• Flat Tire Story

    What's your flat tire story? Be sure to leave a comment below.

    Back in 2009 I had two flats, both at highway speeds and both due to using dry-rotted innertubes. Luckily no crash resulted. All because of my own negligence and ignorance. Somewhere along the way I’d forgotten that one should always put a new tube in when installing a new tire. In hindsight I don’t know what I could have been thinking. For many years I replaced a worn-out tire on this bike about twice a year, and not the tube. How did I manage to forget or un-learn this?

    Today I had a flat tire on my motorcycle. The first in more than ten years. I was traveling southbound on US 53, just north of Wascott. This road is now fully four lane divided with a 65 mph speed limit and that’s about the speed I was going. Sunny and nice. Light traffic. Mid-afternoon.

    At first the bike started to steer funny. It was subtle — as if I was riding on a worn-out road with depressions where heavy traffic had thinned the pavement. The highway looked perfectly flat so I moved over toward the center of the lane to see if it was my bike or the road. A flat tire was the very last thing on my mind.

    Hmmm. Bike still wiggly. I looked again extra carefully at the road surface. Still looked pool table flat, so I slowed down to about forty five and it seemed to go away. When I sped back up the wiggles came right back as if the frame, swing arm or a wheel had somehow broken, so I slowed back down to about 30 and started riding on the foot-wide paved shoulder. In about two blocks there was a little gravel side road and I took it. Ten feet in I stopped and looked down. The rear tire was nearly flat. I slowly and carefully rode another twenty feet to a nice spot on the side of this gravel road and now the tire was fully flat.

    The next stuff was routine but it had been a long time since I’d done most of it: Switch bike off. Get off bike and hoist it onto center stand, harder than usual because the bike was now 4" lower. Gloves off. Helmet off. Jacket off. A nice pile on the grass. Saddle off. Tools out. Wheel off. Spare inner tube out. Tire irons out. Tire off rim on one side. Tube out. No apparent flaws. No nails in tire. Just a giant tear in the tube maybe a foot long. 30 minutes elapsed, but I’m not hurrying. Just keeping track. It’s a warm, sunny perfect day.

    Spare tube in. Tire back on rim. Dig clearance hole in sandy dirt beneath where the tire will go and slide the wheel onto the hub. Bolt on loosely. Get out engine inflator - a hose that goes from one spark plug hole to the tube’s Schrader valve. (You start the engine, which runs fine on only the other cylinder, and in a minute the tire is full.)

    Except the attachment that screws into the spark plug hole is ruined. Twelve years rattling around in the bag on the rear fender have removed it’s threads. There is no way it will work. Plan ‘B’ is an old bicycle tire pump zip-tied to the rear frame, hidden beneath the saddle. It doesn’t work either. I fiddle around with it for fifteen minutes but the rubber ‘o’ ring seal that goes on the tube’s valve stem was all dried out and would not make a seal.

    Now it’s back to the thing that works off the spark plug hole. I wrap duct tape a couple of layers thick around the worn-threadless end and connect the other end loosely onto the tube - twisting it only a single turn and then I put on my riding gloves. Ready. Feel slightly like Mr. Spock working on the dilithium injector alignment trying to save the Enterprise. Key on, start the bike. Chuff! Chuff! Chuff! strong blasts the air out the open spark plug hole. I’d forgotten.

    The bike idles good enough on one cylinder. With my left gloved hand I force the duct-tape-gasketed pump device as hard as I can against the spark plug hole while with my right hand I’m screwing the other end onto the tire valve stem. It works! 34 psi and two or three minutes later I have done what felt like the impossible. Boy that little chuff-chuff inflator gets hot really quick. Even with a glove, it was hot-potato-drop-it as soon as I unscrewed the other end from the valve stem. Now I can bolt the wheel back up tight, put away the torn tube and tools and I’m off, gingerly at first. An hour twenty, start to finish.

    “Luckily no crash resulted. All because of my own negligence and ignorance.”

