Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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Everybody Has a Story: Bicycle tire lesson doesn’t fall flat


It happened in the late 1950s or early ’60s. Tough to remember exactly when, but it had to be after Christmas when I was in the third grade.

That was the Christmas when I got my first bike. A second-hand, 24-inch heavyweight with fenders, coaster break and balloon tires, and painted Washington state license-plate green.

It truly was that color. My uncle worked for the company that made the plates that year. Into the paint booth it went and came out looking brand new.

At some point after getting my bike, my older neighbor got a new bike that he called an “English Racer.” This was long before external sprocket gear sets that take more than 10 fingers to count. His younger brother Larry, who was my age, borrowed it.

We all admired this beauty. With a three-speed hub, he could now go faster than any of the rest of us.

The bike had skinny tires not even half as big as ours, but they were rated for 60 pounds of air pressure per square inch. Our big tires were rated at only 24 psi. That did not make sense to any of us since our tires were twice as big.

So, all the neighborhood kids rode over to the Texaco at the southeast corner of 39th and Main streets, where the ARCO is now. In those days, “service stations” had free air and we took full advantage.

We filled up our tires to 60 psi and headed over to our friend Leroy’s place.

That was quite a ride. Those tires were rock hard. I could go much faster now, and feel every imperfection in the pavement.

We parked our bikes in Leroy’s driveway and went down the basement to play. Not too long after, we heard an explosion. When we got outside to investigate, there was my bike with one really flat tire.

We quickly bled out the air from all surviving inner tubes. Though we did not fully understand, this was our basic education on tire pressure and volume.

At the time, I did not appreciate the great community I lived in or the history I grew up with. What a great time to be growing up in Vancouver. Flat tires and all.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.