how to fix the inevitable flat

Wow, is that lucky or what?

Wow, is that lucky or what?

Are you like me and hate changing a flat so much that if at all possible, you’ll limp along for as long as you can with a tube that’s failing?  Dumb, huh?

I usually lose tubes due to punctures or eventual failure at the valve stem.  I’m obsessive about checking my tire pressure before every ride so my valves get quite the workout.  There’s no mistaking that “sssssssssss” when you press your pressure gauge onto a stem and it starts leaking.

But this time my back tire kept losing more than the 1-2 psi it usually loses overnight.  At first I thought that it had to be due to the weather.  After all, when I’m done riding my tires are much warmer than they are the next morning, when they’ve been sitting on my cold balcony all night, the rubber contracting from the cold.  Then it lost 5 psi overnight.  Then 10.  Oops, now it lost 20 psi.  Seeing that it was a slow leak I knew there wasn’t a hole to patch; the tube needed to be replaced.

Tires can lose pressure when the tire tread gets worn, and I worried it might be time to replace my tires.  I have probably 4,000-5,000 miles on this set, and although I’ve rotated them about half-way through they are getting worn.  But the cheapest way to find out if it’s the tire or the tube is to just replace the tube and see what happens.  Thankfully, that’s all it was – just a tube that had been getting weak and losing its elasticity – although I procrastinated because changing a tube isn’t the easiest thing in the world if your tires are like mine – they have a stiff bead and they’re hard to get on and off my rims.   But now that I’ve got a nice new tube in there and my “tuffy liners” are protecting it from punctures I’m happily pedaling along again without worry.  

To help you, here is a fantastic video from that shows how to change a tube.   The guy is a pro and he makes it look easy, but it really isn’t hard.  For me, the hardest part is working the tire back onto the rim.  Once you get it on your rim make sure you inflate it only part way, then check thoroughly to see that none of the tube is being pinched – you will get a pinch flat if so.  What I do is massage the tire and the tube all the way around the rim a few times, then inflate the tire a little and spin it, holding my fingers lightly against the sides of the tire and along the bead of the tire.  I visually check to see if there are any spots that look uneven. Once I’m satisfied it’s perfect then I fill it up with air and do a final spin check. Then I’ll check a few hours later to see if it’s holding.  Like I said, I’m a bit obsessive about my tires.

Of course, you can always take your bike to the shop to change a tube but I firmly believe everyone who rides regularly needs to know some basic skills, starting with fixing a flat.  A nice side benefit is that you feel a real sense of accomplishment once you fix your own flat.  Empower yourself!


clean bike chain joy in the change of seasons

Previously I posted about how I clean my bike’s drivetrain and the products I use.  During the summer I prefer to use a “dry” chain lubricant because it’s dry here in Northern California and it doesn’t rain for months.  Using a dry lube (teflon or “dry” polymer) is much less gunky and allows me to keep my chain clean for a long time with a simple wipe after each ride to get the dust off.  But during the rainy season I have never trusted dry lubes and I prefer to use a more traditional wet lubricant, a petroleum-based chain lube.  A rusty chain makes a very unhappy bike!

So I went to my fancy LBS (local bike shop) to pick up some winterizing supplies.  Previously I had been using White Lightning Clean Streak Degreaser but  the LBS I visited doesn’t carry it. They sold me Finish Line Citrus Degreaser.    On their recommendation I also bought Dumonde Tech Bicycle Chain Lube – Lite.  The LBS said this lubricant was good in wet or dry conditions and I could use it year-round.  The LBS sponsors racing teams and they use it so  I figured it was worth a try.

Now that I’ve tried these two products I am switching my loyalty to the Finish Line Degreaser.  That stuff is miraculous!  As good as White Lightning is, this is even better, which I didn’t know was possible. All the gunk just melted off my chain.  It’s such a wonderful thing to run a clean rag over the chain and have nothing come off – no dirt, no grime.  The cassette is shiny and clean and I think my chain has only been this clean when it was brand new.

I let my chain dry off for a couple of hours, then I applied the Dumonde Tech.  It’s a polymer, which is intended to bond to your chain surfaces, forming a protective coating.  The company instructs you not to use it liberally, unlike other chain lubes – use it sparingly and wipe it until it’s dry.  And by all means, wipe the chain after each ride.   That’s a really good practice to get into no matter what you use on your chain. It will increase the lifespan of your drivetrain components.

So I was eagerly anticipating riding on this blissfully clean chain this morning.  I was happy – it was perfectly silent.  It was like riding on satin.  My pedaling felt effortless and shifting was so smooth I could barely feel it.

I can highly recommend these two products.  I still think White Lightning Degreaser is good, but Finish Line Citrus is better.  Time will tell regarding the Dumonde Tech chain lube but I’m pretty impressed so far.

my chain was yelling at me

My poor chain.  It complains when I don’t keep it clean and happy.  I’ve been pretending I didn’t hear its murmurs but the complaining was getting louder.  Finally it started yelling and I gave in today and made my chain happy by cleaning it.