    Midway through this job, but as I was levering the tire’s bead off the rim, a Subaru Forester passed heading into the adjacent northern Wisconsin forest. (Forest? Forester?). That was the only vehicle passing on this little dirt road the entire time. I could see and hear traffic on the nearby divided four lane Hwy 53 whooshing past. The Subaru went about forty feet past me and then I hear gear whine as it reverses, so I stopped levering and looked up.

    An old thinnish, long-bearded man was driving and as they got next to me his wife was looking downward out her just-lowered window. I was on my knees by the tire, looking up at her. “Need any help?” the old country hippie-ish looking guy asked. “No, I think I’ll be ok.” I replied. Steady eye-to-eye contact. Pause. Then we smiled at each other and nodded very slightly. A moment of bilateral reflection, then they drove off to their presumably reclusive homestead hidden somewhere farther into the deep northern woods. My guess is he plays a fiddle or guitar and every fall she cans produce from their garden.

    I rode the rest of the way to my destination without incident and enjoyed a nice dinner with some friends. After I got home at about 9 PM I took the tools out of the fender bag and removed the rear wheel again and let the air out and then reflated the tire to make sure the earlier-replaced tube was straight inside. I also got out a new spare tube and left it on the saddle, ready for it’s place inside the back fender bag. Tomorrow after work I’ll replace the ‘plan B’ bicycle pump and the threadless ‘chuff’ thing with new, and probably will also the tube repair glue and patches. The old tube went into the garbage. I bet it had been taken out, inspected and put back in ten or twelve times as I’d changed tires over the years. Never changed that tube. What a dummy.

    “I can’t be having a flat again — I just had one.”

    While fixing that tire I never took out my mobile phone to check if there was a signal. And when I reached my destination, a lake home a few miles farther down US 53, I was really glad I’d not needed to ask anyone for a rescue. Happiness is, among other things, the ability to successfully fix a flat tire on motorcycle out in the middle of nowhere. It had been a long time.

    The lesson was simple: Twelve-year-old inner tubes are neither reliable or safe. They wear out from age just like the tires do from wear, even if they don’t show anything visually like a tire does. This tire repair happened on a Sunday and the following Thursday I’m riding down Interstate 35, heading to Minneapolis at five at seventy five miles an hour. About five miles north of Hinckley the back tire goes flat again. This time I instantly know what is happening and just ride along for half a minute in disbelief, thinking “I can’t be having a flat again — I just had one.”

    This time there’s no nice quiet gravel side road available, just a sorta steeply sloping mowed shoulder. Freeway traffic is much more intense, too. I am traveling with another rider, and get the bike pulled over safely, but with the suddenly flat tire the bike won’t go onto it’s side stand so I’m holding it up and directing my friend down into the steeply sloping ditch to see if the ground down there is wet, dry, hard or soft. He finds a semi-dry, semi-firmer place about five feet from a semi-wetter semi squishier place and I roll the bike diagonally down the shoulder, stopping right were the mowing ends and the tall grass begins. At least I’m not going to be inches from the continuous high speed Interstate highway traffic.

    This time the tire change goes much faster, just fifteen minutes start to finish. Right before leaving Duluth I’d packed a fresh new inner tube, a new replacement ‘chuff chuff’ device (it’s spark plug threads protectively taped) and a new bicycle tire pump. I’d picked these up on Tuesday and Wednesday and had rushed to pack them as I was getting ready to leave on this ride.

    The new ‘chuff chuff’ thing worked fantastically well. What a breeze. The other rider was impressed, and so were another motorcycling couple who’d stopped to see if we’d needed help. They were from Texas, heading home aboard a newer BMW, and I was smiling as I worked because I knew I was giving this little audience a lesson on how to manage a quick flat tire repair on the side of a road. And was doing everything so easily it looked as if I’d just been practicing the moves.

    As I pulled the still-warm four-day-earlier-replaced ‘spare’ tube from inside the tire it literally came apart in my hands. It tore in almost every direction, as if it were paper. During the years it had been packed inside the little bag strapped on the rear fender it had completely dry-rotted just like the tube that failed inside the rear tire four days earlier. What a dope. From now on, I’ll know better. I’ll become an inner-tube-fanatic, always changing tubes whenever I change tires. No exceptions.

