By John Yoder
My ride started out as an ordinary loop from home to a nearby city about 12 miles away, a gentle route I’ve ridden many times before. For the most part, the country roads have light traffic and there is only one major hill, albeit at 11 percent.
What was different this day was that I decided to ride my backup bike instead of my normal road bike. This trusty 20-year old, Fuji touring bike is one I keep in the garage as a spare to use for those times when my normal road bike, a Bike Friday, is in the shop or otherwise needs some mechanical attention. Since I hadn’t ridden the Fuji for over nine months, I knew I’d need to pump up the tires, and I thought that’s all I’d need to do. Not doing more thorough preparation turned out to be my downfall.
I like to ride the Fuji for the experience of a different saddle and the more comfortable ride of a 27-inch wheel compared to the 20-inch wheel of the Bike Friday. The larger wheel is better at absorbing the bumps of the rough roads, and we certainly have a wealth of roads this year with potholes, patches and cracks. I knew that tires would be low (they were practically flat), but after pumping them up, and with a multi-tool in the seat bag and a frame pump, I was ready to ride.
Twelve miles into the ride I paused at the top of the hill leading into my destination town, because I noticed that the handling of the bike seemed odd. The front had a bouncy feeling, a sensation I couldn’t place from past experience. I decided to go down the hill (off the busy main street) and turn onto a side street to diagnose the problem with my front wheel.
As I made a right turn at the bottom of the hill, the bike slide out from under me, and I crashed to the ground. My right arm hit the pavement and skidded. I jumped up and was pleased to discover that I didn’t have any broken bones, but the fall had managed to scrape a five-inch long area skin off my right arm below the elbow. A woman in a passing car stopped and rushed over to ask if I was alright. She offered to take me somewhere to get patched up, but I told her that I was not seriously hurt. After I reassured her of that fact several times, she advised me to go to the fire station for some first aid. While we talked, I was pouring water from my water bottle down my arm to rinse away dirt from the open skin.
After she left, I started to analyze why I had fallen. It was puzzling. There was no gravel on the corner, I hadn’t leaned severely, and I wasn’t going that fast. As I pondered the cause of the crash and continued to pour water on my arm, I realized that I didn’t have any first-aid supplies in my seat bag, because I’d been in such a hurry to ride that I neglected to transfer one of my first-aid kits to this backup bike. I did have that water bottle, however, and I continued pouring its cool water over my arm and was able to get most of the dirt out of the wound.
I decided to take the advice of the lady and look for the fire station. The immediate need was to stop the bleed before figuring out why I’d fallen, so I started walking with the bike toward the fire station. Immediately I noticed that the front tire was flat, and the cause of the fall was obvious: when I turned the corner, the flat front tire had lost all grip on the road.
The door to the fire station was locked, with a number to call posted on the door. Not wanting to test that uncertain route for help, I headed across the street to a gas station and convenience store to look for more immediate aid. I asked the clerk if they had any band aids, but he said they didn’t. I went outside, poured more water on the arm and started to fix the flat tire.
I removed the tube and pumped it up looking for the leak, but I could feel no air coming from a hole in the tube. (Later at home, I discovered the leak was where the valve connects to the tube, and I couldn’t have fixed it if I had found it.) Taking a break, I went back into the gas station to look for something to wipe away the blood on my arm and bought a Kleenex packet and a bottle of water. When I paid for them, the clerk saw my arm and immediately went into a back room and came back with four band aids from the store’s supplies for its employees. I probably should have waved my arm at him the first time I went in.
The band aids stopped the bleeding, but fixing the tire was impossible. Since I didn’t have a spare tube, I called my wife and asked her to bring our van and a lot of band aids. When she arrived, we used an antiseptic wipe to clean the wound and put on a larger bandage. By the time we got home, my elbow and forearm were badly swollen, so I put an ice pack on them, after coating the area with antibiotic ointment. A week later, the area has a dark scab, but otherwise it was healing nicely.
What Lessons Have I Drawn From This Experience?
- I should always carry a first-aid kit. The entire experience would have been less stressful if I had had some antiseptic wipes and bandages, not just band aids. Road rash over a large area requires more than a small band aid; it takes a gauze pad with tape to cover the scraped area. I was lucky that I fell in town where I could buy band aids.
- I should always carry a spare tube. My patch kit could not fix a leak around the valve, and there would be other large punctures a patch wouldn’t be able to cover. Without a spare tube, you’re stuck.
- I should always carry a cell phone and let someone know where I plan to ride. It’s a lifeline.
- When I feel the front wheel starting to bounce, I need to check the air pressure immediately. In 50 years of riding, I can’t recall ever having a flat front tire while riding. (That’s my excuse for not recognizing the symptoms of a flat.) My flats are always on the back tire where the weight is, and that bounce I recognize. But obviously, a front tire can go flat, too, and when it does, turning a corner will put you on the ground.
- I must resist the temptation to let my zeal to hit the road (no pun intended) override good preparation. I was so eager to ride that I didn’t take the simple step of moving a first-aid kit from one bike to the other.
The overall lesson on this ride was that a backup bike isn’t complete without backup supplies.
John, I had a similar experience a number of years ago. Didn’t check my backup bike except tire pressure. To make a long story short, the front drop-out wasn’t tight and the wheel did, in fact, drop out! Ended up with a broken wrist, no riding for 8 weeks and a great lesson!!
For road rash I like Tegaderm. Amazing stuff. Shame for not having a spare tube. Seat bag on spare bike should always be road ready.
larry english says
yes the front tires can go flat, i would say about 25% of my flats are front.
bouncing, or bottoming out on the rim, are the symptoms.
fortunately the front tire is very visible (unlike the back which i can never see adequately).
one other thing you CAN do, though not really advisable, is just ride it flat.
as long as you don;t try turning much, and lean back on the seat, you can do it.
i did that once for 5 miles, several times on the last mile before home.
a rear flat is almost impossible to ride.
though i have done that, too.
David A. says
All my flats have been back tire (so far). I had multiple flats in a ride before, used up both spare tubes, and had to ride about 9 miles on a flat rear tire. Kept all my weight forward and went very slowly. Downhills were pretty hairy though.
Thanks for the great advice. Esp. About the first aid kit. I always carry one, being an exEMT, and I just pulled it out to make sure it’s up to date. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten weird looks from other riders that I carry first aid. But I have had to use the kit, and my more advanced skills, several times to help myself and others after minor crashes, so it’s worth the weight to carry it. I am always far from home when I ride, and rarely near stores, and always ride solo, so it’s also a sense of security that I can get myself out of a medical bind if needed, and get back to my car to boot!
Dave Minden says
That ‘different feel’ of the wheel losing air is so familiar! I had a rear flat last week and at first thought, ‘wow, my supple sidewall tires are really cushy today…’. Then the ride got squishy and squirrely!
Kerry Irons says
While there are many learning experiences here, the idea of riding without a spare tube is a key one. Over the decades I have had the valve failure at the tube a few times. Riding with just a patch kit (or “instant” patches) is not a good choice.
Mike T. says
It’s two spare tubes for me. No, I’ve never had two flats on one ride but what if you get one when 10 miles into a 60-miler? Now you have no tube for most of the ride. And then there’s always the thorn in the tire that’s missed and the new tube goes flat in a few seconds. Two tubes give me great peace of mind and I even carry a couple of patches and a tube of cement. Be prepared!