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Rabbit holes

Started: 2010-09-19 16:36:26

Submitted: 2010-09-19 17:13:36

Visibility: World-readable

Ever since I started commuting, somewhat irregularly, to work, I've been lusting after trunk racks and other neat bags I could get for my bike to carry more stuff and reduce the weight on my back. I got by for a while with the pannier bags Kiesa got for her ill-fated experiment with bicycle commuting, but I was especially enthralled by Topeak's system with a grooved rack into which the trunk bag would slide and latch, making for easy installation and removal. Last Monday, armed with an REI giftcard from my birthday, I headed to my favorite temptation zone to pick up a new bag. I got the biggest Topeak bag available, the 1380 cubic inch MTX TrunkBag DXP and a matching frame. (It has enough space to carry my lunch without expanding the panniers. With the panniers I should have enough space to carry a towel and a change of clothes in the event that I don't manage to stockpile these supporting items at work first.) Installing it on my bike on Tuesday evening was easy enough. My rear tire was a little soft, so I pumped it up and hoped for the best.

Wednesday morning I got up early to bike to work and saw that my tire was flat again. I had run out of tube patches, so I replaced the inner tube with my last spare tube and headed out. I got a few miles before my rear tire softened again; within a few hundred meters I had a real flat again. I tried pumping it up with my portable pump, in the hopes that it would at least let me limp home, but it was having none of that and simply refused to fill.

I called Kiesa several times, got her voicemail, and walked a few hundred meters to the nearby sporting goods store in case it decided to open at 08:00. The store wasn't open until 09:00, thwarting my earnest but misguided attempts at replacing my inner tube on the road. I called Kiesa a few more times and eventually reached her; she had been away from her phone while showering. She agreed to come bail me out and eventually arrived, with Calvin in tow on his way to daycare. I caught a ride back home, traded my bike clothing for work clothing, and drove into work.

That night, when I changed the inner tube and carefully evaluated the tire, I found a sharp piece of metal, like a sewing needle, embedded in my tire. I wondered if it was the same object that had caused two consecutive flats or if I was just unlucky. I didn't get a new patch kit until Thursday; I patched the tire Thursday night and packed a spare inner tube in my new trunk rack. I also picked up a strip of plastic designed to provide a barrier between my tire and my inner tube in a desperate attempt at keeping the inner tube intact.

I got up early Friday morning intending to ride to work and actually managed to get almost all the way into work until my rear tire went flat -- again. I was a few blocks from work, so I walked my bike the rest of the way there and swapped my punctured inner tube for my spare, only to find that my portable pump didn't work on the new tube. It worked just fine on my old, punctured tube outside the wheel, so I patched that tube and put it back in my wheel, only to find that it didn't work there either. By then I noticed the pattern: My portable pump wouldn't work when held vertically -- which I happened to be doing to pump up the tire before replacing the wheel on my bike -- but would work just fine when held horizontally. I turned the wheel to vertical, held the pump horizontally, and pumped up my tire just fine. The tire held all the way home.

With three flats in a week, I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong. From reading the brand-new, still-in-beta bicycling Stack Exchange site, I learned about thicker, puncture-resistant tires and wondered if I could justify spending that much money on a new set of tires. While changing my tire Friday morning at work, I noticed that the tire was more worn than I expected. (I don't have a good count of how much I've used my bike, but a very rough estimate would be biking to work (twenty-five miles round-trip) twice per month in the two-and-a-half years I've owned the bike, for fifteen hundred miles total.) My new plan is to look for puncture-resistant tires at my local bike shops, since my tires seem to be on their way out anyway.

This experience is giving me a glimpse into the cycling rabbit hole: I see how little I know and how much gear I can buy for my bike, and I haven't quite figured out whether I ought to be enthralled or whether I ought to run away while I still can. Yesterday I got sidetracked with gearing ratios and discovered that my twenty-four gears go from almost 1:1 to 4:1 (counting how many times my rear wheel spins for each time my pedals spin). I measured the diameter of my tire, made a wild guess at my cadence, and tried to guess how fast I could go in each gear at optimal cadence. Then I considered buying a new cassette (the set of rear gears) or crankset (the set of front gears) to change my gearing ratio to match my cadence... and decided that was a bit too far for now. I might not be able to talk myself out of a cadence sensor for the Garmin running watch that doubles as a cycle computer.

I'm pretty sure this rabbit hole goes as deep as I want it to go, and just keeps on going.