The AIDS/LifeCycle is a fully supported ride. So, I don’t need to know how to change a flat, right? The Training Ride Leaders will do that for me, won’t they? Besides, I live in a city. There’s always some kind cyclist willing to lend a hand.
The answer is no. Just no. There’s so much wrong with that logic that the discussion has to start out from the basics. Before I help you learn to change a flat, lets learn about what goes into a road tire. (Skip to TL;DR for steps and a video.)
Just to get terminology straight: The big roundy thinks with the spokes is called a “wheel.” The rubber part that touches the road as you ride is called a “tire.” Inside the tire is a flimsy inflatable torus called a “tube.” When you “fix” a flat or “change” a flat, you’re most likely not changing the tire, but the tube.
Road bicycle tires are never solid. All of them have tubes. (Yes, there are tubeless kinds, but I don’t discuss those here. Tubeless are not a good choice for most cyclists.) Even the best tires (those with Kevlar linings and beads, such as the ubiquitous Gatorskins) can and will get punctured. And when the tire gets punctured, the tube is usually toast.
The wheels are attached to the bicycle at the “hub.” As you ride your bike, the hub bears the weight of the bike-body system. The tire, being a torus (doughnut-shaped thing) with the hub running though it, must be fully removed from the bike before a flat can be changed.
You may laugh or have skipped the above paragraph as obvious, but it is not. I have seen many stranded riders, their tire and tube dislodged from the wheel, looking perplexed about how to get the tube out to be changed. (Read my posts about bonking and eating for more on how a rational person could get to that point.)
C. Types of Flats
There are three broad categories of flats: puncture flats, pinch flats, and herniated flats (I have no idea if these are official names, but the names are instructive). Puncture flats mean that something (glass, a nail, a staple, a tiny shard of metal, a thorn) has embedded itself into the tire and put a hole in the tube. Avoid these by getting better tires, such as Gatorskins.
Pinch flats generally occur when there is insufficient tire inflation for the tire, and the cyclist has hit a rut or hole in the road causing the tube to wedge between the tire and the wheel’s rim causing a hole. Pinch flats can also result from improper tire installation (user error). Avoid these by learning how to install the tire and always re-inflate the tire when starting a ride.
Herniated flats occur from damaged or old tires. When the tire material rubs through or is cut in some way, the inflatable tube can poke out (herniate) through the opening due to tire inflation pressure. Avoid these by visually inspecting the tires before riding and replacing the tires often.
Flats may also occur if there is damage (either manufacturing or otherwise) to the inflation stem (the thingy on the tube that lets you put air into the tube).
D. Types of Tubes
Road tires are determined by two metrics: size and valve type. Typical tires are 700 cm in diameter and about 18 to 27 cm in thickness. You can tell what size tube to buy by reading the tire size off the sidewall of your tire. Most road wheels have holes for Presta values (the thin, pointy kind you have to unscrew to open up, while other kinds of wheels have Schrader valves (the kind used in automobile tires).
The only other thing you might want to know is the depth of the valve itself, if you’re using Presta. Do NOT get the shortest possible valve stem. If you do, there’s a chance your pump will not be able to connect to the value end and you won’t be able to inflate the tube. (Here’s a link to a tube buyer’s guide.)
E. What you need
To fix your flat, you will need the following:
- Tire levers,
- An un-damaged tube (either new or patched),
- A pump or CO2 cartridge system.
Most wheels have quick release pins holding the wheel onto the bike by the hub. If your bike does not have quick release, you’ll also need a wrench.
These things you will need to carry with you at all times. Choose wisely. You should also
invest in a floor pump for your car or home. You’ll get better tire pressure with the floor pump.
F. Proper Tire Inflation
The proper inflation will be listed on the tire’s sidewall. Typical road tires need to be inflated from 90 to 120 psi. You don’t necessarily need to inflate to the full level for good riding. Try different inflation levels, but always stay within the manufacturer’s range.
It is important that you check tire inflation before every ride. So get a good floor pump for home or your car that has a gauge on it. If the inflation is low, put more air. If its too high, let some air out and check again.
G. Changing the Actual Tube (TL;DR)
Here are the steps you need to take to fix your tube. This post is already too long, so I’m only listing the steps and not going into excruciating detail. But you should watch the video which follows and then search YouTube for additional videos.
- Front or back tire? If you’re lucky, it was the front tire. If not…doh!
