Have you ever been stuck by the side of a road or a trail with a flat tire, and thought, “Air is everywhere! There must be a way to get it inside this rubber hoop!” I can imagine you there, screaming to the heavens, dropping to your knees, shaking your fists in angry impotence. The camera zooms in on your face, then cuts to a shot looking directly down on you, the god angle. You’ve never seemed so mortal, so flawed.
You laugh, but in the halcyon days before we all had mobile phones, the struggle was real.
If you, stranded there as you were, then attempted to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the inner tube’s truculent stem, I forgive you. You had to try. But alack and alas, your mouth is not a valve. And if it were, it’d be more Schrader than presta. But no, your air is no good here.
There’s a case to be made (no pun) that the evolution of the bicycle only really began with the invention of pneumatic tires, with our ability to sequester air in a way that allowed us to ride bikes AND keep teeth in our heads. The inventors at the forefront of the velo-revolution didn’t realize the role dental work played in the public’s affection for the bicycle as transport.
“Get where you’re going AND have teeth!! Now, without horses!”
The ad slogans pretty much write themselves.
The tire we know today was the brain child of a Scottish veterinarian named John Boyd Dunlop who actually wanted to keep his kid from getting headaches from riding his tricycle around in the road. That’s not a joke. That’s history.
We haven’t even gotten into breathing yet. You know, respiration. Try riding a bike without respiring. My attempts all ended with me unconscious in my neighbor’s hedge. That’s not a joke either. That’s science.
So air is necessary, like Park Blue Grease, so necessary in fact, that in order to avoid the scene I opened this review with, you carry an array of tools for air sequestration and adjustment with you on every ride. You obsess with what your frame and wheelset weighs, but then you hang a bag full of pneumatic repair tools off your saddle as if they were as light as, well, air.
Air is free, but it’s fickle. So the price is right, and yet also often too high.
For example, my first tubeless tire set-up didn’t go 100-percent as planned (that’s foreshadowing for you literary types). I did the initial liquid latex and air at work, because we had on-demand air there and it seemed a lot easier than wrestling the tire bead and flailing away with a floor pump at home (this is also foreshadowing … really, you should imagine the ominous tones to a horror movie soundtrack playing softly in the background, like the moment the heroine realizes the door has shut behind her and locked, but before the lights have gone out). I rode the bike home, pretty satisfied with myself for being part of this new rolling, tubeless army.
Unfortunately, later that evening I discovered that my rear tire had lost its air (in the horror movie metaphor I engaged quite inexplicably in the last paragraph, this was the moment I found the chainsaw was not where I left it), so I did what you would do in my position, I pumped it back up.
Air is free, but it’s fickle (i.e. the music is getting louder and more tense).
My neighbor, Jonathan, came to see what I was up to, as he often does. He’s my main cycling buddy, and he was curious about this “tubeless” that everyone was all abuzz about. I started to tell him the story of the initial setup, the soapy water to allow the special tire’s tight beads to slip up onto the ramp of the rim, to seal itself against the outer wall, filling whatever gaps it might find with liquid latex.
He’s nodding his head. I’m talking. I’m pumping. I’m not paying attention. I’m pumping. The tire is getting more and more firm. Somewhere in my head I’m waiting for the telltale popping of the tire bead into place. I’m pumping. I’m talking (see how this suspense thing works?).
And then a gunshot and I’m splattered with blood!
Except it’s not a gunshot. It’s my tire blowing off the rim. And it’s not blood. It’s latex spraying up the length of my body. I’m deaf in one ear. I can see Jonathan laughing in the haze of the garage light. I touch my unshaven leg to discover the hair absolutely matted with quickly drying rubber.
Air is a brilliant product. You want it, and you need it. Every few years the industry devises a new way for you to use air (e.g. CO2 cartridges) yet it’s still air for our purposes: filling ever expanding wider tires with no tubes, air sprung suspension forks, dropper seat posts, and you can spend a bunch of money on doing that just right. It’s a loss leader. In the classic, the razor is free, but the blades cost an arm and a leg, the air is free, but all the other stuff will turn your bank account upside down and shake it like the proverbial Polaroid picture.
Or a high-powered blast of latex sealant to the face.