When Andy and I first started cycling back in the summer of 2006, we never bothered with back-up; and by back-up I mean a puncture repair kit, a bicycle pump, that sort of thing. We would set off, in a sense, 'naked', a bit like walking a tight rope without a safety net.
The early days involved a lot of trips down to Westerham on the B269, a route we re-traced on October 4th (see blogpost below by scrolling down). The road is fine, but a much safer stretch of off-road pavement is littered with danger of another sort – thorns!
Without any back-up, of course, getting a puncture used to put both Andy and I in a very difficult position: stranded 10 miles from home, we would have to walk home, which would take the best part of three hours, with a bike and an irritating noise caused by the deflated rubber of the tyres. We had a rule in place: if one of us got a puncture, the other would have to walk too and not simply cycle off smugly.
We've had to walk from Botley Hill all the way home as there's no option: buses won't allow bikes on board and there's no station nearby. Getting stranded in Westerham was different as we were three miles from Oxted where there is a train station. There were numerous occasions when Andy and I trudged our way along the A25 into Oxted to wait for a train home.
The big question, of course, was why? Why did we do this when we could simply fix our punctures on the roadside? There was no answer, of course, so we started buying and stashing a brand new inner tube (price roughly £5) in our rucksacks and simply replacing the punctured tube with the new one. Not a problem, although it was always pretty horrible when it was raining or just plain cold.
Inner tubes at a fiver a time was a problem as we found that punctures were quite common on that route. Suddenly one of us would notice that the ride had got a little wobbly and then discover it was a puncture. It was then a case of stopping, taking the wheel off – a real hassle if it was the rear wheel – and then inserting the new inner tube.
Punctures became so frequent that we started keeping score. I seemed to get the most for some reason and took it upon myself to blame the bike: not so much a Kona Scrap, I wrote to the guys at Kona in Canada, but Kona CRAP!!! Of course, it wasn't the bike's fault, it was purely a fact that a thorn, often a very large thorn, had decided to puncture my bike and not Andy's.
But I was getting a reputation as the Puncture King, although was never that far behind. The latest score, I think, is 4-3 to me, meaning I've had four to Andy's three punctures. Andy has Kevlar-reinforced tyres and it has made a difference, we've taken to riding on the road along the B269 to avoid the thorns.
What gets me about all this – and again it's not the bike's fault – is that we now both own top-of-the-range off road bikes but can't risk going off road for fear of getting an inevitable puncture.
We've wised up to the inner tube thing and have started buying Leeches, small, circular black discs that simply stick onto the puncture and mend in seconds. We've become dab hands at it, to be honest, but still have our moments. If I can I'll post some video of Andy fixing a puncture on his old bike (they're on my mobile phone and I don't know how to transfer them to my Mac).
Needless to say, I always have a pack or two of Leeches in my rucksack, and a pump!
Coming out of Westerham on Sunday along the A233 (Beggar's Lane) we both spotted the offending thorn bushes that have caused us so much grief. You can see a photograph of them above. It goes without saying that we kept our distance!