I was really looking forward to my ride last Saturday. It was the first time in several weeks I’d be able to ditch my fenderized, light-laden, geared bike —in favor of my fixie, my current favorite bike.
When all your riding has been your commute, you start to forget how free a bike can feel. You forget that bike rides don’t have to go anywhere. You forget what it’s like to just carry what you need for the ride, instead of having to pack clothes and food for the day. You forget what it feels like to go riding without a messenger bag slung over your shoulder. You forget what it’s like to ride in daylight, if you live far enough north.
So, around 10:00a.m., I checked my air pressure, stuffed a Clif bar into my left jersey pocket (the one I can get into most easily), a phone into the right (I have a tough time getting into that pocket; I’ve separated my shoulder so many times it’s ruined my range of motion), and a water bottle in the middle pocket. I loaded up the new seat bag I got for this bike (thanks, Banjo Brothers) with a tube and a 16g CO2 cartridge and a twist-on valve. I had everything I needed for my ride.
Or so I thought.
Raise your hand if you already know what I was missing.
OK, put it down. I was just kidding. You look silly with your hand in the air like that.
That said, you for sure don’t look as silly as I was about to feel.
The Joy of Riding in Solitude
Not everyone likes riding alone. I do. Riding’s when good ideas come to me, or, when I’m lucky, when I stop having ideas at all. I don’t have an MP3 player; for me riding and music don’t mix.
So after a quick couple miles of descending from the Sammamish plateau, I was in farmland, riding the quiet country roads of Sammamish, Carnation, Fall City and Snoqualmie. It’s perfect terrain for fixies: fairly flat, with occasional climbs and descents to keep things interesting. The requirement of keeping a smooth cadence occupies you just enough that you start spinning smoothly, and soon you stop having the cranks reminding you that coasting is strictly against the rules.
I was enjoying the independence of riding alone — exploring the area, picking turns at random, going where I wanted to go at the pace that felt right for the moment — when the rear wheel went flat.
“I need to change out these tires for Armadillos,” I thought, as I rolled to a stop. There’s so much debris on the road this time of year. I unzipped my bag and got out the tube, air cartridge, and valve.
I wasn’t upset; changing out a tube on a road bike is a quick, easy task.
Except there was one slight problem: I didn’t have a wrench.
As a rider who has never had anything but quick release skewers, making a wrench a part of my tube-change kit hadn’t even occurred to me.
In short, I had a flat, in the middle of nowhere, without any way to fix the flat.
To the Rescue
I just stood there for a minute, unable to believe my stupidity. Here I was in a beautiful place to go ride, at a beautiful time to ride, with a beautiful bike for riding. And I could not ride my bike.
That just seemed wrong.
And also, I hated myself.
Not having a MacGuyver gene, though, I couldn’t see a way around it. My ride was done, just as it was getting good. I got out my phone and called my wife.
Now, I should say that I normally really enjoy talking to my wife on the phone. We have plenty to say to each other. But whenever I’ve had to call to say I need rescuing, she knows the conversation is not going to contain lots of cheerful banter, because I am simultaneously doing the following:
- Admitting I have not prepared adequately
- Confessing I am a poor mechanic
- Showing that I am not the self-sufficient, independent soul I like to imagine myself being while I am on the bike Losing brownie points by the truckload, because not only am I not contributing to the care and feeding of the children at that moment, I am being yet another needy child who needs her help.
Suffice it to say: making the call for help is not my favorite thing to do.
Imagine my joy, then, when as I was talking with my wife — trying to explain the complex series of turns I had made to get onto this particular farm road — another cyclist rolled to a stop beside me and asked if I needed any help.
“Do you have a wrench?” I asked doubtfully, pointing toward my rear wheel’s axle.
He did. He did!
“I’ll call you back in a minute,” I told my wife.
The helpful cyclist’s name is Alex, from the Netherlands. As we both worked on my first fixie tube change — which went smoothly, to my relief — he told me he’s getting ready to do an IronMan in New Zealand this March. It’ll be his first non-sprint-length tri. Good luck, Alex, and thanks for use of the wrench.
Once the tire was on, I inflated it in 2.2 seconds — I really, really love CO2 — and he took off in the other direction. I called my wife and told her that my ride had been salvaged.
It was starting to rain, but not hard: more like a humidifier set on super-duper-high. The nice thing about the flat I just had was that it happened at the highest point of the ride; I was able to get up to speed and into a biking groove fairly quickly. I cruised through farmland, spun through the town of Carnation and then through Carnation Marsh, looking for the bald eagle I sometimes see there. Not today.
Finally, I got back to Highway 202. I could turn left and head toward Snoqualmie Falls; that’s a beautiful ride. Or I could go straight and ride along Issaquah/Fall City Road. That’s steep, but another great ride. Or I could turn right and head home. I turned left; I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that much climbing in a fixie today.
And that’s when I got my second flat.
With no wrench, no CO2 cartridge, and no tube, this time my ride was over.
I could see no way out of it. It was time to make The Phone Call of Shame. I called my wife and told her I was stranded. She told me she was out shopping with the kids, but would cut it short and come get me. Which means that in addition to the other things I hate about making this call, I now got to deal with the fact that I was actually making her rejigger her schedule stop doing something productive (well, technically it was more consumptive than productive, but it needed doing) to come and rescue my sorry, helpless self.
It would be about 45 minutes ‘til my wife would get from where she was to where I was, during which I had time to think: I haven’t always had a mobile phone. What would I have done with this situation if I didn’t have the mobile phone crutch? Walk all the way home? Maybe. Knock on a door and call my wife from there? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have done any good — in the pre-mobile phone scenario, my wife would have still been out shopping.
Or would I, perhaps, maybe been better prepared? I mean, it’s not like this was some crazy, impossible-to-anticipate emergency. A double flat on scree-rich roads is not unheard of.
Yeah, that’s probably the answer. I’ve replaced bike tools with a phone, and now I was dealing with the consequences — instead of riding, I was taking my bike for a walk. It’s not a dignified picture: a middle-aged guy in tights, walking beside his bike awkwardly because of his stiff-soled shoes and monster-sized cleats (I use Speedplays on my road bike, which are great when you’re riding and terrible when you’re walking).
The Resolution and Questions
Today, I’m buying a toolkit (including a wrench) and Armadillos for the track bike. I don’t want to have to make The Phone Call of Shame again anytime soon.
I’m sure, of course, that I’m the only one who’s had to make The Phone Call of Shame, and doubly certain that I’m the only one who’s had to make it for such a lame reason. And I’m absolutely sure that I’m the only one who has seriously mixed feelings about having a phone along for the ride at all.