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  • Writer's pictureSarah Sturm

What Flat Tires Teach You. 3 not-so-easy steps.

The struggle. It's wheel.

With life comes struggle and with bike riding comes flat tires. Sometimes fixing your flat will be a quick, painless, even empowering experience.  Then there are the flats that last for 45 minutes, change your entire ride plan, freeze your toes, break your equipment, test the patience of your friends, not to mention the quality of your friendships. True friends not only stand around in the freezing weather while you struggle with tube #3, a broken pump, a broken valve extender and enough orange seal goop monsters to kill all of the surrounding woodland creatures, but they also feed you chocolate. These friends are the kind you want to keep around. So if anything, you can always weed out the not-worth-it-friends this way.

Without getting too 'hippy zen yaya' about the art of fixing a flat I will say that there are some good parallels to the overall scope of living life. It is a problem that will inevitably happen and there are some good ways to cope and there are some shitty ways to cope.

We've all been on the ride with 'that guy' the one that has an epically embarrassing melt down of all meltdowns because of something trivial like not having air in his tire.

  • Or the scenario might be this: shitty day, needs a break from the hoards of work being dumped onto the plate, goes for ride, rock to tire, done, seconds of precious ride time quickly being sucked up by the ferocious flat monster.

  • Or (last one, I promise) on a sweet weekend adventure, it's Sunday so it will soon be the end of fun having and back to reality, the shuttles are in place, the crazy, snowy, slippy, wee-bit-scary part of the trail is coming to an end and the delicious tacky perfect dirt part is finally under way, tire decides it doesn't want to have fun like the rest of the tires and takes a tire nap, now Mr. Right and Mrs. Left shoe get some exercise for 20 minutes because hand pump was NOT a part of pre-ride fanny pack packing.

To quickly continue with this scenario, after some old fashioned bike walking contact with the group was made. This is a pivotal point in establishing the tone of the rest of the day. Really though. I've learned a lot about group dynamics from riding with people. I've always thought that cyclists would be such a great group for sociologists or psychologists to study but that's probably another story. My list might be disappointing to you if you're looking for some new way to speed up your flat fixing time. This is not a story of speed. But rather the art of fixing a flat. Well, it's not really about flat tires either. Mostly, they say millennials likes lists, so I'm going to do my best to butcher the shit out of this list and give you.

1. SLOW DOWN. Sometimes bike rides and life perhaps, are NOT about going about it as fast as humanly possible. And if you're a human (I'm assuming you are if you're reading this) you've sped through things just for the need, the need for speed. Yes. Bikes tend to be more fun if ridden quickly, but you miss a lot of shit when you're ripping down the trail. When I get a flat I like to think of it as a reminder to enjoy the things around me. Sometimes those 'things' are beautiful trees, scenic views,  and happy little bunnies. But I hate bunnies so it's also a reminder to recognize the things you hate. I've also gotten flats in the middle really awful places too, for example stage 2 of The Gila stage race. I'm still trying to figure out what I was supposed to learn from that one. I did, however learn that it is possible to walk a very long way in road shoes with a double flat. And yes, I did feel like an idiot, and yep, I cried but at least I had a long while to think about the shit that was important to me.

2. USE TOOLS DON'T BE A TOOL. This one goes out to all of my boyz, you know who you are. You're the one's who've entered in the unsanctioned bike toss event mid ride. My advice: next time you tire has no air in it try really hard to simply begin fixing it and stop throwing a pity party for some 'white people problems'. This doesn't exclude the ladies, not at all. As an independent woman in the world and more specifically the world of bikes, it's important to learn how to use the tools that allow you to continue riding your bike. I've finally given up with the idea that someday I'll become an expert mechanic. I don't actually enjoy that shit, and it turns out that's okay. However, it is important to push yourself and learn the basics.

  • How to take your wheel off - Something I struggle with every single freaking time

  • Combining the use of a tire lever and your paws to remove a tire - I have teeny tiny baby hands and sometimes I have to suck it up and ask for help from my giant handed friends OR get creative with more tire levers.

  • Valve extender - when your rim is too deep for the tube valve to stick out all of the way it makes pumping your tire up the most difficult thing in the world, so I suggest carrying one of these bad boys on your ride. For you weight weenies, I think you can handle the added fraction of an ounce. Here is an example of the ENVE valve extender.

  • Tubes - always check the tire and tube for little flat causing gremlins that like to sneak in there and ruin your day. Nothing worse than "fixing" your flat just to have the same thorn poke through your brand new tube.

You don't have to be a bike mechanic. You don't have to beat yourself up about not wanting to be a bike mechanic. You don't even have to date one (but if you do that's okay too). You do need to know how to be self sufficient enough that you can get yourself to someone gets off on fixing bikes. So ladies, stop letting your boy friends, friends who are boys, and friends who are girls fix your flats for you and do it yourself. There really is only one way to learn how to do it, just do it. This brings me to my next point, know when to call it. (Yep, I know that completely contradicts everything I just wrote, but you'll get over it).

3. PATIENCE, AND WHEN THAT DOESN'T WORK, F it. As important as it is to be independent, self sufficient and confident, I'd say it is equally as important to know when to just say "F it!!!". There will always be people in this world that are better at doing things than you. Get over it. It's far more important to be gracious in the learning process and know how to accept help without being helpless than to struggle through it all stubbornly.

The whole patience thing will come in handy when literally all of your tools break and you're on tube #3. Because it happens. What's important is that you can be present and patient and realize the comedy of the situation at hand. It is easy to start down the path of 'pissed the hell off', but really who wants that? If you can't find the humor in the things that go wrong then you're in the wrong sport because a lot goes wrong. Maybe more than goes right. So get used to it, get over it and start laughing at it.

Flat tires can teach you a lot. They bring out the worst in you and show you what you need to work on. You're forced to complete a task that is right in front of you. They force you to use your hands, your tools, your brain and you emotions all in one. Flat tires are the perfect way to practice how to deal with way harder problems that will inevitably arise in your life. So thank you to all of the pointy rocks out there, the pokey thorns, and shards of glass, screws and nails. We as cyclists thank you for teaching us mini lessons that we can some day apply to real problems. Thank you.

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