I’m not Superstitious

November 11, 2022
Road strewn with hedgecutting debris

‘With all this on the road it’s a miracle you haven’t had a flat tyre yet,’ the other half remarked before I could stop him on one of our state-sanctioned daily walks this week (yes, we’re still doing them; judge away). Obviously, I don’t believe in the puncture fairy, but why would you risk deliberately invoking her? Either way, whether due to confirmation bias, regression to the mean or, more likely, the fact that our local farmers have spent the past few weeks energetically coating our roads with Bastard Big Thorns, the next day my bike had a flat back tyre.

So far the puncture is only a slow one so I’m nursing it along by pumping the tyre up every morning and hoping for the best (I may not believe in the puncture fairy but I can’t shake the belief that you only get one puncture at a time, so it’s safer not to fix a slow leak that gets you to town and back until you absolutely have to, or you’ll only end up with a worse one). But I believe the time has come to look into upgraded puncture protection (standard disclaimer: I already have Marathon Plus tyres, slime made absolutely no difference, and no I’m not going tubeless, but thank you for your suggestions). Last year I tried out supposedly puncture-proof inner tubes, which shall remain nameless as front and rear wheels both went flat within two weeks of being put on the bike). So now I’m considering inserts, possibly instead of the Marathons or perhaps as well as, considering the density of blackthorn around here. My hesitation – as with all of these solutions – is that they tend to make fixing a flat even harder in the event that they fail. But if it saves me another walk of shame (or cyclist’s full-body workout) then it will be worth the risk.

Even better would be if the local farmers could somehow find a way not to coat the roads with the local equivalent of caltrops. I am reliably informed that the Germans have special hedge cutting machines which blow the debris into the field rather than spreading it along the road, but that’s the Germans for you (they also apparently have special slurry spreaders that just directly dribble it onto the ground rather than spraying it everywhere, which lessens the stink). I had hoped that the past few weeks of rain might have at least rinsed off the worst of the debris, but no such luck. Meanwhile, I might have to resort to sweeping the road again myself. So perhaps I will get that full body workout after all …

A Minor Revelation

December 10, 2021

So, it’s been a couple of weeks since my bike was declared terminal, and since then I’ve been riding a mixture of my friend’s e-bike and the Brompton (the latter out of paranoia that I’ll get too spoiled by the e-bike and not be able to go back). It’s been an interesting experience having an extended loan of the e-bike and I was thinking, as I set off to town today to do some Christmas shopping, that I should put together some reflections on how I’ve found it, particularly as that is exactly the sort of trip that the bike (a solidly practical utility number) was designed for.

Sadly it was not to be as – half way into town – I got that sinking feeling … for yea, verily, it is that wonderful time of the year: blackthorn cutting season, and yea, the puncture fairy had struck again. Of course I had neither pump nor repair kit on me, which was stupid because e-bikes are magic in many ways, but they’re not that magic. With a completely flat back tyre, the only option was to call for help, and then spend an interesting few minutes with the other half trying to work out how to get a very large and heavy bike into quite a small hatchback (take both wheels off, is the answer, in case you’re wondering).


But that’s not the revelation. The revelation was when we got home and I decided that, seeing as the wheels were already off, I should probably just go ahead and fix the puncture rather than slinging the whole thing into the garage and dealing with it on another day. Like my old bike, this one has Marathon Plus tyres (blackthorn might laugh in the face of their alleged puncture resitance but they are quite good at shrugging off broken glass). Unlike my old bike, though, getting the tyre on and off the wheel does not require a mimimum of thirty minutes of swearing, muttering under my breath and silently cursing all forms of active travel while weepily wondering why other people can make tyre levers work. The tyre just came off. And when I’d found the thorn (and it was a doozy), removed it and replaced the inner tube, it just went back on again. Just like that. It took fifteen minutes, and that included the time take to tweet about it in surprise.

