She never had a name.
But she did have a tall, sweeping sissy-bar. A banana seat. Swept back handlebars.
And those sweet, sweet coaster brakes you stomped on to skid the rear wheel, sliding around in a smooth arc to stop right in front of that pretty girl from Ms. Putnam’s Grade Five class.
Pavement, gravel, dirt – it didn’t matter where I was riding that bicycle: I was jamming on those pedals as hard as I could, going forward or sliding sideways in a tire-shredding skid.
All of which simply goes to say that I know just what a tire should sound like when I slide to a stop on an unpaved road…
And my tire didn’t sound like that right now.
So I twisted around, leaned over, and peered at the meaty Kenda Big Block mounted on the rear of my motorcycle.
Flat as a world map in the Middle Ages.
Alone in the wilds
Every time I have to fix a flat in the wilds (makes it sound more interesting, don’t you think?) I feel like a kid again. Not because of the bicycle thing, but because I’m convinced I won’t pass the test I didn’t study for.
Oh, I have all the tools, all the knowledge. I’m prepared. But I’m not out in the back yard changing tires and tubes just for the hell of it. I’ll do it when I need new rubber; but I’ll avoid it when I can.
So, on this Saturday afternoon, 25 kilometres up the old logging road leading from Squamish, BC to the head of the ocean inlet called Indian Arm another 20 kilometres away, I feel a stirring of anxiety in my gut.
I can do this; I’ve done it before – numerous times – but I’m never quite sure I’m going to pass the test. And, as usual, I’m riding solo.
It’s not a unicycle
A dual-sport motorcycle tipping the scales at 150 kilograms makes for a pretty tippy unicycle.
So the first thing I needed was a way to support the bike while I removed the rear wheel.
A bit of grunting levered Frank – my Husqvarna, unlike that old bicycle, does have a name – onto a rock at the trail side, balancing precariously on the skid-plate. A couple of branches, collected before the start of all the grunting and sweating, jammed into the ground and gave the bike a bit more stability.
Larger adventure bikes, of course, frequently have a centre stand. Riders of integrity, of course, remove these as quickly as possible, in order to truly test themselves at times like this.
Before removing the wheel, I marked the location of the axle adjusting blocks so I could later reinstall the wheel without needing to gauge and adjust drive chain tension.
Wheel off, tools out, I loosened the blocks, pulled the axle and rolled the wheel out of the swing arm.
Are you ready for the pop quiz?
I don’t know if you’re more disciplined than me; maybe you’ve been studying for this test. But every situation is different – tire brand, temperature of the rubber, type of tire levers, alignment of the planets – so this test invariably has the feeling of a pop quiz.
I laid the wheel sprocket-side down in a rock-free area of grass, keeping an eagle eye on wheel spacers that always seem to make a break for freedom, and keeping the brake disc side out of the rough stuff.
The bead was already broken, so I removed the valve core and dug in with my levers, prying one side of the heavy 140/80 tire free from the 18 inch rim. I had no water or soap available for lubricant, so instead I used a few drops of chain lube from the bottle I carry with me.
Big pain in the ass
I’ve found the Kenda Big Block tire to be a big pain in the ass, frankly; it has the stiffest, most stubborn sidewall of any rear tire I’ve used (Dunlop D606, Continental TKC 80, Pirelli MT21, Metzler Karoo T, Michelin T63, Motoz something-or-other, one of the innumerable iterations of the Bridgestone Trail Wings…I’m forgetting some…).
Finally, when the echoes of my colourful language faded, and the forest returned to peaceful serenity, the tire was off and I was ready to extract the tube.
My choice at this point was either to patch or replace. I carry a single 21 inch front tube, ascribing to the theory that in a pinch (yes, pun intended – and quite proud of that one, too), a 21” tube in an 18” tire gets you back home.
I’ve still never tested that theory: most of my punctures are front tires, which the 21 was designed for; most of my rear punctures have been fixed with a patch. Since I was quickly able to find the puncture this time, I decided to again try patching first.
