It’s been years since I had a Bad Day on the bike, and I can’t remember the last time I had to DNF a ride. I’ve kept my bikes in good working order, and thus haven’t met many major mechanical malfunctions.
And then there was Saturday. I’ll try to keep it brief, but convey the lowlights and the frustration I felt.
Before the misfortunes...
Drove out to North Park for the 8:30am start of the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen’s spring rally. Cool, clammy, overcast conditions. Set out in a group of a couple dozen riders.
Misfortune #1: Halfway through the 30-mile ride, I announced a front flat. Although a couple riders asked if I needed anything, I waved the entire group on, saying I’d catch up. No problem.
I figured it had been a slow leak, so my initial plan was to pump the tire up and see if it would hold long enough to get back to the start.
Misfortune #2: Pulling out my reliable frame pump, I discovered that the nut that held the entire pump head valve assembly together was missing, rendering it nearly useless. I had to hold the three loose parts of the pump head together by hand while holding the entire jerry-rigged pump head against the inner tube valve, while also trying to operate the pump with my other hand. I got a little air into the tire and set off to see if it would hopefully hold.
Misfortune #3: It didn’t. By the time I’d gone the length of two suburban yards, it was flat again, so I would have to stop and change the tube.
Misfortune #4: Trying to dismount the recalcitrant tire from the rim, the tire lever I was using slipped out and I slammed my fingers into the spokes, doing pretty good damage to my right thumbnail. It hurt like hell and started bleeding quite obviously. Too bad I didn’t have any bandages on hand…
Between my stinging thumb and the broken pump, I was starting to wonder whether I would have to give up and call Inna to pick me up: not a great option when she was 45 minutes away, still in bed, and had an outing planned…
Then came my one and only blessing: two slower riders who had trailed the group came by and offered help. My first question was whether either of them had a pump I could use. The woman said she did, but…
Misfortune #5: Then she looked down at her bike and realized she’d left it at home. It’s not really very useful there!
Next, the guy offered two carbon dioxide canisters, tho admitting he didn’t know how to use them. I replaced my bad tube with the spare I carried, and between careful pumping and a little CO2, I was able to get back on the road again.
Misfortune #6: Two miles later, my replacement tube was flat. We spent a few fruitless minutes trying to diagnose what might be causing the issue before simply swapping my spare tube out in favor of a spare tube the woman was carrying. While mounting the tire, I imagined I’d pinched the tube and cut it, but after finishing the first canister of CO2 and starting on the second, it seemed to be holding. So off we went.
Misfortunate #7: I got a whopping six miles further down the road, but just when we thought we were home free, I flatted again. We used the last of the CO2 and I hobbled another half-mile before giving up.
With less than four miles back to the start, my generous and very patient saviors took off, returning half an hour later by car to give me a lift. Returning to the shelter where the club was hosting their spring gathering, I shared my story and took in a glazed donut, a couple chocolate chip cookies, and a cola. All I wanted to do was go home, shower, and take a nap.
The cause was pretty befuddling, because I rode 125 miles with some of the same people just three weeks ago with no problems whatsoever, and hadn’t changed anything about my setup since then.
During my second stop, I inspected the inner casing of the tire by hand, but I didn’t feel any foreign objects. At the same time, one of the other riders tried to find where air was escaping the tube, which would have told us exactly where to look in the tire. But her efforts were fruitless because my malfunctioning pump couldn’t provide enough air pressure to find the hole.
After I got home, I used that exact method (and my floor pump) to identify the culprit: a tiny shard of glass embedded in—but barely penetrating—the tire casing.
Despite the litany of misfortunes, it’s not the end of the world. As one of my partner’s social groups says, I didn’t die or get pregnant, so it’s fine. And thank goodness this didn’t happen in the middle of that 200k!
I only needed a little time (and a working pump) to inspect my tubes, tire, and rim to diagnose and then fix the problem. I’ve got a spare frame pump, tho I hope to replace the missing parts or buy a whole new one. The only nontrivial issue is my thumb; it’s healing, albeit slowly, and it doesn’t look like I’ll lose the nail.
It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself stranded and helpless at the side of the road. It’s a good reminder, but let’s not let that happen again, shall we? And hopefully I’ve used up all my bad luck for this decade.