Bend in the Road: Plans A, B and Q

When things go wrong, what are your backup plans?

Some simple lessons I have to periodically relearn. Despite having ridden bikes for decades now, I still occasionally get caught out without proper clothing or supplies. Ironically enough, returning to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, seems to highlight my ability for forehead-slapping oversights.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I have over the years enjoyed makeshift solutions to problems on the road, such as banging a broken chain together with a rock or securing a shoe with a blown Boa dial using a saddle-bag strap. Okay, maybe "enjoyed" isn't the right word.

Last weekend my family made the pilgrimage from Colorado to Albuquerque, and I was feeling good about testing tubeless road and cyclocross tyres against Albuquerque's ruthless goathead thorns and broken glass, both of which can be found roadside in abundance this time of year. I brought a ’cross bike with Easton EA90 SLX tubeless wheels and Hutchinson Sector 28s for road riding and Hutchinson Piranha 2 CXs for a day of cyclocross. Now, one claimed benefit of tubeless is the ability of sealant to quickly plug holes, theoretically eliminating the need to stop and repair a puncture. In reality, this is only sometimes true.

A full day of rain on Friday highlighted the shortcomings of both road tubeless and my ability to properly plan.

A couple years ago, Michelin tyre engineers explained to me that rain often leads to more flats because the water acts as a lubricant for debris to slice the tyre, not because more debris sticks to your tyres, which many believe. In any event, rain and glass conspired to partially deflate my front tubeless tyre — the sealant did its thing at about 30psi, but pumping it up more only burst the goopy seal — and later some other debris popped a tube that went in as plan B. Arriving late at a friend's house to beg a second tube and borrow a floor pump, I couldn't muster a convincing answer for 'why road tubeless?' as I stood there dripping sealant all over his driveway.

Again, being a native New Mexican I should know better about bringing flat supplies. Back in the day, every fall we all used to use 'the system': cutting the beads off old clincher tyres and jamming them inside newer tyres. This created a thick defensive layer of rubber, the mother of all Tuffy Strips. Yes, it rode like garbage, but group rides weren't stopping every 10 minutes for somebody's flat. We also all rode with frame pumps, back-up tubes and usually patch kits. Now, I'm lazy and I live in Colorado, so my saddle bag seldom contains more than a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge. For years that has been sufficient.

In defense of tubeless, the Hutchinson Piranha 2 tyres and Hutchinson sealant came through with flying colors on a day of racing through sand, gravel and, of course, a few goatheads. At race's end, there were two little snapped-off thorns embedded in one tyre, which was still very much inflated. Also, I should add that mounting the Piranha 2s was easy with a single tyre lever and a floor pump.

But back to Friday's rain. Between test gear and my own clothing, I have mountains of technical riding gear. And somehow I neglect to bring much of it on trips. Aside from my trusty Gore-Tex rain jacket, I managed to show up in New Mexico otherwise unprepared for a day of cold rain. Enter Hobo Back-Up Plan Q: the plastic bag. Arriving late at my friend's house in need of tyre supplies, I was at least warm with bits of a plastic bag tucked inside my shoes and under my helmet. Somewhat homeless-looking, yes, but warm.

When all goes well, the sun is shining and the wind is at your back, riding bikes is a wonderful thing. When things get sideways and the weather and road conditions conspire against you, crude improvisation can get the show back on the road, but it's always better to show up prepared. As for me, today I am heading over to the local shop to buy a Lezyne Pressure Drive mini pump...

What about you?What sort of makeshift solutions have you had to resort to on the road?

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team, Trek Boone 5, Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4, Marinoni fixed gear, Santa Cruz Roadster TT bike
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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