Monday, June 27, 2011

Fixing a flat

I used my patch kit for the first time yesterday!

And I realized it was the first time I had actually fixed a flat tire by myself (with a small caveat)... which is a bit ridiculous.

It wasn't my first flat.

I've been riding for years in urban settings with glass, nails and potholes as common street features. In the urban setting, my first reaction to a flat was to find the nearest bicycle store and pay a couple of dollars to have it fixed. But of course! I'd never done it before, it wasn't far, it didn't cost a lot, I didn't carry any extra supplies with me. And who doesn't love a bicycle store?

With supplies and tools, I also went on longer rides and had a flat or two but... the second reason I've never fixed my own flat tire is that in those situations, I've been with/or near a man. And a man usually grabs the tools and does all the work. It seems. Why is that? Is it because I always cycle in a skirt? I don't mean to 'genderize' this in an angry way because, of course, I've been happy to let some other person fix my flat for me for free! Why not? I give thanks to all my guy friends over the years who have grabbed the tools and done the job :) D. But it does seem a bit gendery. In fact, I had taken a class on bicycle maintenance specifically for women by a woman because it happened to be the only one to fit my schedule at the time. And when I asked teacher about the gender specificity of the class, I remember her saying "that otherwise the men always grab the tools before the women can get to them."

So, yesterday.

I had a flat out in the countryside... far, far from any city (not really but it felt like it) and I was alone (as alone as you can get here).

I found a driveway and a gate to lean my bicycle against so I could assess the situation and sigh a lot. However, this being the Netherlands, a car full of people drove through the gate within two minutes. The driver and I made gestures about whether it was okay for me to stay where I was... and within another minute, he was heading towards me with a bicycle pump in his hand. He asked if I had a "lekke band" (leaking tire) which I stupidly misunderstood as "lekker band" (nice tire) and became instantly confused. I said no, it is not lekker and so he thought I simply needed air in the tire. This was not true but I didn't know how to express myself better and I hadn't had time to properly inspect anything. Plus, he was already on his knees pumping air into my bicycle tire. This all happened within 3 minutes of my pulling over. Let me just say that I am very grateful for the friendliness and practicality of the people I meet in the Netherlands and I'm sorry that my language skills are so poor!

He was from the local town and was visiting his parents in the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. Oma and Opa were peeking out the door from the nearby  country home and the grandkids all came over to watch their father fix my bicycle. He was extremely kind to help me out. He pumped up the tire three times because the air seemed to be leaking from the tube valve... After the second time, I felt so bad for keeping him from his family day that I tried to take over more firmly, but he was determined. The third time seemed to work better and I thanked him and rode off. The tire went flat again because there was a hole in the tube... which I hadn't opportunity to check and I was not going to let the man do it; I'd had enough of his time and I should do it for myself. So I rode off on the soon to be flat tire to find a spot where I could spend some time fixing it again.

I found a picnic table nearby and unpacked my baggage so I could flip the bicycle. A couple of boys rode past and said "lekke band?" at which point I realized it wasn't a kindly sarcastic comment but the actual term for a leaking tire. I nodded and quickly looked away so they wouldn't stop. And, though, it took me far longer than it should have, I eventually found the hole in the tube, patched it and all was good. I will have far greater confidence for doing this myself on my future flats! I will keep a firm hold of my tools... and if I'm with a guy, I will fix their flat, too. If they let me.

I made the rest of the trip from Utrecht to visit the Paleis Het Loo no problem.



  1. A very entertaining story again! :-) and yes "lekke band" is the normal way to refer to a flat tire. But that last sentence: you rode all the way from Utrecht to Het Loo? That's like 70 kilometers!

  2. You're welcome to fix my flat any time you'd like :) I'm perfectly capable, but prefer not to do it if I don't have to :) Thankfully I've only had about 3 in the last 4 years. Thank you, Schwalbe.

    That's a good term to remember though - lekke band. I'm sure that will come in handy sometime in the future :)

    Here there are still few enough bike shops that they are hesitant to fix flats for you unless you really don't know how to do it yourself, as they are usually busy with more complicated stuff.

  3. Sounds like a great time. I think men offer help in those situations because they assume most women would rather not sort it themselves. I guess I'd rather not do it myself, but, what I would want, is to know how to do it should the occasion arise. I felt like that about jacking my truck up back home. I was petrified to do it but insisted that I needed to know how to, for those non-assisted moments :)

  4. Thanks Mark, it was a long trip... but such lekker weer! :) And the gardens of the paleis are very beautiful. Also, I wanted to be in the area for the Apenheul today! Monkeys!!
    Ha, Mr. Portlandize. Yes, I'll fix your flats if need be. The local shops here will do it no problem but they charge more than in the NYC area.. probably to discourage people. It's not uncommon to run across people fixing their bicycles in public everyday but somehow I avoided it until this weekend.
    And for Mlle. Did you ever have to jack up the truck?? I'm glad I took the repair class so long ago for just this situation.

  5. I have changed many a lekke band when I lived in NL in the '80s. I still have my Simson reparatiedoos.

    Just one week ago, at work, I discovered a rear flat tire on my '79 Gazelle. Luckily a bike store is right across the street from my office.

    While I do not hesitate to change lekke banden on my derailleur, I'm really gun shy when it comes to removing the old vinyl kettingkast and disconnecting the IGH. One of these days I'll have to visit my not so LBS. They specialize in Dutch bikes. I need to watch them remove the kettingkast and rear wheel.

  6. Yeah, the rear wheel on our WorkCycles seems a bit intimidating to remove as well. The plastic chain case, and then the wheel itself with the chain tensioner and everything. The Raleigh ones are a little simpler, but it's still a 20 minute job if you actually need to remove the wheel (to change the tube, for instance).

    I'm going to have to have our one local shop that sells the WorkCycles go over removing the wheel with me, as I haven't even figured out the chain case yet :)