When Fix-A-Flat Isn't Enough

Things to add to your tool kit, or things to buy in the country yokel grocery store...

It's just before 11 p.m. on a chilly spring night in Central California.

A MO staffer rides a Honda ST1100 up a very boring Route 99, half asleep at the throttle. State Highway 99 is one of the straightest stretches of road in California and there's always lots of roadkill on the sides of the asphalt. It's as though the animals get bored of looking at the same farmland for so long and and just decide to jump. Or maybe they feel like they should join their country cousins in agricultural bliss.

The MO staffer is road weary, uninterested. On one of the few turns, the staffer feels the bike give a little resistance to turning in, and it begins to shudder. There's an exit, so the staffer heads off, just in time it turns out. The tire goes all the way flat as he pulls to a stop. 

Delano, California is about 30 miles north of Bakersfield. Its reason for existence is that sometimes farmers need to go the store and who wants to drive thirty miles go to the grocery store? The staffer's choices at this exit are a "Big K-Mart" and an AM/PM. He walks into the AM/PM.

"'Scuse me ma'am, do you have a tire plug kit?"

"A what?"

"You know, a little piece of rubber with a tube of rubber cement …"

"Oh! We have fix-a-flat."

"But, I think the hole's bigger than that …"

"Maybe you should try K-Mart."

Our intrepid reporter buckles up his jacket and prepares for the long walk across one of the biggest parking lots he's ever seen outside the Magic Kingdom. As he crosses the immense expanse of tarmac he ponders as to whether they built it so big because the property was cheap and they simply could indulge themselves, or if they were conciously trying to build a man-made structure that could be seen clearly from space. Unlike the drug store and gas station, here there is at least the makings of a hack repair. Our fearless staffer collects the ingredients for a cheap, homegrown tire repair kit: The MO tester is at the doors to K-Mart, and salvation from tire flatness. Alas, the sign states that K-Mart is "closed."

"I think I'll take the fix-a-flat, K-Mart's closed."

"There's a Rite-Aid about a mile away," the clerk offers helpfully, drawing from her encyclopedic knowledge of rural convenience store locations.

"That's okay, this might work."

If you've ever seen fix-a-flat come shooting out of a hole too big to fix with fix-a-flat, you know what a moment of comic relief it provides.

"Where was the Rite-Aid?"

Riding a flat Bridgestone Battlax for a mile really slowly is an adventure. Much more so than the last flat experienced on the ST1100. Yes, this same bike had had another flat not two weeks before while on a photo shoot with MO-racer Mark Miller. The stock Dunlops held their shape coasting down the canyons of Malibu, much better than the Battlaxs held their shape through a featureless farming community.

It's really no surprise that the Rite-Aid offers only the aerosol solution. Now, out of options, cold and trapped in Delano, the Staffer looks around the bleak strip mall landscape and spots a supermarket.

Another bumpy, wobbly ride passes under the wheels of the ST. Despair is beginning to set in. He wanders into the store and hopelessly seeks the automotive aisle. Once there, the usual chaotic mixture of hardware, motor oil and, yes, fix-a-flat greets the eye. Unlike the drug store and gas station, here there is at least the makings of a hack repair. Our fearless staffer collects the ingredients for a cheap, homegrown tire repair kit:

A bicycle tire patch kit, complete with rubber cement, $1.49 A utility razor, $0.79 A can of fix-a-flat, $3.99 (sometimes more) An ice pick. Well, an ice pick wasn't actually purchased, but it would have been a good idea, as you'll see later.

Swaggering back to the injured machine, he feels like MacGyver, but somewhere in the back of his mind there's a lingering doubt that this will work, or even hold. Perhaps it will deflate in an even more remote location. But all this is pushed aside as the means for repair now lies in his hands.

One of the good things about a rural gas-n-grub economy is that there's always a gas station open and nearby, with air on tap. He limps the disabled Honda about a block to a no-name self-serve-and-mini-mart, hauls the pig up onto its centerstand (no easy task with a flat) and goes to work.

 He smears rubber cement all around and in the puncture. Letting it set briefly, he cuts the patch material into strips. Here is where the ice pick would have been a good idea. He puts a couple of strips on the end of the toolkit-supplied philips-head screwdriver, which is way too big for the puncture, and jams them in. They pop back out. After a couple tries, he gets them to stay in. For good measure, he glues a layer of patch over the whole thing. This turns out to be useless later, as the road eats right through it.

Now there's a wait for the rubber cement to cement. Then comes the dreaded fix-a-flat. Now that the hole's plugged, there's something for the gunk to bond to. He prays as the tire inflates, waiting for the plug to come shooting out at lethal velocity, but instead it holds.

One of the cool things about centerstands is that you can inject the fix-a-flat right there on the side of the road, and spin the tire for awhile without moving. Start the bike, slap her in gear, and let it spin. Another good thing to have would be an air gauge. Using the faulty unit off the air hose, he adjusts the rear tire pressure to match the front. And cautiously, he sets off.

The patch lasts 100 miles at speeds of up to 90 mph and does not fail.

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