'Fear of the flat'

"You look like you know what you're doing." Praise, indeed, despite being such a simple eight-word statement. But I'll take it.

The generous compliment was made the other day as I was preparing to go for a bike ride with my friend, Scott. But before we even had a chance to settle onto our saddles — in fact, we were still in my dooryard in Hallowell — I experienced a puncture in my front tire. Dang it was the expression that came to mind, I recall.

Tubes, tubes ... and more tubes.

Not a big deal for most cyclists, but it was kind of a milestone moment for me. You see, in the past I would have blurted my annoyance over such a thing happening, gone into the basement to grab another bike, and been on our way. I'd deal with the flat later, which really meant a trip to my bike shop in Farmingdale so someone else could fix it.

But not anymore.

Despite all my years — and thousands of miles — of cycling, I've always dreaded those moments when air would escape from a bike tire. And God forbid if I was riding alone; no one else to depend on for help. I could be stranded out there on the road for days — with no food or water. Having a cellphone made it easier, for at least I could call my wife. Or if she wasn't available, then be forced to completely swallow my pride and beg one of my friends to come and save me.

I can remember two occasions when I did have a flat while on my own and was forced to figure it out. One of those times was in the Gulf Shores area of Alabama during my North Carolina to Texas bicycling trip back in 2002. Who was I going to call then ... AAA? It was certainly too far for one of my pals to come and lend a hand. So yes, I could replace the tube if I really had to, but the procedure took forever. I mean you could make a tire faster than I could fix it. And on top of that, there was always the question of whether it was done right. So you see, my "fear of the flat" was a genuine personal hang-up and I needed therapy.

To the rescue has been my part-time job at my bike shop, Mathieu's Cycle & Fitness. When I first started there with training camp in January — having not been hired yet — I would intentionally deflate several tires on each visit and go about the business of fixing them under the tutelage of Alan, John or Casey, my current work colleagues. So a big shout-out to them for giving me the confidence to fix a flat and all the other bicycle maintenance matters they have graciously shared with me.

Scott's nice remark prior to our ride brought home the point that "yeah, I can do this like a pro" and I can stop running to my bike shop with my tail between my legs. While I do not wish to have a flat tire, it is a given that I will probably have many more. But that's fine with me, because I now have the know-how to keep rolling down the road on two fully inflated bicycle tires.

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