I was having bicycle troubles this week. It’s the end of March 2022 as I write this but I bicycle all year round. That means I go out in the NY winter. I usually ride as long as it’s above 20ºF but I stay in and use the stationary bike if it’s snowing or icy out. I cycle five days a week and I’d guess that I couldn’t go outside half the time in January and February this year. We’ve had a lot of cold and ice. Not a ton of snow though.

Winter riding is tough on a bike. Especially on the tires. Riding on the salted roads that also have some winter debris on them can wear out the rubber faster than in summer. I often replace the tire tread after the winter. A bike tire is made up of two parts. A tube and a tread. The tread is the part the bike rides on and the tube goes inside the tread and is the part that inflates. If the tire goes flat it’s the tube that has lost air. The tread holds no air.

I ride a road bike. It’s what we used to call a “Ten Speed” except mine has twelve speeds. Most road bikes have more than ten speeds these days. That means the tires are skinny and don’t have much tread to them. So what happens when they wear out is that the rubber gets thinner and you get more flat tires. That’s when you know a tread has worn out. I can get a flat a week riding on worn thin treads. That’s bad.

I also patch my punctured tubes. If I get a flat tire I take out the punctured tube and put one that holds air in its place. Then I go and patch the punctured one. I patch a tube three to five times before I give up on it. Otherwise I’d have to buy a lot more tubes. It’s cheaper to buy a patch kit and the patches always hold. Another flat on the same tube is always in a new place.

I have a small bag that hangs under my bike seat that I keep a spare tube in. That way if I get a flat on the road I can switch out the tube and use the small hand pump that attaches to my bike frame to give it some air. I’m never sure if it’s better to walk home and change the tube or do it on the road. It usually depends on how far from home I am. My route is a big elipse so I’m never more than a half an hour walk from home. I usually decide on a flat by flat basis.

This week I got two flats. I was going to replace the tread soon but hadn’t bought one yet. The second flat was not on the road but at home. I discovered it as I was taking the bike out for a ride. Not a fun thing to find out but it usually only takes ten minutes to switch out the tube. Not that day though. Well, it did take ten minutes to switch out the tube but then I couldn’t get it to take air. I’d pump away and it would only fill to 30 PSI. I needed 90 PSI.

I thought the valve on the tube had somehow gone bad (they do that on occasion) so I decided to put in another tube. I was down to only three tubes. The one in the back tire (the front tire almost never goes flat so I don’t even count it), the one in the bag under the seat, and one more on the work bench.

The work bench one was the tube that wouldn’t take more than 30 PSI so I put in the under seat tube. Guess what? That one wouldn’t hold air. It somehow had a hole in it. So then I decided to go back to the original tube and hot patch it. That’s a way to make a quick patch that gets me back on the road. The patch worked but then that tire wouldn’t fill to over 30 PSI too.

Did I have two tube valves go bad? Maybe, but I was also beginning to suspect that my tire pump had broken somehow. I’ve never had that happen before but there is always a first time. I decided to try my smaller pump that attaches to my bike frame and sure enough I was able to put in enough air to go for a ride. All that tube work took me an hour so it was a late ride.

When I got home I tried to figure out what was wrong with the air pump. I figured that where it attaches to the tube there must be a valve that blocks the air from coming out of the tire as I pump. I bet that valve was broken. So as I pumped air in and it got to 30 PSI it would pump the air back out as soon as I tried to fill it any more. If I took my hands off the pump handle it would be forced back up. Looked like I need to buy a new pump.

I also needed a new tread and some new tubes. My three tubes all had at least three patches in them and I had no unpatched tubes. I went to the internet and ordered a set of five tubes and a pair of tire treads. I really only needed one tread but they had a good deal on two and I’ll use the spare sometime in the future. The front tire wears much more slowly than the back one so I wasn’t replacing that one yet.

I still didn’t order a new pump though because I wanted to consult my brother in law who is much more knowledgeable about mechanical stuff than I am. I’m pretty good with such stuff but he’s an expert.

Still, that night I was online looking at bike pumps. They don’t make the model I have anymore (it’s from 2009) so I was looking at other brands. That’s when I discovered that I could buy parts for my pump. I didn’t know it by looking but the connecter part, that I suspected had the valve in it, could be replaced. It was threaded on but it took me taking a wrench to the plastic (always tricky) to take it off.

In 2009 I payed $26 for the pump and new pumps are at least that much but the part was only $9. I decided to go for it. The treads and tubes came first so I put them on and pumped them up with the small hand pump. I only managed about 70 DPI with that but it was good enough for a ride.

The next day the pump part came and I put it on. It worked and I could get more air in the tire but the pressure gage didn’t work right. Plus it turns out that I need silicon grease. There is an O ring in the pump that needs to be greased. The grease in my pump turned to dust years ago and it can obviously work without it but not as well as it could with it. So now I’m going to have to get some of that stuff.

By the way the tubes, treads, and pump part cost me $100 all together. It’s good to be riding with a tire I can trust but you can see why I put off buying all that stuff. Who wants to spend a hundred bucks if they don’t have to? Not me. But then I had to.

Here is a bike pump update. I eventually did consult my brother in law about the pump and he was able to take it apart and locate the ball valve that is supposed to cut the air off after pumping. It had some dirt in it and wasn’t sealing correctly. Air was flowing through it when it shouldn’t have been. I cleaned it out and now the pump and air pressure gauge work again. Hurrah!