Everyone knows that punctures follow sod’s law, with a few extra variants added just for them. No-one gets a puncture on a lovely sunny day when they have all the time in the world, the birds are singing and they fancy stopping for 10 minutes to swap the offending inner tube for a pristine new one that is the right size, has the right valve attachment, and gets you home just in time for tea. No. Punctures occur when you’re in a hurry, have an important appointment, it’s cold, wet, dark and windy and there’s nowhere to stop that’s actually seen human habitation in the last millennia, although there seems to be a fine population of something that might be the missing link or could just be a group of teenagers in hoodies. And either the inner tube is the one that you jammed back in your repair kit after the last puncture, that you meant to patch as soon as you got home but forgot about because you were cold, wet and hungry and there was pasta incessantly calling, or it’s one that you carefully picked out in the shop from the 8 bejillion variants available and it turns out to have the wrong type of valve, the wrong size of valve and appears to be fashioned for a clown bike.
So this isn’t an exact account of how I have fixed one particular puncture, it’s more of a conglomerate effort.
Whistle down hill at 25mph. Wonder why steering seems to be a bit off. Decide it’s just because it’s downhill and I’m always such a wuss downhill. Ponder worsening of steering uphill. Think ‘oh no no no nononono please don’t be flat’. Have brief flashback to last boyfriend. Realise it is flat, there’s no denying it. Dismount from bike. Contemplate bike. Decide bike still more useful and less hassle than last boyfriend even in current state. Ponder options:
Wheel bike to destination
Pump up tyre. Cycle 100 yards. Dismount, pump up tyre, cycle 90 yards. Repeat with ever decreasing distances whilst damaging wheel rims.
Smile nicely at passersby until one of them fixes puncture. Realise this is unlikely to work in the godforsaken hinterlands of Upper Minchinnimby Upon Ramslip, where puncture just so happens to have occurred, this side of the next decade. Curse decision to take shortcut through Upper Minchinnimby whilst on way to important appointment.
Patch inner tube without removing wheel. Remember last time this happened and the tube appeared to have been savaged by a hedgehog wearing knuckle dusters and was completely un-reparable.
Sigh, give in, commence fixing puncture.
Tip bike upside down. Remember brakes still on. Struggle with brakes. Give up. Put bike right way up. Undo brakes. Tip bike upside down. Swear at rear wheel. Remember it’s always the rear wheel because it’s carrying more weight. Try not to think that it’s because the pixies that cause punctures know you hate arsing around with gears. Arse around with gears until chain on highest chain ring.
Realise should be better at bike maintenance as quick release lever proves impossible to undo. Dig around in pannier and find something to lever quick-release lever with. Stab self with lever to lever the lever. Dig around in pannier for packed lunch. Pour oil from salad dressing on quick release lever. Congratulate self on resourcefulness. Disconsolately munch lettuce whilst waiting for salad dressing to penetrate.
Lever quick release lever open with lever. Realise it has taken 15 minutes to open quick release lever. Triumphantly wave wheel in air. Check nobody has noticed this behaviour. Wave at passing rabbit. Check nobody noticed rabbit-waving either. Realise that there is nobody within 15 miles. Say ‘Hello Mr Rabbit’. Experience fleeting sensation that small child is watching. Decide this is probably just an overdose of Susan Hill.
Dig out tyre levers. Commence Operation Remove Tyre. Spend a further 15 minutes attempting to ram end of lever under tyre edge. Eventually find bevel-edged lever and successfully jam it under tyre. Celebrate. Curse act of celebration as lever has slipped out from under tyre. Suppress thoughts of last boyfriend. Repeat operation, minus celebration. Repeat with second tyre lever.
Notice fit, merino-clad cyclist has stopped and is watching, quizzically. Put tongue back in head. Throw feminism out of the window and smile. Wonder where feminism went, whilst distracted by gluteus maximus. Thank merino-clad totty for offer of help. Watch whilst he swiftly removes tyre from wheel. Have existential crisis over total lack of feminist credentials whilst distracted by triceps. Count sins: 1. objectifying man 2. Accepting male help when can fix puncture on own 3. Having no morals whatsoever so long as the buggering fucking puncture is buggery fucking fixed. Thank nice person for help and assure him can manage from here, thank you very much. Pointedly make sure stare at his face, that’s that bit, up there. Wonder, briefly, why man looks strangely relieved. Admire speed with which he pedals away.
