The first time we started to notice the wear on our rear tires was around Santiago, Chile, after roughly twelve thousand miles of riding. Though we saw the tires we needed in more than one place, without even searching for them, we never really considered buying them. First of all, Chile was by far the most expensive country we had visited in the trip, and our logic told us that nothing big should be purchased in it. Second, what we saw was only the beginning of wear. It hardly seemed like a serious issue.
And it wasn’t. After Santiago we still rode three or four thousand miles without any problem all the way down to Ushuaia. By the time we got there, however, the wear on my rear tire was serious enough for me to say to Erika that we should buy new tires if we see them, but typically, not serious enough for me to actually go and actively search for new tires. What I did go searching for, however, was more chain lube. It appears that I take things way more seriously if I am scarred by an unwanted history with them, or in this case, by having the teeth in my rear sprocket become so sharpened by my continually-loosening and degrading chain that they began to chip off and refuse to do the part needed by them for the locomotion of the bike, and having to wait three weeks in Cartagena for new parts to arrive by mail. This relates to the saga, because searching for lube brought me to the only motorcycle shop in town. Even though Ushuaia is surprisingly large size, motorcycles are not very common due to its mere 3 month per year of ride-able weather. In the shop I saw Metzeler Sahara tires. I asked if he held the Tourance, which was the model that brought us thus far, but he answered in the negative. Oh well, we thought, we’ll just buy them later.
What we did not take into account was the fact that from Ushuaia to Bariloche the plan was to travel with our moms and my aunt. The three ladies in a rented car, and us on the bikes. To be more exact, we did take that into account, but we didn’t realize what a pace we’ll have to take in order to keep up with them. We left Ushuaia on the 22nd of February, due to arrive in Bariloche by March 4th (The only date in the calendar that is also a command, by the way). It was, and still is, not a leap year. This left ten days to cover roughly 2000 miles, about a third of which was gravel, and still visit and do activities in Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, the awesome glacier of Perito Moreno, Fitz Roy in El Chalten, and the caraterra Austral, time permitting. Suddenly we had to wake up at 6:30 AM and ride on some days beyond a point of exhaustion, with minimal breaks. This fashion of motion was alien to us. Up to that point we were accustomed to get out of our sleeping bags only when they became too warm, roughly around 10 AM (on rainy days we wouldn’t bother to leave them at all, except when nature called, though on such days we tried to keep her dormant as well), take multiple breaks while losing track of time, stopping a lot to photograph, and stopping an hour or so before sundown. In this way we would cover sometime only 100 km a day. And now we had multiple days of 500 km and more. Stopping to search for tires and taking the day to install them was out of the question. We decided to just do it in Bariloche.
route 40, in a nutshell
But Bariloche never came. Another side effect of travelling with the ladies was our speed. On dirt roads we were fine, but on asphalt the ladies sometimes drove 95 mph, pressured by time and reassured by the general lack of police in Patagonia. We had to keep up. This wasn’t a problem for our engines, but my tire was getting tired of me completely taking his existence for granted. On the day we left El Chalten, a few miles into route 40, the beginning of our final 2 day long stretch of 1500 km to Bariloche, in a gas station in Tres Lagos, I noticed something peculiar. More amused than concerned, I pointed out the thumb sized hole in my now completely slick rear tire to Erika. Being the one that keeps us in reality, she immediately figured out that what lay beyond the hole was a flat tube. Not counting Erika’s flats, which were caused by her sudden decision to lay her bike down horizontally with the help of a big and sharp boulder in Baja California, this was our first flat tire in seven months and roughly fifteen thousand miles.
camping with the ladies
beautiful morning sky
stopping to pump
adorable Puma attack dogs
That’s a lot of miles to go without a flat, so before I continue the telling of the saga, I would like to give some advice to riders who want to avoid flats. I believe that such a paragraph is warranted because I see and hear about so many people with flats, and I think that our success has little to do with luck, though I admit that generally we are a lucky couple.
We are not tire experts, but here is a list of flat-tire repellents that worked for us, and might work for you:
1. It is important to have good and expensive tires. We chose Metzler Tourance since in my opinion the more something is German the better it is, with obvious exceptions of course. As for people who wonder how aggressive their tires should be for the trip, I can perhaps assure you by the fact that we never had any problems of traction with our 95% road bound Tourance tires, even though we did dirt riding in Baja Califonia, rode down the Caraterra Austral in Chile, and route 40 in Argentina. The advantage of a tire made mostly for road is that it is harder, and will last you longer. Not unless you intend to race in dirt, you don’t need knobbies or even something like the Sahara.
