This morning as I was nearing my point where I emerge from slow paced neighborhood streets onto busy Leavenworth Street at Turner Boulevard, I felt a kink in my drivetrain. I figured it was just a missed gear or something. However, then I heard a rubbing noise on my tire that worsened when I applied my rear brake. I pulled over and gave a quick look, but didn't see anything.
The rubbing noise continued, and I just attributed it to something stuck in my fender and decided to look for it later. I continued the remaining two miles in to work, and under the generous lights above the bike parking, I was able to inspect the wheel a little more closely. Spinning the wheel, I still heard the rhythmic rubbing sound, but still saw nothing for a couple of minutes.
Finally, I saw what looked like a little pebble sticking out of the tread. Plucking at it with my fingernail, I saw it was no pebble, but the head of a nail. Moving my focus of attention back a few inches, I saw that I had an entire one inch nail entering, and exiting my tire. Amazingly, the tire appeared to have suffered no loss in pressure.
My theory is that my front tire kicked up the nail, throwing it into my drivetrain. Then it went through my chain and somehow got thrown into the right spot for entering my rear tire. Maybe that's a wild theory, but it works for me.
"This is my lucky day!", I thought. Perhaps the nail entered the tire and exited the sidewall without encountering the tube. The nail was too tight to pull out with my fingers, so I used the can opener blade on my multi-tool to pry out the nail. The immediate sound of hissing told me that the tube was punctured. It's amazing to me that the nail sealed the hole for the remaining (and quickest and most dangerous) part of my ride to work.
Well, this was the event I was prepared for. In my saddle bag I had a CO2 canister and tire levers. I carry a spare tube in my commuter bag. So at the bike racks, I removed my wheel and changed a flat for the first time in 15-20 years. The quick release wheel made it easy to get the wheel off, but I had some trouble getting everything lined up to go back on.
They say once you learn to change a bike tire, you never forget. They do say something like that, don't they? Anyway, the actual tube replacement process went pretty well. I racked the bike on a bus to get closer to the Trek store where I bought a couple of new tubes, plus a mini pump before riding home on the changed tire.
Here's a list of lessons learned that might make this easier next time:
- Carry a pump. I only get one shot with the CO2
- Pack a small pair of pliers, or get a multi-tool with pliers
- Make sure CO2 canister nozzle is upright when using it. Otherwise it spits CO2 ice
- Pack a pair of disposable latex or vinyl gloves. My hands were filthy after changing the dirty tire and handling the chain
- Take more time inspecting the tire. I should have found the problem more quickly.
- Don't remove a nail until I'm ready to change the flat. I lucked out that I was able to continue riding. Had I pulled the nail on the road, I would have been forced to change the tire on the spot or grab a bus for the remainder of the commute.