from the educator

This month I would like to take the time to talk about what to do when you have a flat tire. Hopefully, this won’t happen while you are riding, and hopefully, if it does happen while you are riding, it isn’t the front tire.

Let me start with my story, Kathy and I were in Wisconsin for the weekend and we took a ride on Saturday from Lake Geneva to Madison. On the way back I noticed that when we went over railroad tracks and depressions in the road the bike felt wobbly, soft, but even though it caught my attention, I didn’t really pay attention to the signs. As we headed out for dinner, I noticed the back of the bike looked a bit low to the ground. So I went over to the bike and sure enough, the rear tire was flat. With great effort, I got the bike up on the center stand and rotated the tire, to find a 5-inch bolt through the tire. It was bent and half in and half out of the tire. Now I do have a tire repair kit in the bike, but had never used it before. So I decided that I would try to find a gas station to do the work, feeling that I wanted it done correctly. I called around and most were already closed for the day, so we would have to wait till Sunday. In the morning I found a guy who would plug the hole, but only with a release of responsibility. Which is a common practice when it comes to motorcycle tire repairs. Most stations won’t touch them. Anyway, Kathy and I loaded the bike and headed for Elkhart Lake for the motorcycle races. About an hour out, I heard a noise and suddenly the rear end got wobbly. I figured something happen to the rear tire and I tried to urge the bike to the side of the road. We got off the bike and sure enough, the rear tire was completely flat. We were on the gravel shoulder, but there was not enough room to work on the bike. I noticed a turn out up the road, so I carefully and with difficulty drove the bike to that spot and worked it up and onto the center stand. I have referred to how difficult it is to get the bike on the center stand when the rear tire is flat, and that is because with the bike frame lower to the ground, the leverage normally needed to lift the bike is gone and you are having to lift much of the bike weight, not an easy thing to do. When I rotated the tire, sure enough the plug that the expert put on blew out. So now I was forced to become the tire repairman. I dug through my gear and found the tire repair kit. I watched the service guy do it only an hour ago, so I figured I could do this. The first plug had blown completely out, so I put the new plug on the tool and pushed it through the hole and pulled it back out and trimmed the excess, a little above the tire. Then came the chore of filling the tire with air. I had a hand pump in the saddlebags, as this was a 1200 Wing and no built in air pump. But a wonderful couple happened by who had a 1500 and offered the use of their pump. It took nearly 15 minutes to fill, but it worked, and to jump ahead, my plug held for another 250 miles, to Elkhart and back to home.

So now lets break down the story and see what we need to know and what we should have with us when this happens to you. The very first thing is to be prepared, that old Boy Scout motto, you should have on the bike everything you will need to make the repair yourself, with in reason. On my episode we were out in the country on a two-lane road and nothing for miles, and at that time, no cell phone. First you need a tire repair kit, if you’re on a Wing you need a tubeless repair kit. Realize that you will only be able to fix the flat if it is something on the smaller size. Any long or wide gashes or punctures will not be repairable by you. Then that is where your cell phone becomes a huge part in your repair process. You will also need a way to fill the tire with air, after you make the repair, and in some cases you may need to put air in the tire just to make the repair. On the 1500 you have your air pump, but do you have the air extension cord necessary to reach the tires? You may use the CO kits, which require a minimum of 4 to fill the rear tire, or you may want to try a small hand pump, but it won’t be easy to use when the time comes. Then after you have the stuff it takes to make the repair, you need to arm yourself with the correct knowledge of how to make the repair. You don’t want to be learning while you are in need. It can be very stressful and the more you know will make the unpleasant situation more tolerable. I would like to suggest that during these no riding months, this would be a great opportunity to practice with an old tire and you’re newly purchased tire repair kit. It will only take a couple of stabs at this and you will be considered an expert, but it’s well worth the time. I won’t take time here to explain the processes, read the instructions for each kit, there are subtle differences. You might check with your local dealer to see if they happen to have an old tire you can play with.

Lets go back to the time of the flat, should it occur while you are riding. Whether it is the front or the rear, you need to remain calm and concentrated. DON’T PANIC!! Much depends on the kind of flat you have as to your choice of moves. If you tire is slowly loosing air you will have more control and you can steer and reduce speed as soon as you recognize the situation. However, if the tire goes flat quickly, your ability to steer will be greatly reduced, if not impossible. Your first reaction should be to slow the bike down, but to do so in control. You do not want to upset the stability of the bike, as you slow down, so don’t go into a panic-stopping mode. Also, while all these things are happening you need to become aware of your surroundings, the traffic conditions and where you would like to end up, if possible. So I really want to repeat these steps, stay calm, keep the bike stable and slow the bike down. Keep aware of your surroundings and look for a place to stop that is as safe as possible. Here is a helpful hint that can make getting your bike up on the side or center stand easier when the rear tire is the one that went flat. Use your air pump to increase the air in your rear suspension. I would suggest that you allow the passenger to get off the bike before you do anything else, after you come to a stop. Then pump up the rear suspension, you should be able to use either your side or center stand easier now. If you are in a more populated area you have the use of your CB as well as your Cell phone, for getting assistance.

As we would take an ERC, experienced rider course, to learn how to ride better, and as we would take a CPR course, to be better prepared for medical emergencies, so should we practice repairing a flat tire, and make sure we have the right tools to do the job, and lastly, pay attention to the subtle signs and don’t ignore them.