My first flat (yes, it’s true!)

Well, it had to happen one day: On Tuesday, I left work to discover that I had my first-ever flat. Poor Le Peug!

womp womp

I considered going inside to ask my coworkers for a ride home. I considered calling a friend. But it was a beautiful spring day—the first we’d had in a while—and I had some time before I had to be at the farmer’s market in Sevier Park, so I decided to lock Le Peug back up and walk.

Once I was three blocks away, I remembered that my shoes, while not the least comfortable heels I owned, were not really the best for this sort of activity.

I was jealous of ALL OF THE BIKES that went by. And even one skateboarder, at whom I would have ordinarily scoffed. (Since when has that become a legit form of transportation?)


But I made it to the market, albeit a bit footsore, and partook of an Izzy’s Ice as a reward.

The next day, I drove to work. Afterwards, Le Peug and Minnie got to know each other on the way to Halcyon.

When we got there, Andrew offered to show me how to fix a flat myself. Never one to say no to the pursuit of knowledge, I agreed. I’ve always been a little embarrassed that I have never changed a bike tube, because when I first started driving, my dad made sure I knew how change a car tire, change and check the oil, replace the fluids, etc—it was part of being a responsible vehicle operator. Maybe I should be a more responsible bicycle operator? After all, they’re much simpler, right?

Well, changing a tire might be a simple task, but it’s not necessarily easy. It took me a good 30 minutes at least, and there was a lot of awkward fumbling and possibly some moderate swearing. Andrew would demonstrate a 10-second task (like separating the bead of the tire from the rim) and then I would struggle for 10 minutes. My long nails and short dress made it a challenge, and I felt especially inept since there was an appropriately dressed and extremely skilled female bike repairer working at the station next to mine…but eventually I had a new tube in a new tire and that new tire was on my old bike.

While I’m glad I have given changing a flat a shot, I don’t plan to start carrying tools with me on my bike. In an urban environment, when I’m biking short distances, there are too many other options for me if something goes wrong with a bike—calling a friend, taking the bus home and yes, walking, are all preferable to me than changing a flat in my office parking lot. That said, I really appreciated that my LBS offered me the chance to learn something even though I was a woman in business attire—a lot of people would have taken one look and automatically assumed I wouldn’t be interested. Maybe I’ll at least keep a tire lever and some extra tubes at home…although if it takes me four years to get another flat I will have forgotten everything I learned on Wednesday!

Anyone else have a flat tire story? Do you carry tools with you on your bike? Why or why not?

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45 thoughts on “My first flat (yes, it’s true!)

  1. Dave says:

    One thing to note, is that if it’s just a small puncture, you can often patch it, and if you can patch it, you can usually do it without completely removing the tire/tube.

    You can just deflate the tire, pull enough of the tire off the rim to pull the tube out where the puncture is, patch the hole, then stuff the tube back in, put the tire back on, and re-inflate it.

    I’ve only done it twice, and it takes me about 10 minutes.

    So, I just carry tire irons and a patch kit in my work bag, not extra tubes. There is no way I would remove my wheels on the side of the road, as 30 minutes is a LOW estimate for getting them on and off, given the drum brakes, racks, chain case, etc – and like you, I usually can just walk the bike home or to somewhere I can lock it up from most places I’m at in the worst case scenario.

    • Simeon39 says:

      I usually carry two or more tubes and tire levers (which common practice for club cyclists in the Uk) when I get a puncture, I just swap the tubes over which usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to do, then mend the puncture at home.

    • LGRAB says:

      That’s an interesting option. I’d find that much more doable than a complete tube change, although I swear I spent half of the time trying to get more than three consecutive inches of tire away from the rim. :) It took a while to figure out the right angle!

    • Fred Smith says:

      That’s definitely the easiest option but only if the puncture can be located without needing to put the tube in water and scan for bubbles. I think I’ll remember this – removing my rear wheel means removing the rear brake & mudguards (horizontal drop-outs) and rack before I even start tackling the wheel.