Contemplate inner tube. Pump up inner tube. Hold inner tube close to ear and listen for gentle hiss of expelled air. Feel draft on face. Contemplate ragged hole. Find really big patch for inner tube. Clean tube as best as can with grimy mucky fingers. Shove nice load of glue all over it. Forget which is better, lots of glue or minimalist approach to glue. Drop contents of repair kit on top of rabbit hole. Curse. Shove patch over hole in tyre. Put chalk on excess glue. Use lots of chalk. Say ‘fuck off Mr Rabbit’. Apologise to rabbit on grounds of diminished responsibility due to tyre problems. Wonder why am explaining self to passing lagomorph. Remind self am restricted to one existential crisis per week and have already had 3 in past hour.
Congratulate self on fixing puncture but decide to use spare tube anyway. Congratulate self on having tube that looks like it might fit. Partially inflate tube. Put one side of tyre back on wheel. Insert inner tube into tyre. Remember, as air hisses out, that forgot to check tyre for whatever caused the puncture in the first place. Regret sending nice man away because A. he might have remembered to do this and B. He had a nice arse. Consider yelling ‘Oi, come back, show us your tyre levers’. Realise this is uncouth. And pointless, since he’s long gone.
Pump air into inner tube #1. Recheck for punctures. Decide that it will probably be OK to get me home. Give up on idea of urgent appointment since it’s been and gone already. Check outside of tyre for puncture-causing object. Realise large pin-type nail is jammed into it. Curse self for not noticing. Thoroughly check tyre inside and out for any other objects. Attempt to hurl nail away. Realise light objects are not that easy to hurl and watch disconsolately as it lands 3 feet away and then rolls back into the road. Pick up nail and push it down into the earth.
Put one rim of tyre back on wheel. Take deep breath. Put partially-inflated inner tube #1 in tyre, carefully. Attempt to put other tyre rim back onto wheel. Realise that this is not going to be easy. Contemplate finding another man. Remind self that this is never really the answer. Take deep breath, find determination from wherever it was hiding and continue jamming tyre back onto wheel. Get ¾ of it done. Contemplate bruised hands and sore thumbs. Sit for a while. Wonder what rabbit tastes like. Recommence wheel-wrestling. Feel rain on face. Realise hands are numb. Wonder whether or not lack of sensation is an advantage.
Get tyre 7/8 back on wheel. Almost lose thumb. Get in rage. Rage against bike. Swear at bike. Wonder why that bloody rabbit is still here and what the fuck it knows that I don’t. Realise futility of existence and pointlessness of raging. Apologise to bike. I love you bikey, love you love you. Lovely lovely bike. I JUST HATE YOUR FUCKING TYRES AND WANT TO KILL THEM, KILL THEM WITH THE RAGE THE BARE OBSCENE RAGE. Take deep breath.
Remember to pull other side of tyre towards side not already jammed into wheel to give last few inches as much play as possible. Pray to local pixies not to let inner tube get pinched in process. Vaguely remember someone saying that talcum powder helps. Or was it washing up liquid? Or bulldog clips. Something about using bulldog clips to hold edges of tyre together. Dig around in pannier. Admire resourcefulness of self as locate talcum powder and tada, surgical rubber gloves. Clean hands as best as possible using rainwater and tissues. Don rubber gloves, an hour too late. Apply talcum powder to tyre. Look up through haze of talcum powder to scratch itchy nose with oily, talcy, begloved hand. Realise Mr Merino is back and is staring and not in a good way. Consider crying.
Mutter something about Schwalbes being really great until they puncture in the middle of nowhere. Realise Mr Merino isn’t there any more and might have been a mirage anyway. Remember old huntsman’s trick of jamming wheel between legs and using tyre levers to wrench tyre up and over rim. Decide now is not the time or place to start straddling wheels as have never actually managed to re-enact this manoeuvre and don’t want Rabbit to think I’m any stupider than he already thinks I am.
Realise Mr Merino really has come back. ‘Sorry’ he says ‘are they the puncture-proof ones? They’re very difficult to fit.’ Refrain from pointing out that evidently they aren’t puncture proof although they might be handy to hide behind in the event of nuclear explosion. Or at least, no worse to hide behind than several doors fixed against the wall at an angle of 60 degrees. Watch whilst Mr Merino attempts to jam tyre back on wheel. Feel relieved that he can’t fit the thing either. Realise that even though pride intact, you can’t cycle home on it. Help Mr Merino with tyre wrestling. Eventually manage to get tyre back on in joint effort with added talcum powder (no washing up liquid). Refrain from any celebratory activities that might cover Mr Merino in more talcum powder. Remember not to talk to stray lagomorphs either.
Feel glad that Mr M is enough of a gent to wait until tyre re-inflated and wheel safely back on. Remember to thank him for help. Watch disconsolately as he disappears over the horizon never to be seen again.
Gather together puncture repair kit; inner tube #2 (memo to self, fix it later); gloves; talc; packed lunch and impromptu lever to lever the quick-release lever. Mount bike. Dismount bike. Do up rear brake. Remount bike. Sigh. Pedal off.