This post is all about how I clean my chain.  You may do it differently.  You may be one of those incredible experienced people who take your chain completely off and soak it, take your back wheel off and painstakingly brush each cog, etc.  But I’m not.   I live in an apartment so I don’t have a backyard hose.  I’m not sure I could put my chain back on if I took it off.   I know how to do some basic bike maintenance and repair but I’m no pro, and I accept my limitations.  Plus, I’m lazy.  So if I don’t have to take my chain off to get it clean I’m happy.

You can find all the products I’ve mentioned here at REI.

So here’s how I do it. I use a product called White Lightning Clean Streak.   It’s a “dry” de-greaser, which means that you don’t need running water to use it.  It’s a spray-on product that dissolves grime.  The grime drips off so make sure you use it outside and make sure you put some rags or cardboard or something underneath your bike – I learned the hard way that the gunk will drip off and make a mess on my apartment balcony’s concrete (sorry, apartment managers!).

clean streak

The can comes with a fine spray “straw” of sorts to attach to the nozzle; I recommend using it so the spray doesn’t get everywhere.  It’s great at making sure it only goes where I need it.

First I spray the entire chain while slowly turning my pedals backwards:

spray the chain

I make sure the chain is dripping (hence the cardboard underneath).  Then I take a fingernail brush and I brush the top of the chain:

scrub above

And the bottom of the chain:

scrub under

I hold the pedals while I gently scrub back and forth on the same section a few times, then I rotate my pedals a little bit, gently scrub back and forth on the next section, etc.  If you can see one link of your chain that looks a little bit different, you can make sure you get the entire thing covered without losing your place.  Mine has a very bright connector link so I can easily keep track when I’ve gone one revolution.  Even so, if it’s very dirty I may have to go around more than once. I check to see if there are leaves or pieces of crud between the links and make sure I get those out of there.

I then spray the chain again as I did the first time, allowing the grime to drip off.  You may need to go through this whole sequence more than once if your chain is super grimy.

Now I check to see how well I’m doing by gently holding my chain with a clean rag and rotating my pedals to make an initial pass of my chain:

wipe chain

How clean is it?

dirty rag

Nice and dirty!  I keep repeating the above steps until it comes off mostly clean.  But before I spend too much time going over it and over it I clean the dirty cogs because I’m still ptobably transferring some grime from the gears to the chain. I start with the front:

spray front crank

I need to stick the spray extender thing in-between a lot of places to get all three of my cogs. I get on the other side of my bike and spray each ring from that side too.  I usually can see the gunk coming right off.  I keep spraying and rotating until most of it has dripped off. At this point I run the rag over the chain again to see how I’m doing.  Then I start to clean the back cog, rotating my pedals:

spray cogs

It isn’t too terribly dirty, is it?  It gets much dirtier in the winter.  Again I get on the other side of my bike and spray the cleaner from that side too, rotating my pedals.  Usually it takes a combination of repeating the above steps to make sure I’m not transferring dirt and grime from one part I haven’t cleaned yet to a part I just cleaned, but after going back and forth between the chain, front cog, and back cog, and using the rag to wipe the chain in-between, it gets pretty clean and SHINY:


I know by the glare that it’s clean! I let it dry for a couple of hours.  At some point I rotate my pedals to make sure everything gets a chance to dry out thoroughly.  I then lube my beautiful clean chain.  In the winter when it rains I need the protection of a “wet” lube. I use T-9 Bicycle Chain Lubricant.  In the summer it’s very, very dry in northern California so I use a “dry” teflon lube.  I am trying out different products but one I like so far is Finish Line Dry Teflon Lube.  If you switch between a dry lube and a wet lube, just make sure you clean your chain thoroughly in-between.

When I lubricate my chain I hold the bottle over the chain on my back cog and I drip the lube down onto it while turning my pedals, wetting my whole chain.  I probably over-lube.  But I then let it drip and dry overnight and before my next ride in the morning I take a clean rag and wipe my entire chain down, rotating my pedals.  You want the lube to be on the little spindles of each link of your chain; not on the chain itself.  Over-lubricating your chain without wiping it off makes it a dirt magnet.  When you ride dirty your chain wears much faster and your cogs will wear out.  Save yourself the replacement costs and keep your ride clean and happy.

Tip:  When dripping anything on your chain and cogs tilt your bike so the cleaning product and lubricants aren’t dripping on your wheels.  You want your brakes to grip! 

When I’m done riding I keep a rag near where I store my bike and I wipe my chain off after each ride.  That helps it stay cleaner longer and gives me lots of free and happy pedaling in-between cleanings.  Depending on your weather and how much you ride you may need to reapply lube every week or two – run your fingers over your chain.  If it’s smooth but not sticky or gritty you’re in good shape. If your fingers are filthy when you run them over your chain, guess what time it is?  Time to clean again.  If they’re gritty you may not be wiping off well enough between rides. And by all means, if your chain is squeaky it needs lube.

Keeping your chain happy and clean is one of the best investments of time you can make for your bike.  When you get more practiced you’ll find that cleaning your drivetrain takes only about 15 minutes.  But you’ll be amazed at how much easier it feels to pedal, how much more energy you have, and how silent a clean bike chain is.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Happy cleaning and happy riding!