A 230km ride to Lake Simcoe notwithstanding, the past few rides have taken me on city routes I used to frequent in 2007-2009 while I lived in the Yorkville/Annex part of town. One is a 30km loop that negotiates its way through residential neighbourhoods, along converted rail lines and over a few major arteries. The other is a 65km loop that heads north from the Lake along much of the Humber River pathways. Sunday morning when considering our route, I suggested to Adam we ride that 65km loop. By 8:30am, we’d finished our coffees and rolled away from Extra Butter towards a grand morning of riding before work.
All was going well until we hit Steeles Ave in the City’s north end. I got a rear flat. No big deal, I’ve got all I need to get me rolling again in no time. Within a few minutes, the punctured tube was replaced with my spare and off we rolled, heading south on Kipling towards Finch. Moments after a guy on a home-made gas-powered department-store bicycle zoomed by, my rear tire was again completely flat. Pulling to the side of the road, I began to examine this second flat tire.
Turns out the spare tube I’d kept neatly folded in my seat-wedge for the past several years had two holes worn in it on either side of the valve. Dammit. Adam gave me his spare but the valve-stem was too short for my deep-dish rims and I wasted my second/last CO2 cartridge in attempting to fill it. Just then, the guy belching fumes from his Mad Max moto-bicycle came zooming past. “You gotta flat, man, you gotta flat?!” he was yelling, turning around to join Adam and I and our bicycle casualty.
I explained to Maurice this was my second puncture, that the spare had just gone flat. “You need a patch, man, we gotta patch that.” Before I had a chance to mention that both Adam and I are bicycle mechanics and could probably handle the situation, Maurice had taken over. He was like a war-time field medic trying to intubate a patient out on the battle field while taking incoming enemy fire. With great enthusiasm, he was sanding the surface of the tube, applying glue and patch over the hole. “There are two holes there.” I informed Maurice. “Two holes, holy shit man, two holes, that’s crazy.”
With equal enthusiasm and diligence, Maurice patched the second hole in his critical patient. Having used both my CO2 cartridges already I had no way to inflate the tire. Not to fear, Maurice pulled a mini-pump from his bike-medic jump-kit and went at it. Sadly, the patches didn’t hold; the tire would not fill. We’d lost our patient. Maurice was disappointed but stoic in the face of death. The nearest bike shop is a ways down the road but they don’t open until 11am, he informed us. It was only 10:15 but I had to be at work for noon. “Well, there’s a Canadian Tire just down there, you can get a tube there and pump it at the gas station.”
Thanking Maurice for his efforts and wishing him well on his day, we shook hands enthusiastically and he rode off. Regrettably, I knew that Canadian Tire would not have a special long-valve inner tube. Waiting till 11am for the bike shop to open was not an option as I knew that would kill any chance of getting to work on time. Just one solution; public transit.
So, Adam rolled off on an abbreviated though direct ride home while I sat down and waited for the TTC bus. After more than an hour and a quarter on the bus, the subway and on foot(in my rather awkward road shoes/cleats) I was home. I got changed quickly, grabbed the Dr Foghorn Leghorn and made my way to work, arriving just a minute after twelve.
The ride reminded me of two certainties of cycling while teaching me a lesson I thought I’d learned years ago.
The first certainty is that flats happen. It’s not a matter of if you’ll get a flat, but when. You may go years without getting a puncture, you may curse your luck at getting four in a week. But, mark my words, you will get a flat at some point so be prepared to deal with it.
The second absolute of cycling is that you will meet the most interesting people. Maurice was another of those. A fairly stocky, friendly, black man on a gas-powered bike with a 20year old helmet perched backwards on his head. It was his mission to help me get going again, the most natural thing for him to do. We didn’t get to know anything personal about each other, but we shared a few laughs while dealing with that flat tire. And that will happen when you ride; folks will stop and try to help out. I’ve experienced this in so many ways, in so many places and under all sorts of circumstances.
Oh yes, the lesson I should have learned years ago; check your spare tube regularly. Go through the contents of your flat-pack and inflate the tube(s) to make sure they are still good, that they haven’t rubbed against your multi-tool, developing a tiny hole as mine had done. Be sure your spare has a long enough valve, maybe carry a valve extender in case you are given a normal spare. I have given this piece of advice to many others over the years. Guess I should heed my own counsel.
So, despite getting two flats, cutting my ride short and having to take Transit while glamorously dressed in cycling kit, the ride was so worth while. Not only did I learn that my flat-pack needed attention, but I was reminded, yet again, of the beauty of humanity. Reminded that folks you don’t know and might never meet under normal circumstances will happily come to your assistance. Yup, the bicycle, a beautiful perch from which to observe the human experience. Thanks Maurice.