I didn’t learn much about bikes when I was a kid. I didn’t learn to ride a bike till I was 12, when I got my first ever bike for my birthday – a girl’s dragstar with flowers on the seat. (What was I thinking?!)
A few years later I, unsurprisingly, grew out of the dragstar (Really, Mum and Dad, what were you thinking? ). Dad did up an old ‘ladies bike’ for me. No gears or anything, but I was impressed. I rode it around the local streets a bit with friends, but never very far afield. Some years later I took it with me when I went away to college, and I used it to ride to and from the shops. I also recall an ambitious attempt to ride around Mount Panorama – a street car racing circuit, renowned for its almost 200m climb. There’s not a chance in hell I could have ridden up to the top of the circuit with no gears – but back then I daresay I wouldn’t have thought twice about getting off and walking. (Now it would be a matter of pride to do it without getting off! – it’s amazing what you can do with a triple chain ring and a ‘granny gear’.)
Anyway, I digress – I DO actually have a point to this meander down memory lane! (Never mind the fact that yesterday I got sidetracked for hours leafing through old photo albums!) My point is that I haven’t got a clue what I did back then if and when I got a flat ! Probably walked it back to the dorm, and left it till my Dad came to visit. All I can say now (in hindsight) is that I can’t have ridden it very much or very far. (Certainly I have no photos and I have no idea what happened to it.)
It wasn’t till a few more years later, when I was going out with M. that I even considered getting another bike. But he’d recently bought himself a mountain bike – and so the logical thing for me to do was to get one too. Heck, I wasn’t going to miss out on any of the fun! He had, of course, spent much more time on bikes as a kid. Firstly, he’s a boy, and secondly, he used to career around the dirt roads near his family’s holiday house on a road bike, and a mate’s homemade tandem. Apart from ending up a better rider, he also taught himself a lot about bike maintenance.
We got into the riding a bit – the 90km Sydney to Gong ride not long after my purchase, and we got offroad a bit as well. We even did some bike touring (with camping gear) – one in the Snowy Mountains, and one where we rode from the Gold Coast to Byron Bay, and back over four days or so. And then after a several year hiatus (building a house, having babies, bla, bla) we bought tandems, and the rest.. as they say.. is history.
It would be safe to say we’re right into the cycling thing now. All the while, though, because I was always riding with the Dearly Beloved, if we got a puncture, he’d fix it. How smart is that? Always ride with your bike mechanic, and, no worries! Sure, I’ll hold the bike, and hand over the tools, but Mr Efficiency will always have us back on the road in no time.
But two years ago I got my own road bike, and inevitably now there are more and more times when I end up heading off without him – either with other cyclists, or even on my own. And to be any sort of self-respecting cyclist, you know that you have to be able to look after yourself when you get a flat. If you ride a road bike, with the skinnier tyres, you have more chance of getting a flat.
So, I’ve taken lessons from my Dearly Beloved Bike Mechanic, and I can change a tube.
But I do want to be able to do this. I like the idea of being a bit self-sufficient. In fact, there’s nothing worse than having some other macho male cyclist (other than your husband) taking over and changing your tube for you. (Especially when you have the experience one day where you end up with four flats because Macho Cyclist is so busy showing off that he can change a tube in 2 minutes, he hasn’t checked thoroughly enough for the cause of the puncture, and the glass embedded in the tyre keeps causing more punctures, and so after the fourth one you give up and call your husband from work to come and rescue you and the bike , and he grills you about why you didn’t check for glass like he taught you, and you can’t quite get him to understand how Macho Cyclist just took over!)
So, I carry spares and tools , and my motto now is “I’ll do it myself!” Just I’m a bit slow at it, so it affects me in a few ways.
Firstly, if I happen to be in a group, I’ll send them on, because I’m still at the stage where I can’t bear to have anyone hovering over me while I fiff and faff and sort myself out. I’ll only be slower with someone watching me.
