Life is always easier if you're in the right gear.

All’s Well That Ends Well

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This last weekend didn’t start out so great on the cycling front. It’s been a month since I’ve been able to get out on my bike; my schedule’s been crazy. I’d looked forward all week to getting up early and heading out on bike for a few hours before the heat set in. With temperatures expected to be in the 80’s by 10 o’clock in the morning and not cooling down until well after dark, I knew I needed to get going by around eight, if I wanted to get any kind of decent ride in. I was anticipating that Saturday morning ride, like a kid looks forward to Christmas morning.

Saturday morning, I launched out of bed at 7:15 and got into my gear. I knew that I was going to need to refill the air in my tires. They weren’t flat, but they were noticeably soft from the last month of inactivity. “No problem,” I thought, as I headed to the garage and pulled the little ToPeak pump off my hybrid bike. I brought it back into the house and sat down on the floor, unscrewed the cap from the valve and immediately knew I was in trouble. The valve on my new bicycle looked nothing like the valve on my old one.

For my friends who are not bike savvy, let me unwrap this for you. Here’s the valve from my old bike:

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It’s called a Schrader valve. I didn’t even know it had a name. It’s the valve that has been the only kind of valve I’ve ever seen on any bike, EVER, my entire life.

Now, here’s the valve from my new bike:

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This is called a Presta valve. There are advantages to this particular valve which I later learned, but Saturday morning, at 8:00, all I could think was what kind of cruel trick did the bike shop play on me here, by switching the valves and not telling me?

Obviously, my old ToPeak bike pump didn’t work, and, believe me, I tried to make it work. I must have looked comical sitting there on my dining room floor, looking first at this funky valve and then at my pump and back again at the valve. In the process, I messed around with the new valve and released ALL the air out of the back tire. All the while, I am anxiously aware that time is passing and the temperatures outside are warming up. In fact, I was feeling frustrated that I was so inept, and that all my great riding time was disappearing. Imagine the Christmas kid coming down Christmas morning to see people making off with the presents and tree.

So, then, I get the bright idea to see if I can use the CO2 cartridge to inflate my tire. The guys at the bike shop said I’d need this thing in an emergency, and, well, this was definitely an emergency. Now, this is one area where technology of cycling has advanced a great deal since the late ’80’s when I gave up cycling for other endeavors like career, marriage, kids, kids, and more kids. Twenty years later, there are all these things and gadgets and technologies that really do make cycling so much more enjoyable…IF you know how to use them. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about this is what a CO2 cartridge looks like:

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That little thing fits nicely in the palm of my hand and two of them fit neatly in the bag under my bike seat. It’s just enough to get your spare tire inflated should you go flat when you’re 25 miles out. Again, it’s an absolutely brilliant idea…if you know how to use it.

The cartridge comes with a valve attachment that looks like this:

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Now, at first glance, it’s not readily apparent which end screws on to the cartridge and which goes on the bike valve. In mine, there were threads in both ends. So, instead of going to YouTube and looking for a “How-To” video, I decided to guess which way it worked. You can see this coming, can’t you? Of course, I guessed wrong and, realizing my error, I tried to unscrew the CO2 cartridge. This was not a good life choice. There it went with a very loud hiss and freezing over instantly. (Now I really do wish someone had caught that on video.)

Great. Bike fail. Ride over. By now it is almost 9:00. My pump doesn’t work. My only CO2 cartridge has been wasted. My back tire is completely flat. I decided it was time to head to the bike shop and invest in that floor pump that I’ve been wanting for a while. I arrived at the shop just moments after they opened the doors and headed right to the pumps. I’m checking them out when the guy comes over and asks if he can help me. We talk.
“I’m looking for a floor pump. I want one that works with both valve types.”
He explained the features of the ones in stock and I select one. As he’s ringing up my sale I mention that I had a small ToPeak pump and that it didn’t fit the new bike. He looked at me quizzically and said (wait for it), “That pump works with both types of valves. Bring it in sometime and I’ll show you how change it.”

I just started cracking up.

I like Shakespeare’s perspective that “all’s well that ends well”, and this has been true more times when it comes to my cycling life than I can count. This weekend was another example. While it started out somewhat comically, I did manage to get the new floor pump home, and easily inflated both my tires with the new Presta valves (which are really slick, by the way) to the appropriate 100 psi. I waited a while for things to cool down and then headed out on a nice 20 mile ride. I cannot express how wonderful it felt to finally be out rolling along.

Sunday morning was far less eventful than Saturday morning and I managed to get in a nice 17 mile ride before 10:00 a.m. Then today, I commuted on the new bike for a total of 16 miles, which was also the first time I’d been on the new bike carrying a pack. In spite of my lack of exercise over the last month, getting back into the routine of riding daily hasn’t been nearly as painful as I expected. I’m glad, because I have one goal and one goal only this summer: to spend as much time as possible on two wheels.

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Hi, I'm Cat A.Olson, @According2Cat on Twitter, or @TheDigitalCat on Instagram, and I write about my cycling adventures. In 2010, after 25 years off the bike, I decided to get a bike and start riding again. In 2012, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early and completely curable form of breast cancer. I had five weeks of radiation treatment and I rode my bike to nearly every treatment. In 2013, I decided to get a faster bike. I'm finally getting serious about losing weight, and riding really fast with the cool kids.

I ride every chance I get, as fast as I can, for as long as my body will allow. I'm learning how to embrace challenges like helmet hair, padded pants, clipless shoes, flat tires, bugs in my teeth, and...ugh...hills. I'm learning that both cycling and life are easier and a lot more fun when you're in the right gear.

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