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Emma Walker | 08.01.2019

It’s a hot, muggy Sunday on the Colorado Front Range—the last day of an annual fundraiser bike tour my family has ridden every summer for decades. After riding a century yesterday, my legs are tired, and pedaling along the relatively flat route feels hard.

As I crest a rolling hill and start down the gentle slope on the other side, I hear that telltale psssst. Now, the riding feels even harder, as if I’m hitting the brakes. I look down, and sure enough, my back tire is completely flat. I groan. With another 30 miles to go, this is the last thing I want.

My family didn’t hear my flat tire, and by the time I realize what’s going on they’re too far ahead for me to shout to them. I steel myself, pull over to the side of the road, and hop off my limping road bike. As I’m fishing around in my pack for a spare tube, a road marshal slows down to ask if I need help.

“Nope!” I tell him. “I’ve got this. Thanks!” He doesn’t seem too sure, but as I take a deep breath and get to work, he motors away. It’s just me, my bike, and a few select tools.

• • •

 


Emma Walker repairs her bike trailside. Emma Walker.

I’ve been around bikes since before I could walk. My parents have always been avid road cyclists, and when I was a toddler, they buckled me into a Burley as they rode. They had me on a bike when I was about four, and the training wheels came off the following year. By 10, I was riding in clipless pedals. I rode a full 2-day, 150-mile charity tour with them for the first time when I was 13.

I have a confession to make: In all that time, I never learned to change a flat tire.

I’m an only child, and my dad relished spoiling my mom and me. I think it helped that he actually enjoyed doing maintenance on our bikes. When I stepped into the garage before a ride, my bike was always perfectly tuned. My chain was lubed, my tires were full of air, my brakes were adjusted, and my wheels true. If I got a flat on a ride, my dad could change it in minutes.

At some point, I broadened my horizons from skinny tires to knobby ones, and as I spent more time on goathead-studded trails my flats became more frequent. I made a habit of riding with friends who knew what to do.

At some point, I married a capable do-it-yourself-er who was all too happy to spoil me, just like my dad had. I insisted we split the housework equally. He cooks more than I do, and if we’re backpacking I know how to repair the stove. I can jury-rig my ski bindings in a half-dozen different ways. I can pilot a raft, rig a canoe, inflate my own packraft.

I kept meaning to learn how to take care of my bike, and things kept coming up. “I’ll watch you do it next time,” I’d wave him off, busy reading about or packing food for the trip he was prepping our bikes for. On this one issue, I let my husband do everything—and the longer I went, the more it bothered me.

• • •

And then, at age 28, it hit me—or rather, I hit it. I was riding my backyard trails after work alone one evening when I ran into a rock, stopped dead, and flew over my handlebars. I made sure all my limbs were in place and nothing was bleeding (check). Somehow, though, I’d jostled my chain out of place. Now, it hung limply from the derailleur. I had no idea what it was supposed to look like, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t it.

I kicked myself: Why had I never bothered to learn which thingy attached to which doo-dad? 

At this point, I had two options. I could figure out how to fix this myself, or I could call my husband (or my dad—I guess I had three options) to come rescue me.

This is ridiculous, I thought as I pulled out my phone. You’re almost 30 years old, you ride a bike multiple times every week, and you literally don’t even know what this part of your bike is called. 

And so I did what any stubborn feminist would do: I Googled it. “Replace bike chain,” I tried, hoping I had enough service to stream a video.

It worked. I pedaled home covered in chain grease and resolved that I would never again have to consider calling a man to come rescue me because of my own bike-related ignorance.

A few weeks later, I showed up at my local bike co-op for the first session of a bike maintenance workshop. Over the next 6 weeks, we reviewed changing flats, replacing chains, truing wheels, all sorts of basics. 

It was exactly what I needed. It’s shown up in other parts of my life, too. When I take my car to the mechanic, I dread having to say, “Let me ask my husband what type of oil we use.” I don’t want to have to call my dad and ask how to turn off the water when my bathroom floods. I want to be the sort of person who knows how to do things. 

It’s not instantaneous, of course. I didn’t learn how to do a few bike maintenance tricks and suddenly know the answers to lots of automotive or home repair questions. But these days, I’m a little slower to pick up the phone. If it’s not an emergency, I’ll do some research—I’ll at least make an attempt to fix it myself. As it turns out, I’m more capable than I thought.  

• • •

It takes me a respectable 10 minutes to change my flat. I’m not setting any speed records, but it’s almost 90 degrees out, and I rode 100 miles yesterday. By the time I finish up, my phone’s ringing. It’s my husband.

“We just pulled into the next rest stop and realized you’re not with us!” he says.

“Yeah,” I tell him, “Everything’s fine. I just got a flat.”

“Oh no! Want me to come back?” he offers.

My chest swells with pride.

“Nah,” I say, acting like this isn’t a huge deal for me. “I already changed it.” I tell him I’ll see him soon and hang up.

I’m no expert, and there are lots of things I can’t fix (or even diagnose). But for the first time in my life, I don’t need my dad or my husband or a nice road marshal or anyone else to fix my flat tire.

I can do it myself.

Want to learn more about how to fix your own bike? Check out An Introduction to Basic Bike Maintenance + Fixes, where you can explore tips and videos so you’ll never be stranded alone on your bike.

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Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments. Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2019 with the help of guest editor and 2018 #womaninthewild Georgina Miranda, adventurer, entrepreneur, mountaineer, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. We're proud to open our platform once again for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews with outdoor advocates, influencers, and athletes to female-focused content from the community, Women in the Wild 2019 aims to amplify the voice of women in celebration of female fortitude, strength, and camaraderie in the outdoors.

For a complete list of content published in correlation with Women in the Wild 2019, visit Women in the Wild 2019: Amplifying Women in the Outdoors.

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