- If it was the rear tire, shift into the big chain ring in the front; small cog in the back. You’ll have to lift the rear tire to accomplish this. This will make the wheel much easier to install after you’ve removed it.
- Take the wheel off the bike. Lay the bike, chain side UP, on the ground in a safe location. If it was the rear wheel, be careful not to get dirt on the cassette!
- Visually inspect the wheel before proceeding. Is there any obvious damage? Can you see the pin or thorn which caused the flat? Is the tire severely damaged? If you can find the culprit, you can remove it easily and possibly patch the tube.
- Unscrew the valve and let out any remaining air.
- Using the tire levers, remove one side of the tire from the wheel. (If you remove the tire entirely, note that road tires are generally directional. So when you reinstall it, make sure its facing the right way.)
- Remove the tube from inside the tire. You may have to remove a small silver nut from the valve stem. That is used to make inflation easier, so if your new tube doesn’t have one, save it.
- If your visual inspection did not reveal the culprit, run your hands gently inside the tire, feeling for sharp objects. Be careful that you don’t get cut. If you find it, remove it and keep looking. If you don’t find it, keep looking until you get bored…it might have dislodged itself or you might have had a pinch flat.
- Unfurl the new tube. Open the valve and blow a little air into it with your mouth. Close the valve stem. This makes it easier to install.
- Put the new tube’s valve stem through the hole in the wheel, then nest the new tube inside the wheel.
- If you took the whole tire off, align the tire in the correct direction with the wheel. Holding the wheel and tire with one hand, lever the inside edge of the tire onto the wheel’s rim.
- Then, starting at the valve stem, using only your fingers and palms (not the levers), lever the outside edge of the tire onto the wheel. Make sure the tube does not get pinched between the tire and wheel (hence the air).
- When you get to having only a few inches left to lever on, you may want to let a little air out of the tube. That may help. But any way you slice it, those last few inches can be grueling. Using your palms, kneed each side of the remaining few inches until it pops on. Keep checking that the tube is not pinching!!
- Only if you absolutely cannot do it with your hands, lever ONLY the last couple inches onto the wheel. If you use the levers too early, you will certainly pinch the tube and have to do it all over again.
- Check that the tube is not sticking out anywhere by squeezing the tire and looking down into the wheel well. if you see any tube, it might pinch when you add air.
- Open the valve and using your pump or CO2 cartridge, put a little air into the tube until it is much firmer, but not hard. Close the valve. Check that none of the tube is poking out between the wheel and the tire. If it is, quickly deflate and try again.
- Once you are satisfied, put as much air into the tube as you can. If you’re using CO2, use the remaining bit of cartridge. If your pump as a meter, put the full amount of pressure you can, up to the pressure listed on your side wall. If your pump doesn’t have a meter, put as much air into the tire as you can…you probably cannot over fill it. If the ride is bouncy, stop and put more.
- Once you get back to civilization, find a floor pump. If you used CO2, remove it and put air. CO2 molecules are smaller than the pores in the tube and will deflate over time.
Watch this video, then Google more and watch them, too.
H. For the Love of the Goddess, Why do I need to know all this?
You need to know how to do this because some day you may find that your TRL’s are helping another rider elsewhere along the route. You’ll either have to wait, call an Uber Extreme (or whatever that’s called), or do it yourself. You’ll find that doing it yourself is faster, easier, and more gratifying. Then, when you see someone stranded on the side of the road, you can say, “Hey, let me help you with that.”
I. Final Word
Practice. That’s it. You won’t know how to do it, so do it. Take your tire off your bike and go for it. If you’ve never done it before, give yourself two whole hours. You can do it. I know you can. Plus, if you do it now, you’ll have the safety of being able to go the bike shop if you abjectly fail! 🙂
PS: Writing these posts takes a lot of time and effort. If you found this useful, consider donating to my ride at: Bear’s Donation Page.
Riding is fun. Riding is healthy. Riding is good for you. Riding is a sport everyone can do. But one thing riding is not is inherently safe. The only way you can make it safe is by paying extra caution when riding. Even then, things happen. You can follow all the rules, but still someone can become injured on your rides.
First and foremost, no matter what else you do, wear your bicycle helmet. Should you fall, one of the first things that is likely to happen is that you hit your head on the pavement. Your skull is not up to the task. Only approved helmets should be worn. There are many websites dedicated to bicycle helmet safety, such as the NIH, the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, and Consumer Reports. Anyone who rides without a helmet is a fool. Do not mimic them!
