I know how to patch a tube. I know how to pump up a tire.
Neither is very hard to do, so it’s not like I’m bragging. And I’ve been known to dismiss the idea that one should learn these or any other mechanical skills before they take up cycling.
I’ll say something like, “If mechanical cluelessness is not a barrier to driving a car, why should it be a barrier to riding a bike?”
It’s easy for me to say, because I speak from a somewhat confident position: I know how to patch a tube. I know how to pump up a tire. In fact, it’s easier for me to do these two things than it is to put myself in the mind of someone who can’t. This knowledge seems like it should be innate. Why?
On Fathers Day last year, I wrote about how my dad gave me a peek at his pyromaniac side when he taught me to fix a flat.
I recently came across this photo. This is me. This is the day my father taught me how to match the tip of a pressured air hose to the tip of a valve stem.
That was at a gas station somewhere in Arvada, Colorado. I think we hauled the bike in the trunk of Dad’s car. With about five minutes of instruction coupled with my desire to learn the manly arts, I learned it. And the knowledge stuck.
I’ve had a lot of flats recently in Tucson. I’ve indulged my lazyness — my willingness to risk a flat rather than prevent one.
I got myself some Flat Attack Tire Sealer — which is like the more well-known Slime, but without Slime’s toxicity. But I didn’t make the time to put the Flat Attack in my tubes.
Instead, I put the bottle of sealant and a new tube in my pannier and told myself, I’ll do it some morning when I have extra time, or I’ll do it someday before I leave work, or the worse case will be that I get a flat somewhere along my commute and I’ll do by the side of the road.
Which do you suppose happened?
Roadside repairs are always a pain in the ass. I emptied the contents of my pannier on the side yard of some stranger’s house in order to get at everything I needed. I was under no time pressure, so I calmly did what I’ve known how to do for decades. Plus I finally took the time to put in the new tube and add some sealant.
And when I thought about it, I realized it’s a luxury, to have that knowledge; to not feel stranded and helpless.
I’m not the handiest man, but I’m handy enough — homo satis habilis.
I’m often surprised to discover that there are men out there who are less handy than myself. But I became homo satis habilis through countless small interactions with my father where he demonstrated a casual skill with tools and solving problems. And then he told me that I could do it too.