My Pump is Crap, He Said

By Maynard Hershon

So I’m on this ride, my buddy Justin and I and 15 friends we don’t know. We’re somewhere on an unfamiliar bike path when a guy gets a flat. Justin and I have been hangin’ out at the back so it takes us a moment to figure out why we’ve all stopped.

When I started following the action the guy had already borrowed a pump from another rider and was trying to pump up his flat front tire, still in the fork, as if that would do any good.

If you haven’t done that, tried to pump up a flat tire that is, don’t bother. The hole in the tube that let the old air out will quickly release the new air you’re pumping in, am I right?

I saw the guy wasting his effort, his time and the time of the other 16 people still straddling their bikes surrounding him, so I decided to step in, super flat-fixer, here to save the day.

I suggested to the young man that perhaps his efforts at re-inflating his front tire and tube were going to avail him nothing. I went on to say that, sadly, the tube had a hole in it. He was going to have to fix the flat. He made motions around his front skewer but did not manage to loosen the handle, let alone remove the wheel.

I’d been watching for a minute or two. Nothing had happened so far. No progress.

“Why doncha let me do this,” I said. There was no argument.

I loosened the skewer handle and unscrewed the skewer a few turns to clear his fork’s lawyer nubs, the little projections on the fork tips intended to prevent a badly installed wheel from falling out, not that front wheels often fell out pre-nubs.

Wheel in my hands, I asked him if he had tire tools and by golly he did, two dandy ones. I used them to remove one side of the tire from the rim. I pulled the tube out of the tire, noting as I did that the tube’s valve stem was super long, made for a deep section rim. He handed me a new tube, also with a long valve.

I murmured to him that he could buy tubes with shorter valve stems more cheaply, that his rims were shallow and didn’t need the long valves. He started rustling around in his spare bag for a second spare tube, one with a shorter valve stem that I might like better.

“This one’s okay,” I said.

He handed me the pump he’d been using, the pump he’d borrowed moments before. It was a mini-pump, thus almost useless in this old-school rider’s eyes. I said no thanks and grabbed my nice old Blackburn frame-pump. I put just enough air in his tube so it took shape.

I groped around inside the guy’s tire searching for puncturing agents, as we say in flat-fixing superhero circles. I found nothing. The guy kept up a steady line of patter as I went about fixing his puncture. He told me, poor guy, that he’d borrowed a pump because his is crap.

He had told the wrong Samaritan. As the thousand-and-first group rider in my experience with ineffective equipment and insufficient skills, he won the prize.

“Your pump is crap,“ I repeated.

“That’s right,” he said.

“Speak up,” I said, “and tell the group here waiting for you that you brought to their ride a pump you knew was crap.”

He looked at me, unsure if I were kidding or really urging him to tell everyone in earshot that he had brought a useless pump on a group bike ride — knowing as he must’ve that if he had the utterly rotten luck, one in a million, to have a flat that he’d strand everyone on the shoulder forever as he fumbled around trying to fix it. Barring the intervention of some trailside angel like myself.

“Look at me,” I said. “Tell the folks that you brought a crap pump on their training ride.”

He may have swallowed or stammered but he did not make the suggested announcement.

I fixed his flat anyway and pumped up his tire with my honored old Blackburn. I pumped until I got a nice ringing sound when I flicked a fingernail on the tire tread. Then I pumped maybe 10 more increasingly difficult strokes.

I was stunned when he asked me if there was enough air in the tire. I said nothing but felt sure that there was more air in the tire at that moment than there had been when he started the ride. Guys with crap portable pumps often don’t own floor pumps.

That’s enough about him and about me. Let’s talk about you.

When you embark upon a group ride, it is your responsibility to carry flat-fixing materials and a working, effective pump or inflator — that you know how to operate. It is your responsibility to know how to remove and replace your bike’s wheels so that you can repair your own flat tire.

It is your responsibility to know how to do all that in a reasonable length of time so that the rest of the riders aren’t stuck there shifting their weight from one cleated foot to the other while you display your ineptitude in a manner painful to observe.

Perhaps you, like the guy Justin and I met on that ride, are immune to embarrassment. You know you should have a good pump et cetera but it’s easy for you to shine all that on. Someone will help. Someone will have a tube or a working pump or flat-fixing skills. Or all of the above.

Someone will step in for you so you can smile and act kinda clueless. Soon you’ll be back on your bike and making all the same riding mistakes you’ve been making all along.

As hard as I leaned on that guy, as uncomfortable as I tried to make him feel, do you suppose he walked into a bike shop on Monday and bought a real frame pump? Seriously — d’ya think he did?

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