Adventures with punctures in Welham Green… and Little Berkhamstead…and at home!

I’m particularly interested in finding a decent route from Barnet to the River Lea in order to work out a decent ride which can take in Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Hertford, Ware then down the River Lea and back home again in a giant loop.  The only gap cycling-wise is any obvious way across from the Lea to Barnet. This Saturday, with that in mind,  Talia, who I  met at Barnet Cyclists, and I got together to go for a ride in that general direction.

Talia has considerably greater knowledge of the area than I do and she did warn me that whatever route we took, it would be hilly.  Seeing the route I’d got in mind she told me that at least one of the roads was pretty busy.  Well that slowed my enthusiasm a little.  Then she pointed out that if we went up Sustrans Route 12 up to Welham Green we could turn off east and head towards Broxbourne, rather than Enfield Lock. That way we could not only join the River Lea at a point where it was rather pretty, we could also stop off at a really good pub she knew for lunch. Well, that sealed it and shortly after 12.00 pm we set out.

We made our way towards Sustrans Route 12 which would take us under the M25, past South Mimms Service Station and out into the Hertfordshire countryside, and here’s where our problems began.   In the lead up to the underpass all the hedges had been trimmed and while it was great not having to dodge nettles, the hedge trimming had left the path strewn with sharp things which stick into rubber.  As I cycled beneath the M25 I realised that Bob didn’t sound quite right. We stopped in the open on the other side of the motorway where I found a twig sticking out to the side of the rear wheel. What was keeping it stuck there was a thorn, not particularly large or fearsome, but one which was totally embedded in the tyre.  Despite trying to manouevre it out carefully, the twig snapped off leaving just a tiny bit of the end of the thorn sticking out (NOTE – add tweezers to repair kit!!!!!).  Eventually we got it out (or so we thought).  There didn’t seem to be a problem so on we went – and a few yards around the corner found another cyclist who had exactly the same problem just completing his puncture repair. Thinking I’d got away with it, we carried on, but by the time we got to Welham Green it was plain that my tyre was, gradually, going down.  There was no denying the fact that I did have a puncture. What to do next?

Well Talia has never repaired a puncture, but luckily I have….about 25 years ago!  I knew the theory, could barely remember the practice, had never taken Bob’s rear wheel off, was unfamiliar with the mechanical arrangements with the chain tensioner, but what the hell. Could it really be that difficult?  Am I a real cyclist?  And if I can’t fix a puncture now, what the hell will I do if I get one in the middle of nowhere if I do the coast-to-coast? To cut a long story short,  I put in a new inner tube and kept the old one to patch up later.  It took about 2 hours at the end of which my hands were covered in oil (NOTE – add disposable gloves to repair kit!) but Bob was fixed and we set off in search of an overdue and very well earned lunch after all our efforts.

Talia was right about it being hilly. And while that wouldn’t normally be a problem, it was today.  The hills weren’t particularly steep or even long, but my legs definitely weren’t feeling as they normally do and I began to wonder if I was starting to go down with the cold that my daughter had passed on to my wife in the last couple of days.  In previous weeks rides of 30-40 miles – no problem – but now?  Even after a rest I’d start off OK, and then about 5 seconds into an upward slope my energy vanished like water down a plughole and my legs were screaming for a rest.  The countryside was beautiful, but I’d have enjoyed the rolling slopes much more if I was full of my usual vigour  and hadn’t just spent 2 hours fixing a puncture!

We reached the pub in a little village inhabited by 4x4s only to see the windows looking suspiciously dark and only 2 cars in the car park (not 4x4s).  Talia checked the opening hours on the door to find that it shut at 2.00 pm on Saturdays.  Oh well, onwards and upwards… unfortunately.

“Lunch” eventually came sometime after 4.00 pm when we arrived in Little Berkhamstead.  As it was still sunny, we were torn between the promise of homemade bread and butter pudding from the village shop, and the lure of the pub opposite – the pub won out!  It was one of those gastro-pubs – really good food, albeit with prices to match.  I’m hardly one for deserts normally, but having polished off a large plate of pasta I did manage a sticky toffee pudding as well.  By the time we finished it was getting on for 5.00 pm and with the sun getting decidely lower in the sky it was definitely time to be turning around and going back.  So much for the expedition to the River Lea!  As we wheeled our bikes back to the road I noticed that Bob wasn’t sounding quite right.  I leaned down to check the back wheel… flat as a pancake!  It was really strange – the tyre had stayed up for well over an hour of cycling with no sign of a problem – but after 45 minutes chained to a fence it had gone straight down!  Without lights suitable for country roads and a strong awareness of how low the sun was getting, we decided to just make for the nearest station at Brookman’s Park.

I pumped up the rear wheel on Bob and we set off, Talia behind to keep an eye on me and make sure we didn’t get separated if I started falling behind.  I had been telling myself that my lack of energy may have just been a lack of food and fuel.  Unfortunately it wasn’t any better after we’d eaten and I started going downhill fairly quickly, even as some of the roads insisted on going uphill. On top of that Bob didn’t feel quite right, and it wasn’t just the tyre pressure. On checking Bob’s rear wheel we found it wasn’t aligned properly.  It wasn’t a huge amount out, but enough to make a difference! Eventually we got to Brookmans Park Station where, after having to lug the bikes up and down a fair number of steps, we were able to get the train back.

When I got back, my first reaction regarding Bob was to take him to a shop and get somebody else to fix him.  I just couldn’t face going through all that again.  But as I lay down to sleep at 11.00 pm I had second thoughts.  If I really want to be doing things like the coast-to-coast next year I need to be able to fix something as basic as a puncture myself, and with that resolution firmly in mind I slept… until 10.25 am.  Given that I normally sleep for 7 hours and then get up pretty much like clockwork, and I was still feeling fairly grotty, something was definitely wrong.  However after a couple of hours waking up I decided to get on and do what I could to sort out Bob, starting with finding out exactly what had caused the second puncture.

I rigged Bob up on a makeshift stand in the garage and found that the rear wheel does come out without having to remove the chain tensioner – ah, the fun we had with that yesterday! I got the tyre off, the inner tube out and started by making sure it wasn’t a leaky valve that was the problem… it wasn’t!  There was another puncture – so back to looking at the tyre.  In Welham Green both Talia and I had checked it over twice… each.  Today I went over it millimetre by millimetre and eventually found the smallest little point sticking through on the inside that you could possibly imagine!  No doubt about what was causing the punctures.

Too deep in to extract from the outside and not enough sticking through that could pulled through, even with tweezers.  I was reduced to trying to break up what was left with the tweezers in my hand. Small bits came through with a certain amount of manipulation and scraping until eventually nothing sharp seemed to be coming through.  Given the lack of availability of a replacement tyre locally I decided to risk putting it back on along with my original inner tube, now repaired.  Getting the wheel aligned took a little time, and I’m not sure it’s quite right even now, but as I rode up and down the street it seemed to be OK. The real test has been in the hours following my riding the street – after a couple of hours I went and checked the rear wheel and…. it’s still inflated.  After all the hours I’ve spent on it this weekend…. phew!!!!!

So this weekend I’ve re-learned repairing a puncture, and also (on Sunday) the easy way to release V brakes when you want to remove a tire, as well as how to get Bob’s rear wheel off… and back on again!  While these aren’t the sort of lessons you particularly want to learn on a ride, better done on a local ride than on holiday and in the middle of nowhere.  As I write this I’m still feeling a bit grotty as the evening wears on, but I am somewhat more confident about my ability to handle something like that again in the futre.

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