2. Next, and I think many neglect this, if you are riding with tubes, take the effort to replace your tubes with 3 mm heavy duty tubes. Again, go for the good ones.
3. Before your trip put slime in your tubes. Yes, some people say (not to mention the label on the slime bottles) that it would make you unstable at high speeds, but neither of us felt this, so I say go for it.
4. Ride at higher pressures than what is recommended by your bike. People who ride dirt bikes competitively get flats all the time. This is the price they willingly pay for having better traction in the dirt by riding at a lower psi. It also makes the ride more comfortable. You don’t feel each pebble because the tire is soft, and has give. If this is your thing then go for it. If, however, like us, you are riding with a few suitcases on your bike, and care for your bike to reach its destination a few thousand miles away, then riding competitively is not your thing anyway. Our bike recommends 30 psi in dirt and 33 on paved road. We ride at 35 psi everywhere. Yes, the ride is bumpier, but that just means that I won’t be tempted to ride too fast, and that I have less chances of being stranded on a desert road, whether it’s waiting for a spare tube, spare tire, or an ambulance. If I ever need traction in mud or sand I can always deflate it for 20, especially for the occasion.
5. Finally, this relates to the above but people tend to forget it, check your tire pressure every few days. Remember that a warm tire has 10% more pressure than a cold one. I.e., if you want to ride at 35 and you are checking the pressure after a few hours of riding, don’t be shy, go ahead and pump her up to 38. On the same topic, always carry your own pressure indicator. Many places don’t have one, and even if they do, you want to be consistent.
I don’t want to talk about it
The Saga Continues. Panic we did not. We took of my wheel, put it in the trunk of the ladies, and rode to the local gomeria, or tire garage, in the town of Tres Lagos. The guy attending it was young, unimaginative, and without an overwhelming urge to help us. He simply said, “I can’t fix it, sorry,” but without the “sorry.” I insisted. I said let’s start by taking the tire out. Yawning, he went along with my plan, but working as if he was my apprentice, in my shop. I had to initiate everything. Roaming through the shop, I spied with my little eye just what I imagined existed but never really saw before, a tire patch. I held it up to him, grinning and pointing, at which point he took it from my hand and informed me that he has an idea of how to mend the tire. “we can use this patch!” he exclaimed. What a brilliant idea. We patched the tire, then the tube, and returned to my bike who was still waiting at the gas station. “I could have sworn I filled it to 35” I said to Erika as I double checked the pressure and found it at 25. After an hour of riding it was clear. I had a leak and was losing roughly 10 psi per hour, or 10 psiphs, if to use the native unit.
inspecting the damage
That night we camped out near a beautiful lake off route 40. Drinking the last bottles of wine that Erika and I stored in the car, we all decided that since the ladies have a flight from Bariloche on the 5th, and it was already the 3rd, it would be wise if they left us in the morning. We would make a little detour to G. Gregores and buy some tires there (as the hole that so entranced me was beginning to be joined by friends, all tire-holes), and hopefully make it to Bariloche for a final farewell dinner.
camping next to lake
In the morning our moms and my aunt left after we gave them a guilt trip just long enough to make them feel bad but not so long as to make them actually stay. We slowly began to pack our bikes the way they were before the ladies took our weight and left us with wonderfully light and maneuverable bikes. It took us four hours and had the air of familiarity all about it. We started riding on the route 40 dirt road towards G. Gregores, stopping every 30 minutes to inflate my tire. This day alone made the fact that we carried an electric compressor for 7 months worth it.
In Gregores we found no tires at all. We headed to another Gomeria. They put 7 new patches on the tire, and fixed my leak, which by the way came from the place the uninspired guy at Tres Lagos fixed the flat only 20 hours before. This guy, on the other hand, seemed professional. Taking that as a sign from the road gods, we continued merrily with a top speed of 30 mph. 10 miles down the road I got a flat so bad the tire came off the rim, something that took us a whole day and a Volvo to accomplish 7 months earlier. The sun was setting and I hung my head in despair. G. Gregores was the only sizable town in the area (with 7000 inhabitants). The closest town, equally small, was 200 miles away. I knew that this time we had really done it. We would finally have to pay dearly for our mistakes.