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Tales from the Lardbutt Peloton, November 4, 2004

Team Lardbutt don't claim to be the fastest bikers on the planet. But after one of their members discovered yet another use for that humble piece of dental floss, could they be the smartest?

Genius, Not-Genius, and The Dental Floss Way of Bike Repair

By Greg Taylor

Somebody had to try it, and if my buddy JT's experimental dental floss tire repair had worked, it would have been HUGE.

To be totally fair to my buddy JT, even I'll have to admit that sometimes it's a very fine line between "Genius" and the opposite of "Genius" - those alarming examples of "inspiration" that I'll call "Not-Genius". Approached properly, a genuinely bad idea can have the same look and feel as a brilliant one right up to the point where things start to go all wobbly and you start eyeing the location of the nearest emergency exit. The hardest part, of course, is telling the two apart. What we're talking about here is the subtle difference between "It's just crazy enough to work" and "It's just crazy." And like I said, if JT had pulled it off and actually fixed his bike tire with a roll of dental floss, I would have personally handed him the application form for Mensa.

If you stop to think about it, dental floss is pretty brilliant stuff. No complicated electric gizmos with vibrating brushes or miniature pumps blasting jets of water; just a hygienic, inexpensive, nylon string that you run between your choppers to remove tooth barnacles and prevent gum disease. Simple, elegant. Genius, really.

But it doesn't end there. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, when it comes to the topic of dental floss our fellow homo sapiens have shown the same dissatisfaction with the status quo that coaxed our prehistoric ancestors to come down from the trees and into convenient loft apartments near shopping and Starbucks. People have found far more uses for the humble tooth cleaner than its inventors could ever have imagined. You can use it to slice cheese, remove biscuits that are stuck to the baking biscuit sheet, repair a backpack or tent or winter jacket when you're on the road, and if you're really obsessive, you can clean the crevices in the turned legs of your wooden furniture. Anesthetists sometimes use dental floss to secure the location of an endotracheal tube in a patient's mouth during surgery - they tie the tube to a few teeth using dental floss. And (again according to the good Dr. Karl) at least one Italian Mafioso escaped from a Turin jail after sawing through the bars of his cell with strands of dental floss.

Just don't try to use the stuff to sew up a big ol' gash in the sidewall of a high-pressure racing tire. A case of "Not Genius" in spades.

JT said that the idea came to him while he was brushing his teeth. He was a little irked because he had a brand new tire that suffered a rather annoying sidewall cut. Normally, you'd bin a tire like that and start fresh. Not our JT. He is made of sterner stuff. Plus, he can be a cheap bastard. JT figured that rather than eat the thirty dollars - after all, it was a brand new tire - he'd repair it somehow.

But how?

Staring into the bathroom mirror one morning, toothbrush in hand, JT picked up a little roll of unwaxed dental floss that was sitting there on a shelf above the sink. Now that particular roll of dental floss had probably been on that shelf above JT's bathroom sink for years, and not once had he given it much thought.

I mean, c'mon, who spends their time thinking deeply about dental floss?

This morning, however, was different. As JT mulled the tire problem over, he unconsciously tore off a strip of floss like he did every morning, except that this morning he noticed for the first time that, damn, this stuff is hard to break...

Lightbulbs snapped on, choruses of angels sang, and you could almost feel the floor rumble as JT's now-febrile train of thought pulled out of the station - a high-speed express headed around the bend and straight for the washed-out bridge next to the dynamite factory. Before you could say "My, what a remarkably bad idea," JT had grabbed a large sewing needle, the kerput tire, and had set to work, nimbly stitching up the tear in the tire with dental floss. For good measure, JT decided to complete his handiwork by smearing the area with Shoe Goo, a self-vulcanizing liquid rubber used to repair sneakers.

The finished product looked a lot like what you'd expect from a man sewing up a tire with a carpet needle and dental floss while sitting cross-legged on the floor of his bathroom. In a word, lumpy.

You can probably surmise the rest of the story. Flushed with the intoxicating-yet-ill-placed confidence that comes from a true flash of Not-Genius, JT decided to show up for our normal Sunday group ride on his repaired tire, ready to rock. He rolled along for about 15 miles, happy as a clam, until we all stopped to take a look at a truly dandy little warehouse fire, complete with fire engines, flames, and smoke. I guess that, when you get right down to it, we're all still just little boys at heart and the chance to see some fire engines in action was too tough to resist.

Anyway, it was here watching the fire that we noticed that JT's tire had been quietly amusing itself during the ride by doing its best Pamela Anderson impression. The dental floss stitches that JT had so carefully sewn into the sidewall were coming undone one by one in a slow, majestic, velo strip-tease. We all circled around the back of JT's bike, transfixed as what could only be described as a pair of miniature breasts began to emerge from the sidewall of JT's tire; a diminutive set of rubber-clad mammaries created by the distended inner tube poking out from between the stitches and Shoe-Goo.

JT gingerly turned his bike around and headed for home.

Despite this small setback, JT hasn't given up on bike repairs using dental floss. Not at all. He's a True Believer; a convert to the Dental Floss Way of Bike Repair. JT has cleaned out the oral hygiene aisle at the local pharmacy and, at last report, he was seen busily wrapping his handlebars in strands of dental floss. He says that, if you are careful, six rolls will do one handlebar.

And, you know, JT may be on to something here. He says that floss makes a dandy bar wrap; it's grippy, not affected by rain or dampness, and - here's the part he's really excited about - if you use one of those fancy breath-freshening flosses, it leaves your riding gloves with a nice, minty-fresh smell.

Mint-scented handlebar tape? Dude, this could be HUGE...

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