Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Woes of Mountain Bike Maintenance

The book, Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance saved my life; quite literally. I was walking down a dark back alley in Colorado when I was attacked by three ninjas wearing Oscar the Grouch socks by Defeet. Thankfully, I had Zinn’s book. I used it block their small chain ring throwing stars. Although the book’s glossy cover was a bit scratched and torn from the impact of the stars, it still had enough spine for me to use it when I counter attacked the ninjas. All but one ran off. He appeared to be the leader of the group. He pulled a sharpened handlebar from his pack and held in his right hand. In his left hand he held a bike chain. He laughed loudly before jumping 20 feet in the air. I crouched down and held the book over my head to protect myself. As luck would have it, he got caught in some electrical wires. He wasn’t suffering from any electrical shocks, so I tore a page from Zinn’s book, crumpled it up and threw it at him. Immediately, he fell from the wires. He landed rather haphazardly and complained that he had twisted his ankle. I decided to be merciful. Two hours later, we were overcome with laughter at a local pub. He told me all about his ninja training and I talked about my mountain bike maintenance adventures. It was a friendship made in heaven.

OK, so most of that story isn’t true. But, mountain bike maintenance can be a real test of resolve. Prior to this year, I was a fan of visiting my local shop sponsor. My favorite mechanic, Eric, was always ready and willing to solve my problems. As the seasons came and went, I found my dependence on Eric growing more and more. It got to the point where I was reluctant to tape my own handle bars. Intervention came when I was out on the race course and stuck trying to fix my gears. I realized, during that race, while watching my second place position fade away that something needed to happen. I started to question Eric. If he used a tool, or some kind of lube I was unfamiliar with, I would ask him about it, why he used it and how much it cost. Last year, on my birthday, I received the bible of mountain bike maintenance. Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance is the idiots guide to solving your own problems. Every racer, recreational athlete and mechanically inclined person should own a copy. The contents are invaluable. However, some maintenance is better learned by experience.

Last night I entered in to a select group of bicycle repairmen by experiencing the explosion of a tubeless tire. For those of you who don’t know what a tubeless tire is think of your car tire. Your car tire has clincher seals that hold the tire to the rim of the wheel. The air pressure keeps the seal tight and secure. A tubeless bicycle tire shares many of the same components with one exception. Because bike tires are relatively thin and light, there exists sealant to prevent and seal punctures caused by the trail. I use a brand called Stans Tire Sealant. Now, let’s go back to your car tire. You’re in a tire shop and you watch the mechanic adhere the tire to the rim. He uses a burly machine to apply the tire. The machine makes it look easy. However, in the manual world you would be swearing, kicking and fighting the tire and the rim; much like I was with the ninjas. In the bike world, there is no machine. It is all sealed by hand. The process can be laborious and annoying. However, once you get the tire on, you’re set to apply the sealant. Once the sealant is inside the tire, you can begin pumping air in the tire to hold the clinchers to the rim. If you have a compressor, this process is very easy. If you are using a manual pump, the process SUCKS!!! This leads me to last night.

I was at the stage where I was about to give up. I had been pumping the tire for over thirty minutes. My hands were tired. Just when I was about to give up, the tire maintained pressure; the pumping was working! I pumped up the tire until I heard the notorious popping noise of the seal. POP. I thought to myself, gee Walker; usually there are two to three pops. I decided to keep pumping. 50 lbs of pressure; then 60 lbs of pressure read on the gauge. When is that other pop going to, uh, pop? At 65 lbs of pressure, I decided to stop. I furrowed my brow. I put my hand on the tire and pressed downward. KABLAM!!! The tire not only popped, it exploded off the rim sending the white gooey sealant all over me. My hand numbed. I wiped off the sealant, picked up the tire and had another realization: I’m going to visit Eric tomorrow.

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