You’re out riding your bike, taking in the scenery, focusing on working out a sweat, or rushing to get to work on time when you’re suddenly troubled by that aggravating troublemaker, a flat tire. Why does it seem that a flat tire always appears at the worst possible moment?
Rather than attempting to figure out how to repair a tire and replace a tube the first time it happens, learn to fix and change a tire before you actually need to. Trust me, sitting at the side of the road is not the best time to figure it out.
In this article, I’ll clear up the uncertainty surrounding tire repair by explaining step by step the procedures for removing a tire, locating the puncture, repairing the tube, and reassembling the wheel. Keep reading so if a flat tire tries to derail your trip, you’ll be back on your bike in no time.
- What Causes A Flat Tire?
- How To Fix A Flat Bike Tire?
- How To Fix A Bike Puncture? – Patching The Inner Tube
What Causes A Flat Tire?
When it comes to flat tires, the universe does not play favorites. The next victim of a flat could just as easily be Lance Armstrong while competing at the Tour De France or a young man riding his bike to work.
Given that none of us is immune, all we can do now is understand what causes flats, minimize the chances of having one, and recover from one if we’re on the losing end of this game of chance.
When it comes to flats, the inner tube plays a leading role. The tube provides the cushion of air between the rider and the road, allowing for a comfortable, efficient ride. When the tubing is damaged in some manner, causing it to be unable to maintain air, a flat occurs.
Tube damage can be caused by any of the following:
✓ Sharp objects: Objects such as glass or a nail can pierce a tire and tube.
✓ Low tire pressure: When your tire pressure is low, it’s easier for an object to penetrate the tire rather than bounce off.
✓ The tube getting caught between the sharp edge of the wheel rim and the tire: When this happens, the result is referred to as a pinched flat or snakebite puncture.
✓ Tires wearing out: When your tires are worn down, they no longer have the ability to protect the tube.
✓ Tubes losing their integrity: If you’ve repaired your tubes many times, they’ll be more susceptible to damage.
How To Fix A Flat Bike Tire?
If you intend on doing a lot of riding, then you’ll most likely have to change flats on a frequent basis. You have two options for recovering from a flat:
- Install a spare tube. Although this method is a quick way to get back on the road in a matter of minutes, the cost of tubes can add up over time. But sometimes you just have to because you may have…
- Patched the tube a dozen or more times, so the integrity of the tube starts to break down
- A damaged stem valve, which will also require the tube to be replaced
- Patch the existing tube. This option is a cheap, reliable fix — and it’s the method we recommend.
In this section, we will walk you through the entire process of fixing a flat, with a focus on patching the existing tube.
How To Fix A Bike Puncture? – Patching The Inner Tube
Before you can even think about fixing a flat, you need to be able to remove the wheel. Fortunately, bike manufacturers have made our lives easier by using quick-release hubs and brakes.
But in case your bike does not come with a quick release, don’t fret — a wrench will do the trick.
Regardless of how your bike was made, the following instructions will help you get the job done.
Step 1: Loosen The Brakes
Brakes are generally positioned near the wheel rim, which prevents the wheel from being removed if the tire is fully inflated. So if you want to remove the wheel, you will first have to loosen the brakes so that there is room for the tire to fit through the brake pads.
Many bicycles have a quick-release built into the brake, allowing the cable to slacken and the brakes to spread quickly. The quick-release may vary depending on what type of brakes your bike has:
✓ Cantilever brakes: Squeeze the brake arms together with one hand to make slack in the cable and, with the other hand, lift the loose end of the cable out of its pocket. Then release the brake arms and they’ll pop open.
✓ V-brakes: Pinch the top of the brake arms together with one hand to loosen the cable, and with the other hand, pull the rubber boot back to reveal the cable. Carefully pull the cable out of the slot in the cable holder and release the brake arms to open the brakes.
✓ Side-pull brakes: For side-pull brakes, look for a small lever on the caliper where the cable is attached. Pull the lever upward and release the brakes just enough to allow the wheel to pass. In some models, you may have to push a button on the lever to release the tension on the brakes.
PRO TIP: If you can’t release the brakes to allow the tire to pass through the brakes, let the air out of the tire. This will give you the clearance you need.
Step 2: Remove The Bike Wheel
After the brakes are loosened, you’re ready to remove the wheel. To remove the wheel, follow these steps:
1. Shift the chain to the smallest cog in the back, so that the chain and derailleur have more slack and are out of the way.
- If you’re removing both wheels, remove the front wheel first, because it’s the easier of the two.
2. For wheels that use axle nuts: With the proper size wrench, begin by loosening one side slightly and then the other, alternate until the wheel is free. It’s best not to loosen one side all at once because this may cause hub-bearing issues, but if you have two wrenches, you can undo both nuts at the same time.
3. For quick-release wheels: Pull the lever away from the bike. This should be enough to free the front wheel. If not, hold the nut opposite of the lever with one hand while turning the lever a few times to loosen it.
Unlike the front wheel, which practically drops off the bike after you release it, the rear wheel is a little challenging since it has the chain and derailleur wrapped around its cogs. To free it you need to:
- Loosen the rear wheel nuts or quick-release in the same manner as you did for the front. You may need to strike the wheel from behind with a stiff blow to loosen the axle.
- Move the wheel away forward and downward from the derailleur to let the chain come off. If this doesn’t work, you may need to lift the chain off the cog with your hand.
PRO TIP: Don’t be intimidated by the chain, derailleur, and cogs when you remove the rear wheel. The chain and rear derailleur will stay attached to the bicycle frame and the cogs will stay attached to the rear wheel.