      This is because the only way to get everything to work was for them to share fixing points, however the bike is a now a modern version of a traditional bike, only missing the chain guard :-)

      Good on Trisha for having a go, not sure why someone was giving her stick for not being good, that’s no way to encourage people to try something new.

      A different take on the picture of the dirty hands: I thought, well at least her hands didn’t get too dirty!

      • LGRAB says:

        My right hand was dirtier but my left hand is pretty much useless when it comes to taking photos, so it got to pose instead. :)

    • spare_wheel says:

      one of the many reasons i will never own a bike where i cannot drop the wheel via a QR.

  2. Lisa Curcio says:

    I carry the tools and I carry a tube. I have changed a couple of tires out on my other bike (very slow, but I did it!) But my first flat a couple of weeks ago on a cold, windy day was in my rear tire. I have an internally geared hub, and was not interested in trying to figure it out at that moment. So I got a ride home for me and the bike, and took it to the LBS. The fellow who worked on the bike was sort of new, and he had to ask the more experienced guy how to disconnect and reconnect the hub, so I was glad I did not try it myself. And I put a Marathon Plus on it so it should be much less likely I will get a flat. :-)

    • LGRAB says:

      Hey, that’s what they’re there for! I know how to change the oil on my car but usually I’d rather pay $20 than deal with the mess. Same thing here. :-)

    • AW says:

      i also have an internally geared hub. i just managed to learn how to change a tire on my old bike which had a derailleur. i haven’t learned at all on the new bike! but i also got new tires in hopes i’d never have to learn.

    • janinedm says:

      I don’t think there’s an ounce of shame in not changing your own IGH hub tire. There are some things you fix yourself; that is not one of them. Heck, I don’t even trust every LBS to touch my hub. This is not something I want to be looking at on the side of the road.

  3. Ken C. says:

    For my most recent bike purchase, I had a pinch flat the FIRST day. Now, I have plastic liners between the tube and tire, and carry tire levers & an extra tube in my seat bag [have a hand pump that mounts to my water bottle cage].

    Nowadays, I’ll get a flat about once every 2 or 3 years, usually from a road hazard [like a pothole] rather than a puncture from glass or a piece of wire.

    • LGRAB says:

      That’s a real bummer to get a flat on your first day with a bike! And interesting that they’re more from road hazards than punctures. I’m still not sure what caused mine, but I’m thinking it was a particularly nasty curb.

  4. Sarah W. says:

    Good for you, Trisha! I got a flat last fall on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway. Luckily, I was riding with my husband and we live in the area, so he rode home and fetched the car to pick me up.

  5. Shawn W. says:

    I do not carry tools, because I feel fortunate to have two bicycle repair shops within blocks of my office. I did sit through a basic bike maintenance class a few months ago which I found extremely helpful, although it would probably take me a good hour to change my tube as well. One good lesson from the class: the two best ways to avoid flat tires (1) checking your tire pressure before every ride (which I do every morning) and (2) using your visual acuity to avoid tire hazards in the road.

    • LGRAB says:

      I always keep an eye out for hazards but am still not sure what the culprit was in this instance! Hoping my new tires will last at least another four years. :) My LBS is just a few blocks from my house and only about a mile from my office, so that’s another reason I don’t worry about carrying tools and a pump.

  6. Spokes Gal says:

    I’m appalled to see this kind of posting from you. Why shouldn’t you know how to change a flat? Why shouldn’t you encourage others to do so? You are running away from being self-sufficient because you feel it gets your hands a little dirty? You should practice. You should understand it’s not as hard as you make it out to be in this posting. As a fellow female volunteering my time to teach other females to empower themselves on the road by learning how to fix their bikes, I’m seriously disappointed in how far you can set things back with this kind of writing.

    • LGRAB says:

      It’s certainly not my intention to dissuade anyone from learning bike maintenance skills, and I think that’s clear in my post. I specifically said that I didn’t want to pass up a chance to learn something new, despite not being dressed appropriately.

      That said, nor do I believe that anyone—man or woman—should feel ashamed for not knowing how to replace a tire or tube, or think that it’s something they must enjoy/be good at in order to ride a bike. That sort of attitude is a barrier for many people who are considering biking for transportation. And in urban communities, when people are biking short distances and have other modes of transportation available, I’d argue that it is simply not a necessary skill to have. Walking home is plenty self-sufficient for me.

