Slow, Slow, Quick Quick, Slow

February 22, 2019

A Public Service Announcement for All* Cyclists:

There is no such thing as a self-healing puncture. Nor, realistically, is there such a thing as a slow puncture: a slow puncture is a fast puncture that’s had the decency to warn you it’s coming. The correct response to such a courtesy from the P****** fairy, is to fix the puncture as soon as you notice it – or at least on the day after, when you don’t have to go anywhere. The incorrect response is to keep pumping up the tyre every morning in the hope that it will magically go away, until it chooses the most inconvenient time possible to become a full blown flat tyre. It seems obvious written down, so clearly this is absolutely not what I’ve been doing this week.

In other news, this is happening, almost a month earlier than last year.

daffodil blooming

I don’t wish to appear ungrateful at the current mild weather, but at this time of the year, the last thing I need is for spring to start speeding up on us.

* Or possibly just me

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Slime vs Bastard Big Thorn: no contest

November 22, 2017

I was a little disappointed in my Slime inner tube when it failed me yesterday, but having investigated a bit more closely I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

You know how frustrating it can be, trying to track down the source of a puncture with nothing visible to the naked eye, and no sign of what might have caused the problem? That definitely wasn’t the case with this flat.

second thorn

First thorn

I think Slime works by centrifugal force – as you rotate the tyre, it is forced out of the hole under pressure and then sets to form a seal. That assumes that the hole is on the outside of the inner tube, and that the Bastard Big Thorn(s) didn’t end up going all the way through the inner tube and out the other side.

extracted thorn

This wasn’t even the one that caused the worst damage …

As it is, my backup innertube was a normal one, so it’s going to have to battle through the thorns unassisted.

mud under mudguard

At least this shows my mudguards are doing their job

As you can see from the state of my bike when I took the wheel off, the local farmers have not been very assiduous at sweeping either the mud or assorted hedgerow debris off our road. I have now cleaned my bike, but that’s going to last until the next time I cycle out of our front gate.

Our neighbour up the hill actually has his own petrol-powered mini road sweeper (it’s like a giant carpet sweeper) because he was sick of his car getting punctures. I have to admit, I was amused by this at the time, but I might have to borrow it if today’s rain hasn’t swept the worst of the hedgecuttings away.


Punctureproof in Scotland

November 21, 2017

“Well, at least it will give you a chance to test if your new jacket* is Waterproof in Scotland”, the other half observed as he watched me don waterproof trousers and gaiters ready to cycle down to the station on my way to Embra this morning. As bright sides go, this felt less than compelling but as it turned out, by the time I had wrestled all the various bits of conflicting velcro that hold my rain gear together, stuffed dry socks and gloves into my bag (the only thing worse than spending the whole day in wet socks is putting wet gloves on to cycle home), and got the bike out, the rain had eased off, which if I’m honest is the way that I always hope raingear will work.

Feeling pleased that I had cheated the Weather Gods out of a home win, I headed off, not hearing the wry chuckle of the Puncture Fairy who when hedgecutting season is in progress, laughs in the face of puncture resistant tyres and – it turns out – Slime-filled inner tubes. At least, that was the conclusion I reached as I got to the main road and registered the thumpa-thumpa-thump of a flat tyre. Pushing the bike hurriedly home to grab the Brompton and a lift from the other half, I discovered that my raingear may or may not be Waterproof in Scotland but is not Breathable when Pushing a Bike Up a Hill in a Hurry so either way I end up damp, but at least I did get the pleasure of hopping out of the car when we hit the first morning tailback in Bigtown, unfolding the Brompton and cycling merrily away from the traffic.

Tomorrow (which, if the Met Office’s rain warning is anything to go by, looks like a good day for testing if the house is Waterproof in Scotland, never mind my jacket) I shall have to track down the source of the problem and discover whether dealing with a slime-filled inner tube which didn’t do its job is as nasty as people say. And then on Thursday I get to go to Embra all over again to kick off the planning for next year’s POP.

Did I say that I hadn’t been all that busy recently? Silly me.

