Dutch bicycles require almost no maintenance. So the Dutch generally perform almost no maintenance on their bicycles themselves. But there is one thing that almost every Dutch child learns to do at a young age: how to fix a flat tyre!
One of the many bicycle shops is of course happy to do the required maintenance on your bicycle, but repairing a puncture is considered so easy, that everyone should be able to do that. Dutch bicycle wheels, however, cannot be removed easily. Especially the rear wheel is difficult. I really haven’t a clue how it works exactly, but both the hub gear and the brakes are in there somehow. Never mind the enclosed chain case that would also be in the way. So how can we repair a flat tyre if we don’t even know how all that works? Easy: we don’t remove the wheel.
That makes the procedure very easy. The only tools you need fit in a very small repair box that virtually every Dutch family has in the house. They’re almost all the same brand too. Simson, type “Normaal” meaning standard or quite obviously ‘normal’. The box contains three tyre levers, a number of self-adhesive rubber patches, sand paper and tube solution (vulcanising glue). The box also contains valve rubber, but I wouldn’t know what to do with that. You don’t need it to repair a puncture and if I have trouble with a valve, I just buy a replacement valve. Much simpler. Lastly you will also need a pump.
You start by turning your bicycle upside down. It can stand on the saddle and handle bars. Now you need to lift one side of the tyre off the rim. This is where the tyre levers come in. You wedge the lever between the tyre and rim and once it is placed, you attach the other end to the spokes. After the first one is in, you turn the wheel slightly and about 10 cm further you place another tyre lever. (A bit further if the tyre bead is very tight.) Repeat that for a third lever. The moment you place the third lever the second one usually drops and the rest of the lifting can be done by hand. Now that the tyre is open on one side you can reach for the tube. The valve needs to be taken apart, which really only means screwing off one ring. You can then push the valve stem (attached to the tube) through the rim and get most of the tube out in the open. It will remain locked in by the frame and the wheel axle, but you can now try to find the puncture.
This is usually the hardest part of the whole exercise. You need to put some air in the tube. Not too much – the sharper parts of the bicycle might damage it where it is locked in – but just enough to find the puncture. If you are lucky you’ll hear the hissing sound of air escaping, but with smaller holes that will not happen. You will then need a bucket of water. Hold a part of the tube under water and see if you see bubbles. That would be the air escaping from the tube through the hole. You can only inspect a tiny bit of the tube in the bucket, so checking the whole thing may take a while. Sometimes you have to be right at the part of the tube that is still stuck in the bicycle. But like I said… this is the hardest part. Sooner or later you will see bubbles in the water and that’s when you found the hole! You need to mark it right away, so you dry the tube and mark the spot with a pen. Some people place a circle about the size of the patch. Others mark the exact location with an X. In any case, the marks have to be large, you need to use the sand paper to sand the tire and you don’t want to lose the entire mark after you’ve done that. I think the sanding is needed to clean the tube and also to make the glue stick to the rubber better. But I haven’t given it much thought really. I was just taught this is part of the procedure. After the sanding you need to apply a thin layer of the solution. The size of the glue should be larger than the patch you will use. The glue has to dry about 5 minutes. At least that is what they put in the manuals because most people will only wait about 3 minutes and that turns out to be just right. Then you place your patch in the glue on the tube right over the puncture and you push it firmly. Keep rubbing and pushing until you have the feeling it sticks just right, which is quite quickly normally.
Before you put the tube back into the tyre you shouldn’t forget one important step in the procedure and that is checking the tyre for any sharp objects which caused the puncture. These things tend to stay in the tyre and that will obviously cause another puncture, which is the last thing we want. So use your fingers to feel if the inside of the tyre is completely smooth. Sometimes you will find something on the outside as well. A tiny fragment of glass or a piece of metal can already do the damage. It may sound strange but it is actually a great sensation if you do find something and you can remove it. That gives you the feeling that you really got rid of the cause of the flat tyre.