I’ve spent a good decade coming to terms with the fact that I’m rubbish at bike maintenance, and that it doesn’t make me a bad cyclist or a generally inept person (I mean I may still be pretty inept but not because of my inability to repair a puncture). I’m probably still pretty rubbish at most aspects of it, but at least I now know that, when it comes to changing tyres, I have been playing with the difficulty level set to high. Not max, perhaps (that would be getting a Marathon Plus onto the back wheel of my Brompton, a challenge which I have declined even to attempt, much to the disgust of some), but definitely high. And I’m taking that as a win.

The Cyclist’s Full-Body Workout

October 27, 2020

Warm up: Go to get your bike to head down for the paper, and remember about the slow puncture that showed up on Sunday. No problem, it’s a thorn in the tyre, it will probably stay pretty stable for a few days before you get a chance to fix it. Pump up the tyre fully with the track pump and set off with a song in your heart and not a care in the world.

First interval: Three miles down the road, realise that the tyre is now flat again. Contemplate turning round. But it is only another three miles to the shop and surely you can get there and back if you pump it up a few times. Get out the little bike pump and refill the tyre. Pedal as fast as you can, in case that will help

Second interval: Two miles later, with the shop almost in your sights, admit the tyre needs pumping again. Refill tyre, sprint for the shop. By the time you have bought your paper, realise that you tyre needs pumping again.

Main workout: repeat the pedal, stop, pump, full gas sprint for the next five and a half miles, with decreasing intervals between them. For extra points, be wearing full rain gear so you can sweat off any additional weight.

Tip: Remember to breathe! Sometimes an audible breath can help you manage the stress of a workout like this. You can use an ‘ujjayi’ or ocean breath – or you can scream ‘f*** off you stupid machine’ at your bike as it falls off its kick stand for the umpteenth time. Whichever works for you.

Cool down: Do the walk of shame for the last half mile home.

If I’ve learned anything cycling here for the last 12 years, it’s that the puncture fairy always wins. And clearly, I’ve not learned anything …

The Rain Falls on the Just and on the Unjust Fella*

February 3, 2020

I don’t know about you, but 2020 for me so far seems to have consisted of me pulling on my rain gear (I’m getting extremely good value out of my Aldi bargain waterproof trousers which have so far proved, remarkably, Waterproof in Scotland), wishing I’d thought to take my soggy wet gloves out of my bag to dry when I came back from the last outing, unstuffing the newspaper from my still-damp boots and heading back out into the rain for yet another Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign event that seemed like a good idea back when we planned it before the monsoon started. In just the last week we’ve had a Sunday ride (starting in the pouring rain), a Burns Night ride with the accessible cycling group (heavy rain forecast but in the end only raining lightly for most of it) and some path clearing work (solid mizzle all the way down but almost dry on the way back). Amazingly, we’ve had reasonable turnouts for all of these and none of the members have strangled me and left my body in a flooded ditch which, frankly, they would be well within their rights to do given how many times I’ve dragged them out of their warm dry homes on soggy days in recent weeks.

Today, however, the Weather Gods have given it a rest and even though I had yet another event organised, was forecast to be merely showery. I set off on the Brompton with a song in my heart, buoyed by the fact that the forecast for tomorrow (with yet another event organised – really, it’s as if I had forgotten what February is like) was even better. And got to the top of the road before I realised that when the Weather Gods take a rest, it’s only to let the Puncture Fairy have her head. For yes, the Brompton had a slow puncture in its back wheel and I had no time to fix it (even if I actually could have done which I doubt, given it’s a hub gear and a Marathon plus tyre). I couldn’t swap bikes because I was en route to Edinburgh afterwards (where the Brompton was due for a post-operative check up) and I couldn’t be late because I was meeting a bunch of council officers for a tour of the highlights of Bigtown’s cycling infrastructure. Nothing to it but to try and cycle faster than my back tyre was deflating, and then lose all credibility by arriving late, out of breath and pleading for a loan of a pump (I did have a pump in my bag but for reasons which made sense at the time, has been monkeyed with to inflate presta valves and I can’t for the life of me get it back to inflating schraders again).

