I tried to tell myself it would be okay. Half-heartedly I gripped the spokes, testing their tension. Maybe it will be fine how it is; after all, it made it over the mountains under rigorous torque. The rim had cracked in four more places since then, but five missing spokes can’t slow me down that much, can it?

The wheel wobbled alarmingly as I coasted down from camp into the town of Cooma. It was weak beneath the punishing weight of rider and rig. At the slightest lean it flexed dangerously, promising to fold in half at any moment. Then I noticed the tire was hitting the frame, once every revolution.

It was like a manacle clapping closed around my mind. The inevitable encircled me.

I would not be able to ignore this all the way to Canberra.

Cracked rims don’t heal
Cracked rims don’t heal

Finding a bike shop never entered into it, though. Instead I bought some peanut butter. Aaah. That’ll sooth.

We limped our way down the sidewalk to a wide spot in front of a car dealership, where I laid her down on her bulging saddlebags to uninstall the wheel.

The goal was to protect the tire. I knew I would need to replace the wheel, or at least the rim — but the tire I had to save.

To do that, I had to get some tension on that broken section! There was just no other way! But you can’t mend cracked aluminium with peanut butter. What do I do?!?

I breathed.

The rim was a dual-walled rim, with a second, undamaged, parallel wall laying a finger’s width farther away; if I could anchor the spoke out there, with a washer — the right washer — I’d be in business. But for a spoke that’s sized down to the millimetre, that outer layer of the box section might as well have been miles away.

A cross section of a dual-walled rim.
A cross section of a dual-walled rim.

It was out of reach. Unless….

I could move a spoke from farther down the line into the middle of the broken section, to sort of spread the tension where I needed it. Crossed at a less obtuse angle, the spoke would then reach that distant orbit….

It made me feel sick inside, to alter the elegant symmetry of the lacing pattern like that. As though I were committing sacrilege.

But it worked. The tire was safe.

For now.

Just in case, I smeared some grease onto the rubber sidewall, so I could track whether it rubbed while riding under load.

Immediately upon mounting up, I realized the true cost of my geometric treason. It turns out that such sinners, who presume to sully the perfection of a bicycle wheel’s spoke lacing pattern, end up getting tossed around like a rodeo clown.

My wheel now had a lump that made every revolution a bump. It was so out of round, it was an ellipse, like an egg awkwardly wobbling toward the edge of the table. My elbows flopped up and down as my fists gripped the reins; my bronco’s bucking rump humped me up off the saddle with a steady cadence that was downright comical.

But the grease smear remained unsmudged.

So I suffered the jarring rodeo bumps under my butt.

All day.

It was a slow day, on a self-imposed bumpy road, and all day I fretted, worried that my rack – or frame — would break under the panniers, which repeatedly lifted and slammed back down painfully.

It was the type of poorly conceived reconfiguration that was definitely not destined to last. By mid-afternoon I was at a rest area, texting Nic, my Warm Showers host in the city, letting him know I wasn’t arriving today. And any chance he can he help source a replacement wheel?

A likeable fellow got out of his car to give his dog a walk, and we struck up a conversation. He was heading to Canberra – would probably arrive within the hour – and he was towing an empty trailer the perfect size for my bike….

I got as far as describing to him how F*d my wheel was, but when I thought to actually ask to hitch a ride, something deep down, something powerful, stopped me.

My pride it was, certainly. But also… my curiosity. I had already accepted the challenge of getting there on this wheel. I wanted to see what would happen; I wanted to see if I could make it happen.


To Be Continued….