A simple mistake. Twice.
Lockdown cycling has been tough. Especially this time. It’s been cold, wet and the shorter days have meant that it’s got to be a bit more accurately planned when your mates don’t have lights. Still, having a chance to get out on a bike at all makes me feel very grateful. Despite missing mountain biking so much that I’m now literally dreaming about it, having the Calibre Lost Lad has given me brief glimpses of bridleway escapism. At least there’s dirt to be had out there.
One of those escapes happened earlier in the week. I met my one allowed friend for a spin – me on the gravel bike, him on his hybrid. We headed out on the familiar back roads, avoiding the traffic. The snow from the previous week was still clinging on in the shadows beneath hedges but had otherwise disappeared leaving small streams trickling down the road. Wet shoes happened immediately but waterproof socks and warmer weather left us happy enough even in soggy feet.
As we dipped into the valley, reaching the bottom and now familiar church setting, we knew what was next. The short climb before dipping again to meet the stream at the bottom. We anticipated high water and possible flooding – it had already been full the week before and with all the new water from the snow we knew it would only be higher. What we hadn’t predicted was getting a flat. Isn’t it always the case that flat tyres happen on the rear wheel too? Annoying but not the end of the world, I pulled to the side of the road and swapped out the tube. With the tiny pump, it took some time to inflate the new tube but the wheel went back on. Immediately, the dreaded sound of escaping air met our ears. You may have already spotted the problem here but, at the time, I was in such a hurry not to hold the ride up after only just beginning that I yanked out the tube again and proceeded to put the spare spare one in. Again, a hiss. Another flat. That was it, tubes used and no more spares.
I stuffed in as much air as I could and we began rolling back down the short climb towards the church once more. The beginning of the ride but in reverse. Back up the hill and two miles of walking to the car, where more spares sat waiting for me. As I walked back, we chatted and it gave us some time to properly catch up about lockdown work, summer plans of cycling the Rhine, and a host of other things. My mind finally kicked into gear and, without the pressure I’d put on myself of a quick tube change, I suddenly realised that I’d not checked the tyre for the thing that caused the puncture in the first place. Could it still be in there? Was that the cause of two back to back punctures?
At the car, it turned out a dirty great thorn was indeed still lodged smugly in my tyre. The blasted thing wouldn’t even pull out cleanly so I ended up snapping it and making sure no sharp edges were left. After a bit of lunch, the final tube change, and a few choice words about my own stupidity, we set off once again. Thankfully, Scott – the local lockdown mate – didn’t seem to care too much about the morning’s endeavours too much and was up for another go. With two more spare tubes in my frame back, off we went again.
Thankfully, no more punctures happened for the rest of the day. We managed some lovely bridleways, quiet roads, traffic-free routes, and even a partially snow-covered climb. Everything ran smoothly and we both got our cycling fix. What the day did remind me of was not to take the simple things for granted. Knowing how to change a tube is second nature now but those steps of removing, checking and replacing should all be fulfilled. Next time I get a flat, I’ll be sure to double and triple check.
Oh, and the gravel bike is now tubeless. This whole experience made me appreciate the simplicity of it a little more so I pulled my finger out.