If you’ve noticed a sorry cyclist walking his bike along the side of the road, it was probably me. I like to pedal Clark County’s scenic country roads to Battle Ground, Ridgefield or Frenchman’s Bar. But the occasional, inevitable flat tire means I’ve hit a dead end. I’ve been known to call for rescue or just trudge humbly home for miles, wondering if drivers are noticing my shame and tut-tutting.
Don’t feel embarrassed about bike-tire bafflement, advised Charla Burke, safety instructor for the Vancouver Bicycle Club. The club’s annual Road Cycling 101 program returns this week, aimed at providing new and returning riders of all ages with the skills and confidence they need to hit the road.
“This is no-drama riding,” Burke said. “No rider gets left behind.”
Burke will lead the program with short outings of 5 to 10 miles each, set for 5:30 Wednesday nights, this week through July 18. Check the Vancouver Bicycle Club website for locations and other details. You don’t need to be a member of the club to join a session, but you do need to preregister. You also need to wear an approved helmet.
Changing a bicycle tire is one of the many skills Burke will cover. To celebrate the arrival of truly bike-worthy weather, I asked her for a tutorial on this foundational cycling skill.
“A lot of people just don’t like doing it,” Burke said. While tire-change technology has grown pretty handy — from quick-release levers to powered air pumps — the precision, muscle and greasy grit involved still tend to turn some people off.
It only looks complicated and daunting, Burke promised. Like any skill, it just takes the right tools — a new tube or patch kit, tire levers and a pump — and some practice. Let’s roll!
Step by step
- 1. Remove the wheel. For the front wheel, release the brake first. On the back wheel, shift gears so your chain is on the smallest cog before you release the brake. Most bike brakes these days have a quick-lift lever. (If you’re fixing the back tire, it will help to flip the bike onto its seat and handlebars. Pull down the derailleur; that’s the little elbow-like doohickey that hangs off the wheel hub and guides the gears.) Your wheel is free. Now deflate the tire the rest of the way.
- 2. Remove the tire from its rim. Starting near the valve, use the scooped end of a tire lever to separate the tire from its rim. Clip the first tire lever to a spoke. Move along with another lever, separating the tire from the rim. If it’s a tight fit, you might need two or more tire levers. If not, you might be able to do all this with your (dirtied) hands.
- 3. Remove the tube from the tire and inspect it for punctures. Find the culprit — staple, nail, pebble, glass — and remove it. Careful as you feel around inside the tire for foreign objects. Don’t cut yourself.
- 4. Deploy your patch kit, which should come with different sized patches, glue and sandpaper to rough up the right spot for better adhesion. Patching a tube can get frustrating, Burke agreed, as you fix one hole, start to roll and discover there must be more holes. That’s why some cyclists always just start with a fresh tube, she said.
- 5. Partially inflate the tube, so it has some shape, and install it in the tire. Start by inserting the valve in the stem hole to ensure proper placement. Work in both directions, checking for bulges in the tube. If it’s smooth, tuck the tire fully back into the rim. Check for possible tube pinches, which could result in even flatter flats, by pushing the tire to the side.
- 6. Inflate your tire the rest of the way. (Most bike tires show the maximum pressure in unhelpful black letters against a black background. Thanks a lot, tiremakers!) Reinstall the tire on your bike. (Arrows in the tread should point forward, not backward. For the back wheel, attach the chain to smallest cog.) Make sure the wheel is straight and the quick-release lever is tight, but not so tight the wheel can’t spin easily. Reattach the brake.
See how simple? It will be after you’ve done it a few times and it becomes automatic, Burke said. At the Vancouver Bicycle Club’s annual picnic, members like to compete for Fastest Flat Tire Fix bragging rights.
Burke said that’s one of the best things about the Vancouver Bicycle Club: meeting friendly people who love bikes and the great outdoors. Aside from its weekly Road Cycling 101 training sessions, the club also offers informal outings of different lengths and difficulty levels every week, led by safety-minded ride leaders. These outings often begin, end or pause at a local cafe. Check the website for frequently updated options. You don’t need to be a member of the club but you do need to register.
Ride of Silence
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, immediately after this year’s first Road Cycling 101 outing, comes an observance of why bike safety really matters: the annual Ride of Silence. That’s an international commemoration of cyclists who have been killed or injured on the road. It occurs each year on the third Wednesday of May.
Vancouver Bicycle Club ride leaders will host a quiet, slow-paced ride on local streets, starting at the nonprofit Community Hub Bike Shop at 1604 Main St. An initial 3-mile loop through downtown will visit the spot where 11-year-old Benjamin Fulwiler was killed when he collided with a bus in 2013. Cyclists who want a longer trip can continue for a total of 7 miles, visiting the spot on St. Johns Road where Gordon Patterson, a popular science teacher at Hudson’s Bay High School, was killed on his bike in 2009 by a driver who was texting while driving.
The Vancouver Bicycle Club recommends wearing a black or red arm band. Please arrive 15 minutes early to sign up and hear the safety briefing. Helmets are required, and lights, mirrors, pumps and other basics are strongly recommended. For more information, visit vbc-usa.com.
Ride Around Clark County
Now that you’re a cycling expert, consider participating in the biggest local bike event of the year, set for July 22.
The Ride Around Clark County is a mass outing of cyclists who pedal their way along one of four counterclockwise loops through the countryside. This year’s options, all of which begin and end at the downtown Community Hub Bike Shop, are a 34-mile trek around Lacamas Lake; a 62-mile loop that rounds Lacamas Lake, then continues up through Battle Ground and Ridgefield; an 89-mile odyssey that reaches Fargher Lake; or a 100-mile epic that even includes riding along the covered bridge at the historic Cedar Creek Grist Mill in north Clark County.
And if that seems like a bridge too far, consider this: Ride Around Clark County offers catered rest stops with all sorts of food and drink along the way, as well as rolling mechanical and bail-out support in case you get into trouble. Volunteers in designated vehicles monitor the routes all day long to make sure riders are OK, and are also available by cellphone.
Preregistration is encouraged but same-day registration is possible. Prices start at $40 for adults and $25 for ages 13-17. Children 12 and younger ride free with paid adult. All prices increase $10 on July 15.
This year, a sandwich bar plus beer or soft drink at the after-party is included with registration. The finish line celebration is open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.