The shop ride this morning was pretty interesting. Few of us showed up, but we welcomed an ABRT guy to the crew. Welcome, Sean! I hope you didn't mind the snotsicles. The weather wasn't terrible, but it was cold - 29 degrees, with 8-10 MPH wind in our face or cross-wind for most of the ride. This made it seem a lot colder...
It was a pretty easy ride, save a couple hills we charged up in blowing out efforts, at least until Tom decided to start burning matches by accelerating off the front. I was a little bit bonky - didn't eat or drink much over 35 miles, didn't really eat pre-ride, so I was a sponge. Other than that, it was uneventful, until we broke up at 450. The group went up Rutland and I decided to head straight home since it was 9:20 or so, and I had a contractor coming by the house at ten. I wasn't more than 600 yards down 450 when I heard a loud pop, and felt the familiar wobble of a tire going softer than silk boxers washed in Snuggle.
I downshifted into the little ring and the smallest cog, got the bike stopped and inspected the damage. It was a sudden flat so a tube change was in order. There was no way I could just shoot some C02 into the tube and just ride it out for the remaining 3-4 miles home.
So I unpacked the flat kit, leaned the bike on the guardrail, popped off the rear wheel, and started to pry on the tire - a Gatorskin stretched tight over a Deep Vee, not exactly the loosest possible tire/rim combo. Each is known to be a little tight; together, they are tighter than a bolt rusted into cast iron.
That's when disaster struck. Since it was cold out, and since I was using a plastic tire iron (there's a "not surprisingly" that could be used here) the tire iron shattered into little bits. So now I was screwed. I was sweaty, ice cold, exposed to the wind and getting colder fast. I tried calling Tom thinking he'd pick up and turn the group around; surely, somebody would have a tire iron. Tom didn't pick up. I tried calling home, attempting the Call of Shame; but nobody picked up there. This was getting a little bad, and I was starting to shiver violently as I put my phone back in my pocket. I sat on the guardrail to think about my options.
I could try to walk home, but that would be really bad. I was a little bonky, pretty much soaked (bad clothing choices this AM), and a solid half hour walk from home, in comfortable shoes. In bike shoes? Count on 45 minutes. That would be potentially really bad.
I could try to ride home. Of course I'd wreck the Deep Vee and maybe the PowerTap to which it is attached. Hmmmm... a plausible course of action, but I'd have to be in danger of serious injury to piss away an $800 piece of equipment, and also to lose the ride data from a pretty good ride. (If you train with power, you understand that. Everybody else, feel free to draw conclusions about how screwed up my priorities are...
After a minute or two of sitting and thinking - which by the way is the very first thing you should always do in a crisis as long as nothing is immediately life threatening, sit and think - I decided it was getting bad. The shiver was getting out of control and I needed to act.
So got myself really amped up, had my lizard brain summon my super monkey strength, and I started to roll that tire right off the damn rim. It hurt like hell because my one hand and wrist are still messed up from a mountain bike crash I had a month or five weeks ago, but I had to do it. Was there a bit of panic stoking up my adrenalin? Maybe. Could have been that, could have been I was having a Floyd Landis-sized hit of testosterone, angry at being insulted and seemingly beaten by this stupid tire/wheel combo.
It's kind of irrelevant. With a mighty push, I managed to roll a four inch section of tire right off the rim. Funny, I never knew a wire bead Gatorskin could be hand stretched that way. I kept working it and pretty soon had the tire completely off.
Next, I spent five minutes blowing into the punctured tube and inspecting the tire for defects near the site of the puncture, along with checking for wires, staples, bits of stone, anything that might have caused a puncture and then hung around in the tire carcass, looking for fresh (tube) meat to attack. The brief surge of warmth I'd received from my tire wrasslin' quickly dissipated and I was shivering badly again, and starting to get numb hands. After about 5 minutes - minutes that included turning the tire basically inside-out and running my glove liner up and down it to catch snags on the cloth - I concluded that the blowout might have just occurred from running over a stone or something. After all, that rear tube is roughly a year old, with around 6k miles on it from two bikes. Again, it sounds stupid to sit there and muck around looking for an invisible wire or staple, but I only had one spare tube, and did I mention the tiny tube of glue in my flat kit was frozen solid? Well, it was. In a tough situation, it pays to think and do the little things right. The big things are generally pretty easy, but the little things will kill you, literally, if you don't get them right.
With a lot of care, I put the tire half-on, seated the slightly inflated tube, and then seated the other side of the tire on the rim. It was easier to get on than get off, but it still wasn't easy and my hand ached from the effort. I took a little extra time to push the valve stem upward, to make sure it was entirely inside the tire's beads - most of the blown-off-the-rim incidents I have had, have occurred near the valve stem so I pay extra attention to that area. After that, I went around the tire manipulating both sides - can't afford to blow it here.
Finally, and I mean finally, I threaded a CO2 cartridge into my Microflate, put on a glove (you really don't want to freeze your hand to the cartridge in cold weather; the pain is akin to licking metal in 10 degree (fahrenheit) temps; and I opened 'er up. I slowly filled the tube, watching the sidewalls for blowoff.
Finally it was filled, roughly 20 minutes after I first flatted. I was freezing my mother-lovin' ass off, and shaking like Young Elvis. I got back on the bike, zipped everything up, and pedaled off. About 15 minutes later, I was back home, safe and sound, stripping off my wet cycling clothes and getting into a heavy fleece shirt and some fleece sweats.
There are a couple lessons in this little experience. They are:
1) Don't get sweaty in really cold weather. Dress a bit colder than you think is necessary and to carry extra clothes. I should have had on a wind vest instead of a windbreaker; the poly base layer, wool jersey, windbreaker combo made me too sweaty during the ride. That is of no consequence if you keep riding because the poly and wool heat okay wet, but if you have to stop for 20 or 30 minutes, it's bad juju. Tomorrow when I go out, assuming the same temps, I'm wearing the same getup but with the lighter windvest, and packing arm warmers and a spare skullcap in my back pocket. The damnedest thing is that I already know all this, but I made an error in judgment and it's as if I'm just plain ignorant, all of a sudden.
2) Check your gear. I should have checked my flat kit in cold weather before this; had I known it would be useless in this weather, I'd have packed an extra tube.
3) In training, carry reliable tools and spares, even if they are heavy. I've seen plastic tire irons flex into U-shapes a million times in warm weather. It never occurred to me in the cold, that they might shatter. I hit up the local bike shop for a new plastic tire iron with a steel insert this afternoon. It was two or three bucks, and while it's heavy, I'm certain it won't shatter in the cold. Get a nice multi-tool with a chain tool on it. Consider a pump and patch kit to back up the spare tube and CO2.
4) Consider not splitting off from your group ride. This is less of a concern if you are fresh, if the weather is moderate, and you've eaten plenty. I should have considered the fact that I'm dieting a bit, not eating enough on rides to be fully fueled, it was late in the ride, and I was tired and wet. Did I make a really bad decision? No, probably not all that bad. I could always have hoofed it to a nearby house and begged for warmth if it was all that bad. But if I'd split off down some deserted road down near Warrenton in this weather and the same thing happened - that could be pretty dire.
So, all in all, there were no fatal errors, but my mild hypothermia proved to me that I made a couple minor errors, for which I'm still paying with cold hands. So that's a lesson learned, and I'll go pedaling off smugly into the future, at least until the road decides to teach me another fairly painful lesson. Crashing and getting hit by cars, it seems, are not the only risks you sometimes face on the road.