De-Lousing Susan
by Moon of moonoverpittsburgh


This morning, putting off the inevitable even though I wasn't sure what exactly was inevitable this fine Saturday morning save this evening's bachelor party for a friend, I flipped over my fixie, Susan, to clear her tires of debris. A flashlight, tweezers, and ten minutes: it's an easy, satisfying task, Susan so much a part of me that removing slivers of metal and glass and pebbles from the treads of her aging tires is as gratifying as removing splinters from my own skin.

As I slowly spun the tire, flashlight carefully angled to create a tangent of light and an oval of brightly lit rubber, an angle optimized to bounce light off shiny bits of debris and signal their locations nearly submerged by the surface of the tire as they often are, I espied a tiny white bug, not unlike booklice: infinitesimal, shaped like a slightly flattened beetle or tick, cave-dweller pale. I skewered it with my tweezers, leaving a tiny blot of moisture on the tread, and continued on, finding surprisingly few objects lodged in the tire but frequent tears in its surface, especially inside the tiny lightning bolt Specialized S's, virtually all of which contained minor rips likely induced by my not infrequent skids, which pull mercilessly at the tire as it grasps at gravel and asphalt to slow 160 pounds of steel and flesh.

Then I observed another bug, and dispatched him too, vaguely irked. Just a moment later, I saw two more, tumbling over each other as they negotiated the pits and ridges of the tire's surface; this looked like an infestation, one unlike any I had ever observed or imagined.

I hate bugs. I really hate bugs. The small ones especially, because one can imagine they are everywhere. And one does. This one, anyway.

Further rotation of the tire -- by now, I was spinning it by grasping the spokes, preferring not to touch the unclean surface of the tire itself -- disclosed yet more of the little bugs, ranging from small to impossibly small, mite-like, living on Susan!!!

Next, I took the logical step of inspecting the front tire. Oddly, the front tire disclosed a less worn but more pocked and superficially damaged tread, no debris, no bugs. I checked it several times around. Still no bugs. I wandered over to my geared bike, the bike without a name, which rests alongside Susan collecting dust, the air slowly bleeding from its unused tires, neglected long before any scavenging vermin got to them. On these tires, as well, I observed no insects.

Logging on to the internet, I posted a question to the fixed-gear mailing list, to tap into the wisdom of the international fixed-gear community. Surely if this were an infestation, it wasn't one-of-a-kind; someone else would understand, would have answers, would help me understand how to de-louse Susan.

The first message in reply consisted of a quip, and a confession of ignorance regarding the substantive problem I face. The second, however, from another gentleman, suggested experience, and warned of pestilence.

He wrote:

Those are most likely Vittoria beetles, commonly called tire ticks. The only solution is to replace every tire on every bicycle in the immediate vicinity. If you ignore them, they'll suck all the air out of your tires.

While I had been planning to replace the 38c tires on my geared bike with something narrower, in the vicinity of 28c, I had no cause to replace the tires on my fixie, which came to me new and more or less unused with the bike when I bought it in the winter. Indeed, recently I'd been planning to invite a friend who confessed ignorance as to how tubes and tires are changed to hang with me one afternoon on the porch while I rotated the tires on the fixie, to prolong their very satisfying life. I have only flatted once in hundreds of miles; and to find similarly reliable tires would cost plenty.

So now, instead of two tires it seemed like a good idea to replace at some point in the next couple of months, I have to replace four, urgently. And I imagine I also have to throw away four tubes, Lysol the wheels and their stable (unfortunately, a corner of my bedroom), and all of this before I close on the house I just bought, since I'll have enough to worry about with an aging, flaking Victorian without introducing an infestation of rubber munching white mites the moment I move in.

Worse, until I can get all of this done, I have to live with the fact that at least one, and quite possibly both of my bikes, at least one, and quite possibly four tires, are crawling with -- eesh! -- bugs.

Granted, if you are, like me, still fairly naive to the nuance of bike maintenance, you might wonder, as I do, whether I'm being had. (Vittoria, of course, being a tire manufacturer.) But at the end of the day, does it matter? A) If CycleDog is so clever as to invent that on the fly ("tire ticks!?"), I deserve to be had; and B) even if he is pulling my leg, the fact remains, in whatever way, for whatever reason, and to whatever degree, one of Susan's tires plainly is infested by something, and one reasonably can assume that whatever the vile creatures are, they are more than prepared to, and certainly will given sufficient time, infest the other tires and only God knows what else.

So I guess it's time to do some shopping, and pray I can get a couple more rides out of the infested tire before the new ones arrive. In the meantime, I can at least console myself that with every spin I am killing who knows how many tire ticks, and that those who survive are probably throwing up all over the inside of my rapidly rolling tires. A simple pleasure, but a gratifying one. I wouldn't make a very good Jain, I suppose; I thrill in the torment of any creatures that lack fur and make me, or Susan, feel unclean.

And in that sense, de-lousing Susan is akin to de-lousing myself, which makes removing splinters, literally or figuratively, pale by comparison.


Moon cycles, lawyers, and ambles about the streets of Pittsburgh. Time has proven the following piece, originally published in slightly different form at MOP, to have been unduly histrionic. It nevertheless amuses, and is in no way false. Furthermore, over-reacting is a bit of a hobby for Moon. So to the extent Will is inclined to post it Moon is willing to affix his name to it.

v1.0 written June 2005

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