Flats and Breakdowns

I may be a living legend, but that sure don’t help when I’ve got to change a flat tire.   – Roy Orbison

We learned out lesson on BRAT2.  We had 14 flat tires on the 925-mile ride from Brownsville to Liberal.  That was nearly triple the number from the first ride and would be more than double the total from any of our suceeding rides–even the long ones to Canada.  We realized after BRAT2 that we needed high-quality tires on the bikes.  An investment in new tires for the road bikes in the weeks leading up to the BRAT3 resulted in no flat tires for the upgraded bikes.  The lesson was learned and we’ve continued to maintain good tires on the bikes used on our rides.

Flat tires are not the only issues that have sidelined our bikes while on our BRAT rides.  On the day riding into Watertown, South Dakota on BRAT4, our Specialized Allez broke a spoke on the back wheel and threw the wheel out of alignment.  Once unaligned the wheel was off balance and rubbed on the brake with each revolution.  A broken spoke requires specialized tools to repair and realign the wheel.  We had to drive 40 miles from Watertown on our day of rest to find a bike shop that could repair the wheel.

The same bike gave us spoke problems on BRAT5 as well beginning in Nebraska.  While it was still capable of riding, we decided that it was best to share one of the other bikes and let the Allez skip the end of the ride.  We replaced the entire back wheel when we returned to Abilene.

I had issues with my Roubaix on BRAT4 and BRAT5.  On the next to last day of riding in Minnesota, my shifters began acting strangely.  It would phantom shift at times and not shift at other times.  Despite attempts to adjust the cable tension and derailleur position, the bike continued to have problems on the final day of cycling from Two Harbors to the border.  The problem turned out to be the shifting cable was broken down to the final strand.  It wasn’t a derailleur problem, it was a cable problem which was easily fixed at our local bike shop.

The lessons learned about derailleurs came in handy on a day in Nebraska on BRAT5.  Excessive noise from the chain and gearset along with phantom shifts began on a day after the bike took a fall in our hotel room in Scott City, Kansas.  On our day off from cycling in Thedford, Nebraska I made some tension adjustments that moved the derailleur over enough to realign the chain and gears.  The solution worked well enough to get me to the border.  Another visit to Biketown in Abilene on our return got everything properly adjusted.

Bicycles are not the only things that have problems on our rides.  On BRAT3, a low tire pressure light came on the Honda Pilot on the Sunday morning ride from Jayton to Plainview, Texas.  Not finding a place to repair the tire on a Sunday morning in the small towns along the route, we decided to pump up the tire several times during the day and get it patched in Plainview the next morning.

As we pulled into the parking place at our host church in Minot, North Dakota on BRAT5, we could hear the air leaking out of the front passenger tire of the Honda Pilot.  Within a few minutes of parking, the tire was completely flat.  With the help of the pastor, we had the tire removed, repaired, and replaced within an hour.  The timing of the whole event was perfect–that will be the subject of another post.

A similar experience happened on the Katy Trail ride soon after we passed into Kansas on the way to our overnight lodging in La Cygne, Kansas.  After passing over a train track, I noticed the low tire pressure light appear on the university’s Suburban.  Hoping that it would be a slow leak like the Pilot on BRAT3, it turned out to be like the leak on the Pilot on BRAT5.  Within a few minutes, the tire was completely flat.  As it turned out, the jack and some of the tire-changing tools needed to replace the flat tire with the spar were missing from the Suburban.  It took help from some good Samaritans who lived across the road from our breakdown to get things repaired and us back on our way.

Automobile problems have been a part of the BRAT adventures since the beginning.  On the morning of departure from Guadalupe Mountains National Park on our second day of BRAT1, we found the battery dead in my Ford Expedition.  Students had charged their phones in the car the night before and they sucked the final bits of energy out of a weary battery.  A jump start from our other support vehicle quickly had us going.  We would discover more battery problems on the day’s ride from McKinney to Mt. Vernon.

The timing was perfect.  As I drove behind the cyclists on the road out of McKinney, the Expedition died.  Everything died and it would not start.  I was able to shift into neutral and simply roll backwards into the parking lot of a business.  Almost directly across the highway was an mechanic and oil change business.  They came over in a truck and jump started the Expedition.  We drove it across the road and had a new battery installed.  Later that day, as we were waiting to meet with a newspaper reporter in Mt. Vernon, the Expedition died again–even with a brand new battery.  We were able to get it started again and quickly drove down the road to a mechanic who we had already called to see if they had time to help us.  It turned out that the alternator was the problem.  The defective alternator kept the old battery from fully charging and then killed the new battery within a day.  Once the new alternator was installed and the new battery charged, we were ready to roll to Texarkana and then back to Abilene.

Flat tires shouldn’t be a surprise.  We spend a lot of time riding on the shoulders of highways.  The support vehicles sometimes have to drive with two wheels on the shoulder and two off of the shoulder.  Some sections of shoulder require us to drive through debris–it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we sometimes drive over things that are hazardous to their health.

Our official mileage total from BRAT1 through out Katy Trail ride is 7,060 for all seven rides.  We’ve actually drive our support vehicles more than twice that amount.  The support vehicles follow the bicycles for the entire length of each ride, but they also drive to the starting point and back to campus from the finishing point for each ride–they drive the entire distance two times.  The Katy Trail ride required us to drive 600 miles to our starting point and a longer distance on the way home.  We’ve easily driven the support vehicles more than 15,000 miles on our BRAT adventures.  And all but the Katy Trail ride involved two support vehicles–which makes the total miles driven close to 30,000 overall.  Many of those miles were completed at the speed of the cyclists and across rough roads and shoulders.

Part of the experience of the rides is having students address and solve problems as they arise.  Though we would rather not deal with flat tires and breakdowns, we can see them as real life problems to be solved and overcome.  That’s a good way to thing about them.

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