Thursday 25 January 2024

The sound that sucks the joy out of cycling - the puncture fairy

Getting punctures can be one of the most frustrating things when out cycling, particularly over the winter months. I had so many punctures that I almost gave up my bike rides. But a hunger to ride the Etape du Tour kept me going.


I must say, I have had a wobble in my preparation for the Etape du Tour. I am normally pretty motivated in the things I do, but my patience has been tested recently. 

Over the Christmas period and in the early part of January my rides have been plagued with punctures. The wet conditions have just led to ride after ride being interrupted, even aborted due to a puncture. 

Punctures: they happen and they're frustrating 

I don't enjoy my rides as I even feel anxious when riding. Every time I go over a bump or see broken glass I feel stressed thinking, this is it - ride over. And of course it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when that heart-sink moment comes, as the bike suddenly becomes sluggish to handle, and I see that the tyre - usually the rear one - has gone down like a failed meringue.

That happened on Christmas Eve while I was out in the lanes at Cudham. After folornly changing the inner tube, I decided I no longer wanted to continue along these damp roads on a tyre with a sub-optimal amount of air. (I am not physically capable of pumping a tyre up to 90 psi with a hand pump.) So, with Dunton Green just being a short distance after Star Hill I rolled down to the station and wended my way home, thanks to Souteastern Trains, via Sevenoaks and Orpington.

I then got another puncture on Boxing Day, this time in Brockwell Park, Herne Hill. With it being local, and in any case having no choice due to no trains running on this public holiday, I hobbled home. Thankfully I salvaged the ride session by picking up my cyclocross and doing a comparatively stress free, albeit more energy taxing ride on fatter tyres.

There had been other puncture incidents in Hyde Park,  and at Elmers End, too. This compares with previous years when I might have had just one puncture a year if that. 

Putting on new Continental tyres for front and rear wheels hadn't made much difference. It's not necessarily a negative reflection on the tyres, but probably more an illustration of the condition of the debris-covered and pot-hole infested roads these days. It's not helped by the fact that our roads are almost permanently damp with all the rain we've had over winter. 

My road bike is a bit "old skool" with no disc brakes, and the wheels aren't set up to hold tubeless tyres. So I may just have to suck it up - which sadly also leads to the joy of cycling being sucked out of me.

Given that there are other sporting activities I like to do like running, swimming, or even ice-skating, all of which are low maintenance and don't require hours of practice, it would be easy enough to ditch the bike for a hassle-free activity. After all, I do cycling for my enjoyment. There's no fun in sitting at the side of the road in the wind and rain fixing punctures.

So I decided not to do anymore riding for the time being. For about a week I felt quite relieved to not have to get out and ride during these dreary winter days, and was happy to hear about my sporting mates' tales of derring-do from the warmth of my home, while looking at their records on the Strava app. I was looking forward to spending Sunday mornings going for a mini run, followed by playing my flute or clarinet, and maybe doing some crochet or reading a book. 

But of course there was the small matter of the Etape du Tour which I had entered and paid for, along with all the other logistics, and more importantly my friend Angie with whom I had organised to do it with. I didn't want to let her down, particularly as I was the one who had been going on about what a great event it is.

Deep down, I wanted in. I wanted to be part of that massive merry band of 10,000+ riders wending our way through the Alpes-Maritimes, one of my favourite parts of the world. 

Also being in my mid-50s you don't know how much longer you will be fit for. There are lots of illnesses or other things that can suddenly generate from here on in. Sadly, a few people I know have even died suddenly. 

Without wanting to go any further down the morbidity road, I'll just say the whole carpe diem spirit began to wash over me and I realised I do want to ride the Etape du Tour and give it my best shot. So I will get in some miles for January.

What I decided for January and February would be to ditched the road bike and do all my rides on the cyclocross bike.

So that's what I've been doing. It's not ideal given the sluggishness of the bike on the road, but it's better than nothing, and is probably making me stronger - which isn't a bad thing.

Related posts 

Operation Etape du Tour: December update 

Freewheeling: Why I'd rather ride outdoors than use Zwift - even in mid-winter

Operation Etape du Tour: Understanding the challenge 

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