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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  4/1/2009

Murphy's Law

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Some bike rides -- even meticulously planned club rides or tours -- seem to unfold strictly according to Murphy's Law. Dispersed Just ask Alex Lew, a painstakingly thorough type of ride leader for Western Wheelers. Yet on Super Bowl Sunday, Alex's well-thought-out outing ran right into Murphy from the start.

Billed as "Cool, Flat, and Not Crowded," the ride started from Bay Front Park east of Highway 101 in Menlo Park. "A flat and fast route (just 650 vertical feet with stop signs few and far between)," read the description, "along cycling paths with beautiful bay views and flying flocks of migratory birds. . . .Rain, wet roads, or high winds cancels." The idea was to get a good ride in and get everybody home in plenty of time to relax and enjoy the game.

Those who chose to accompany Alex failed to encounter any of the above-mentioned hazards that could potentially ruin any great bike ride. "However," Alex admitted later, "after nearly five hours, I learned that Murphy's Law is indeed true." Herewith his list, by the numbers, of exactly went down that day:

  • 24 riders
  • 3 Canadian geese obstructing the bike lane (they would not yield to bikes)
  • 1 cat obstructing the bike lane (it was dead and could not yield)
  • 1 couch obstructing the Dumbarton Bridge bike lane (cyclists yielded - don't mess with things that are bigger than you)
  • 3 stop signs along the route
  • 1 grumpy policeman
  • 3 traffic tickets for not stopping at stop sign
  • 5 flat tires
  • 4 lost riders (they found themselves)
  • 1 rider rode over a bump and went down (ouch)
  • 1 broken seat clamp (the lost bolt was replaced with a zip-tie - brilliant!)
Goat HeadLater, he sent me an update to his original email: Two additional flat tires, for a grand total of 7. "A couple of them were due to glass, and the rest of them were apparently caused by Tribulus terrestris, a.k.a. Puncture Vine." You might also recognize this instrument of the devil as a goathead thorn.

One of the riders, Mark Sutherland, reported his flat occurred about "a mile from the end (on Kevlar-lined Armadillo Elite tires!) and [I] just decided to walk it in from there."

In addition to getting a flat tire, Alex told me, Mark "was one of ones who got a ticket and subsequently got lost because they were behind the group. He also got a warning ticket at the ride start for not properly parking his car. Fortunately, he didn't bet on Kurt Warner in the Superbowl."

Murphy Meltdowns

Apparently Alex was already no stranger to the legacy of Mr. Murphy. "I came close to having a meltdown once while riding by myself in Los Gatos," he confessed. "I got a flat. I replaced the tube and tried to inflate it with my frame pump. Nothing. So I patched the original tube and tried to inflate. Nothing. I walked several blocks to Summit Bikes [on Main Street]. I bought a new tube and put it in the wheel. Nothing!! Instead of my pump, I tried using a floor pump that was left in the front of the store for public use. Nothing!!! I finally gave up and asked one of the bike mechanics for help. He figured out that both my frame pump and the store's floor pump were broken."

I myself experienced a similar meltdown on Purissima Road in Los Altos Hills. I had a front-tire flat -- easy to repair, I thought. Ha! It had been so long since I'd had a flat that my pump was full of gunk from the ravages of winter roads. There was also gunk all over a bad valve on the spare. OK, I'm lucky I have another spare, I told myself. But the pump still refused to cooperate. Finally I pulled out the ol' cell phone and called Jim to come help. Poor guy had to get on his bike at work and ride the eight or so miles up to Purissima. Meanwhile, with help from a friendly mechanic at Los Altos Hills town garage, I managed to get 40 pounds or so into the second tube and start riding toward Jim. If Murphy had been in full effect that day, we probably would have missed each other, but he was just a few yards away by then.

Murphy travels to France

Preparing for our last tour in France at the home of our friend Gilbert in Toulouse, I happened to invoke the name of Murphy. "I have heard of this fellow Murphy and his law," he responded. He then asked me to write the entire law down in his English phrasebook, so he could learn more about what his English-speaking former aerospace colleagues had often talked about.

The next day we embarked on our tour, Gilbert at the wheel of the sag van. So he can attest to what we experienced over the next two weeks: Marty

  1. Rain, rain and more rain, drizzle to downpour every day (except of course on the flattest, easiest day)
  2. The disappearance of Ruth and Mary Jo until long after sundown (they'd been drying off and enjoying drinks at a nearby bar)
  3. Jim and I crashing with a front-tire blowout on the tandem (Jim fixed the flat, but a bubble appeared in the tire a few kilometers later; at least by then we were only about 2 km from our hotel.)
There was more, to be sure, but Gilbert himself managed to foil Murphy. Case in point: When Marty had a flat in the middle of nowhere, we were just down the road talking to Gilbert in the sag. And you can bet that there was a good floor pump in that sag.

Of course, if you want to read (or reread) one of the all-time Murphy's Law classics, I refer you to Guy Neenan's adventure last Memorial Day weekend in Ditched!. Guy reported "some tribulation. . . . too many flats, too much manure, windy/rainy weather, and too many hasty companions." The manure came from a herd of cattle blocking the road. "It's one thing to see crap all over your bike," says Guy. "It's another thing to be able to smell your bike. Then I had the pleasure of repairing my flat. Yes, if you must know, the tire was somewhat sticky."

Later Guy was left behind at a rest stop. But the sag came back to rescue him. Come to think of it, maybe the best antidote to Murphy's Law is to have a sag, with a conscientious, caring driver behind the wheel. Until the sag breaks down, that is.

Remember the final corollary to Murphy's law: If everything seems to be going well, you have doubtless overlooked something. (Like checking your spare tubes, your pump, the sag's schedule, or your ride leader's reputation for bad luck). At the end of the day, though, Murphy's Law often leaves us laughing. If we can make it through a Murphy Day...we've come out winners!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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