There are two seasons in Chicago: Bike season and bus season. (Unless you are like my insane coworkers David and Chris, who bike throughout the year. They assure me it’s all about having the right winter gear.)
Bike season has been promising to come for several weeks, doing a titillating sort of dance where it almost appears, then hiding again behind thunderstorms and chilly fronts. In the last couple of days, it has finally shown itself. During the dance, however, I got impatient and threw on my down jacket, fleece gloves and windbreaker — you know, spring riding clothes — and biked to work. My determination and impatience got me my first flat tire since I bought my bike a year ago.
It was a slow leak, so I finished the commute to work. By the time I came out, however, the tire was totally flat. The next two weeks were cold and rainy, so I left the bike in the Trib’s cage, deflated (the tire physically and myself mentally). But then the weather started to turn. Getting on the bus on a beautiful 73-degree morning seemed almost sinful, and definitely germ-laden. David took pity on me and lent me a bike pump, patch kit and tire spoons so I could patch my sad tire. Victory was close at hand, I thought.
When I got the tire off, I couldn’t find the hole.
So I took the tire on the bus with me.
Upon ranting about this to Drew, he told me about the apparently common trick of submerging a partially inflated inner tube in water to find the leak. GENIUS, I thought. I will do this right away.
“Right away” meaning two days later. I filled my bathtub with water, wrestled the inner tube off, and carefully checked inch-by-inch, not realizing that when I hit the hole, a veritable geyser of bubbles would shoot forth. It was tiny, no larger than a pinprick. I already could feel the wind in my face and the bugs in my teeth as I popped open the patch kit, certain I would have a functional tire for the next morning.
No rubber cement. Lots of patches, and a bit of sandpaper, but no rubber cement with which to affix them.
I pulled the tire out, dried it, and looked at my bathtub, now covered in bike grime for nothing. I left the tire against my bathroom wall as a monument to bitter failure, and I determined to go on a hunt for rubber cement the next day.
I found the cement at the end of a long line at Johnny Sprockets, a local bike shop. I practically skipped home, clutching my purchase in my soon-to-be-bruised-and-grimy hand.
By now, the drill was familiar: Stem cap off. Tire spoons on, tire off. Mind the stem. Pull out the tube — gentle, now. Inflate a little, not too much. There are the bubbles. Get the kit! I dutifully slathered a layer of rubber cement on the tire after sanding it, waiting for the cement to dry before I applied the patch. It seemed incredibly secure, so I began the struggle of getting the ensemble back together.
And then I had a brilliant thought. I should fully inflate the tire tonight so I can tell tomorrow if the patch worked. So I did. I inflated it to rock hardness. I couldn’t help grinning at myself and my skinned knuckles. Tomorrow — or the next day, or whenever spring comes back for good — I’ll ride for sure.
I pulled the pump nozzle off of the stem.
With a loud whoosh, as the air found the new gaping hole, the stem came with it.
I’ll be taking the bus tomorrow.