“Over-preparation is the foe of inspiration” Napoleon Bonaparte
The main problem with setting out of an adventure of this size is the great potential for it to go arse over ear. Then you will have to put up with the hundreds of armchair critics who will tell you ‘told you so’, this is especially true when you are mechanically ham-fisted. I’ve therefore been preparing myself for any such eventualities by ruining as many of my bike’s parts, bolts and fixings as a lesson to myself, so that I’m ready for anything the road can throw at me. My latest challenge was to repair a punctured and balding tyre, a seemingly innocent and easy task that any self respecting overlander could fix in a minute or two, with nothing more than his swiss-army knife and a new tread. Surely nothing could go wrong with this relatively simple task.
But, karma had definitely been out to teach me a lesson on that cold February evening. It all started while innocently posing on the bike looking tough outside the local machine vendor, when one of the greasy oil urchins from the work shop wondered over to me. He was small, dark and had around two years of encrusted dirt encasing his every feature, and spoke to me with a thick Irish accent ‘Ya know ya rear teer is illegal mate’. I laughed off the mechanic confidently, ‘I know, I fit my own tyres these days, I’ve got a couple at home in the garage, I have been meaning to do it for a while. I’ll do them before I set out to ride to Kathmandu’. A wry expression came over the mechanic’s face ‘Kathmandu?’. I revved the engine provocatively and shot off into the distance, It was clear I was oblivious and arrogant to the perils ahead of me.
I decided to have a quick Google on the subject ‘home tyre fitting’ and took very little notice of the various accounts written by multiple bloggers and commentators about the associated problems with changing one’s bike rubber at home and how the uncomfortable truth is that it’s probably worth paying a greasy oil urchin to fit them without fuss, with their professional equipment. Dismissively, and sneering once more, I shut down the computer; gathered my tyre levers, fresh tyre, macho-man mechanics hat and a range of suitable snacks and ventured to the front drive to set up. All was going well, I removed the rear wheel expertly and with little fuss, propped the bike on its centre stand and sat proudly alongside my shiny socket set as I professionally polished the used grease from the axel and prepared for the next stage of the procedure.
I placed the wheel on the floor beside the bike, and stamped authoritatively down on the old and balding Michelin. ‘You sorry old bald tyre’ I laughed, ‘you will soon be ridded from my life!’. The thick black, dirty rubber didn’t budge at all, not an inch. Again I jumped down driving my boot further onto the little Michelin man’s face emblazed on the sidewall, breaking nothing more than a sweat. It would appear I had underestimated the magnitude of breaking the tyres bead. Within about half an hour, I had ceased attacking only by hand and had the bike sat precariously on one leg of its centre stand, with the other prying the sidewall. I was standing also equally precariously on the fairy liquid, lubricant soaked wheel and attempting to use the side stand’s leg and full weight of the bike to break the bead. Rocking back and forth on the tyre, shimmying around as if doing the Charleston, the bead suddenly appeared to have moved from the rim a few millimetres, and clearly I was winning the battle and so continued to ‘remove the bead’ all the way round the rim. I laughed menacingly, ‘Web Geeks, what do they know?’
I looked proudly at the retreating tyre and placed it once again on the sorry looking scrap of cardboard which I had placed in an attempt to prevent the wheel bearings being ground into the dirt, knowing the hardest part the proceedings were over. Going forth, I began to attack the lip of the tyre repeatedly with my shiny new ‘Motion Pro’ American flash-git tyre levers, yet the steel rods refused to produce much motion. Nothing, not so much as a squirm. I couldn’t even hook the bead with a lever; I couldn’t even so much as get the tool into place. Thinking back to the internet blogging nerds, I decided it would be wise to return the wheel once again to its position underneath the side stand, and began to wrestle with the bike as I had done before. There I was for the third time jumping up and down on the bike, crushing the not so pathetic tyre into submission. Nothing. I stepped back from the bike, now horrified at the prospect of so much as a puncture on the journey.