    This whole experience had me thinking about the knowledge-base which underlies this tire/tube changing skill set. It’s a near-obsolete collection of information about task sequencing, physical manipulation and material science, and performing before these other riders it all felt like I was the operator of a steam locomotive or some other type of archaic technology more than a character in a Star Trek movie. Nowadays car and motorbike mobility involves so little of this kind of knowledge. Vehicles don’t come with tools or inner tubes. Many tires are ‘run flat’ so there’s not even a spare. New motorcycles use cast wheels and tubeless tires, so inner tubes are only necessary with old-fashioned spoked wheels.

    When tubeless motorcycle tires go flat it’s usually due to a nail in the tread, and they usually deflate slowly enough that there’s plenty of time to find a safe place to pull over and stop. Today’s roadside tubeless tire remedy doesn’t involve removing a wheel and levering a tire from a rim. A simple pliers is used to pull out the offending nail and then a reaming tool is used to clean out the hole and another reaming tool is used to jam an adhesive-coated plug into the hole. The insertion tool is then removed and the plug’s still protruding rubber is cut away flush with the tread. A small electric air compressor is connected to the battery and the tire is reflated. Much less fiddling around. Times change.

    Products mentioned in this post:

  • Winter Commuting, Winter Gear

    The last six or seven weeks have been unusually cold across most of the Midwest, and much of the rest of the USA too. It's been about six or seven degrees below seasonal norms here in Duluth, MN. Which doesn’t sound like that much but when it comes to winter riding the difference between thirty-five and twenty-three degrees is huge. Same for +17ºF and -2ºF.

    What works best for winter dressing depends on the specific riding application. For all-day low temp exposures have as much electric added-in heat as possible: Heated grips, saddle, jacket liner, etc. There is no substitute for adding heat for long rides in cold conditions. (Though I have seen old men on Gold Wings happily ride all day in freezing weather wearing huge puffy arctic-looking goose down parkas and sitting behind some of the most oversized accessory windshields imaginable, without using any electrical heat supplement. YMMV.)

    For commuting, everything depends on distance and speed. With a short commute (three to five miles) on surface streets, one can get by with very little, using the ‘thermos bottle effect'. A nice sweater and good gloves, bundle up completely before leaving a warm building to trap heat inside your layers and that’s it.

    To ride farther, and at highway speeds, requires some additional strategy to stay warm and comfortable, including several layers and some electrically heated gear. Starting with a combination of Merino wool, bamboo or synthetic base and mid-layers is the foundation for keeping you insulated and comfortable.

    Several Aerostich associates who ride regularly in cold weather plug-in the added warmth of Kanetsu electric gear. A WarmBib is the favorite, because it does such an amazing job of heating your core, in such a small and easy-to-wear package. It takes up almost no space inside your suit or jacket (in case you, um, may not have as much room for layering as you once did…). The WarmBib does a great job of blocking the wind too, and it stashes easily in a tank bag or cargo pocket so you can always carry it with you.

    Keeping out drafts is an essential part of staying warm in cold temps. There are many options available, from an original Cotton Bandana to a Breathguard mask, or Shellaclava Neckwarmer to an Aerostich Fleece Windtriangle. One of our favorites is an Aerostich Silk Scarf. Worn underneath your suit or jacket it wraps around your neck for comfortable softness and effectively seals out any cold air from leaking inside, especially with your jacket collar snugged up tight and the top of the scarf tucked in-place underneath the chin-strap of your helmet.

    Still looking for even more ways to add or retain heat? If you want to push your riding boundaries deep into freezing territory then consider adding heated grips or even a heated seat. Several versions of battery powered gloves are also available, giving you an hour or more of added heat and comfort with just the press of a button. We've also found that Triple Digit Glove Covers work great to not only keep your hands dry when riding in the rain, but they are a great wind blocking layer and help retain heat in your hands.

    Check out the selection of products below to extend your riding all winter. For additional cold weather tips, gear advice and stories, ask for a copy of Zero Below Zero, our account of the first all-winter Duluth electric motorcycle commute, and see how we did it.

