Archive for May, 2012


Genius, Not-Genius, And The Dental Floss Way of Bike Repair

This story appeared on a number of years ago. It was also included (for obvious reasons) in the anthology “Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures” that was published by Casagrande Press.

Somebody had to try it, and if my buddy’s experimental dental floss tire repair had worked, it would have been HUGE.

To be totally fair to my buddy JT, even I’ll have to admit that sometimes it’s a very fine line between “Genius” and the opposite of “Genius” – those alarming examples of “inspiration” that I’ll call “Not-Genius.” Approached properly, a genuinely bad idea can have the same look and feel as a brilliant one right up to the point where things start to go all wobbly and you start eyeing the location of the nearest emergency exit. The hardest part, of course, is telling the two apart. What we’re talking about here is the subtle difference between “it’s just crazy enough to work” and “iit’s just crazy.”

And like I said, if JT had pulled it off and actually fixed his bike tire with a roll of dental floss, I would have personally handed him the application form for Mensa.

If you stop to think about it, dental floss is pretty brilliant stuff. No complicated electric gizmos with vibrating brushes or miniature pumps blasting jets of water; just a hygienic, inexpensive, nylon string that you run between your choppers to remove tooth barnacles and prevent gum disease. Simple, elegant. Genius, really.

But it doesn’t end there. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, when it comes to the topic of dental floss our fellow homosapiens have shown the zest of innovation that coaxed our prehistoric ancestors to come down from the trees and invent convenient loft apartments near shopping and Starbucks. In other words, people have found far more uses for the humble tooth cleaner than its inventors could ever have imagined. According to Dr. Kruszelnicki, you can use it to slice cheese, remove biscuits that are stuck to the baking biscuit sheet, repair a backpack or tent or winter jacket when you’re on the road, and if you’re really obsessive, it can clean the crevices in the turned legs of your wooden furniture. Anesthetists sometimes use dental floss to secure the location of an endotracheal tube in a patient’s mouth during surgery. And (again according to the good Dr. Karl) at least one Italian Mafioso escaped from a Turin jail after sawing through the bars of his cell with strands of – you guessed it – dental floss.

Just don’t try to use the stuff to sew up a big ol’ gash in the sidewall of a high-pressure racing tire – a case of “Not Genius” in spades.

Naturally enough, JT said that the idea came to him while he was brushing his teeth. He was a little irked because he had a brand new tire that suffered a rather annoying sidewall cut. Normally, you’d bin a tire like that and start fresh. Not our JT. He is made of sterner stuff. Plus, he can be a cheap bastard. JT figured that rather than eat the thirty dollars – after all, it was a brand new tire – he’d repair it somehow.

But how?

Staring into the bathroom mirror one morning, toothbrush in hand, JT picked up a little roll of unwaxed dental floss that was sitting there on a shelf above the sink. Now that particular roll of dental floss had probably been on that shelf above JT’s bathroom sink for months if not years, and not once had he given it much thought.

I mean, c’mon, who spends their time thinking deeply about dental floss?

This morning, however, was different. As JT mulled the tire problem over, he unconsciously tore off a strip of floss like he did every morning, except that this morning he noticed for the first time that, damn, this stuff is hard to break…

Lightbulbs snapped on, choruses of angels sang, and you could almost feel the floor rumble as this particular train of thought pulled out of the station – a high-speed express headed around the bend and straight for the washed-out bridge next to the dynamite factory. Before you could say “My, what a remarkably bad idea” JT had grabbed the roll of floss, a large sewing needle, the kerput tire, and had set to work, nimbly stitching up the tear in the tire. For good measure, JT decided to complete his handiwork by smearing the area with Shoe Goo, a self-vulcanizing liquid rubber used to repair sneakers.

The finished product looked a lot like what you’d expect from a man sewing up a tire with a carpet needle and dental floss while sitting cross-legged on the floor of his bathroom. In a word, lumpy.

You can probably surmise the rest of the story. Flushed with the intoxicating-yet-ill-placed confidence that comes from a true flash of Not-Genius, JT decided to show up for our normal Sunday group ride on his repaired tire, ready to rock. He rolled along for about 15 miles, happy as a clam, until we all stopped to take a look at a truly dandy little warehouse fire, complete with fire engines, flames, and smoke. I guess that when you get right down to it, we’re all just little boys at heart and the chance to see some fire engines in action is just too tough to resist.

Anyway, it was here watching the fire that we noticed that JT’s tire had been quietly amusing itself during the ride by doing its best Pamela Anderson impression. By that I mean the dental floss stitches that JT had so carefully sewn into the sidewall were coming undone one by one in a slow, majestic, velo strip-tease. We all circled around the back of JT’s bike, transfixed as what could only be described as a pair of miniature breasts began to emerge from the sidewall of JT’s tire; a diminutive set of rubber-clad mammaries created by the distended innertube poking out from between the stitches and Shoe-Goo.

JT gingerly turned his bike around and headed for home.

Despite this small setback, JT hasn’t given up on bike repairs using dental floss. Not at all. He’s a True Believer; a convert to the Dental Floss Way of Bike Repair. JT has cleaned out the oral hygiene aisle at the local pharmacy and, at last report, he was seen busily wrapping his handlebars in strands of dental floss. He says that, if you are careful, six rolls will do one handlebar.

And, you know, JT may be on to something here. He says that floss makes a dandy bar wrap; it’s grippy, not affected by rain or dampness, and – here’s the part he’s really excited about – if you use one of those fancy breath-freshening flosses, it leaves your riding gloves with a nice, minty-fresh smell.

Mint-scented handlebar tape? Freakin’ genius, if you ask me…

After the story was published, a buddy of mine (who wasn’t on the ride with us when JT’s tire unraveled itself) took me to task for not having a huge wreck at the end of the story. He thought that the ending was too….happy. I wrote this to satisfy him:

“You can probably surmise the rest of the story. Flushed with the intoxicating-yet-ill-placed confidence that comes from a true flash of Not-Genius, JT decided to show up for our normal Sunday group ride on his repaired tire, ready to rock. He rolled along for about 15 miles, happy as a clam, right up until The Accident, an event which is still talked about in our group in hushed, reverent tones.

Picture a large, muscular man in his thirties astride a fixed gear bicycle. Picture this same man and bicycle pointed down a very large, and very steep hill. Picture the man’s legs all ablur as he tops out at 50 mph at the bottom of the hill.

Now picture the rear tire suddenly blowing out and going flat.

For those who witnessed it, JT’s untimely demise at the bottom of that hill graphically demonstrated the awesome synergy that results when you combine the natural forces that animate the laws of physics with eternal attraction of slapstick comedy. I mean, if JT had to make his Big Exit on the bike, you couldn’t have planned for a more spectacular, more crowd-pleasing way for him to go; a much darker version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

The subsequent recreation of JT’s Final Ride by the State Police accident investigators revealed that once the tire let loose, it locked up the rear wheel and instantly stopped JT’s crank arms as he screamed down the hill, legs churning in circles at an unholy rate. This sudden halt caused JT’s quads to literally explode, which explained the pink mist that we all saw right before the explosion.

Ahhh….the explosion. That one had the investigators stumped for quite a while. The offical explanation is that the cloud of organic material — the pink mist — that formed around JT when his legs vaporized was ignited by sparks coming from the steel spokes in the rear wheel dragging on the pavement when the rim collapsed. Boom. In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter how it happened, because once the brush fires were extinguished there wasn’t enough left of JT to take home in a water bottle.


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