That being said, I need you to repeat these rules like a mantra every time you ride:
- I will ride as far to the right as is safely possible.
- I will ride predictably so cars and cyclists are not surprised by what I do.
- I will always signal so those behind me know what I’m doing.
- I will leave enough space in front of me so I can stop if I need to.
- I will stop at all traffic control signals.
- I will look behind me if I’m going into the lane, and periodically to make sure nothing bad is coming.
- I will pay attention so that I will have enough time to react to changes in road conditions.
- I will practice emergency stops so I can stop quickly if an emergency arises.
- I will never ride two abreast on roadways.
- I will call out loudly in my best outside voice so riders around me know what I’m doing.
Do all that. Please. I wish I could promise you that will keep you safe. I cannot do so. So make sure you have your phone on you on all rides. Keep emergency contact information available. Be sure to collect the names of all witnesses and insurance information if necessary. Do not hesitate to call 911 if the situation merits it. Someone’s life could be in your hands.
Be safe. Your Bear needs you.
PS: Making these blog posts takes a long time. If you found this useful, please donate to my 2018 AIDS/LifeCycle ride!
The title says it all. Ride in the right hand lane as far to the right as is safely possible. There are times when you need to move out into the lane. For instance, when cornering, when passing cyclists, to avoid obstructions, or if road conditions in the curb are too poor for safety. As a vehicle, you are entitled to take the full lane. Look behind you, make sure it is safe, and take the lane.
But it is never safe for a cyclist to move so far left as to enter on coming traffic. Repeat that to yourself: yellow line bad. The simple fact is cars barely pay attention to cyclists traveling in the same direction. They have no attention for the slim profile of an un-illuminated cyclist heading straight for them.
I’m sure you’re thinking: I get it. In heavy, urban traffic, or on blind corners, that is wise advice, Bear. But there are times when it is safe. For instance on a deserted, straight, country road. No traffic, tree lined beauty, no one is coming, and I can see for miles ahead. I hear you. You want to ride side-by-side, chatting and laughing, enjoying a respite from the hard climb you just did. But this is exactly when you are most distracted. You don’t know when a car is going to enter the roadway from an unseen driveway. And you can be sure, the driver is not expecting you in his lane…going the wrong way.
You know who wins that fight? The driver every time. The cops are going to blame you. The insurance company is going to blame you. The driver is going to blame you. The sheer weight of metal and death are going to blame you. Your fellow cyclists will commiserate with you, but in the end they’re going to understand you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Don’t be that example. Ride on your side of the road. Ride as far to the right as is safely possible. Ride defensively, predictably and stay alert. Pass only when it is safe to do so, and pass only on the left. When passing call out loudly: “ON YOUR LEFT!”
Here is an excellent blog post on lane positioning for cyclists. I haven’t fully vetted it, so I don’t yet know if I agree with all the points the author makes. Do you? Comment to let me know.
P.S.: It takes me a long time to write these posts. If you find them valuable, feel free to donate a couple bucks to my 2018 AIDS/LifeCycle ride.
Eventually you’ll likely find yourself face to face with a dog while you’re cycling. They’re everywhere. Not all owners are properly trained. That means the dog may view you as a threat. You can probably tell: ears up, tail erect, attention fixed. You ride up to him, and the dog doesn’t move. You say, “good doggie, then,” but the tail doesn’t start wagging. You’ve got to pass, but you just know the dog is going to get aggressive, give chase, and possibly bite! What do you do?
There are lots of answers out there (for instance, here and here). I’m going to give you the one that works when you approach the dog head on or if the dog is coming at you from the side. Saved me a couple times, most recently when a homeless guy’s unleashed dog tried to bite me on the bike trail.
- As you approach the dog, slow down a bit, making sure you’re in a sprinting gear.
- Let the dog approach, but not too close.
- Give it some auditory encouragement, “good boy” or “sweet dog” in soothing tones.
- Just as it gets to you, take off in a sprint as fast as you can.
The dog will likely give up, feeling it has chased you off. I definitely encourage you to read the links and be prepared. Little would ruin a ride more than a dog bite or an altercation with a recalcitrant owner.
