.

Always check your tires before you ride. Riding at the correct tire pressure will not only make your ride easier and smoother, but prevent you from getting pinch-flats or doing damage to your wheels. Tires naturally lose air over time. Just give your tires a squeeze before you hop on. The walls of your tire should be pretty stiff with very little "give" to them.

And that's that, when it comes to flats.

Next time, I'll go over some basic preventative maintenance stuff (like chain cleaning/lubing).

P.S. I really wish this post had more pictures.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hit and Run (Post)

Just a quick post for now. I've been out of town dealing with a funeral and a wedding (neither were mine, in case you were wondering...) and I have a backlog of stuff I want to post about!

But for now....

Have you ever wondered how bicycle parking regulations are determined? Got an idea about bicycle parking? Do you even know what the bicycle parking regulations ARE?

Well, now you can find out and even help to shape them! The DC Office of Planning has released draft proposals for bicycle parking zoning regulations (as well as vehicle parking and those pesky loading zones), and has opened the forum for comments. There will be a public hearing on Nov. 15th, but if you can't make it and would like to add your own thoughts and comments, you can do so here.

For instance, just how many long-term bike parking spaces should a sexually-based business have? The DC Office of Planning says just one (1) per 10,000 square feet. Hrmm......

Seriously though, do you think a minimum of six short-term spaces (i.e. a bike rack) is enough for parks & recreational areas? Do you think the minimum regulations for a "bicycle room" are too much (a motion sensor light with tamper proof housing? All areas of the room must be visible from the doorway)?

Well, now's the time to leave your thoughts!

Again, take a peek here.

P.S. Work on the improvements to the 15th St. cycle-track could begin this week!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cycle Chic and Female Chic

The New York Times recently printed an article about "bicycle chic", and I tweeted that articles like that have a tendency to turn me off and probably would have discouraged me from riding if I wasn't already a cyclist. This spurred a few snippy tweets in response. (Sorry, cycle fashionistas!)

I'm not against cycle chic itself. I think people should wear whatever makes them feel happy on a bike. Personally, I find wearing stilettos heals, a short skirt & an expensive blouse to be a bit impractical on a bicycle, but hey--I've done it. I'm certainly not the paragon of practicality! And I love to look at photos of vintage bikes with people wearing pretty clothes riding them. Cycle chic is pretty, its just not practical (and that's ok). When it's pouring rain, or snowing, or 120 degrees out,  or 2 degrees out, or you need to ride more than 25 miles, wearing designer clothes & shoes isn't going to work. However, if you somehow need to grab a bunch of mint (for mojitos?), why not do it in style:
"For the designer Lela Rose, wedge-heeled platforms and a khaki shirtdress of her own design are ideal for racing on her custom tricycle from the Union Square Greenmarket, where she picked up a bundle of mint, to her Seventh Avenue atelier."

I don't even know what an atelier is.

What bothers me is the attitude that there is no middle ground. You are either a maniac spandex-clad Tour de France wanna-be (uncool) or you have to be like Lee Dares, a
"model newly arrived from Toronto, wore a girlishly bibbed sweater, a navy blazer, Ann Demeulemeester roughrider boots and vintage Gucci sunglasses, her look accessorized with a borrowed Schwinn Le Tour."

(cool). What about the rest of us schlubs who don't want to spend a fortune on accessories, but aren't looking to break any time trial records either? What about those of us that just want to be able to get from point A to point B and not have to have an entire separate wardrobe just to do it?

One of the problems I've experienced as a cyclist is that I never really felt that I fitted in the cycling world. A few of my friends are racers. They get up at ridiculous hours of the morning to ride around in circles in an attempt to go faster then they have before. Their world is made up of power meters, cycling "nutrition" and team kits. I just can't relate to that. My other friends are mountain bikers. As much fun as that is, I don't get to do it that often so I don't relate to that either. I'm not hipster and I don't have much of a desire to ride a "fixie". My bike rides are mostly made up of commuting, whether it is to to work or to some other place. My attire is usually jeans and a t-shirt/hoodie, and my "accessories" consist of my phone, wallet and keys. I just like to ride. I'm not looking to break records or PR's, and I'm not looking to break the bank on the latest and greatest in cycling technology either. Betty is probably the most vain, "fashionable" cycling item I own, and she's a bit more on the 'punk' side, rather than 'chic'. Where do I fit in? Where's the group ride for me?

