04 August 2009

The puncture-repair rite of passage

The new copy of Cycle, the magazine of the CTC, is out.

Obviously the stand-out item is my sensational article on page 41 about a visit to a puncture repair outfit factory in Lincolnshire (right). I posted here about the visit in June. Now, to complement that, and the magazine article, is a short audio souvenir. James Milnes of Weldtite, the company in question, takes you on a quick trip through the factory:
Play sound file (twaud.io, MP3, 1min 51sec, 1.3MB).

I didn't get space in the article to discuss puncture repairs as a rite of passage. One day when I was about eight or nine my dad decided it was time to start showing me the ways of the world. His knowledge of things sexual was pretty sketchy, to be honest - he thought being bisexual meant seeing two women at a time - and his attempts to tackle birds-and-bees were mumbled and confused. But in puncture repair he was on home ground. God knows what Freud would make of that.

Anyway, one special evening he took me into the kitchen, with bowls of water and newspapers and oily rags all laid out. He showed me how to ease the tyre off by clever positioning of tyre levers, which took some time and you had to smoke a pipe to help you think. How to find the hole by looking for the tiny, jewel-like bubbles that streamed out from the breach when you threaded the tube through the water.

How to gently rough up the surface with the smallest piece of sandpaper I'd ever seen to a grey, fibrous texture that put me in mind of school dinners. How to apply the glue, which wasn't actually glue, because it's Rubber Solution and it vul-can-ises, you see, and I nodded and repeated, vul-can-ises, though neither of us knew what vul-can-ises was. How to wait five minutes, now this is important, because otherwise it won't vul-can-ise, and mum came in asking if we wanted a cup of tea and dad smilingly ushered her away, because this was man's work and it was serious.

Then we applied the patch and made chalk dust so the sticky bits outside the patch wouldn't glue the tube to the tyre and mum said you're not getting dust on the floor are you Tony I'll have to hoover and dad said no love, it's alright and winked at me and I grinned though I didn't know why. And we put the tyre back on which meant dad had to light his pipe again and pumped it up nice and hard and dad bounced the bike a few times on the kitchen floor to make sure and I took it outside and rode it round the block and it was fine.

The whole process took an hour and a half. Finally we cleared up the kitchen and mum made us a cup of tea and I knew a great transformation had happened. I'd started the evening a boy; I'd finished it still a boy, but a boy who was cross because he'd missed Dr Who.

And now it takes me about five minutes to fix a puncture and I smile and think dad, what was the big deal? Hmm. Wonder if Freud was a cyclist.


  1. Beautifully written.
    But Freud was right, boys really want to be taught puncture repair by their mothers.

  2. I can't find references to Freud and cycling on a cursory Google, but apparently Jung was a bit of a tourer, and biked round Italy in 1906.

    No doubt Oedipus would have wimped out of any mountain biking trips, citing some sort of ankle injury. And probably not letting us look at the note from his mum.

  3. A lovely story. I think I learned the mysteries of puncture repair not from my dad but from one of the other boys at school (a variation on the same rite of passage, I suppose). I remember bowls of water and chalk dust as well.

    Curiously it wasn't until I was much older that anyone mentioned to me the importance of searching for and removing the stone that actually caused the puncture - or the wonderful indulgence of carrying a spare tube with you.

  4. Yes, it's rum, isn't it? I don't remember this business of running your fingers round inside the tyre to search for shards coming in until the advent of desktop publishing, though I'm not suggesting the two are related.

    And again, the idea of carrying a spare tube - even if you put the first one aside to repair at leisure later - would have seemed hopelessly extravagant and contemptible. Like having a machine to record Dr Who in order to watch it later at your convenience I suppose.

  5. Well, what do you know. I put up a post about punctures, and an hour later that same morning I have to fix one before I can bike to work.

    Isn't it ironic? No, actually, Alanis.

    At least I know I wasn't exaggerating: it really did only take five minutes (thanks to having that indulgent spare inner tube).