I’ve written several posts on how to climb, how to descend, nutrition and climbing, and related safety issues. Please review them because this post doesn’t discuss the mechanics. Instead, I want to reiterate something I’ve said in many prior posts: to get anywhere on your bike, you have to move your legs. The prior two posts about cadence were leading up to this conclusion: the only way to keep yourself moving forward efficiently is to pedal your bike.
If you’re not pedaling on a climb, you’ll fall over. If you’re not pedaling on a flat, you’ll slow down fast and fall over. “Duh,” you say, “but what about descents? It will be much more efficient for me to use the descent as an opportunity to let my tired legs rest.” The answer is no, you should be pedaling.
There are two issues to unpack from that: (1) You’re too tired, and (2) You haven’t fully grocked the mechanics of moving your bike forward.
If you’re too tired to pedal on a descent, you’re probably working on the challenge of the ride you’re on. That does not meant it is too challenging for you, but it does mean you should consider pacing yourself. Check with your doctor to make sure the exercise you’re planning is right for you. Then read my blog posts on nutrition. 90% of problems like this can be solved by eating and drinking more.
Otherwise, the issue may be a mechanical one. (First, after 5 or so serious rides, are you still in pain or numb in the feet, knees, back, arms, or butt? You likely need a bike fit (remind me to do a post on this issue).) That means you’re not using the lessons in cadence we discussed the last two weeks; review them.
If fitness and mechanics are not the issue, then you just have to trust me on this: on your descents, PEDAL YOUR BIKE. On climbs (obviously). On flats (less obvious than you’d think). On descents. YES, on descents…always pedal.
The reason is simple. So long as your pedal strokes are engaging the wheel, you’re gaining momentum. On a descent, you have a huge advantage: gravity. If you don’t pedal, friction (road and wind) will slow you down. If you do pedal, you can partially or wholly overcome friction. The only real exception is if you’re descending too fast for your skill level, or your speed is so high that even on your hardest gear you’re not adding to momentum
The advantages are huge. Not only will you go faster on the descent you’re on, but you will gain momentum to pull you over the next, inevitable hill. And you’ll exhaust yourself less gaining that momentum to push you over the hill than waiting for the climb to pedal.
So the take away is this: learn to use your gears, use them, and pedal your bike on every inch of every mile that you possibly can.
Training ride number 10. You’re out on the road, feeling pretty good. The cause is right, the friends are right, and at mile 2, the pace is right. At some point, you notice the conversation dies down, and the guy who was right front of you is suddenly a couple hundred feet in front. Then you turn a corner, and he’s gone!
You think: he’s my height, age, and build. He was helpful, compared his bike to mine, and he was impressed that they were largely equivalent. As you go through the factors that made you eat his dust, you conclude: It must be me. How do I improve?
Addressing that question has taken years. This blog is full of researched and cited tips on safety, performance, nutrition, hydration, sleep, clothing, and dragons. Please search, browse, and enjoy.
New and experienced riders can feel this way. So, you are not alone. To answer the first part first: it is you. You are the rider who got up at 5 am to make the 7:30 am meet up time. You are the rider who stayed up late cleaning his bike. You are the rider who carved out 7 hours on a Sunday to ride 70 miles. You are the rider committed to schlepping his ass 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You are already strong.
So the real question is: how could it be that that other guy is so much faster than I am? That question I will try to answer in a short series of posts which will help you to understand issues affecting performance. You’ll be surprised how subtle changes can affect your cycling.
But, if you want to start answering the question, you have to make me two promises. First, try to think: I’ve already won just by getting out of bed and onto my bike. Second, try to minimize comparing your performance to others. These are big asks, so I’m only asking that you try.
All promised? Good.
Here’s an outline of upcoming posts:
- Maintaining a good spin to avoid muscle fatigue.
- Climbing, descending, and flats.
- Eating and drinking for performance.
- Keeping your bike clean.
- Working through your doubts and fears.
- Riding in poor weather.
- Setting a workable training schedule.
I will commit to writing one entry a week. That brings us up to about mid-April. Please message me and let me know what additional topics you’d like to talk about. And comment, below!
So, the weather is finally perfect. The sun is shining, the birds are frolicking, the Bears are donning tutus and glitter. Perhaps tomorrow will be the longest ride you’ve attempted to date. Or, perhaps, it will be a century ride — 100 miles of cycling bliss. For those of us with two speeds (on and off), this can be a recipe for a hard bonk. But however fiercely the sun shines or however steep the hills get, there are techniques to get you through the day. Of the many techniques I’ve blogged about before, maintaining an even, achievable pace is just as important.
