Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Tack on Bicycles!

I rode to work on Friday morning like I always do, and on my way across the Mercer Island I-90 trail, I noticed a lot of folks with flat tires. I didn't think much of it, but I did slow down and confirm that the riders were "Ok" before riding on. After crossing the bridge I came to the I-90 tunnel and saw my friend and co-worker James, who was patching his tire. Two other cyclists stopped to help him out with the job. From one of the other riders I found out that he had counted 6 riders with flats from carpet tacks. James's flat was also caused by a tack, that made 7 we knew about.

On my way home, I rode with another buddy from work, Tim, and we saw three more cyclists stopped fixing flats. We stopped right after that and rubbed our tires hoping that we hadn't picked up any tacks ourselves. We were lucky so far.

The rest of the ride home was uneventful, but Tim mentioned that he has had a lot of flats by tack in the last month, and had tried various ways to avoid them. He tried using Slime tubes, Kevlar tires, tire liners etc all to no avail. I resolved to take some time on Saturday and see if I could locate the source of these tacks and clean them up.

Saturday at the crack of noon I headed to the hardware store where I bought a magnet on a stick.

I drove to the park near the Eastern side of the floating I-90 bridge. I had seen people with flats as far away as the Eastern I-90 bridge but James had said he thought he picked up the tack on the Western highrise. The riders I had seen were at the other end of the bridge. So I parked and started down the trail.

I resolved to sweep one side of the trail and the other side going back. From my test trials in the hardware store, I realized you have to be pretty near the object to snag it. When you walk and swing this magnet it traces sort of a "Z" down the path. The arc doesn't quite cover the whole area where you walk. If this was land mine sweeping, I'd be dead, but it's not.

I now realize that bicyclists are jerks to pedestrians on this bridge. Almost no one said "On your Right!" or rang a bell or horn so that I could hear them coming. With the traffic driving by at 60mph, bicyclists, myself included tend to push it and when a cyclist rides by and close to you at 20+mph, it's not pleasant. I'm as visible as it gets as I was wearing my highway worker vest and some lime green gloves, I look sort of like a blind person and still they mostly passed way too closely, and with no warning. Now that's not all riders but it is a lot of them. Anyway after two hours of a slow pace across the bridge I was pretty hopping mad at the too close riders, thinking about other uses for a cane.

Well after a little more than an hour I reached the Western high rise with only this to show for my trouble. Yep metallic dirt, probably rust from cars or bits from the re-bar in the concrete in the bridge.

I did pick up these bits of junk. Not really sharp, but who needs this trash to wash into the lake.

When I turned around to go back across the bridge I noticed a real blind person. This woman with her cane was over near the overlook fishing around in the bushes. I asked her what's up and could I help, and she mentioned that she had dropped her main cane and could I see it? All I could see were bushes, but when I used my magnet stick, I was able to push the bushes from side to side, and low and behold, found her cane. It was about 4ft below the observation deck and I was able to snare the loop on the handle with my stick and return it. I had been wondering why I had bothered to sweep a clean bridge with a magnet, but now I realize that I was supposed to be here and help this woman.

Next here comes a guy walking his bicycle! Yep another tack flat. He told me that he noticed the flat tire on the other end of the bridge and had walked across the rest of the way.

So I went back across the bridge. Near the Eastern high rise I met this family who was also out looking for tacks. Only unlike me, they had found some.

This girl had spotted about 20 tacks. Turns out her parents bicycle commute from Mercer Island to Seattle at about 6:30am and had both gotten flats. They had come back to look today and found a few tacks and were headed across the bridge to look for more. I saved them that trip and we headed back to where they had found their first tacks.

With my magnet and an extremely slow sweep along the trail and the side I collected these tacks.

You'd think that a pleasant bit of trail like this wouldn't have tube tearing menace in it. This is very near the spot where all the cyclists gather to meet for rides around Mercer Island. It's no where near the road, so someone had to walk or ride a bike here to drop these tacks. My theory is that it's a disgruntled pedestrian. But it could be a driver who is mad and knows where the bikes go. Or maybe some crazy love triangle among the cyclists who gather? I must watch too many soap opera movies. Crazy people don't need a reason to do crazy things.

I think I got them all and if next week you find one in your tire, I'm sorry but I spent as much time as I had to do this. I'm just hoping that whoever did this realizes that it's bloody dangerous to have an unexpected puncture. You lose a lot of control when the tire goes flat fast and if it's the front one you could lose enough control that you actually injure yourself or someone else.

We need to remember we are all on this planet together and we need to share the roads, not make them more dangerous for each other.


  1. I'm betting disgruntled ped myself, considering that's me most of the time.

  2. Here is a google map link showing the overview.

    The tacks were along 20 ft of trail on the bit just North of the Metro bus stop on I-90. (between the road and the path to the parking lot)

  3. Thanks for cleaning that up. I got a flat around there on Oct 14, although I had no issues on Oct 17. Thankfully it was my rear and not my front that went flat.