Mindless Moments – December 15, 2008
Mon, 15 Dec 2008 19:00:24 -0800
What is up with being the best in the world at swimming, cycling, and running but not being able to change a flat tire? Is it the sign of the apocalypse? What’s the world coming to?
It all started back in the late 80’s, or was it the early 90’s, with one of my favorite triathlon personalities and uber swimmer, Ben Sanson. Ben forever changed my view on the varieties of attitude and character in the male proffessional triathlete population when he flatted while racing the St. Croix triathlon and, instead of fixing his flat, proceeded to cry like, well, let’s say it, like a grown man. no, a grown French man. no, a grown French man surrendering – to his flat tire – on national television. Brutal.
The same televised event then showed the new race leader, Mike Pigg, also get a flat tire and, in about 1-minute, change the flat and immediately get underway without losing a place AND with no tears shed. I thought, “there’s a lesson there.” Do you see where this is going?
Fast forward to 2006…or was it 2005? Whatever. Normann Stadler is the race favorite and defending champion of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Normann Stadler is a genuine triathlon bad ass. He’s an uber cyclist that can run. He’s German. He’s won in freaking Kona! He is also being followed by television cameras. Normann Stadler flats and can’t get his tire off. Instead of continuing to work on the tire, Normann, you guessed it, starts crying and throws his wheel – or was it the entire bicycle – while bitterly exclaiming that there is “too much glue” on the tire and, through his tears, “why did you put so much glue on the tire?” Ok, I can’t take it.
I almost get the crying. He’s obviously in great shape and there’s always an extra heaping of pressure for the returning foreign champions due to the addition of their own national press that they bring with them. He’s watching the rest of the men’s pro field ride away with his title while he can’t get a tire off his rim. Uh, you’re a pro male. Aren’t you responsible for gluing your own tires and/or if you’re not, don’t you supervise the gluing of your tires for the biggest race of your year? Ok, I’m beating a dead horse here. I know that Normann reads absolutely everything ever written about him on the internet (and otherwise) and want to apologize up front for any offense to our sensitive two time Hawaii Ironman World Champion. That’s not my intention.
My intention is to beg EVERY triathlete – male or female and of any nationality – to learn how to change/fix your tires when they go flat. This is part of what you do as a person that rides a bike. It follows, then, that it’s part of what you do as a triathlete. I know many think that changing flats is for spouses and bike mechanics but these are the same people who end up weeping at the side of the road at the unfairness of it all. “It’s so unfair. I was on record pace. I would have easily won my age group, qualified for Kona, and set a new land speed record if it wasn’t for that flat tire.” Uh, no, if you had learned how to competently change your flat, you would have lost 1 to 3-minutes and been on your way.
“But I ride clinchers.” No excuse. I’ve witnessed Heather Fuhr change a clincher tire in under 3-minutes – actually it was under 2-minutes and she beat renowned triathlete who would rather be known a renowned roadie, Jimmy Riccitello by a solid 15-seconds…and, yes, she bakes cookies. Like I said, no excuse.
“But it’s the first time I’ve ridden tubulars.” First of all, what the hell is a “tubular?” Clinchers have tubes. Doesn’t that make them “tubular”? Sew-up tires also have tubes that are completely enclosed in the casing and tire so they’re also “tubular,” right? I know that people call sew-ups “tubulars” because of the fact that they’re enclosed and the shape is therefore tubular but, since “tubular” can describe both types of tires, can we stick with “clinchers” and “sew-ups” since both terms are specific descriptions of the tires they describe? No? I’m too old school? I sounds like an angry grandfather arguing that Led Zepplin is “noise” while Bach is “music?” I don’t care. For the sake of the context of this diatribe, I’ll stick with the traditional definitions of these bicycle tire types and their corresponding names. Anyway, sew-ups (tubulars to the uneducated) are MUCH easier to change than clinchers and should take a maximum of half the time to change.
Moving on, let’s look at this year’s Hawaii Ironman. The women are getting a lesson in what’s possible on a bicycle by the latest female Big Island instructor, Chrissie Wellington. Upon putting herself in a new zip code which was quickly becoming a new county relative to the next woman in the race, Chrissie gets a flat. To her credit, she doesn’t cry. Chrissie is educated and knows that Kleenex has limited use in changing a bicycle tire. Chrissie quickly gets busy trying to fix her flat. It becomes evident, after the second CO2 inflator is expended into the atmosphere rather than her tire, that the defending Ford Ironman World Champion is not practiced at changing a tire. What? Is this NASCAR where others on your team are charged with maximal proficiency at all things mechanical so that you can focus on racing? No, this is Ironman where all individuals are expected to be self-sufficient – especially those fortunate enough to be making a living at the sport. Technical vehicles that are provided are not for the run of the mill flat tire but to assist in the event of catastrophic mechanical melt downs (broken chains, derailleurs, cables and the like).
We realized early on in the triathlon camp business that we needed a changing-a-tire seminar. Even at Ironman camps where we’d expect the participants to be somewhat experienced, we quickly realized that 40-50% of the triathlon population (conservative estimate) has no idea or is, how can I put it gently, not proficient at changing a tire. How can that be? I suppose it’s possible that there are those who never expect to be far from home (stationary trainers and spin bikes) or who figure that’s why cellular telephones were invented – “honey, I’ve got a flat. Can you come pick me up?”
I can’t fathom not being able to take care of this simple problem when out on a bicycle. I’m not saying that it’s some sort of horrible fault but simply that it’s an easily remedied issue. People will do every version of every aerobic, anaerobic, VO2 max, sub-VO2, interval, tempo, etc. workout known to man all day long but, practice changing a tire? “No, I can’t do it. I’ve tried and I’m no good so I have my (pick one) husband, girlfriend, mechanic, bike shop, friend, someone riding by, etc. do it. What?
Then there’s the whole inflating thing. I know I’m truly old school because I still strap a frame pump to my bike. Not one of those lame plastic Italian things either but a Genuine Innovations Road Air 2. You’ll never run out of air with one of these things and these are the same folks that make the best CO2 inflators. Look, I LOVE the CO2 cartridge things that can inflate your tires in one second and I know that my wife will use nothing else but if you’re not racing and, for the sake of the environment (empty CO2’s at the side of the road make me crazy), can we try the old frame pump?
Further, if you are going to use a CO2 cartridge (and if you’re racing I highly recommend it), for the love of humanity, learn how to use one. The first time you buy one of these things with its handy dandy attachment that allows you to mate it to a presta valve (what’s that? – don’t even get me started), learn how it works and don’t scream like a teenage girl at a horror movie when the air comes out. Have some dignity. Get passed that part in the privacy of your closed garage. I’ve seen men jump back when the hiss of air comes out of the cartridge. Ted Kazinsky is in jail and it’s not going to blow up. It’s not a diamondback rattlesnake. It’s a freaking CO2 cartridge that’s going to fill up your tire – provided you’ve got a good seal on the valve and the things attached properly.
I think that had Chrissie practiced a couple of times with one of these things, she might well have broken PNF’s record in Kona. As it is, she might just do it next year. As anyone who’s been that close and not done it will tell you, there are never any guarantees and it’s nice to be able to make the most of every opportunity (like favorable weather/wind conditions) you’re given. That means taking care of the issues within your control. That means carrying a spare – or two – and knowing how to change them efficiently. The practice required to get to this point is a tiny percentage of any triathlete’s total training time.
I’m better now.
Now, what’s the deal with people not knowing how to ride their bicycles around a corner? I’ll save that one for another day…