    Products mentioned in this post:

  • What’s In Your Tank Bag?

    What's In Your Tank Bag?

    There are essentially just two kinds of tank bags: The emptyish ones for varying day-to-day commuting loads and full-ish ones that have been loaded and equipped specifically for long distances and all-day-plus rides. Over the past thirty years I’ve assembled several of the latter type and even though each has been assembled with slightly different components, a few commonalities exist. 1. Flashlights/headlamps. 2. Cutting, pliering and screwing tools. 3. Scarves, bandana’s and rain glove covers. 4. Maps and guides. 5. Cameras, radios and electronic items. 6. Spare bike-specific small parts. 7. First Aid items. 8. Snack foods.

    All seems pretty simple, but details matter a lot when you are far from home. Here is one example of a tank bag setup for use on a 2007 BMW R1200 R…

    Row one, left to right, across the top. The bag itself is an old California-made Rev-Pac, made by a guy named Jim Revely, a firefighter who retired decades ago to make motorcycle luggage and run a motorcycle resort in a friendly small California town called New Cayuma. It’s somewhere in the middle of practically nowhere, and the resort, called the Song Dog Ranch is still there but is no longer operating as a motorcycle resort. Maybe he still makes bags? This one is the Tank-Pack Jr, the smaller of the two available sizes. I just like how it fits me and my bike. Not too large or too small, and like the temperature of the porridge in ‘The Three Bears’ children’s story this bag is just right for me in size, shape and configuration. I’m on my third one. But I digress…

    The front of this bag has a full-width external pocket just large enough for a pair of sunglasses if the case isn’t too thick, so that’s where my Rx sunglasses ride. The entire map window lifts up from the rear revealing a central zipper from the back up to the front of this bag. When this map case is Velcroed down at the rear there’s just enough room for a lightweight Aerostich ball-style cap (#658 $16), which goes onto my bald head the moment my helmet comes off. At the base where the bottom meets the sides, about in the middle front-to-back, and on both sides I’ve added two little webbing loops from which I attach a lightweight bungee (#944-943 $14) that goes over the top of the map window. This helps hold the map window down over the cap and gives me a place to put my riding gloves at gas stops.

    On the right side of the top sunglasses’ pocket clips a little waterproof flashlight on-a-leash (#887 $21) for those after dark riding situations when I’m able to unclip it to read a map or check anywhere on the bike…while rolling. Or not. On the other end of this pocket an old-fashioned wax-lead grease pencil (#2340 $15) that I’m able to un-holster while rolling and which is used to write temporary ‘memory jog’ messages or the license numbers of rude cars directly onto the map case window. Later the wax just rubs away with a windshield cleaning paper towel from a gas station.

    On the left side of the bag is a RAM mount ball (#6284 $7), about two thirds of the way up the side. On the inside of the bag is an “L” shaped aluminum strap from a hardware store which stabilizes the ball nicely whenever the bag is pretty full, which it normally is. The RAM ‘dog bone’ clamp (#6228 $13) is the shortest one available and on top is another RAM ball which is attached to a little clear plastic platform about the size of a playing card. On top is usually either a battery powered AM-FM radio (#3916 $50), an iPhone or a battery-powered radar detector.

    Next is a small umbrella. Living and traveling on a bike is a guarantee that you’ll be spending time either standing around a wet campfire or walking somewhere (or with someone) in the rain. Carrying an umbrella also reduces the likelihood of encountering rain by at least 82%. Guaranteed. Try it.

    Below the umbrella is a lightweight cable lock (#1011 $19) and a piece of webbing that can be clipped to two of the tank bag’s mounting clips to allow you to carry it over one shoulder like a messenger bag. The lightweight lock is rarely used…to secure a jacket, helmet or riding suit from growing a pair of legs and then walking away from some seedy location. I can’t remember the last time I used it. Normally all the gear and helmet come with me if the location is even slightly questionable, or out of sight.

    The tank bags rain cover is next to the umbrella and gets used lots. Even if it’s only slightly threatening rain it’s nice to be ‘ready’ and not have to stop. With smartphone animated weather-radar apps this kind of forecasting is simple.

