By coincidence, I get two flat tires on the same day. I discover the first one about fifty yards from where I live. Just after I unlock my bike and start to pedal, I feel the rumble of a wheel rim hitting the pavement. The back tire has no air—it is dead flat.
I believe my neighbor punctured my tire because I was joking with him. He’d shown me a photo of a high-tech bike rack that could be installed in our basement. Each bike would have a halter, like a cow in a milking pen. “Look,” he’d said, “the front wheels sit right next to the wall.”
“It’ll happen,” I’d said, “when we get a laundry room and a roof garden.”
He found that funny, but he might have been angry because I wasn’t taking him seriously. I was calling his proposal a pipe dream. He might have punctured my tire with a sharp tool then.
A young man at a repair shop removes a sliver of glass from the dead tire, and I realize my neighbor didn’t damage my tube—I ran over something. After the repair guy replaces the tube, he says the fix will last a long time.
I get my second flat about twenty blocks from the shop. I’m about halfway to where I need to go, and I see I’ll have to walk my bike the rest of the way. Walking isn’t easy, because I have a sore foot. I feel pain with each step. The faster I walk, the more it hurts. I walk more slowly than almost everyone around me. However, I catch up to an elderly woman who is using a cane. When I cut in front of her, she says, “Nice!”
I make it to my destination barely on time, drop off my work, and leave the office to take care of my ailing bike. I carry it down a set of stairs from the street and over a turnstile, then roll it into a subway car and prop it on its kickstand.
The woman sitting next to me says, “Your back tire needs air.”
“It’s flat,” I say. “I just got it fixed today.”
“I’m taking it back to the shop now.”
I’m convinced that the first repair job was faulty, but I was given no guarantee. When I think about it, I don’t see how bike-tire work could be guaranteed. Still, I’m annoyed.
“I left here and got this flat,” I tell the repair guy. “I didn’t run over anything; it just blew.”
He shows me a tiny hole in the rubber. “You hit something,” he says. “A splinter or a sliver.”
“Amazing!” I say. “It’s like getting struck by lightning!”
“Or winning the lottery.”
A couple of weeks later, I unlock my bike from its rack. The rack hasn’t been replaced with neat stalls, as my neighbor had suggested. The bikes are mashed together. I pry mine free, lift it, and carry it up the metal stairs.
I ride about fifty yards when I feel the telltale vibration of a flat tire. It’s the same tire that went flat twice already. I’m convinced there is some serious reason. Maybe the rim is defective—bent or flattened from misuse. I can’t have it fixed immediately because I’m going out of town for a couple of days.
I put the injured bike back in its rack and think about the tire all the time I’m out of town.
Back at the bike shop, I tell the repair guy, “The tire was fine when I parked the bike, but when I unlocked it and rode on it, I had a flat.
He removes the tube and pumps air into it. He drops the tube over his head and wears it like a necklace. He swivels it around like a Hula-Hoop.
“I don’t hear anything,” he says.
He sets the tube aside and feels the tire with his fingers. “Here’s something,” he says as he pulls out a short piece of wire.
“The wire tip is the length of the rubber,” he adds. “It lets air out only while you ride.”
“A wire?” I ask.
“A short wire, stuck in the rubber.”
A couple of days later, I experience my fourth flat tire. It comes when I’m a couple of blocks from a train station. I walk a short distance with the bike at my side. My bad foot slows me down, but I don’t miss my train.
The entire time I’m away, I’m planning my return to the repair shop.
I find that my regular repair shop is closed. I don’t know if the attendant has stepped away or if the shop has gone out of business. There is no note of explanation. There is, however, a handwritten message from another customer, complaining about the work on his bike.
I walk to another repair shop. I have plenty of time, so I don’t mind that my bad foot slows me down.
When I arrive at the new shop and point to the tire, another young repairman asks, “How long have you had this bicycle?”
“About two years,” I say. “I don’t know how long it was used before I got it.”
“You need a new tube,” he says, showing me a fragment of glass on his fingertip, “and a new tire.”
I get the new tube and tire with all of the money in my pocket.
On my way out, I say, “See you later.”
“See you,” he says, “ but hopefully not for a flat tire.”
On my ride home, I try to avoid running over fragments of glass. However, when I look closely, I see that the street is littered with glass. Remnants of mirrors, pieces of windshields, and shards of bottles are strewn across the pavement. I swerve recklessly to find a clear path. I hear the crunch of tires rolling over tiny projectiles.
I stop at an intersection and see a man walking toward me. He is staring at me—he wants to say something.
“That’s a badass bike,” he says.
I don’t see my bicycle as “badass.” It’s designed for slow riding, with only one gear.
I think the man didn’t really see the bike. He saw a guy on a bike waiting at an intersection. I might have been blocking his path. He meant that I am a badass. Or maybe he meant that he is a badass, and he recognizes all fellow badasses.
“It’s bad enough for me,” I say.
Photo at the top of the page was taken by Thaddeus Rutkowski