Now, being of a theoretical and experimental bent developed, I’m sure, in the era of my early tire-destroying research, I tested another theory.
Word is, patches don’t work on heavy-duty tubes, and the doughnut I pulled out of my tire was an extra-heavy tube installed for my frequent rides in areas of sharp-edged desert rock.
I had both traditional patches and glue, and the self-adhering type – in this case, Slime Skabs. Obviously, I tried the simplest solution first.
And let me tell you: they worked a charm. Worked the charm? What the hell is that idiom, anyways?
Okay: they worked great. After using the abrasive disc, I peeled and stuck, then applied pressure by rolling over the area with the spark plug socket from my tool kit.
It was apparent that the patch was adhering well, since it assumed the contours of molding lines in the tube.
Pumped it up and I’m a happy camper.
Reinstallation, as they say in those handy repair manuals, is simply the reverse of removal.
You need one of these
If you don’t have one of these, run, don’t walk to your…computer, I guess, and order one.
I don’t know what it’s called, although I’ve seen the euphonious appellation, “Cable tire inner tube valve stem fishing tool.”
Don’t worry about the name; just get one.
Because unless you’ve got the perfumed hands of a Donald Trump, you’re not fitting a motorcycle rim, an inner tube, and your clumsy fingers inside that tire – not at the same time, anyways.
After threading the tool through the rim and into the valve stem, I stuffed the deflated tube into the tire and pulled the stem through the hole in the rim.
Remove the tool, install the valve core, inflate to a few PSI, and now…
Bigger pain in the ass
Like I say, I’ve passed this test before: I’ve spooned many a tire back onto a rim.
You know, like I know, that the secret to getting those last 10 centimetres of tire bead slipped over the rim and into place is ensuring that the bead on the opposite side of the rim is pressed down and into the deep channel running around the centre of the rim. This orientation gives you just enough clearance to pry the final bit of tire onto the rim.
So, would you please tell that to the Kenda Big Block?
I had real trouble getting this tire installed in the first place, and I reprised that graceless and inelegant wrestling match on the dirt road to Indian Arm.
Eventually, with the help of some more chain lube and my size 11 boots, I beat the Big Block into submission and heard that gratifying “Pop!” as the bead seated.
Now to tighten up the rim lock and get some air in that tube.
I always carry both a mini bicycle pump and a CO2 inflator with a couple 25 gram cartridges. I keep the latter for “plan B” situations, and the former worked just fine today.
Seems like I passed the test.
The point is…
So the point of this story is simple: don’t let anybody convince you that you need to practice to pass a test.
Oh, wait – that’s not the point.
The point is this: make sure you’re prepared for the inevitable flat tire out on the trail. Get the tools and supplies, take them along on every ride, and know how to use them. Practicing is optional – if you’re a risk taker.
My tire repair kit
- Tire levers, 8 inch (3)
- 21 inch inner tube
- Fishing rod valve puller valve core remover thingy (The cheapest one Google found for me was here. Make sure you don’t get the type that threads over the outside of the valve stem; this one screws inside the stem, into the threads where the valve core normally seats.)
- Patches: self-adhering and vulcanizing rubber, various sizes
- Glue (which evaporates as soon as you put it in your tool kit – no, actually, it evaporates before you get it home from the store. I think.)
- Air pump (if you use a bicycle pump, ensure it works with Schrader valves, not just Presta; look it up)
- CO2 inflator head
- 25 gram CO2 cartridges (2)
- Water, soap or other lubricant
- Tool kit with the correct sizes to remove your wheels and loosen rim locks. *Remember to check the size of the nuts on your rim locks. Mine are 13 mm, a size used nowhere else on my bike. Since I don’t want to carry a full-sized wrench for a single application, my solution is a cut-off open end wrench and, once again, that handy spark plug socket: it slips over the short wrench and replaces the leverage I just sawed off. I also drill a hole in my spark plug sockets so that I can turn them with a 6 mm Allen key, doubling the uses of that tool as well. It is called “dual” sport, after all.
Now, get back on the trail! No, wait — take a selfie. Then get back on the trail!