5pm, Friday 31 October: the end of another week. The only thing between me, my sofa, a glass of wine and an evening spent ignoring the local trick or treaters was my ride home.
But, as pushed down on Eva’s pedals and set off across the work car park, I quickly realised something wasn’t quite right. Her back wheel felt alarmingly bouncy: what should have been firm and supportive was instead distinctly wobbly.
With a sinking heart, I got off to inspect the wheel. Though I was pretty certain what had happened, I still gave the flaccid tyre a quick squeeze just to confirm it.
Yep. A puncture.
The universal law of punctures – closely related to Sod’s Law – dictates that your likelihood of developing a puncture is inversely proportional to your ability to deal with it. And so it was last Friday. The combination of a busy week together with never quite getting enough sleep each night had meant that, by around 3pm that afternoon, I had simply run out of energy. I’d spent the last two hours doing the editorial equivalent of treading water, occasionally leafing through various booklets to make it look as if I were doing some work.
The last thing I felt like doing at that moment was wrestling with tyre levers, inner tubes and pumps.
As I stood there in the almost empty underground car park, I weighed up my options. I could leave Eva where she was and worry about the puncture on Monday; I could walk her to the nearest bike shop and get them to fix it for me; or I could fix it myself.
Taking her to the bike shop was undoubtedly the easiest option. However, fixing a puncture is one of the few things I can actually do on my bike. As such, it’s become a matter of principle that – on the few occasions when I get one – I fix it myself. It makes me feel competent and empowered. And besides, why would I pay someone else to do something I can do myself?
Call me stubborn if you like, but there was no way I was taking Eva to the shop for a mere puncture unless I absolutely had to. Leaving her over the weekend was out of the question, too. Unless the puncture fairies paid her a visit I’d still have to deal with it on Monday – and there was no guarantee I’d feel any more willing and able then.
No, I reasoned. The only thing I could possibly do was get it over and done with. After all, I carry all the wherewithal with me – pump, spare inner tube, repair kit and tyre levers – so I may as well get some use out of it.
Though I can fix a puncture, I don’t get a vast amount of practice at it (the benefit of puncture protect tyres). As a result, I’m not very good at it. Add to that a general lack of upper body strength and a barely two-month old, very stiff tyre (the disadvantage of puncture protect tyres) and, well, I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
The first hurdle was actually getting the wheel off. It took me the best part of ten minutes just to unfasten the brake cable from the brake arm. The struggle to get the tyre off the wheel ate up another ten minutes or so, during which a couple of my fellow cyclists came by to collect their bikes. Though I was grateful for their company, beyond making sympathetic noises there wasn’t a vast amount either of them could do. They soon headed off, and I was left alone in the car park.
The next stage in the process went smoothly enough. I removed the old inner tube and tyre, and located the source of the puncture – an innocuous-looking staple* which had nonetheless managed to pierce through my almost brand new puncture protect tyre, creating a miniscule little hole in my inner tube. I briefly thought about trying to repair the hole, but decided it would take too long. So I got out my spare inner tube, inflated it a little and put it in place on the wheel.
And then I tried to put the tyre back on.
Dear readers, if you had seen me, you would have laughed. If I hadn’t been the one grappling with the tyre, I would have laughed too.
Every single time I got the tyre on one side, it would pop out on the other. I tried pushing the tyre. I tried pulling it. I tried levering it. I tried wrestling with it. I tried squeezing it. I tried pressing it against ground. At one point, I even considered stamping on it. None of it worked.
After a good 30 minutes of this I was ready to admit defeat. I was tired, dirty and frustrated, my wrists and arms ached, and I was close to tears. I gave the tyre one last go with my levers…
…And in it popped. At long bloody last.
After that, I had just enough strength left in my arms to pump my tyre up sufficiently to get me home. And then, finally, I was on my way.
I may not win any awards for my puncture fixing (unless there were one for longest time taken) but at least I’d done it all by myself. And if that didn’t earn me a nice big glass of wine, I don’t know what would.
*because a photo of a staple would be a little underwhelming, I’ve used a photo of the bolt that managed to lodge itself in my tyre earlier this year