Step 3: Removing The Tire
Remove any remaining air from the tube through the tire valve. This will make the tire easier to remove. Then, using the tire levers, try to lift one side of the tire off the rim while leaving the other side in place. Here’s how:
- Pinch the tire all the way around the rim to move the edge (or the bead) of the tire away from the rim.
- Slide the flat end of the first tire lever between the rim and the bead of the tire under it.
- Pull the lever down so that the bead rises up and over the rim.
- Hook the bottom of the lever to a spoke to keep it in place.
- Because some tires are so tight, you’ll need more space, so don’t hook the first tire lever to the spoke until after you’ve slid the second lever under the tire.
- With a few inches away from the first lever, repeat steps 2 and 3 with the second tire lever.
- With the third lever, repeat steps 2 and 3, but instead of hooking the lever to a spoke, start dragging the lever around the wheel away from the first and second levers.
- The tire should gradually loosen up and the entire side will eventually pop off from the rim.
- Before removing the inner tube from the wheel, pump it up with a little extra air.
- The air is needed so you can look for the puncture and it’s easier to pump up the tube while it is still on the wheel.
- While the tire is still on the rim, reach under it and pull out the tube.
- When you reach the valve, lift up the tire and carefully pull the valve through the rim.
Step 4: Finding The Puncture
You’ll need to do a little detective work to find the puncture. To track down the leak, follow these steps:
- Examine the inner tube by listening for a leak. Pump up the tube to larger shape than round. With the additional air pressure, the leak may make a hissing sound as the air escapes.
- If you’re having trouble listening for the leak, float your finger above the surface of the inner tube until you feel air escaping.
- If you’ve narrowed the source of the leak to a small area, but you still can’t find the actual hole, apply a small amount of water (or saliva) to the tube. Bubbles will lead you to the hole.
- If you’re still having trouble finding the leak, submerge the tube underwater. A stream of bubbles will be clearly evident after submerging the tube. When you remove the tube from the water, mark the leak so that you don’t lose the location.
In some cases, a leak may be traced to a valve problem. Apply a few drops of water (or saliva) to the end of the valve to look for signs of air escaping.
If the leak is coming from a cracked or cuts stem, you’ll have to replace the tube. In the case of Presta valves, valve breaking is more likely than a leak because valves are fragile.
When the tube is outside of the tire, valve leaks are difficult to discover since the tube has little air pressure and typically leaks only when there is a lot of air pressure (that is, when the tube is sitting inside the tire and the tire is inflated to the correct air pressure).
Step 5: Patching The Inner Tube
After you’ve identified the source of the leak follow these steps to patch the tube:
- Lay the tube on a flat surface.
- Using the abrasive paper or metal scraper included in your repair kit, rough up the area around the puncture.
- This helps remove any dirt or debris on the surface and helps the patch bond to the tube.
- Apply a thin, even coating of the glue from the puncture repair kit over the tube in a spot centered over the puncture and slightly greater than the size of the patch. Allow the glue to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.
- Remove the metal backing from the patch. Avoid touching the sticky side of the patch during this process. Doing so can weaken the patch’s bonding properties.
- Apply the patch to the tube and make sure it is centered over the puncture.
- Press the patch firmly and repeatedly in place. Using a tire lever, smooth it out to remove any trapped air.
Leave the cellophane in place as it prevents the glue from sticking to the tire.
Step 6: Putting On The Tube And Tire
To reinstall the tube and the tire on the wheel, follow these steps:
- Partially inflate the tube just enough air to give it its shape.
- Position the wheel with the valve hole facing upward.
- Pull back the tire and insert the valve of the tube into the valve hole on the wheel.
- Working your way around the tire, carefully tuck the tube up into the tire and on the rim. Make sure you don’t twist the tube.
- Pinch together the sides of the tire in order to lift the other half of the tire bead onto the rim. Use your hands to put the bike tire on the rim. Do not use the tire levers as it could repuncture the tube.
- Start with the valve in the bottom, or 6 o’clock, position and work for your hands away from each other around the wheel while pushing down on the bead with your thumbs or other fingers.
- When your hands get closer together at the top, or the 12 o’clock position, squeeze with as much force as you can. This should allow you to pop the final portion of the bead into place.
- Inspect the tire to make sure that the tube is not sticking out from under it.
- If everything looks good, begin to inflate the tube according to the pounds per square inch (PSI) rating, marked on the sidewall of the tire.
As you pump up the tube, make sure the tube is expanding consistently within the bike tire and isn’t bulging in any areas. If the tube isn’t expanding consistently or is bulging, the tube may be twisted or pinched by the tire and need to be reinstalled.
Step 7: Reattach The Wheel
To attach the wheel, follow these simple steps:
- Confirm that the brakes have been released and there is space for the wheel to pass between them.
- If you’re attaching the front wheel, position the wheel hub within the frame’s fork and slide it into place.
- If you’re attaching the rear wheel, make sure the shifter is placed into the highest gear, the gear that moves the chain farthest away from the bike and onto the smallest cog.
- Maneuver the wheel into place so that the top part of the chain just above the derailleur falls onto the smallest sprocket. To facilitate this step, push the derailleur arm down and pull the cogs in between the loop.
- With the chain sitting on the smallest cog, which is the cog it was on when you removed the wheel, slide the wheel into place into the rear dropout part of the frame.
- Fasten the quick release or the axle nuts.
There you have it, folks. Now that we’ve laid out the process step-by-step for removing a tire and repairing your tube, there should be no more uncertainty about what to do when faced with a flat on the go.
Remember these tips so if an unplanned repair pops up during your next bike ride, you know exactly what steps to take in order to get back on the road quickly!