Despite the suboptimal start, however, we did have a successful tour. Mostly I had erred on the informative and instructive side, choosing the route where there were opportunities to make positive suggestions about possible improvements rather than simply pointing and laughing at some of the madder stuff. But I did manage one small measure of revenge. There has been a bit of back and forth about whether it makes sense to designate one of the official bike routes up a one-in-five hill, even if it does mean a quieter road than those with a more forgiving gradient. So I made sure to include it on our route on the way back. Sometimes it’s much more powerful to show** rather than tell.

* But mainly on the just because the unjust stole the just’s umbrella.

** Especially the less-experienced officer who had borrowed one of the council e-bikes and then accidentally turned the power assist off at the bottom of the hill … amazingly he made it up, and in top gear too.

Make Do and Mend (Not You, Bike)

January 18, 2020

You’d think I would have learned by now not to taunt the puncture fairy … it’s just that you never quite know what will incur her wrath.

Like a simple tweet which was largely me feeling quite pleased with myself for tackling the fraying sleeves on a baselayer before they’d reached my elbows …

Regular readers will know I’m not one for fast fashion (or any fashion, really) and will try and get as much wear out of my clothes as is possible partly on environmental grounds but largely on hating shopping grounds. In an ideal world, this would involve looking after them properly to make them last, but in the world in which I actually live this tends to involve wearing stuff until I’m in danger of passing strangers giving me their spare change. So I was quite pleased to not just get round to tackling the repair but doing a reasonable-looking job of it as well.

Of course, having posted the tweet and headed out on the bike for an appointment it quickly became apparent that it was going to be more than my rudimentary sewing skills that I needed, for I had once again fallen victim to a Bastard Big Thorn.

You’d think by now that living in the land of BBTs and using my bike as my main means of transport would have left me a little bit more practised at fixing a puncture, even with Marathon Plus tyres. And yet, I still can’t manage to do this comfortably in under an hour. I have at least worked out (this has taken me ten years, but I get there in the end) that once you have taken the wheel off the bike, it’s a whole lot more pleasant – and actually easier – to do the tyre wrestling and puncture fixing indoors in winter, but that would appear to be the sum total of my progress. During the same period I’ve learned to knit even quite complicated things and make sourdough bread. It’s almost as if the gender stereotypes are out to get me.

Although, having said that, on reading this piece of utter baddassery, I have learned that sewing skills can actually come in handy when the Puncture Fairy really gets serious.

Thorn in my Side

September 30, 2019

In the last week or so, autumn hasn’t just arrived, it’s taken its boots off and got itself comfortable, ready to stay awhile. This morning I was treated to a display of mist, first clearing and then reassembling to wipe out the valley below, before the sun finally burned through, and the wind has an edge to it didn’t have even a couple of days ago. The swallows are assembling for the off, the leaves are gradually turning, the nights are drawing in, and farmers everywhere have woken up and thought ‘today looks like an excellent day to go hedgecutting.’

For cyclists, this means only one thing: bastard big thorns. Indeed, on Saturday, as we were preparing to meet the others for my anniversaire, Back on my Bike discovered that she had fallen victim to the hedge trimmings scattering the road outside town. As she efficiently sorted that out, I had a quick look at my own bike and discovered I too had picked up a thorn, which was thoroughly embedded in my front tyre.

This leaves me with something of a dilemma. On the one hand, a thorn in a tyre is bad news and tends to be detrimental to its airtightness. On the other hand, taking off a newish Marathon Plus just as a precaution seems to miss the point of having puncture resistant tyres as they’re a giant pain in the neck to get on and off, and I’ve now ridden at least 80 miles in the tyre-plus-thorn combo with no apparent loss of air pressure. Back on the original hand, however, simply ignoring what is likely to be an imminent puncture seems likely to come back and haunt me, probably at the furthest point from civilisation, well out of mobile signal range, and on a day when the wind is blowing the rain sideways in all directions, and I’ll have nobody to blame but myself.

