August 10, 2012

The Air In My Tires

Despite having ridden a bike as a kid, 20 years later I'm still learning how to ride one.

I never wore a helmet until a year ago.

I never had 21 gears until a year ago. (And I never, ever shifted gears on my old 10-speed.)

I never had a flat tire until this week.

But I've had soft tires before.

In the spring, I surpassed my prior biking distance record of 12 miles to ride Downtown for CicLAvia, LA's version of NYC's Summer Streets, in which streets are closed to vehicular traffic in favor of non-motorized transport like bikes, unicycles, skateboards, strollers, rollerbladers and walkers. But in LA, it's mostly for bikes. On my way back from my turnaround point, over eight miles into my trip, I was struggling to pedal, and a fellow biker called out to me, "Hey, your back tire needs some air."

"Oh yeah?" I said, not surprised. My bike had been sitting chained up to the fence in the back for most of the winter. I hadn't bothered to pump air into the tires before I set out on my epic journey.

"Yeah, it's looking a little soft."

Fortunately, I was heading straight for the bike repair station that the event organizers had set up, so I stopped for some air.

When I got back on my bike, I said aloud, to no one listening, "Oh wow, that's a lot better."

As I headed home, having a much easier time than I'd had on my way out, I marveled at how I had taken the responsibility of the difficult ride on myself, assuming I was out of shape, weak, or just a bad biker.

All the while, I just needed some air in my tires.

A couple weeks ago, I embarked on my first group bike ride, and had such a difficult time with the hills that I had to take a truck ride back to my car. I struggled to not be ashamed. I had to know my limits.

This week, along Big Bear Lake after a harrowing day, I was having a hard time again. I couldn't understand how my legs could be so weak on a paved bike path along a flat, lakeside surface. I then noticed a strange noise, and upon looking down, discovered I was literally riding the rim of my front tire, which had gone flat.

I walked my bike a half mile back to my air, pumped the tire full of air, rode it that same first half mile until it went flat again. I rolled it back to my car, defeated.

Yesterday morning, I brought the thing to the bike shop for repair. When the technician was done, I squeezed the tires between my thumb and middle finger, and said, "Oh thanks! You filled them with air."

"Yeah," he chuckled, "You were missing about 40 pounds from there."

And it's probably been missing all along, since I first bought my bike.

Last night, with my tires full-up with air, rock hard and ready to roll, I took another LA bike tour. This time, it was of Hollywood, a destination worth returning (briefly) from the desert for, just to ride down Hollywood Boulevard aided by a police escort. I felt energized and elated. I smiled, teeth-out, the whole way. I was very pleased with myself.

And then I realized...

You can't hike a trail without water.

You can't drive a car without gas.

And you can't pedal a bike without air. 

It's not your fault. No one can.

Related Post:
That Really Lets the Air Out of My Tires.

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