    Triple Digit raincovers (#442 $47) go into my Darien Jacket’s side-entry pockets to be similarly ‘ready’ if rain is anticipated. If the road is straight and smooth and there’s not much traffic I can take them off and put them on without stopping, but it’s nothing I’d recommend, because it involves a very wide empty road and a lot of room to wobble back and forth between the lines attempting to steer with knees only. Google ‘counter steering’ and you’ll find dozens of explanations why this is tough. Takes more than a mile but I’ve never actually paid attention enough to really know. It’s always too long and too risky and a relief when the switch is done.

    The little titanium flask (#4445 $74) holds scotch. Nothing as fancy as the container. Just enough to get drunk once, or mildly high twice. Or to share around a campfire with friends. Or to drink as you are lying near death on the side of some lonely road somewhere beyond the middle of nowhere and its pitch dark after a terrible crash when you’ve just killed some stupidly innocent deer. When I was younger this was a plastic flask (#2014-2015 $4) which held a little more and cost a lot less. Who says you get smarter when you are older?

    The navy blue zippered pouch is a self-storing ultra-ultra–light hooded rain parka that adds a windproof under suit layer on a cold day and is also good for walkabouts on cool or wet evenings and mornings.

    The silk scarf (#1549 $27) is great on super hot days when wetted and on cold ones when dry. Provides slippery neck comfort in any conditions, so you don’t need to close your collar quite as strangulatingly close around your neck. Which is nice.

    The playing cards are like the scotch in the flask. For whenever one might be stuck somewhere waiting for something to happen. Like a tent when it’s raining or under a picnic shelter. As long as there’s someone around to share your misery of not riding, cards work as time-passers.

    Row two, left to right, begins with the little bungee cord that goes across the top of the tank bag’s map window and the earplug speakers (#3134 $69) that are usually looped around the bungee when they’re not in my ears. Just below is a short coily cord (#2313-2353 $5) which connects to either the radar detector or the iPhone or the radio.

    A short canister of bear spray (#3563 $19 ) in a little Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) for safety at night in a little tent, from both quadrapedal and bipedal intruders. Never had to use it. Just being superstitious and thinking about Murphy’s Law. Needs to be replaced every year for fullest potency.

    The little stainless folding poo trowel (#1584 $11) is more than for superstition and means you can stealth camp and hide your and poo just about anywhere you want. Which is nice. There’s enough TP at least one poo, and when more is needed it’s available at the next gas stop. Which hopefully has clean rest rooms so you don’t need the trowel-squat experience in the first place. But if and when you do, there’s no substitute for carrying one of these.

    First aid kit (#1767 $25) Do I really need to explain? This is another ‘Murphy’s Law’ item. If you carry it, you’ll never need to use it. Next to this the little bottle contains some aspirin, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, etc. Various over the counter pills which can be identified visually. Having a headache when you want to do some riding really sucks. And if you want the fastest headache relief possible teach yourself to grind up a straight aspirin tablet with your molars. Chew it to dust. That’s what ‘headache powders’ were in the 1800’s, before tablets were invented. This brings relief much faster if you can stand the momentary mouth bitterness. A swig of water helps wash it down but isn’t absolutely needed once you are used to doing it. Your salivation will be triggered which quickly takes care of this. Some riders take an over-the-counter joint and muscle pain med pre-emptively and swear this helps reduce discomfort and fatigue during long hard ride days. Definitely makes a difference you'll feel.

    Miscellaneous items within a zippered Chase Harper ‘junk’ pouch (#979 $12): High end Japanese-made lighter/mini-blowtorch (#2509 $47), Mini USB power adapter, 12 v to 5v (#3158 $20), Spare key for 3' motorcycle lock (#1153 $20), Mini liquid filled compass on Velcro strap, Space Pen (#2315 $20), Pencil tire gauge (#3550 $7), spare throttle lock (#1774 $49) in case installed version (#1893 $37 fails, Neutrogena rub on SPF 30 Sunscreen (#2084-2085 $6), pocket change and currency, Mini Carabiner (#4024 $7)

    Bottom Row, left to right. Aerostich microfiber hat (#658 $12) carried under map window for fast deployment.