But it also kind of affects where and when I choose to ride by myself. I really would like to use my bike more for transport, but it leaves me with a time frame issue. “What if” I get a flat? It could put me half an hour behind time, by the time I sort myself out. So quite often I’ll pike on the idea of riding somewhere. Don’t want to be late, you know.
And even though I know I want to ride more from a training and fitness point of view, it’s very hard to motivate yourself to just go out for a random 50km solo bike ride! Sometimes you need a goal. Like other people, and coffee!
So on Sunday an 0pportunity arose (you knew I’d get to the point at some stage…). M. had had an invitation to go and ride up a mountain with some other guys. Certainly not something I wanted to do, or could do – but it is one of those local challenges that beckons mad cyclists. “Off you go”, I said.
I had the chance to do a BUG ride, and meet up with a friend who had come from out of town with some other cyclists to ride with the BUG – but I wanted a bit more distance, and a bit more of a challenge (and variation of scenery) for myself than the ‘out and back’ route they were all doing…
Hmmm. I could ride from home. Five kilometres of highway, but I’d cope. One steep hill, and quite undulating countryside till I could rendezvous with the group at their turn around point about 24km from home. I’d then ride on (back to their starting point) with them, have coffee (of course – and FOOD), then, I could either retrace my route, or continue on down to Coffs, and head back home up the highway.
Doable, Tracey. A challenge by yourself… but doable. Take spare tubes, levers, etc. You CAN change a tube if you have to.
There was also the angst about leaving the youngest kid at home till a big sister got back from a sleepover – but, she’d be right for an hour, and she’d sloth around all morning whether I was there or not. Wouldn’t she? .. (Mother guilt, much?)
But it’d be kind of cool to ride all the way, instead of driving first.
So off I set.
You know how you wonder sometimes if the universe is trying to send you a message?
I got a flat only 8km from home.
But it was the front, so that’s a bit easier. And there was a bus shelter right there, so – hey – that was a good sign. And I found the hole!! – not something I’ve always managed to do – and I lined the tube up with the tyre, and then even found the culprit/s. Glass! Got it out with tweezers. Cool. So far, so good. You can do this Tracey.
Then I snapped off the tip of the valve on the new tube! Sheesh. I pulled out the second tube, and after a struggle, successfully got the tyre back on, and the tube pumped up and looking ok.
I wasn’t going to make the first rendezvous point, so more time was consumed sending texts, and deciding what to do. I had no tubes left, so if I got another puncture, I’d have to pull out the patch kit and I’d never make it out to meet everyone. (I have patched tubes, but not for some time, so figuring all that out would take ages.) The alternative, though, was to turn around and go home, ending up with only 16km under my belt.
So, Universe? What do I do?
Onwards! On a wing and a prayer! – came the answer, and so I did. It’s hard to ride a bike with your fingers crossed, but I did. (Joke.) It’s hard to ride a bike when text messages and calls from your kids keep coming in. (Not a joke). But I made it for coffee, (and a sausage roll AND an apple turnover .. what?! I was HUNGRY by then!) – and then rode the further 12km down to Coffs with the friend from out of town.
By then I was well and truly knackered, and I piked it by arranging for M. to pick me up on his way home from his adventure. Not quite the ‘no car’ achievement, but still, I’d done 52km – and the first 40km, solo, to coffee included 730m worth of climb (and 630m descent – which means going up and down a bit!) including one really steep hill. And my tube had stayed up!
The tube changing experts don’t realise how much energy you can drain changing a tube when you’re not an expert. (Nor how long it can take a novice. That whole tube change probably took me 45 mins all up – including all the text messaging!) Factor all that in, and what would be a cinch to some was rather a challenge to me, but all in all (once it was over!) an achievement.
So I’ve come a long way with bikes in 30 odd years – and much of what I’m now achieving has only come since I’ve been in my forties. Proof that, with a bit of support, perseverance, and trust in yourself and the Universe, you can quite often do more than you think you can – no matter how old you are – even fixing a puncture!
Now if only I could apply that to other areas of my life!