Even after all these years, much of ‘cycling’ remains a mystery, especially the technical side of things. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read my books. I wouldn’t say that I have a phobia of the mechanics of a bicycle; it’s more of a lack of familiarity that gives me a sinking feeling every time that I know that touching the nuts and bolts cannot be avoided. If I fiddled with my bike on a regular basis, I’d be fine. But I don’t, and the result is that I am scared by all the technical (what I would refer to as) nonsense. (Which isn’t nonsense at all if you are familiar with bikes…)
Which is why when this happens…
…my heart sinks a little deeper than most people’s.
“It’s only a flat tyre ffs!” I hear you cry. And I don’t disagree with your sentiment. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling rather dispirited at the thought of the repair. Or rather, the working out how to do the repair. The repair itself tends to be quite easy. I should remember that for the future. It’s the standing there wondering if I have the correct replacement part or fretting about the consequences of the removal of one part of the bike that will, in due course, need putting back.
I’ve only had one flat tyre during the three crossings of Europe. It was on the third crossing from Tarifa to Nordkapp. I was in southern Spain, only a week or so into the cycle. I’d just been admiring a high-speed railway line (and also wondering about the existence of God…):
More feats of great engineering were on the cards for later in the day but this time on a more personal level. As I approached the small town of Grimaldo, I noticed a wobble. Was it last night’s pizza lying heavily in my stomach? The road surface wasn’t great so I initially dismissed any fears that something could be amiss with Reggie (or indeed me). I pulled into a service station to buy peanuts but had to make do with an ‘energy’ bar which required more calories to be expended in opening the watertight wrapping than those gained in consuming the contents. A little dejected by my failure to top up the fuel tanks, I cycled across the forecourt of the garage. The front of the bike was very springy. Too springy? Yes. I stopped and squeezed the front tyre. It was not good news: I had a puncture.
I leaned Reggie against the wall of the service station in an area that was clear of refuse. My technical skills were limited. Even the challenge of changing an inner tube made my heart sink, but I knew that one of the keys to success in the procedure that I was about to perform would be in remembering how I dismantled everything, so I could put the bike back together again. I found the box of tools, laid them out on the bare patch of ground and carefully started to remove the wheel. This was not mechanics; this was surgery. I released the brakes, deflated the tyre and manoeuvred the hub of the wheel away from the forks and through the narrow pannier rack. Stage 1 was complete. I proceeded to insert the levers between the tyre and the rim, and ease it away from the metal…
Ten minutes later I stood back and admired my handiwork.
‘Nurse, I think he will live.’
Patients can stay in bed for a week and recuperate. No such luck for Reggie. I was anxious that, although I had checked very carefully for anything inside the tyre that could have caused the deflation, I had found nothing. I inspected the operating theatre floor to ensure that we had everything; it was just as empty as when I had started. Very tentatively, I started to cycle down the road.
After 15 km, with a tyre that was still as hard as when I had pumped it up at the service station, I approached the outskirts of Plasencia. I had, it appeared, successfully managed to repair my bike without any outside intervention. Perhaps there was a God after all.Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie, Summersdale (2017)
I put my lack of experience in changing inner tubes down to one thing; my use of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre. It’s a marvel. Watch this:
The thing is, Wanda, my Koga WorldTraveller bicycle, didn’t come with Marathon Plus tyres. It came with Marathon Almotion tyres. Not sure why.
There’s nothing wrong with the Almotion. In fact, I’ve owned the bike for nearly 18 months, cycled perhaps 4,000km on it and, until a few days ago, had yet to have a puncture. It’s clearly a tyre with pedigree. But it’s not a Marathon Plus…
I mentioned the calamity of the puncture on social media and David Stainforth, the main man at Cyclesense in Tadcaster where I bought Wanda, came to my rescue. We had a chat about new tyres and I’ve ordered a pair of these beauties; the Marathon Plus Tour:
They are identical to Marathon Plus tyres just with a heavier duty tread. But, thanks to those of you who voted Brexit, the import of things like tyres from Germany is a bit screwed up. (Yes, I do blame you. What the hell did you think would happen? And now Liz Truss wants us to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The PACIFIC Partnership… The clue is in the name. How does that sit with your environmental credentials, shipping more stuff from the other side of the world in preference to stuff that is on our doorstep in Europe. Like Marathon Plus tyres that are sitting in a warehouse in Germany… And then, despite what you might think, are the extra costs. A Koga WorldTraveller bicycle will now set you back ’10-15%’ more than what I paid in 2019. Still such a fan of Brexit? Apologies to those of you who thought about it and didn’t vote for Brexit. Rant over.)
Getting back to me changing the inner tube (and the point of this post). The current Schwalbe Almotion tyre is a 28″ 50mm” tyre according to the specification. It’s at this point where I head to the Schwalbe website to look at sizing and start screaming at the different systems used to measure tyres. I’m going with ‘ETRO’ measures which, I work out (by reading the almost illegible printing on the wall of the tyre), is 50-622. Where does the 622 come from when the wheel is 700mm (or 28 inches for Brexit voters)? More screams. Marathon Plus Tour tyres are a maximum size of 47-622. I quite like the fatter Almotion tyres. They are very comfy. Would that be a big difference? I check the tyres on retired Reggie in the spare room. He’s still wearing his… 37-622 Marathon Plus tyres and they are distinctly thinner than the ones of Wanda. So 47 compared to 50 isn’t too bad. Happy to order a pair of those.
But the inner tube… This morning I crack on with the replacement job:
It was snowing outside and cold so the living room it had to be. I dig out my replacement tube:
Err… I’m assuming that the ’35/45-622′ would imply it’s a bit too thin for my 50-622 tyre. Bugger! (I’ve carried this spare inner tube around Spain, Portugal and Britain for the past year and a half…). It’s BTWIN. That’s Decathlon. When did I last buy an inner tube from them? I did buy a spare when I bought the Koga. Where is that? A rummage around in a box behind the TV ensues. Ahh…
Still not quite 50 but 47 will do, no? A quick consultation via Twitter suggests it will be fine. The operation of changing the inner tube can start. And it goes pretty well. In no time I have the old inner tube in my hand…
…wondering why it is yet another size! But at least it matches the tyre on the bike, 50-622 falling in the middle of 40/62-584/635. More success when I locate the piece of metal that has caused all these issues:
A few more minutes later, the tyre is inflated, the wheel returned to its rightful place and the bike serviceable once again. (The carbon belt seems a tad tighter than it was before but…)
So in the end, far more stress caused by the terminology than the actually repair. Hopefully no more mishaps before the Marathon Plus tyres arrive in the UK. It could be a long wait…