by Derek Morrison

Fine time for a puncture
Fine time for a puncture
Attribution: Wesley Trevor Johnston [CC BY-SA-2.0]
Click to view larger image.
Gods, they smiled
As plans you told
Group cycle ride
Despite the cold.

Out in countryside
Rain like spear
Bad day for puncture
Mused he at rear.

The assassin thorn
Lay in silent wait
Its pointed dagger
Was someone’s fate.

Heavens pouring down
Prayers for release
Coffee stop pending
So pace increase.

The waiting assassin
Struck the blow
He at the rear
Didn’t even know.

Speed fell away
Group unaware
Pedaled onwards
Dry to share.

A slowing pace
Insufficient heat
Magnified loss
Once on feet.

Shelter priority
Fix can wait
Primary risk
Hypothermia state.

Leaden hands
Fingers blue.
Inn gave respite
Hot drinks too.

Repair was painful
Fix was slow
Fingers seized
Felt like toe.

Coffee stop
One was gone
Post rain and coffee
Search party spawn.

But happy ending
After transient fear
From my being
He at the rear.

Gods, they smile
As plans you tell
So plan for breakdown
In weather hell.

[To listen to this verse select below]


It was only a ride from Bath to Thornbury through the lanes but it was cold, and it became very wet for a time. The poem accurately reflects what it was like being at the rear in a downpour, thinking how awful it would be to get a puncture and within seconds actually to get one. We were on the outskirts of Thornbury when it happened but it was still a long way to Coffee #1 in the town centre and the heat was leaking from my body by the second. The rain and the wind noise left me watching my companions head into the distance. I was dressed for winter with some five layers on but that made no difference as the moment I stopped cycling my heat production became insufficient for the conditions. Finding the cause and replacing the tube would have been impossible in that cold and rain and so shelter became essential. Fortunately, an inn was preparing for their lunchtime influx and let me in and use their external canopy when I was up to the repair.

Even if my companions had heard me that would have simply exposed them to the same risks and consequences as myself, i.e. if you cycle the highways and byways you have to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.

There is an increased likelihood of getting a puncture in wet weather for two main reasons. Firstly, rain can wash sharp debris, e.g. thorns, glass, stones, from the edges further into the carriageway. Secondly, water is sticky and so helps glue said debris onto your tyre on the initial wheel revolution, and then keeps it there for you to press into the tyre body on the next and subsequent revolutions. Add to that autumn and winter hedge cutting by farmers ensuring blackthorn is scattered like shotgun pellets over the lanes and the conditions are optimised for a puncture at a really bad time.

There are a few generic messages here for solo and group winter riders. In the absence of having the luxury of a permanent “sweep-up” wagon following riders on an outing, if you get a puncture in bad weather conditions any cyclist can get in real trouble real fast. I now carry a big bin bag in my saddle wedge for emergency cover, but a space blanket might not be such a bad idea. Traveling light and projecting a “lean and mean” image is perhaps ok for the warm summer months, but not in the winter. And what if the breakdown wasn’t fixable on the road? What if there was no mobile phone signal? Even with a phone signal have you got a “phone a friend” contact or, alternative, insurance cover that could pick you (and your cycle) up? In the UK, Cycleguard Rescue is available via British Cycling. But shelter sometimes needs to be the first priority and that can mean repressing British reserve and stoicism and, in the absence of any alternative, asking for it if necessary.

Of course it goes without saying that a decent set of puncture resistant tyres is essential – but I had the puncture described in the verse above on the first outing of my pair of Continental Grand Prix 4 Season tyres. Puncture resistance, however, does not mean puncture immunity; seasoned cyclists will know that blackthorn can penetrate a bullet proof vest – allegedly. I also carry two replacement tubes at all times as well as a set patches for those three + puncture days (it has happened). Finally, it’s wise to give your tyres a quick brush down and wipe before the next ride because that will enable you to prevent punctures by inspecting for foreign bodies that have partially penetrated a tyre and will eventually work their way through the carcase on your subsequent rides. Look carefully, as sometimes the smallest speck on the surface of the tyre is actually the only visible part of a much larger iceberg (thorn, glass, stone) that is actually well embedded in the tyre.

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