So far I’ve done the obvious thing, which is to ignore it and hope it goes away while offering up obeisance to the P****** Fairy to turn aside her wrath (this may have worked too well, as it was someone else who got the second puncture during Saturday’s festivities). I suppose I could at least put my pump back in my bag and purchase a spare inner tube, for when the inevitable comes. Because now that hedgecutting season is in full swing, a flat is really only a matter of time, whatever the current thorn in my tyre decides to do.

Falling Flat

April 30, 2019

So, for the last few weeks I’ve been looking forward to this moment – Pop safely, indeed successfully, over and a chance to catch up with myself, maybe relax a bit, and generally find the rhythm of normal life again. There’s still a little post-POP admin to do, including soothing the ruffled feathers of people who want to know why they hadn’t known it was happening and feel this is somehow my fault, even after they acknowledge that they did see a few posts about it on social media but hadn’t bothered to click on the links. Yeah, I don’t know either, pal, maybe next year I’ll come round to your house and read out the POP website to you? Although I think that may not be in line with the GDPR.

Meanwhile, my recent neglect of those little life admin tasks has been catching up with me. My study looks like an explosion in a cow costume factory and my filing backlog has reached the stage where I’m only able to find stuff by identifying which strata it may have been buried in. More to the point, when I got a flat last week after our epic party ride, and noted that three patches on an inner tube was possibly a sign that I should perhaps get a spare, I didn’t get any further than forming a vague intention to buy one next time I was passing the bike shop. Obviously that meant that yesterday evening I got off the train from a meeting in Glasgow to find my bike had yet another puncture and I had neither pump, patches, nor spare inner tube to avoid the ignominious phone call for a lift home.

So today was spent practising my puncture repair technique, which I’m actually getting reasonably slick at. I would have done it all singlehandedly had not our new neighbour passed as I was fitting the tyre back on and unilaterally came over and helped me with it. Indeed, so easy has it been to get the tyre on and off that I actually double checked that the back tyre (which is only just over a year old, and therefore just getting bedded in as far as I’m concerned) really was a Marathon Plus – and not just because it has suffered four punctures in its short lifetime. This time culprit was a couple of blackthorns, and even Marathon Pluses have never quite been proof against those, but even so I don’t remember when I’ve had quite so many visits from the puncture fairy in the space of a few months.

Still, a new inner tube has been fitted, the bike is running sweetly again and I’ve even formed a very firm intention to buy another inner tube to act as a spare. And maybe do something about the fact that the front tyre is looking somewhat bald, before that comes back to bite me.

But you know, all in the fullness of time…

Bike Maintenance Achievement Unlocked

November 13, 2018

Pedalling back from Bigtown during today’s temporary cessation of hostilities on the part of the Weather Gods, I stopped to enquire whether the cyclist who had stopped at the side of the road was okay.

“Not exactly,” she said. “I seem to have a flat tyre”.

Now, I always stop and ask if I can help when I see a cyclist by the side of the road, because it just seems wrong not to, but I have to confess, I’m usually relieved when they wave me on. The odds of a stranded cyclist having something wrong with their bike that is so simple that I can fix it, but not so simple that anybody else can’t fix it, AND it requiring the somewhat patchy content of my toolkit (tyre levers, patches, dumbell spanner, cheering-up sweeties, wrong size of allen key and usually no pump due to the iron law that you’ll always have left your pump in your other bike bag), are pretty long. But it turned out today that she had a pump and a spare inner tube, but no tyre levers, and the theory but no actual experience of changing a flat tyre. Between us, then, we made an awesome team. We extracted not one but two Bastard Big Thorns out of her tyre (one of them was so large I suggested she get it stuffed and mounted) and she was back up and running just in time for a man to cycle past, notice the two extremely competent females dealing with the problem, and pedal on with barely a hitch in his cadence. She was happy that she now felt she could deal with a puncture herself (a good thing, as hedge-cutting season is in full swing and nothing is proof against Bastard Big Thorns) and I was delighted to have cancelled out my woeful performance on Saturday, and also made a slight dent in the giant debt I have accrued from all the times someone else has helped me with my bike.

