Friday, October 8, 2010

Lessons (hopefully) learned

One thing about flat tires: they are never convenient. Somehow, they manage to happen when you're as far from home as you can be, when you're as far from a bus route as possible, and if they can contrive to happen so as to derail your evening plans, they'll do that too.

I was leaving the office this evening with every intention of joining some friends for a pint at the Royal Oak on the Canal. I wheeled Mike out of the garage, into the driveway, got on, and actually pedalled out to the street before realizing that something felt funny. Lo and behold, I looked down to see the dreaded floppy back tire. I got off, and the slow realization dawned. This was going to kind of suck.

I work out of a home office in Vanier, and I live in Ottawa South. The nearest bus routes to the office are the #5, #7, and #1. The nearest bike shop is on Saint-Laurent near Hemlock - a bit far to walk a bike that's rolling along on its rim - and it was 5:30 (and most bike shops close up at 6:00.) And - of course - I didn't have my toolkit with me, which still does contain a patch kit.

Lesson one, kids: always pack your toolkit. The day you don't will be the day you need it.

I called my boss (whose house it is) to ask where the nearest bike shop was. He told me. I realized I wouldn't get there in time. I asked if he was likely to be using his bike this weekend (I didn't think it was all that likely) and he said he wasn't, and if I needed to cannibalize it for the inner tube I could. I went back in the garage, pulled off his front wheel (hooray for quick release) and got it out to the driveway, only to wrestle with the beads for a while and realize that without my toolkit, I couldn't get the tire off to extract the inner tube. Dang.

So, I put his wheel back in the garage, put my rear wheel back on, and started wheeling the bike the four or five blocks to the bus stop, in hopes of finding a bus with a bike rack. A couple of blocks down, I gave up on trying to wheel it, worried I was further damaging the tire, and hefted it onto my shoulder (on the wrong side, as it turned out: my jacket now has a large swatch of chain grease smeared on the left flank.) When I got there, I called OC Transpo to ask if the #1 or #7 had bike racks. "Very few," said the guy at OC Transpo. "The next 7 with a bike rack will be passing at 10:30 PM."

It was a bit after 5:30. Yeah. That's a five hour wait.

"What about the #9? I could walk to Crichton," I said.

"The #9.... next one with a bike rack is at 9:40."

I almost said, "You have to be kidding." But I knew he wasn't. So, I realized that if I wanted to get my bike home, to where I have tools and a patch kit, I would either have to wait four hours, or walk it downtown to the Transitway.

Lesson two, kids: the Rack and Roll program is not for use in case of emergency. (Of course, I learned that last year on a cold March evening, when I got a flat on Montreal Road and wound up walking the bike all the way to Bank Street, only to find that the Rack and Roll program hadn't started yet and I couldn't expect racks on any buses.)

Giving up, I walked the bike back to my office, stashed it there, and headed back to the bus stop to ride home without it, hauling my unwieldy pannier with me. I'll have to go back tomorrow with my tools and patch kit to get it back on the road. (And put Sean's front wheel back on properly. I couldn't be arsed at that point.)

Lesson three? Learn that it's okay to leave the bike behind sometimes. I was so determined to bring it home with me. It was like the idea of going somewhere without it was just unimaginable. Which is kind of funny, and kind of cool. Even the idea of taking the bus, with or without the bike, felt like a last resort to me (and it was interesting how foreign the bus felt: they've changed things since I've been on one. Like that automated stop-call system. And the fare, again.)

Oh, yeah, and lesson one, again, just because it seems important - always pack your toolkit.


  1. "... my jacket now has a large swatch of chain grease smeared on the left flank."

    Lesson #4: Always use a chaincase.

  2. I used to pack a tube repair kit but started just carrying a whole tube. There are always those times when the patch doesn't quite take, you want to be done quickly or the tube is too shredded to fix. Paul.

  3. I hear ya - got the tube home and realized with the two punctures it seemed to have developed (dunno how) patching it was really just delaying the inevitable. And I don't know if I'd trust an on-the-road patch job, really. Bought a new tube instead (had to wait till today, cause of Thanksgiving.) Flats always seem to come in threes for me though, so I'm still sort of waiting for the next hammer to fall.

    Such a pain, though, to have to carry around the pump, the tube, the toolkit. Sooner or later I leave them behind to make space in the bags... and then fate smacks me again.

  4. Hmm, I'm thinking of ways of disguising having a spare tube onboard yet still have it accessable when you need it, like wrapping a tube around the seat tube with strips of electrical / duct tape every few inches. If done right it could look like a bike lock paint saver (might even act as one too) plus be a spare when you need it. Could even wrap a couple of plastic tire levers end to end under the tube (so they don't bulge too much) as well!
    Paul... thinking of ways to make Mike's life better (& Kate by extension ;) ).

  5. I recently found out that CAA in Ontario is now offering road side assistance for cyclists with the basic membership, they'll even tow you and your bike up to 10km. Your story has made me consider getting that membership sooner rather than later.