07/10: Seven Flats and Rain - Or How to Almost Ruin a Perfectly Good 275 Mile Bike Ride

September 26th through the 28th, I was riding my new Proletariat Bike in the Braking the Cycle AIDS Ride. While it may have slipped from the collective memories of our readers, how rainy it was that weekend. Anyone who did this ride vividly recalls how wet they were. From the time we mounted the bike, until we showered and dried off at night we were as wet as when leaving the pool. 3 Days - 275 Miles - and gallons of water wrung from clothes at the end of each day.

How is it possible then to recall this weekend with fondness? It is simple. The community that comes together once a year on these rides is amongst the finest people on the planet, period! And this makes every water, sand, mud and horse manure splattered mile a wonderful, cozy, warm and toasty memory.

Did I mention the Flats? Seven of them? Seven Flats?

"Hey Gary obviously you must have something stuck in your tires" Said Peter Furhmeister, Bike Tech Extraordinaire known to all as Pez Meister.

"Nah, I checked," said Gary standing in the rain at Oasis Two on Day One.

"You just gotta have something stuck in your tire." Steve, yet another of the amazing BTC wrenches, insisted, "check the damned thing." Pit Four Day One. "Lemme see that thing," as he ran his hand around the inside feeling for sharp edges.

"Did Ya check the rim? Did you over tighten the valve nut? That can pull the valve stem out and make it flat. There must be something stuck in that tire." Tom, the Man Wrench #3 - Pit 6 Day One.

Back in the barn that night, after five flats on day one alone, we all went over the rim and tire. Pezmeister found the hole in the tube opposite the valve by 180 degrees on the sidewall of the tube. "It looks abraded more than punctured." We all looked at the wet tire and found nothing.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, the next day, five miles into the ride, on another fast downhill left turn, as the rain and spray from passing cars washed across my sorry self... "Ah, (expletive deleted)!" Flat Six!

Tom replaced the rim tape, the fabric running between the inner tube and the rim where the spokes are attached. We pumped up the tire and off I went. I made lunch without incident about 50-60 miles under the repair. I ate, and rode out... 150 yards later, flat again. That was the end. We had tried it all, and taking care of me was draining the resources of the tech support, not to mention the tube supply. I sagged myself and became crew.

When I got home and recovered for a week, I went over the wheel and rims to find out why this wheel flatted so often, I was certain I would find a cracked rim or something that flexed while in a high speed left turn, some alignment issue that caused flexing and/or abrasion. Perhaps a wire strand from the bead was poking through, a rough or weak spot in the tire wall. Something exotic would be the cause of the angst.

First I washed off all the road debris from the rim and tire. Then I marked the tire opposite the valve. This way, when separated, the tire, tube and rim could be realigned to locate the fault. I performed an outside inspection marking every scratch and nick in the tire itself. After marking the holes I squeezed the deflated tire to expose any embedded debris.

These were relatively new Continental Gatorskins with perhaps 200 miles or so the tread of the tire was in very good shape, however, having ridden Continentals before, I believe they are notorious for embedding glass shards, and virtually every hole had a small piece of glass embedded in the tire. Typically flats do not occur right away, but rather miles and miles down the road after running over the debris. But nothing really showed. Finally, I removed the tire from the rim, found the hole in the tube, realigned the tube and tire and inspected the tire again. I found "The Hole." It was up on the side wall of the tube, not the tread, and there sure enough, hidden in the tread design of the tire, was a hole I had missed. And neatly embedded in the sidewall/tread shoulder was a perfect shark's tooth of glass. I felt the inside of the tire and felt nothing, but sure enough there was a small light spot where the cord of the tire had been severed by the glass, even though nothing poked through right now. I removed the debris installed a new tube and time will tell. But I am certain this is the culprit.

(That's a Red Sharpie Cap and the forcepts I used to extract the glass shown for scale)

What is the moral of the story? I had the distinct feeling that my flats occurred on fast downhill left turns. Where the debris was located in the tire perfectly supported this feeling, although I dismissed it as coincidence. Every tech and I were CERTAIN that there was something stuck in this tire. Yet we did not find it because we were equally certain we had checked the tire adequately under the circumstances. I should have sat myself down and followed my first instincts or listened to Tom, Steve, and Peter when they suggested, change the damned tire.

Did this ruin the ride? Not possible! This is a supported ride with wonderful people and the experience of being on the sag bus, and being crew were equally fulfilling and wonderful, but I could have ridden the entire ride, had I only listened to my own best counsel and failing that listened to everyone else in the chorus chanting "There's SOMETHING STUCK in the TIRE!"

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