Be Prepared to Fix a Flat During a Race!
Story by Radka Kahlefeldt, professional triathlete
When you are training for a triathlon, getting your bike prepared for the race and learning how to fix your bike is just as important as the swim, bike and run. Just like laying the groundwork for your fitness by spending time in the gym, preparing your bike and yourself with the tools you need to fix issues that pop up during a race are essential to doing well.
When I was 15 years old, I joined an MTB cycling team. At a training camp, one of the things we had to do was clean our bikes and change our tires and tubes (and the coaches would time us)! At first, I hated it because I was new and I was very bad at it. Usually, I would break two tire levers before someone would take my wheel and would help me. But with practice, I was better and better and now? Changing tires and tubes and working on my bike is my hobby!
You can lessen the likelihood of having to fix a flat during your race in the first place if you follow these simple steps:
1. Take your bike to the shop. Or, learn how to perform a bike safety check yourself! If you would like your local bike shop to help you out, make sure to bring your bike in AT LEAST two weeks before the race. That will ensure enough time for to get your bike back and reduce your stress levels. The basic things you will want to check for are: no loose bolts, your brake pads are in good condition and your drivetrain is shifting smoothly!
2. Check your tires. Tires are made of rubber and will eventually wear out. Look at the sidewall and the tread of the tire. If there are threads poking through the side or a flat spot on the top, your tire is done and you should get a new one at the bike shop. Even if your tire is in good shape, it is still a good idea to remove the tire from your wheel and take out the tube to look for any debris which could cause a flat during your race.
3. Learn how to fix a flat. That’s right, BEFORE the race you will want to have a plan and know what you will do in case of an emergency. Many bike shops offer fix-a-flat clinics which is great for visual and, sometimes, hands-on experience. You can also learn how to fix-a-flat with online tutorials like this one! Then: practice, practice, practice!
Fixing a Flat Tire on Race Day
Don’t feel bad, there are plenty of other athletes out there (even professionals) who are training and racing on their bikes without knowing what to do in case of a flat tire. So often, there are other people out on our training rides that will help us in case of an emergency, but if a flat happens during a race… you are in trouble!
During my career, I have been pretty lucky and haven't had many flat tires in races, but I have had flats in the past at Challenge Shepparton and Challenge Kanchanaburi. Because I knew what to do, I could finish both races (and still got on the podium)!
In Kanchanaburi, I was 'lucky' that the hole in my tire/tube was small enough to use a product called Vittoria Pit Stop. Pit Stop both inflates and repairs punctures with a special sealant, just by hooking it up to your valve and inflating. When I stopped during the race, my tire was completely empty, but because I was prepared with Pit Stop sealant, I just inflated my tire with the sealant and that was it! Problem fixed and could continue.
This is what caused my flat tire in Thailand Kanchanaburi but Pit Stop fixed it and I could finish the race.
In Shepparton, my rear tube completely exploded so there was no possibility of using the pit stop. I had to change the tube. Luckily, I was also prepared in this situation with a tube, tire levers, tire boot and CO2.
If you have a large hole in your tire or your tire isn’t sealing for some other reason, you will need to replace the tube and maybe use a boot to patch a hole in the tire. Be ready with a fix-a-flat kit.
In both cases ,it is important to stay calm. The moment you get frustrated and try to speed through fixing your flat, then everything goes wrong. What helps me to stay calm is just thinking positive: being thankful that you can fix the problem, still continue and finish the race! There is nothing worse than the bad feeling of an unfinished race you were training for.