49 Years, Seven Words

IT ONLY TOOK ME 49 YEARS TO LEARN HOW TO CHANGE A BIKE TUBE. I got the bike out for a quick evening ride, only to find the front tire was flat. Investigation turned up a crack at the base of the valve stem. Into the bike bin for a new tube.

I’ve always had trouble changing a tube, mainly because I never learned the correct way to do it. My previous attempt had become an hour of frustration, wrestling with a balky tube, and a tire that didn’t want to come off the rim and then didn’t want to go back on. I’d wound up throwing the wheel in the car and driving to the LBS, where the tech there had done some magical hand shuffle and replaced the tube in about 30 seconds.

I’d wanted to learn how to do that, but I’d had no time. And once the bike was working again, my sense of urgency evaporated. Rather like the story of the guy with the leaky roof, whose neighbor says one rainy day, “Why don’t you fix the leak?” and the guy says, “Can’t go up there – it’s raining.” The next day is bright and sunny, and the neighbor says why not go fix the roof. The guy replies, “What for? It’s not raining now.”

I detach the wheel and remove the bad tube, then slide the new one onto the rim and inflate it enough to hold its shape. Now I attempt the magic hand shuffle, but the tire isn’t cooperating. Try as I might, I can’t get the tire over the tube and seated. (Bike vets, wait for it…) As my blood pressure rises, my wife appears and attempts advice, which is the last thing any man wants in that situation. “I want to figure this out,” I snap, and she gives up and goes back in the house. After another few minutes of futile fumbling, into the car goes the wheel, and off to the LBS we go.

The repair techs are busy with another customer, but one looks my way and I hold up the wheel and state my problem. He says just seven words to me, and by the time they’re finished with the other customer, I have the new tube in place and the tire seated. They pump it full, and I’m all set. To make the trip a bit more worthwhile, I make an appointment to be measured for a new bike. (Yes, ladies, men can commit. It just needs to be something important.)

Back home, I tell my wife that I figured it out, and repeat what they told me at the bike shop. Her response: “Didn’t I tell you that in the driveway?” I have no recollection of this, but it doesn’t matter. I resort to a lame face-saving, “Well, I didn’t hear you, then,” and dart back outside.

The seven words? “Put the tube inside the tire first.” (Bike vets are free to start laughing now.)

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