Again the bike was heaved onto one side, and bounce bounce and bounce, I pushed and pushed and pushed some more. The tyre was finished and showed me the white flag as it clicked off it’s bead. I was a soldier in the Great War, and despite great loss, the armistice was appreciated and long coming. It has only cost me a small two hour chunk of my life. The tyre finally sat properly dismounted from half of the rim. I retired for a stiff drink before carrying on with the task.
A crashing of demoralising magnitude rung across the estate and I knew immediately that I have ‘done a booboo’. The swing arm of the bike was now lying on the bare bricks of the floor. Looking over at the box which was meant to safeguard the swing arm and maintain the safety of the bike, it was sitting in comfort in the relative safety of the garage, clearly avoiding its duty to do its job. ‘Drat Drat Drat’ I tried to pick up all 180kg of bike like superman, screaming, yelping and fighting the bike which was now firmly rooted to the sharp bricks. I’m standing with all my weight on the arm of the centre stand, in an attempt to lift it, but it needs to be lifted a further two feet into the air, than my pathetic body can muster. I decide to phone a friend who has a reputation for solving such problems, but he seems little interested, despite my pretences to be in high spirits and he quickly drops my calls citing that he is in a restaurant as excuse.
Digging deep into the cave which is the garage, I try desperately to find some sort of solution and produce my car jack. Using the bottom of the engine as a jack point, I push the bike up into the air. By the third or fourth attempt it would seem that success is mine, right leg stamping on the jack, left leg swinging to try and hook the centre stand into place, left arm steadying the back of the bike and right arm holding meticulously onto the handlebars, it would appear a precarious arrangement. Eventually the bike is back on its stand, with no evident damage, safety box firmly in place and the feeling is that I had finally achieved something. Yet from the corner of my eye the old tyre winks at me from its position still lodged to my rim.
For the next couple of hours I wrestled with the tyre, using three long tyre levers which groaned with the strain as I tried to pull the steel banded tyre from the rim. The rim feels as if will break, bend or the levers will snap as repeatedly they are savaged, the bead now in the centre of the rim, point blank refusing to be pulled from its home. Like two lovers who cannot be separated, I use brute strength and aggression, with very little skill to try to remove the soiled tread.
I feel like Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’ and throw my rubbery ‘Wilson’ on the floor, stamping on him angrily. ‘Willllllllllllllson’ I shout in a temper-tantrum that any five year old would have been proud. By this point I was delirious with rage and begin to beat the tyre into submission with a piece of wood from a nearby skip. It had little real purpose apart from alleviating some of my anger. The neighbour came over to see what all the fuss and banging was about, ‘Evening Joe, aren’t you cold, you look awfully aggravated’. I wanted to cuddle him, break down in his arms and cry, but it was impossible to tell my story of woe because as the estate’s macho, DIY, world adventure rider and warrior bloke it would be wrong to appear weak. ‘Oh yeh, giving it a full strip down ye know, ready for my trip’ I gesture, wiping my dripping nose with black hands. Standing in what looks to be his pyjamas, he looks knowingly, like a headmaster ‘but it’s 11 o’clock’. After working for nearly four hours, my knuckles are bloodied, my hands covered in cuts and my entire body is tired, sore and ready to sleep. ‘I can’t sleep I reply’ lying unconvincingly.
It’s 12 o’clock at night, and I shuffle back inside, looking like a greasy oil merchant. I visit the fridge and swiftly throw a steak into a hot pan, my head held high. I need meat inside me because I am still a man! The tyre is fitted, my rims are nicely scratched, the brakes are working, the tools are cleared away, and I am ready to do battle with the bike again. Until the road the fight it is finished, but in 5000 miles, it may be again time for another re-treading war. I manage to slink straight to bed due to exhaustion and have a restless night, terrified of anything at all going wrong on the road.