38 – libero

Flat tires blow. Flat tires are a drag. A flat tire can suck the life out of a good ride.

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On Sunday morning of March 14, 2010, I was sitting under a tree in south Arkansas. I could still see the Louisiana line to the south, and a long road to Hamburg to the north. I was riding my first motorcycle – a Suzuki Intruder – back to Conway, Arkansas from Monroe, Louisiana. I had it painted cobalt blue with silver flames down the top of each side of the tank, and matching flames on the back fender. It was styled to match the Harley Rocker C of that year, which I couldn’t afford.

The license plate read “libero” – latin for freedom – and that is still the tag I use on a different bike now. But I wasn’t feeling the freedom as I sat under the tree, because I had a flat rear tire. I was new to riding at the time and when the bike started wobbling after a construction zone, I thought a wheel was about to roll off down the road with me sitting on hot pavement.  After I waddled to a stop in a gravel parking lot just north of the state line, I dismounted and was relieved that it was only a flat, and that I didn’t go down. After a break in the shade of the tree, I pulled my tire plug kit out of a saddle bag and went to work. Use the pliers to pull out the screw left on the construction site by some &@#%^$*; ream the hole out, load the rubber plug into the jabber-tool, jab it in and pull the tool out. I was proud of my boy-scout-like preparedness until I realized I had no air to put back in the tire.

I walked the bike up to the parsonage of the church whose parking lot I was using, and a friendly preacher came out to assist. I explained my plight and he cordially showed me his electric air compressor as we talked about the sermon he was about to deliver to his surely spiritually hungry congregation. After declining his invitation to join them, I hit the road, riding smoothly and feeling my libero again.

In about 5 miles I was experiencing a noticeable shimmer, and in about 10 miles I was waddling like a hippo pregnant with twins. Thank goodness I was rolling into Hamburg by that time. On the south side of Hamburg is a little local shop called “M&M Auto and Tire.” They were closed, it being Sunday morning, but I pulled into their lot anyway. Hamburg is a small rural town, and I figured everyone probably knew each others and their cousins and second cousins twice removed, so I walked over to the Dollar General and asked if they knew Mr. M, of the tire shop. They did, to my partial surprise, and they were kind enough to call him. He was then especially kind to come down to the shop.

On looking at the bike he explained something I learned the hard way at that moment: wheels with spokes generally have inner tubes. I had spoked wheels, which means even though the tire said “tubeless” on the side, the wheel required a tube because otherwise air would leak out of the spoke holes in the rim. I had simply never thought of that. So the tire shop guy, despite his best intentions, could not help because he did not stock a tube that would fit, plus he didn’t know how to get the back wheel off my bike. My freedom was waning again.

I finally accepted the fact, after some significant struggle with my pride, that I would have to call on my in-laws to bring a trailer to carry the bike home. Ugh. I have to give my in-laws credit here for being more gracious than most would be. I got a little ribbing, but no real complaints. They seemed to lean more toward “glad to help” than “you idiot,” for which I was quite thankful.

The next bike I bought was a Triumph Sprint ST, with solid wheels, so I could use a plug.

My present bike is a BMW GS. The last time I took it to the shop I used for my previous bikes, for a tire issue, the cashier lady asked me if my tire used a tube or not. I said it was tubeless and then, doubting my answer, she asked if I had spokes. I explained that I did, so she then mocked me for thinking a spoked wheel would have a tubeless tire. The funny thing is that BMW puts their spokes on the outside edge of the rim, outside the seal of the tire, to avoid the problem explained above. German engineering.

All this – probably a little tedious and boring for the non-biker – leads me to this following thought, taken from a fellow blogger, nadia harhash:

Freedom is not granted.

This, to me, is a very interesting thought. I suppose some of my old clients might remember being released from jail and disagree, but in a less physical sense, it is true. Any freedom granted can also be revoked, and would therefore be insecure. You could then make the case that insecure freedom is no freedom at all. I thought I had my freedom back when my tire was repaired, but as long as libero was tied to the bike functioning correctly, it was too tenuous to be real, unfettered freedom.

Ms. Harhash wrote this from the perspective of a Palestinian in her homeland. She argues that freedom given by the Nation of Isreal is illlusory. I believe that our founding fathers would agree that freedom is not granted, at least by man, and that has everything to do with the philosophy behind the U.S. Declaration and Constitution. But that is a post for a different day.

For now, although I still use the “libero” plate, and I affectionately call my bike “Lib,” I agree that freedom is something I claim, and if I release my grip on it to the control of my bike or my government or my circumstances, I have lost it altogether.

Apparently, as a Christian American man, I can learn from a Muslim Palestinian Woman.

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