November afternoon

It has also reminded me that I should probably go and put the pump back in my main bike bag and track down the right size of allen key, because if this post isn’t an irresistible temptation to the Puncture Fairy, I don’t know what is.

And the Puncture Fairy makes Three

January 29, 2017

misty morning start

After a couple of years of running winter rides for the local Bigtown Cycling Campaign that have attracted none, one, or at best half a dozen participants, suddenly all our likes, comments and shares on Facebook have started turning into actual cyclists, turning up on actual bikes, to come out and ride with us, which is nice.

Unfortunately the Puncture Fairy is also apparently following us on Facebook and turned up this morning with a vengeance – including one poor lass who’d only been out for a spin on her nice new Halfords bike on her own and been struck by way of collateral damage as she passed our assembly point. Sadly Halfords had not thought to supply her with a pump or spare inner tube (or managed to set up the quick release on her brakes) so she was awaiting rescue when help arrived in the form of several knights in shining – or at least hi-vis – armour in the form of several of the wiry-old-boy-in-lycra brigade who like nothing better than fixing a puncture, especially if it can be combined with fulminations about the uselessness of Halfords.

And even if you don’t count her, the grand total by the time we finished was one delaminated tyre (fortunately noticed before we set off), one puncture at our destination, and one mega puncture involving a Bastard Big Thorn, a duff valve on a spare inner tube, and a recalcitrant back wheel, which meant by the time the back markers had arrived at the cafe stop, most of the front markers had already gone home. Having eaten all the soup. Honestly, there’s just no solidarity among cyclists these days…

Still, it was a gorgeous day to be out, and the weather was mostly pleasant enough to make standing around in the sun making helpful remarks during someone else’s puncture repair (and handing out cranachan-inspired flapjacks, complete with a tot of whisky, to mark the fact that this was our Burns ride) almost pleasant.*

afternoon sunshine

* apart from the point where I said, ‘we’ve been very lucky with the weather within earshot of the weather gods, who imediately started raining on us, just to remind us they could.


August 4, 2014

Preparing to head out for the papershop with the other half (he wasn’t daunted by last week’s front page news story about ASBO buzzard’s near neighbour and fellow cyclist harasser – and please note everyone suggesting a cycle helmet that if anything wearing one seems to send them into even more of a fury), I remarked casually about how I hadn’t wanted to take my pump out of my bag because the mere act of removing it would undoubtedly cause me to get a puncture. I then wondered briefly whether that would be enough to bring down the wrath of the puncture fairy, but I remembered we didn’t believe in her, so set off happily, and we were not harassed by any buzzards, although we were delighted by the sight of a bird of prey, probably a kestrel, swooping along the road ahead of us.

It was only on the way back that the other half noticed a splinter of wood had lodged itself in his tyre in a way that suggested removing it would not be a good idea four miles from home. And it was only as I waved cheerily to the hedgecutting tractor man that I remembered that Marathon Plus tyres are proof against many things, from broken glass to undoubtedly buzzard attacks, but they are not proof against blackthorn. No doubt having the not one but two pumps in my bag meant that we both got home before the air was entirely out of our tyres, but it was a close run thing. And it ‘only’ took me an hour to fix my puncture (including having to extract the blackthorn out of my tyre with my teeth) although I would like it noted that I did it All By Myself. And the other half hasn’t even started fixing his yet.

That said, nothing is fixed until it’s tested and fixed (as I used to say ad nauseum to my staff) so we’ll only know later whether I got my wheel on properly or not. Given my 100% record of not doing the bolts up tightly enough, I’m guessing ‘not’.