      I respect the decisions of others to handle this situation differently than I did (many of our commenters do/have, as you can see below), but the only perspective I can share in a personal post like this is my own.

      • Dottie says:

        Yes, I think this message totally comes through in your post! I love that you embraced the challenge and succeeded in changing your tire (that’s the whole point of your story), while at the same time acknowledging that there are other options. The world certainly has enough people screaming at each other from opposite extremes – I appreciate hearing from those with a more considered approach.

    • AW says:

      I think the post reflected the honest experience of learning how to change a flat for the very first time! Some people have a natural talent and some people require more practice. All I got from the post was that Trisha felt some mild frustration (“moderate swearing”) and that it took her longer to complete the task than the mechanic. I agree that not knowing bike maintenance should not preclude riding a bike. I don’t know how to fix my stove, but that’s not going to stop me from using it. I also have to say that having so many bike shops within close walking distance is why I personally haven’t learned a lot of my own bike maintenance.

    • janinedm says:

      I was late to work this morning because I had to stop to help not one, but two people (1 male, 1 female) who did not know how to fix a flat. I say that to say this: your statement’s a bit harsh, no? I don’t know that admitting to not previously knowing how to fix a flat is setting anyone back unless you buy into the (I believe false) notion that female cyclists don’t know what they’re doing in greater numbers than men. Plenty of men don’t know a damned thing about their bikes. I once saw a dude bring his bike to the shop to get the chain lubed! I started joking with him, like “who has that much space their apartments and who still has physical newspapers, anyway?” and dude said he did not know how lube a chain. So let’s not self-flagellate and hold women to a higher standard than men, though of course it’s good to know how to fix a flat. I’m not trying to walk a bike through Harlem at night.

  7. Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires cost more but after 2,500 miles I have had zero flats and see almost no wear!

    • LGRAB says:

      Dottie loves her Schwalbes! I wanted to get some but Halcyon doesn’t carry them. I went for Continental Gatorskins instead; will report back on how they last.

  8. guy says:

    Bummer, ever notice how the flats almost always happen to the rear tire? In thorny AZ most of us use heavy duty tubes that are “slimmed” With slime you might get by with a co 2 cartridge to air up, much easier, lighter and easier in commuter attire. Can air up enough air to get you home. Schwalbes are also a good tire to resist punctures. With Schwalbes and heavy duty tubes I never had a flat in AZ which includes eighteen years of commuting to work.

    • Lisa Curcio says:

      One of the LBS mechanics said we get the flats in the rear because there is more weight there–makes sense to me!

  9. Cyclin' Missy says:

    Great skill to learn! I first learned how to change a flat when I was planning my first bike trip of any distance – a 110 mile ride up north and back. I would be in the middle of nowhere and had to be able to fend for myself. I did actually flat on that ride and was so thankful that I knew what to do! I’ve since changed tubes several times, and now I’m really quick – less than 10 minutes for a change. And I do carry my tools with my on almost every ride. One thing to note on changing bike flats – nicely worn tires are much easier to get back on the rim than brand new ones!

  10. Annie Angello says:

    Before my office working days, I was a front-of-the-shop employee in the bike department at REI. So I have changed probably hundreds of flat tires. After a while you just sorta get….faster at it. I don’t know when it went from being a task I hated to something I could do quickly, but at some point the practice helped. All else fails, I did a video over at my blog that can help out!

    • LGRAB says:

      Yes, I am 100% certain that practice would improve my performance. :) Great idea to make a video. I love learning things via YouTube!

  11. spare_wheel says:

    stating publicly that you have not had a flat in years is like challenging fate.

    its always a good idea to find the cause of a flat since the cause may still embedded in your tire.

  12. Brandi Copher says:

    I got a flat on the rear wheel my Oma after running over a 2 inch screw. I knew I wouldn’t be able to change it with tube with the fenders, full chaincase and skirtguard, so we walked a mile to a bike shop that I knew used to sell Dutch style bikes and they fixed it for me. Since it takes longer to change than a regular bike, I paid a few dollars more. But that was ok since I knew I’d never be able to do it myself and I trusted them with my bike. I also don’t carry any tools because it’s pointless for me.

