It was a tiny dark gray stone fragment, about 3/16″ long. On close inspection it looked like a miniature paleolithic flint tool, a scraper to prepare hides. One edge appeared to have been flaked away into a sharp knife-edge. The tip was pin-prick sharp. When I discovered it, that tip was pointing straight at the axle of my rear wheel on the Trek 2.1. It was imbedded in the very outside perimeter of the Michelin Kromion tire on that wheel. The flat rear end of the stone fragment, perhaps 1/8″ long, was parallel with the surface of the tire and the tip had penetrated all the way through the tire and the tube.
My discovery of this foreign object in my tire came about, of course, very shortly after that tip penetrated the tube. I was 7.58 miles into a Sunday ride to Shirlington when that happened, and my wheel began making that noise that indicates that only two thicknesses of uninflated rubber tire and two more of uninflated tube separate the rim from the asphalt of the road. I dismounted; luckily I was near a driveway entrance to Glencarlyn Park in Arlington, through which the W&OD runs. So I walked the bike up te road to the top of the hill, to the park entrance at S. Harrison and S. 3rd Street. I called Jane with the coordinates and she came to get me. I carry bike tools, but changing a flat can be very time-consuming and we were on the clock with a later afternoon function.
While I waited I inspected the tire, found the culprit stone, and wondered (a) how something so small could have gotten into the right alignment to penetrate the tire that way, (b) how many dozen equally innocuous potentially dangerous things I ride over every time, (c) why the tire didn’t offer more resistance, and (d) when it had happened. I suppose it could have been wedged in there for a while before it got pushed just hard enough to pop the vulnerable tube. Had I checked my tires before each ride, I might have been able to prevent this, but maybe not. Could have all happened on yesterday’s ride.
I also conversed with an artisan, James McCartney, originally from Rahway, NJ. James was winding up a job at the house adjacent to the trail, and came over to chat about his boyhood cycling days, and the big bike race they had on Labor Day weekend for years in Rahway. James does masonry and home repair; I was tempted to ask him if he was sure the whole neighborhood liked the classic rock on the radio station he was blaring. But he was a nice guy; his business card says “Have trowel, will travel.”
When I got home there was a side of me that wanted to jump on a different bike and ride for another hour. I only got 30 minutes of exercise. But the day, which had been chilly and breezy anyhow, was now getting cloudier and less cheery. So I did what I know was a better thing. I took off the wheel, and then removed the old tire and tube and replaced them with a brand new tube (I always have spare tubes ready to go) and the old Bontrager Race Lite tire that I saved from my front wheel when the rear one wore out and I replaced them with the Michelins. I inflated it and let it sit by itself overnight just to assure that it didn’t have a pinched tube or some other installation problem. (Usually overnight is enough time for a badly installed tube to pop, and better in the garage than out on the road.)
Then this morning I popped the wheel back on the bike, got everything adjusted, and took off on an ultra-warm day to do a 36 mile ride and forget the frustration of yesterday. it was all good–everything rolled right along. Meanwhile I had scanned the web last night looking for a permanent solution. I really wanted a blue sidewall tire to coordinate with the great Trek paint job, and after a lot of checking I decided that (a) I still wanted racing slicks, and (b) I wanted the tire to have 120 threads per inch rather than the 60 that the Kromion and the Race Lites have. I know that puncture resistance results from many factors, but I think I erred in thinking that even a lesser (and quite inexpensive) Michelin is likely to be better than another’s higher-end tire. So I looked and Michelin, Vittoria, Continental, Trek, Bontrager (yes, both Trek and Bontrager seem to have their names on tires now), Vredstein, and Forté (the Performance Bikes house brand). In a compromise mashup among potential durability, low rolling resistance, blue rimness, and of course cost, I chose the Forté Pro +. I have liked most Forté products, and the customer reviews were very good.
The new tires will be here in about 10 days. But for right now, my cycling plans can proceed as scheduled anyway.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.