Regardless of whether you’re riding cross-town or cross-country when it happens, having a flat tire sucks. There is no such thing as a good time to have a flat; there are only bad and worse times. One such time came for me during an attempt at a fifth IBA Bun Burner Gold ride on a Saturday of last November:
The air was cool and the skies gray as I headed off the Beach and north out of Miami on I-95. But by the time I reached Stuart, the clouds gave way to blue skies, warming sunshine, and what seemed certain to be a perfect day for distance riding. The wind was at my back, and the miles flew by. In what felt like no time at all, I was inside Jacksonville’s I-295 loop and looking to turn westbound on I-10. There, my troubles began. As I was nearing downtown, traffic slowed and then came to a halt. Ahead of me, the stretch of northbound I-95 that spans the St. Johns River was an all-lane, bumper-to-bumper parking lot for as far as I could see. Waiting for whatever to clear up might have cost me more time than an Iron Butt rider can spare, so I took the only avenue available that would get me over the river and onto I-10, i.e. the shoulder. And with a few minutes of creative shoulder expedition and aggressive lane sharing, I punched through the congestion, merged onto I-10 West, and opened her up.
Once again it was smooth sailing. And despite the traffic delay in Jacksonville, I calculated I was on track for a good run, maybe even a personal best. About 50 miles down the road, though, that track ran out as “smooth sailing” gave way to wobbling and sliding. Warning signs that your rear tire is flat? You bet … but I didn’t want to believe it. After all, I’d just had new tires put on a few days earlier. I slowed to 70, the wobbling stopped and the sliding subsided. Maybe it was just a slick spot on the road, I told myself, for surely my new rear tire wasn’t flat! Having convinced myself it was just an anomaly, I sped up to pass an eighteen-wheeler. My handlebars started wobbling again, and the bike started sliding as if I were on ice. I nearly lost it, but as I let off the throttle the bike straightened and stabilized. I slowed to 50, eased off I-10 at I-75 North, and exited to a c-store near White Springs.
My brand new rear tire was flat. Not ripped to shreds, but my tire gauge registered only 15 pounds of pressure. I couldn’t find a puncture, though, and as the tire wasn’t completely flat, I figured optimistically that I just had a slow leak somewhere. I mean, hey, I’d made it over 400 miles on that tire, so maybe I could air it up and make 400 more, right? (“Hope springs eternal…”) I aired it back up to 40 pounds and heard no hissing, so back on the road I went.
For more than an hour, I continued my ride west without incident. But just when I was about to think the whole flat tire thing had been some kind of nasty daydream, the wobbling and sliding returned. Once more I eased off on the throttle, avoided using the brakes, and nursed her off at the next exit. This time the tire was flatter than before, and I finally got past my denial and accepted that I had a serious problem. But I had an ace in the hole (or so I thought), and decided to play it. I reached into my saddlebag and pulled out a canister of Threebond Seal-N-Air, the emergency tire sealant that had saved me from Flat Tire Purgatory twice before in Sturgis and Daytona. I shook it up and tried to screw the feeder tube onto the valve stem, but the threads wouldn’t grip. Exasperated after several unsuccessful attempts, I tried holding the tube in place and shooting in the gook, but that just made a mess. I folded that hand, but I still had one more chance to stay in the game.
The Harley dealership in Tallahassee was only 30 miles away, and I thought that if I could air the tire up one more time, I just might make it there before they closed. So with all my strength, I heaved and tugged and pulled my ass-dragging bike over to the air machine … only to find that the air hose was busted. But as I looked up ready to scream “Why Me?!?”, I saw someone airing their tires with the machine at the next gas station, about 50 yards away. There was no way I could push or drag the bike there, so I fired her up and did my damnedest to power it that 150 feet without further damaging tire or tube. And was I successful? Of course I was! I succeeded in spinning the rear tire almost completely off the rim, and tearing the tube to boot.
Tow truck time…
There are those that say this story would have a better ending if my bike had mag wheels and tubeless tires rather than spoked wheels that need tubes. James Russell says:
“3. Don’t buy a bike with spokes. Yes, they look fine, but if you get a flat tire away from home you have a big problem. Today, you just can’t pull out your old set of tire irons, peel back the tire to patch the tube because the rubber sidewalls are too stiff. Tires must usually be mounted using tire mounting machines in a shop environment or use many tire-irons, rim protectors and compressed air to get the job done. The problem is the tube in spoke wheels going flat there is no practical way to fix a flat tire on the side of the road. Get a bike with mag wheels. Now no tube is involved. If you get a flat tire? You can plug it yourself with a tubeless-tire plug kit and inflate the tire with a portable CO2 canister designed to inflate tires. Or, you can call a tow service and they can fix the flat right on the spot for you with a plug, just as to a car tire. Any service station can fix the flat tire. At least you are not waiting for a tow truck to get you to a dealer on Sunday with no dealer open. With the mag wheel and the plug repair you are on your way, but get a new tire as soon as you can. It’s not a good idea to ride with a plug in your tire for any distance. Drive at lower speed and with caution. Plugs do work, but if the plug fails the tire will go flat again, and flats on a motorcycle are always risky business.”
Mr. Russell makes many good points, but I’m not ready to give up my chrome rims and spoked wheels just yet. I don’t often choose form over function, but here I make an exception. After all, on two of the three occasions when I have had flats on the road, a seven-dollar can of Threebond Seal-N-Air has had me rolling again in minutes.
For more information on fixing flats with tubed and tubeless motorcycle tires, go online and google “fix flat tire motorcycle”.
Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!