    • LGRAB says:

      Yes, Dutch bikes are a whole different animal when it comes to flat repair…

      • Brandi Copher says:

        I must’ve jinxed myself. Left the gym to find the front tire flat! Two holes in the tube. I’m convinced someone punctured my tire but that neither here nor there. Going to buy Schwable Marathons on with some in the tube. Two flats in two months really Sucks. I’m just thrilled that a lbs was open and could fix it.

        • Dottie says:

          Bummer. That’s why I always knock on wood when I tell people I’ve never gotten a flat on my Oma. *knock knock* How awful if someone intentionally punctured your tire, but it’s good that a LBS was able to fix it right away.

  13. Outside Time says:

    I recently started carrying tools in a little tool roll that tucks under my Brooks saddle. I also carry a pump that attaches to my frame. I can kind of change a flat (meaning I did it once, and it was in my kitchen and took me a long time) but I’m not very confident I could do it on my own, especially in inclement weather or in a higher-pressure situation on the side of the road. If I have tools with me I could at least flag down another cyclist who might be able to help me.

  14. Eric Nolan says:

    You can get a box of latex gloves and keep a pair with your spare tube, this is cheap, takes hardly any space and almost eliminates the problem of hands getting dirty.

    For what its worth I’ve fixed dozens of punctures (on the side of the road, in the rain and at night) and I still don’t carry a repair kit on my work commute. Flats are rare, if I get one I can walk or go to a bike shop and carrying the kit is a minor hassle. I do use Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres though.

    • LGRAB says:

      Good idea about the gloves, although I intended the photo of my hands to be proof rather than a complaint. I actually find that part satisfying!

  15. My husband got a lot of punctures when we first moved to Tasmania and he rode alone along the state highway. He doesn’t carry tools and couldn’t walk home because of distance/clipless pedal shoes but our car insurance policy mentioned roadside assistance covering bikes so the second flat, he tested the theory and called the RACT. The guy said nobody had ever called him out for a ‘bike tow’ before but he put both Spouse and bicycle in his truck and delivered them safely home. I thought it was excellent. And amusing.

  16. Janice in GA says:

    I can change a tube, but I’m not very fast with it.

    I had a bit of a challenge with the last flat I had though. I was coming back from the store and flatted. I normally carry basic tools, tire levers, a tube, pump, and patch kit with me. But for some reason I’d taken the tire levers out of my kit. But I was LUCKY, actually, because someone on another message board had claimed that it was possible to remove a tire without using tire lever, by using just your hands. I scoffed at this, because I’m 60, and my hand are not strong, and my joints can be kinda achy. But I wanted to know IF I could do it, so I found a YouTube video how-to, and tried it. I could do it!

    So I sat down in the parking lot, flipped the bike over, removed the rear wheel and worked the tire off by hand. It took a long time, longer even than usual. But I did it. I changed the tube, pumped it up, and got everything back together. Then I rode the 5 or so miles home, feeling pretty awesome about myself right then. :)
    Note: I do normally like to work on bikes, and don’t mind getting my hands dirty. But not everybody does, and that’s ok too. There was actually an LBS not far from me, so I had a fall-back option in case I couldn’t make the repair work. But I’m stubborn and like to find out what I can do when push comes to shove. :)

  17. tootoer turtle says:

    Several years ago, I decided to teach my sweatheart how to change tubes and tires. She has ridden a lot, in both city and country, so she should know how to do this, right? Well, she of course had no problem with the concept. But the hand strength required for her combination of wheel and tire was too much for her. So, I don’t begrudge anyone, regardless of gender, if they can’t or just don’t feel like changing a tube by the side of the road. Of course, when touring, somebody in the group had better be able to do it…

  18. April Galarza says:

    Don’t worry Trisha there is always you tube! Congrats on your first flat fix! Soon you’ll be patching up tubes! The guy at my LBS said you can patch them three times before you need to replace them!

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