    Small blue Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) With spare ear plugs (#1274 $3) and face shield cleaning kit (#1051 $25)

    Small purple Aerostich envelope bag with spare 12v power cord, spare audio cords, smaller Aerostich envelope bag with spare earplug speakers.

    Medium size Aerostich envelope bag with AM/FM/Weather radio (#3916 $50) and related cords and connectors.

    Near the back opening of the tank bag, loose items include a spare tail light or turn signal bulb (#4896 $59) in an old 35mm film canister, a Spyderco folding knife (#2410 $73), a Petzl headlamp (#8241 $27) and a pepper spray self-defense tool (#4623 $35) which is supposed to be transferred from the tank bag to an easy-to-reach place on my riding suit, but I always forget to do this.

    A green Aerostich envelope bag carries a mini-multimeter (#2939 $14) and a small blue Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) carries some spare batteries.

    Last but-not-least, a yellow zippered Chase Harper bag contains a few jerry-rig repair items that don’t fit anywhere else. A spare CBT boot strap -- I think this is the very last one. I needed one once about ten years ago and have not needed another one since. Murphy’s Law again? Since these are no longer available, we make a strap repair kit (#418 $24) and if I didn’t have this strap, I’d carry one of these. Also in this pouch are a mini roll of duct tape (#756 $6), a short piece of insulated wire, some straps cut out of a motorcycle inner tube, a spare adjustable bungee hook, a spare side release buckle, a stick from a hot melt glue gun that is useful with the mini-torch listed above, a GI can opener (#2068 $4) and simpler model Leatherman multi tool (#3671 $55) and a mini Aerostich bag (#720 $11) with a few bike fuses, I think.

    That about covers it. The total of the items purchased from Aerostich comes to around $1000 which is what can happen if one gets carried away. On the other hand, most of this stuff was purchased incrementally over a dozen year period. I’ve made three different pre-set up tank bags similarly and this one is for the bike I currently ride on trips. The others are less elaborate. Do you really want to know? One is for an old Airhead I rode for twenty years and the other is for a little 620 Ducati I kept remotely for winter season riding in the Southwest mostly.

    What’s in your Tank bag?

    – Mr. Subjective, 6-17

    PS - Our company motto in latin translated as ‘better late than never’ could not feel more true. Which is how I feel about this video. I know part of it is that I’ve personally grown emotionally and psychologically in the past several years and this stuff is less important to me now than it was ten years ago. I loved figuring out all the little logistics stuff to the point of being obsessive. Nowadays it feels old (and so am I) and it doesn’t seem as important anymore. But I’m glad we captured the obsessiveness of it all before entropy takes over and these details fade away a little more. I’ll always be OCDish about lots of different stuff, but can’t quite imagine going back and doing this all over again from scratch another time.

    The two tank bags featured in these two videos, and the smaller one for the bike I once kept in Arizona, are the most recently built tank bags, but before these three were several others starting back in the early 1980’s. The first one was a huge multi-level Chase Harper bag, modified to be even larger with a custom-made map-case ‘office’ attached to the top. It was so big it was practically a fairing. Each successive bag got a little smaller and the contents became more focused.

    From the beginning one thing all of these bags had and have in common was some way of mounting an audio source or radar detector (or both) to the top left side where it could be easily operated while moving with my left hand. The first item there was a Sony ‘Outback’ ruggedized AM FM Cassette player, and I usually carried half a dozen or more cassettes on most trips. The first attached is a photo of this setup from about 1986 showing a radar detector just below an AM-FM reciever. Also attached is a still from the setup I used for about fifteen years beginning in the early-90’s, which featured several items mounted to a Lexan platform that had some aluminum struts beneath that fit into slots on both sides of the bag, and lastly a couple of screen grabs from the video of the RAM mount that is on my current tank bag.

    1986 Setup
    Early 90's setup
    RAM Ball Mount


    RAM mount - interior
    RAM mount

    Read the 2017 catalog online, all 298 pages

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