I guess it was going to happen sooner or later.
When it did, it was on a sweltering day, when I was at the bottom of a hill, my panniers heavy with shopping, some way still from home.
Basically, I’d been cycling with my fingers in my ears. Not literally, of course – that would be unwise, and anyway my days of hands-free trickery are lost in the mists of time, filed alongside Space Dust, Bob Marley, CND demos and teased hair. No, what I mean is that since I’d started cycling to work, I’d studiously refused to listen to one simple piece of advice: learn how to cope with a puncture.
I’d paid attention to lots of other stuff: about canal etiquette, how to handle traffic, sneaky little shortcuts, and the very existence of neoprene shoe covers. I’d even learned how to clean my bike (the satisfaction of a turning a black, sticky chain into a slick silver streak is one that cyclists really should share more widely). But I’d never learned how to replace a damaged inner tube.
I’d seen it done. I’d been shown. I’d even been given a neat little container with the assurance that “everything you need is in here”. (That was a lie, I checked: no chocolate, no beer, no £20 note.) But I’d never dealt with a puncture.
Though, come to think of it, that’s not entirely true. I did absolutely know how to deal with a puncture – I’d just call the Puncture Fairy! She came in various forms: a helpful partner, a friend with a car, my father-in-law, a taxi, a handy bike shop. As far as I was concerned, the Puncture Fairy was alive and well, and at my beck and call. I like to put this frame of mind down to my sunny, optimistic nature. Others had a different perspective.
Others: “What will you do if you get a puncture?”
Me: “Puncture Fairy.”
Others: “Just learn how to put the spare inner tube in. It’s not difficult. At least you’ll be able to get home to fix the damaged one.”
Me (fingers in ears): “La la la la la la!”
Others: “You may come to regret it.”
When reality strikes
At the bottom of the hill, tyre suddenly flat as a fart, on that sweltering day:
(Others: “We did try to…”)
Me: “PUNCTURE FAIRY!”
Puncture Fairy: “La la la la la la!”
>>>>>>>>> One hot, miserable hour of uphill pushing later >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
At home, I flopped on a chair. And thought:
“I am never ever doing that again.”
‘I checked no one was at home to laugh at me, opened up my laptop and typed in ‘How to change an inner tube.’ Search. Up came a video from British Cycling.
I pressed ‘Play’, and it was as if the Puncture Fairy herself were scolding me in person right there on YouTube. “Don’t be that rider that always gets somebody else to change your inner tube. There’s no excuse for it. We should all know how to do it.”
Well, that was me told. I watched. I replayed. I got that wheel off, I got those levers on, and I got that inner tube out. Flushed with success, I then decided not just to insert the new one, but to see whether I could learn how to repair a puncture. I did stuff with bubbles, chalk and glue (cue flashbacks to primary school). I put the repaired inner tube back in, pumped it up and crossed my trouser clips. It stayed pumped up. It was still just fine in the morning, and so I cycled to work as usual, cycled home as usual, enjoyed the ride as usual. But with magic in my fingertips.
As for the Puncture Fairy?