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I bought my first motorcycle days after graduating from university. It was a small likeable 125cc that was reliable to a fault and consumed almost no fuel.
My main preoccupation at the time was the weekend. I endured the working week longing for the weekend so that I could meet up with my fellow broke friends and explore the city in new and exciting ways. It was standard procedure therefore that every Friday evening I parked the bike at home, gave my mother a rubbish story about seeing someone and being back shortly and then leaving the house never to be seen until Sunday evening.
One Friday evening on my way home to park the bike, the back wheel suddenly felt weird. A quick stop revealed it was a puncture and it needed immediate fixing. I pushed the bike about a kilometre to the nearest petrol station where the mechanic promptly announced that he doesn’t fix bike punctures. I considered this for a while and had the idea to remove the entire wheel and hand it to him in the same way people hand him car wheels. Minutes later I was back on the road and having deposited the bike at home and inhaled my mother’s cooking, I bolted out of the house for the usual Friday evening activities.
A week later I could scarcely believe when the rear wheel suddenly felt weird again at almost the exact same spot as the last week. Again I pushed the bike to the petrol station and several hours later I was supervising one of my friends vomiting into a flower bed having had one too many.
It really was witchcraft when for the third week in a row I arrived at the same petrol station, all sweaty from pushing the bike, to have the third puncture repaired. The mechanic suggested that I buy a new tube and that I stop riding on the road shoulders because that’s where all the debris that could cut tyres.
He was right. For the next 2 weeks I had no puncture until I contrived to do something really stupid: Keen to impress some girls I’d told I was a biker, I took the bike with me to a house party where I intended to show just how much of a better man I was because I owned a 125cc marvel of engineering and masculinity while the other idiots mooched about on foot.
Nobody took the bait so at 2am I decided the cause was lost and headed home. My mind must have been preoccupied by the inquest into the unsuccessful evening because I didn’t notice anything wrong until I took a corner a bit too sharply and almost lost control of the bike when I realised that the rear tyre was once again punctured. Damn it!
This time I was in real trouble. It was the middle of the night and I was on the loneliest road in Nairobi – the stretch of Magadi Road between Ongata Rongai and Catholic University, that’s right alongside the Nairobi National Park and a known lion den. I was horrified.
Now, I have always maintained that being eaten alive is the worst possible way to die. There is nothing more humiliating than meeting your creator via the digestive system of another animal. So there was no way I was stopping or even reducing speed in the name of saving the tyre. I made it into safety and got home very angry with the bike and myself. The next day I was even angrier when I discovered I would have to buy a new tyre and tube. The decision had been made, my next bike and every one after that, would have tubeless tyres.
Fast forward and I don’t understand why lots of bikes still have tube tyres. They have no discernible advantage save for the fact that the tyres are made of a softer compound and hence stick to the road better. But this is inconsequential because whereas tubeless tyres aren’t as sticky because they are made from a harder compound, they are less susceptible to punctures and last much longer.
So if you don’t use wire wheels, ditch those tube tyres, they are a disaster waiting to happen.
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