The other thing about these types of articles that irks me is that they "solve" the problem of getting more women on bicycles by boiling it all down to fashion. Apparently, more women don't ride bicycles because they fear not looking "chic" enough to do it.

Although ridership among women is increasing, it's still isn't quite on par with men yet. Why? I don't know. I have yet to read any kind of study/article that actually asks real women why they don't cycle more often. Is it fear of riding in traffic? Riding in inclement weather? Practicality? What do you do when you are a mother of two and have dentist appointments, doctor appointments, soccer games & recitals to get to? Or you work 12 hours a day on your feet and the idea of additional physical activity isn't appealing? Or you work a late shift and the idea of riding alone at 2am doesn't seem safe? None of these questions are answered with gucci sunglasses & a borrowed Schwinn roadster.

"Cycle chic" in of itself is an interesting concept. But I wish it wasn't so automatically tied to female cyclists, or that at least more variety was explored when it comes to female cyclists. And yes, I realize the New York Times is hardly the expert on cycling issues, and this was in the Fashion & Style section (duh). Like I said, I have no problem with cycle chic itself. Ride in style! But there's a huge segment of the cycling population that seems to be consistently overlooked (the everyday rider).

In other news, I'm going to have to drop Betty off at the local bike shop. She's groaning something awful. I guess that the 66 mile ride we did last week, plus this week's commuting miles have put a bit of a strain on her. It might even be time to put her up for the season. This weekend's weather is a  huge difference from last weekend! Whereas last weekend I thought I might die of heat exhaustion, this weekend I've had to break out the hoodie, coat & umbrella. Brrrr! Fall is truly here, and I am definitely unprepared for it. I need to do some clothes shopping, soon!  Fall means that winter is not far away, and Betty doesn't need to deal with the mud & slush that comes with it. Time to get Jamie prepared! 

Also, do any of you have any recommendations for wet weather gear? I got absolutely soaked from head to toe earlier this week during a downpour. What do you use to stay dry?

Friday, October 1, 2010

CaBi to the rescue!

So today was Ark weather. Seriously, I was soaked to the bone at work.

Although it was moist when I rode Betty to work, it was quite "Flood-ian" when I needed to leave. The idea of riding her through such wet weather did not please me. Tho I love Betty, she is no Jamie (and I love Jamie, as neglected as he is) and therefore in the garage at work she had to remain. It was simply pouring rain outside, and that was No Good For Her.

(I love riding in the rain, however)

So, I managed to get myself to a neighborhood bar to wait out the rain. And wait it out, I did.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

Finally, the rain let up a little bit.

But then I thought to myself,

"Self, you have a shared bike membership key! Why not use one of those bikes to ride through the crappy weather?!"

And it was so.

I grabbed a CaBi bike that was a mere two blocks away and rode towards home. The nearest docking station for home was also a mere two blocks away from my door. How handy!

And so I got home, relatively safe and "dry".

(ok, well not dry. But happy!)

Tomorrow, I get to do the reverse. And you know what? I am so grateful I don't have to pay a cabbie or walk all that way in the rain. Yay!

All of this would probably explain why today I saw the most number of CaBi bikes "in the wild" then I have seen since the launch---a grand total of 10 times today! I am quite sure the wet weather had a lot to do with it too; why ride your own Precious in the crappy weather, when you can borrow someone else's bike for cheap, right?? It was a totally crappy, rainy day today and I saw a huge number of cyclists, AND most of them were safe & sane about it too (reflective clothing, lights, signals, etc). Awesome. Today was the perfect example for cyclists who already have their own bikes to try CaBi. Why muck up your own, when you can muck up someone else's!

Still, I am really glad I had that key for CaBi. I have a feeling it will pay itself off very shortly.