A spoonful of know-how

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
This week I had that flat-tyre feeling. I’m not talking in metaphors here — though who isn’t having some kind of reintegration anxiety right now — but in the actual factuals of trying to get through the day by getting on a bike, writes Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
Biking to work is a great recipe for maximum smugness. I can a) save the planet, b) get some exercise without having to wear activewear and c) feel that slight edge of crazy joy that something as fun as this should surely be illegal, or at least cost something. Riding a bike. It’s like flying.

I should probably clarify here, because my postcode suggests that I might be extreme: backpedalling, trying to ride none-handed with my arms out, and going fast through puddles are where I get my cycling kicks. But not with a flaccid back wheel.

Fixing a bike tube is like riding a bike. I haven’t forgotten how to do it. Science says that’s because they are lodged in my procedural memory but my extreme-and-also-practical bike friend tells me nobody uses spoons any more. Also, nobody actually fixes an inner tube with those neat little kits with the chalky bits and the gummy sticking plasters because new tubes are almost as cheap as the fixing kits and also then you can either a) fix the old tube afterwards with the kit when you’ve got time and are doing maintenance or b) use it to strap things to things, like bikes to bike racks, but anyway, c) just go to the shop and buy a tube and maybe get a spare and you’re going to need some levers because nobody uses spoons.

She talks me through wheel size and tube size. I practise the phrase "I just need some 26-inch tubes for my commuter bike" as I walk to town, still a) saving the planet. Partway there I remember there was something important about a valve that I forgot to pay attention to. A press stud? A schroadie? That’s why I was going to take the tube out and bring it with me. Still. How important can it be?

The shop sells bikes with a higher pricetag than my van. They can probably take hills much better, too. Feeling super-intimidated, I find the tube packets monogrammed with a "26" and surreptitiously text my extreme-and-also-practical bike friend. Do I want the presta or the Schrader? Schrader is for gas station, she says. Presta is pump.

I realise I should probably own a pump as well. Luckily there is one that swings both ways and I’m thinking the Schrader valves look familiar so I pick up a couple of those while using my practised phrase "I just need some 26-inch tubes for my commuter bike". Confidence is riding high. (And you know what, if I’m wrong when I get home, I will just get in my van and drive straight back here because I’ve had way more than enough of b) exercise without activewear by walking here in a sweat about getting my tube options right.)

It’s all going well until I get to the not-spoons bit. Because language is stored in a different part of our brains to procedural things like riding a bike, it is differently easy to forget words like presta and Schrader and whatever the not-spoon-thing is than it is to forget repeated actions. This is why some people with Alzheimer’s can still play the piano beautifully. And this is why I find myself blowing my cover and blathering about spoons before I walk out with a kit which contains levers (that’s the word!) and also the familiar and comforting chalky and gummy bits.

Things I like about changing a tube: turning the bike upside-down, spinning the wheel, dirt under my nails. The thing I like best: when the tube fits, because I’m a) basically a pro at this and b) lucky that c) the odds were only 50:50. I pump it up. I remember to lock, or clamp, or whatever the word is, the wheel into place. And I’m off, arms out, wobbling. It’s like flying.



Transport nomenclature is instructive on that side of the island into which Old Man's Beard escaped.

Instruction to move out:
'On your bike!', 'sling your hook!' and the forever impenetrable 'Take A Powder!'

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