Life in the bike lane: Staying calm when encountering a flat

Kellie McCown

From the moment you get a bike, one question will follow you like a lost puppy. Day after day curious minds will make a jab about cycling, and then follow up with the ever popular question:

Have you gotten a flat yet?

Here in Sacramento you might be lucky. The East Bay is littered with goathead thorns: Tiny sharp circles of bicycle tube death that populate bike trails in abundant mass.

You will laugh off the question with a shrug and a smirk, and then it will happen: You’ll get a flat tire.

Not soon after my own smug remarks on how fortunate I was that my lucky streak of constantly inflated tubes had gone on for a whole month, it happened on a commute to school and I finally got my first flat tire.

There are no words to describe the feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and sheer panic that comes over a novice cyclist at the sight of their first flat. Do I have an extra tube? Should I patch it? Should I replace it? How do I take the back tire off again? What if I put too much air in it? What if I don’t put in enough?

When you first get a bicycle, one of the first lessons given to you will probably be how to change a tube, learning step-by-step instructions on how to take the tire off the wheel, patch the tube and reassemble.

So, instead of thinking that your flat tire is the beginning of your own personal armageddon, zen out and think of the best, logical and fastest way to fix your flat and get back on the road.

Having a punctured tube on your bicycle is just as stressful as walking out of your house and finding your car with a flat tire. But, and this goes with dealing with both, freaking out isn’t going to do anything to change the fact that you are out of air. Stressing out only raises the possibility of making a mistake that could damage your tube and prolong the time it takes to actually change or patch the tube.

When you clear your head, you’ll remember how easy it is to change a tube. All you need (besides a clear head) is some glue, a bike tire lever, sandpaper, some patches and a bike pump. Of course, while changing a tube during a lesson instead of on a bike trail or on the side of a busy street is very different, learning how to handle a stressful situation in a non-stressful environment will help you learn the skills needed when you find yourself with a flat and on your own.

If you are a novice cyclist, and aren’t fortunate enough to have fanatical cycling friends, YouTube is littered with helpful tutorials on how to change a tube.

Be zen, be seen and roll on.