The question is, how do you do that if you’ve never ridden 100 miles? The answer is to pay attention to the warning signs early and learn from past rides. Yes, learn from your mistakes, that’s how its done. And as we all know, that can be difficult for the best of us. So, rather than relying on our massive intellects, the next best thing to do is follow a few easy steps.
Its important to be ready before you get on your bike. If you skip these, then any amount of pacing yourself is not going to keep you from bonking.
- Eat. Yes, your brain and your legs both need proper nutrition. Now’s not the time for dieting. Prepare by eating heartily but healthily the day before then have a healthy breakfast (oatmeal, whole grain toast). (Links in these sections lead to more information on the topic.)
- Sleep. Be sure you’re properly rested before you begin.
- Know your terrain. Review the route sheet the night before, if possible, and identify problem areas. Climbing, descending, navigating lots of curves, or extended flats can all be difficult for some. Listen to the ride leader when he or she explains the route.
- Make sure your bike is well tuned. For longer rides, minor annoyances (squeaks and groans) can become frustration inducing monsters.
- Be with the group. Don’t do your first epic ride alone. Be with your mates and do your best to keep up with them.
- Stretch. I’m terrible at stretching. I never do it. I’m a bad person. Don’t follow suit. Be sure you’re as limber as you can be.
During the ride, nutrition, hydration, and keeping your demons at bay all contribute to a successful ride.
- Find ride mates who are at your level and try to stick with them. Conversation and companionship are great motivators. You’ll find you can keep up a better pace if you’re not alone.
- Hydrate. Have sips of water, alternating with hydration fluid (fizzy tabs or gatorade) at least every 15 minutes. Do this throughout the ride without fail.
- Eat. Make sure you get about 100 to 150 calories every hour or so that you’re riding. Have a good lunch. Some people can eat a lot (me), while some need to keep some in reserve. Either way, have something and bring your leftovers with you to eat at the next rest stop. Remember to keep up your riding hydration and nutrition despite lunch.
- Rest. Stop at every assigned rest stop, but not for long. Your body is still burning calories and you have to use the momentum you’ve gotten to get through the day. If you’re longer than 15 minutes at any given rest stop, you’re there too long.
- Climbing. If you need, take short breathers BEFORE or AFTER the hills. Avoid stopping mid-climb. It is dangerous to yourself or others to stop on a steep hill. It can be difficult to take off up hill. Your body is probably not getting a really good rest, since you’re thinking about the climb. That being said, if you do have to stop, do it on the least-steep part of the hill, and do it in the shade.
- Cramping. You have muscle cramping, you’re likely not eating or drinking enough. Yes. I know you’ve been eating and drinking…
Finally, to get you through the ride, keep up a moderate pace. Don’t pour your energy out at any particular stage. Instead, know your own strengths and use them to best advantage.
- Maintain a high cadence throughout the ride. Higher cadences mean less muscle strain. Less muscle strain means you can ride longer. (Get a cadence meter.)
- Expend your effort on climbs. They’re going to be difficult any way. Let the climbs be where you shine.
- Don’t slack on the descents. You can maintain your target heart rate on the descents. But even if you use them to “rest,” don’t just coast down the hills. Which leads me to the general rule…
- Pedal. Every foot you’re not pedaling is a waste. A single pedal stroke will get you forward more than if you weren’t pedaling and (if you’re in the right gear) for a tiny fraction of effort. And you can still rest while pedaling.
- Keep an even pace on flats/rollers. Try to avoid speeding up then slowing down. Find a groove and stick with it. This is another good reason for a riding partner. The two of you can help keep an even pace.
- If you’re feeling rested, that doesn’t mean you need to jet off at full speed. Keep that energy for the hills. (Know yourself. Sometimes its better to get a section over with if a rest stop is coming up.)
- Catch yourself before you get exhausted, and rest while cycling. Slow your speed, slow your heart rate while cycling. You’ll save time and effort over stopping to rest.
- Consider reducing your pace from the get go. Keep your speed or your heart rate at 90% of your typical ride. (Get a heart rate monitor.)
That’s a lot to digest, but it boils down to pacing yourself, eating enough, and knowing your body and the ride. There are lots of topics in need of expansion here. Please feel free to ask me questions in the comments or on Facebook.
Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes! Look for a new series for intermediate cyclists in the summer of 2014.