* It claims to be ‘tested on Cornish clifftops‘ but a) that is not Scotland and b) you notice it doesn’t say whether it actually passed the test …


There Once Was a Bike from Devizes

August 27, 2017

I think I may have mentioned in the past that I have mixed feelings about bike maintenance. I understand the attraction  in today’s modern throwaway society of something that not only can be fixed, but which positively demands to be – and indeed maintained, cleaned, oiled, improved and generally tinkered with. How many other objects do you have in daily use that you can say that about?

I can also, in theory, see how satisfying it would be to be able to competently tinker with my own bike (especially if it means confounding the expectations of those who might assume by my gender and general unhandiness that I can’t). And over the years I have gradually picked up a few things, like how to use a pump to get air into a tyre rather than removing all the remaining air out of it (look, I started from a low base), how to get the wheels on and off, how to clean and re-oil a chain, how to replace the brake pads, and how to sort out a wheel that has suddenly gone skewiff because when I say I know how to get the wheels on and off I mean I still never manage to tighten them sufficiently the first time around. And I would estimate that, given enough time and a warm day and no helpful competent person around to do it for me, I can repair a puncture at least 50% of the time without wanting to burst into tears.

However, that’s just the start of it. And if I’ve learned anything about bike maintenance, especially if your bike is more than a few years old, it’s that, whatever the thing is that you’re trying to do, the answer is always going to be that it’s a bit more complicated by that. Because bikes might look like simple and easily understood machines but they have evolved over time and nothing seems to be compatible with anything else, and all bike mechanics will tell you (with a sorrowful shake of the head) that whoever did something to your bike last was a dreadful bodger and it’s amazing you’ve got away with it without coming a nasty cropper.

So when the other half mentioned in passing yesterday evening that my back tyre had gone flat, I knew I was in for a bit of a nightmare. And I wasn’t wrong. What should have been a simple fix of a tiny hole turned into a two-patch job that promptly didn’t take (patches go off, who knew?), the discovery that the thing that makes my back brake spring away from the wheel when I release the brakes had gone sproing and needed to be bent back, the related discovery that my brake pads had worn themselves crooked, the further revelation that my spare inner tube doesn’t fit my back wheel because my back wheel is narrower than my front wheel because a long time ago when I didn’t realise that you change anything on your bike at your peril that had seemed like a good idea, and the subsequent knock-on revelation that my back tyre is the wrong size for the rim. Oh, and my tyre irons are worse than useless but that the cheap hippo-shaped bottle opener I got in a Christmas cracker in 2009 makes a reasonable substitute.

Anyway. I have now purchased a slime-filled inner tube of the right, but also wrong, size which will likely solve none of these problems but just might get me through hedgecutting season if the P****** Fairy isn’t listening, and I have just had a lot of practice at getting my back wheel and tyre on and off, which will stand me in good stead if she is.

Remind me tomorrow to tighten up the back wheel one extra turn before it goes skewiff on me when I set off.

Always assuming there’s actually still any air in the tyre …


How the Other Half Live

September 29, 2016

In proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I was rewarded for my efforts to encourage cycling among kids yesterday with a puncture this morning that turned out to be not so much a Bastard Big Thorn as an entire twig which had somehow overcome my tyre’s puncture protection and got itself thoroughly embedded (I had passed the hedge-cutting tractor and wondered if I ought to worry, but I noted it was cutting hawthorn rather than blackthorn and decided I’d be okay… Big mistake).

Bastard Big Thorn

Fortunately I was visiting the office of a cycling friend so she helped* me wrestle with the tyre and provided a patch. Unfortunately, we were so focused on removing the Bastard Big Thorn and getting the tyre back on, we made the schoolgirl error of not checking the inner tube was actually holding air first. I was so demoralised when the tyre immediately went flat again that I let her get back to work and wheeled the bike to the nearest bike shop which has only recently opened (I like to think that Bigtown can only maintain three bike shops plus Halfords because of all the easy tenners they make fixing my punctures) and proceeded on foot to Aldi where I was intent on securing some bargain basement merino.

It’s not a part of town I go to that frequently, to be honest. It’s not a great road to cycle on and, Aldi cycling specials aside, there aren’t many reasons to visit, although possibly the bike shop will change that. But walking up that road, I realised that, unpleasant as it is to cycle on, pedestrians have it much worse. At least on a bike I can pretend to be a car and take a nice direct route, while pedestrians have to be penned in to prevent them from crossing the road in a straight line (after all, with cars enabled to make such nice sweeping turns, it simply wouldn’t be safe to let them cross where it would be convenient for them).

car desire lines

Car desire lines catered for; pedestrian desire lines thwarted.

Cyclists are considered to be an angry, organised bunch, but this sort of thing makes me wonder where all the angry, organised pedestrians are. If I actually spent any time on foot I’d be hopping mad at this sort of thing, all the time. It’s probably fortunate for the coonsil that I’m generally too lazy to walk if I can ride my bike and anyway already have my hands full moaning about the cycle provision. As it is, anyone would think they actually wanted us to drive …

* OK, she did it while I made helpful suggestions and passed her tools.


Bike Maintenance Redux

February 15, 2016

It’s fair to say the last two days have not represented a pinnacle of my bike maintenance skills. Yesterday, what was supposed to be a social bike ride turned into a puncture fixing refresher course involving a grand total of four inner tubes, something of a record for me (the inner tube with the leaky valve that was causing my front tyre to go flat in the first place; the ‘spare’ inner tube that had supposedly been repaired after the last puncture that proved not to be particularly repaired after all; the replacement inner tube hurriedly bought at Halfords which I punctured trying to get my Marathon Pluses back on; and the other replacement inner tube which the nice girl mechanic at Halfords fitted with practised ease in about the time it had taken me to work out which way round my front wheel went while simultaneously managing not to make me feel entirely the incompetent fool that she and I both secretly knew I was).

Today, with the sun shining and the frost confining itself to sparkling attractively on the grass, I set off for the paper with the only fly in the ointment being the fact that my front derailleur was proving difficult to trim so that my chain didn’t rattle against it, something that had been bugging me for a while. Unfortunately I had forgotten the cardinal rule of all bike maintenance: never ignore a new noise. I was just at the outskirts of Papershop Village when the chain snagged on what proved to be a sheared-off front derailleur

Fortunately, the bike was rideable home (as long as I didn’t hit too many potholes; this is harder than it sounds at the moment) as that would have been a long old walk of shame otherwise…

Off to the bike shop tomorrow, I think.


Statistics for Dummies

June 30, 2014

We’re back from the Netherlands and a crammed 72 hours of cycling and adventures (you can read the slightly more official report here). I had a great time drooling over all the cycling infrastructure, while the other half, having discovered that one side-effect of mass cycling is huge numbers of fit-looking women with great legs, has also become something of an evangelist for the Dutch way. The sun shone, the headwinds were mostly kind, and all went very well, apart from the motor scooter that nearly took out all four of our party on an otherwise blissfully pleasant cycle path – oh the irony – and some navigational issues on the way in to Amsterdam.

On our way back, Marc from Amsterdamize very kindly not just pointed us in the right direction, but rode with us till we were practically half way to the ferry terminal (at the aptly name Halfweg). That meant that, even after a fairly leisurely lunch, we got into the outskirts Ijmuiden with more than an hour to go and our thoughts began to turn towards stopping for coffee and some well-earned cake.

‘Even if we got a puncture now, we could still make it in time,’ one of our number said rashly, and I rapidly shushed him before the Puncture Fairy could hear us. He, being a rational medical man, pointed out my folly, and explained all about regression to the mean and centralised tendency theory and all the other reasons why simply mentioning a puncture does not in itself make a puncture more likely. Which is why I now know that the fact that I then got a massive puncture from a metal spike that went right through my Marathon Plus back tyre, is simply a coincidence…

Still, as he did very kindly also fix the puncture and we did as predicted make it to the ferry on time (while, in a final surreal touch, being serenaded by a Dutch male-voice choir singing Wild Rover as we came round the final corner) – he is forgiven.