If you ride a bike, you’ll get a flat tire – it’s just a matter of when and how awkward the circumstances will be. My favorite setting is a cold drizzle next to a swamp swarming with mosquitoes and deer flies, no cell phone signal, getting dark, and no other person in sight. Your experiences may vary!
Although walking your bike is one option, being prepared to fix a flat quickly and effectively may be a preferred option. However, if you’d rather skip walking or preparing, here are a few other strategies for dealing with a flat tire:
- Always ride with other people who know how to fix a flat and have the means to do so – especially for your type of bike.
- Make sure someone is standing by to rescue you with a car - and only ride where there is a cell phone signal.
- Be sure your AAA subscription is up to date, as they now have a service to rescue bicycle riders.
- Also, only ride on nice days. Asking a friend to fix your flat in the rain might stress a friendship. And, standing in the rain waiting for your ride isn’t fun either.
- And, avoiding a flat all together is also something to think about. There are tires, tubes and compounds that might help with this goal. There are tires with puncture resisting strips like Kevlar that provide some protection. My personal favorite is the Marathon Plus puncture resistant tire - but not cheap. You can Google for “thorn resistant” tires and tubes also. And then there is “Slime” - Amazon price. And finally, the tubeless tire which (drum roll) has no tube! If you’re interested in this option (and have some extra money) read this article.
Assuming you would like to be a bit more self sufficient with regular tires, the rest of this post will attempt to provide some (hopefully) useful instructions. However, explaining how to change a flat is a bit like explaining how to ride a bicycle. But, once you learn, you never forget! At the end of this post, I’m linking a few videos - but these types of videos never seem to take into account that some of us older folks may not have the same hand strength as shown in the video (there are solutions for this problem). In any event, here are some general guidelines for changing a flat on the road:
- If you prefer to carry a spare tube, learn the correct tire/tube type and size for your bike – a Schrader tube won’t fit on a Presta rim. And a two inch tube is a bad choice for a one inch tire.
- Decide if you’re going to use a pump or CO2 inflator. Unless you quite strong, I strongly suggest the Topeak pump. As I don’t use CO2 gadgets, this link is just representative of this method – not an endorsement.
- Put all your tire tools and supplies in a separate small bag so they are easy to find – maybe this sounds silly to mention but rummaging around looking for tools while the mosquitoes feast isn’t fun. Your pump can be attached to your bike frame or loose in a larger bike bag.
- Know the procedure for getting at each wheel on your bike – practice at home – see if turning the bike upside down works. For a trike - test tipping it on the side to change front wheel tires.
- Once you get a flat, take the wheel off the bike – surgical gloves are a good idea for the rear wheel. Front wheels on a trike normally don’t have to be removed to fix a flat.
Note that some folks (like bike messengers) can patch a flat on a two wheel bike without removing the wheel from the bike frame. If you can do that - don’t bother with the rest of this post!
- Get all the air out of the tube - I like carrying an air gauge with the little bump thing on the back side.
- Break the bead all the way around with your fingers or a tire tool and then use a tool to pull the tire bead off one side of the rim.
- Use a marking pen to put adjacent “X” marks on the tube and the tire (more about this later). Pull the inner tube out of the tire and off the rim. Decide if you’re going to patch it or replace it with a different tube.
- Optionally, take the tire off the rim – an older tire may come off with just finger pressure – otherwise use a tire tool. See first video.
Note that the second video shows leaving the tire on the rim. This is usually OK if the tire itself isn’t damaged and doesn’t need to be replaced or have a “boot” installed.
- First inspect the outer part of tire to see if something is embedded. Then slowly run bare fingers over all inner tire surface to see if something sharp is coming through. For some tires, this procedure really does require taking the tire off the rim. To find a tire penetration, it can be helpful to locate the air leak in the tube first. Use the matching “X” marks to help determine the general area where the tire itself was pierced and check that area carefully. Of course something may have punctured the tire and not stayed with the tire. Tip - if you find a nick or small cut (1/8 inch or less) that is just in the surface of the tire, when you get home push "Shoe Goo" into the cut - it will keep small, sharp stones from lodging in there and eventually causing a flat.
- Patch the tube if you’ve run out of replacement tubes or just prefer patching – which is actually pretty simple and effective. Note that multiple flats are not uncommon – see “pinch flat” video below.
- Here is where people have different tactics for getting the new (or patched) tube back inside the tire – so, this is just how I do it.
- If you left one side of the tire mounted on the rim, proceed to the next step. Otherwise, remount one side of the tire (see first video). Us older folks may need to use tire tools.
- Put enough air in the tube that it just barely takes shape as a round object - too much air will make it very difficult to mount the tire -too little air encourages pinch flats. Push the stem into the rim hole - then put the rest of the tube inside the tire. This can be tricky with heavy walled tires and occasionally it’s necessary to take the tire off the rim, put the tube in it first, mount one side of the tire on the rim and then push the valve through the rim hole.
- If you took the tire completely off the rim, get the back bead fully on the rim (“back” simply meaning the side of the tire furthest away from you). You may need a tool for this unless it’s a well worn and soft tire.
Note again that you may or may not have taken the tire fully off the rim as seen in the second video
- Make sure the tube is fully inside the tire and the stem is properly lined up and then get the “front” bead onto the rim – tools usually needed.
Note that the video shows putting the front bead back on the rim with just his hands – this is fine with a well worn and soft tire – otherwise tools are needed.
- These previous two steps are the most difficult and where hand strength and/or proper tools are critical – also the part that can only be learned by doing it.
- Put enough air in the tube to fill it out when inside the tire but keeping the tire itself still slightly loose on the rim – again experience needed.
Note that the some of the videos just show looking at the bead to see if the tube is sticking out – very bad idea – see next step.
- This next step is where most people fail and cause another flat called a “Pinch Flat” because the tube is trapped under the bead at some place and will get cut through in a few miles of riding.
- Using your hands, go all around the tire and “break” the bead from the rim to make sure the tube isn’t trapped under the bead. It may well be trapped just slightly under the bead and not visible by just looking at the side of the tire – it will go flat in a couple of miles. Folding tires with soft beads (not wire) seem to be the worse for this problem.
- Put about 50 lbs of pressure in the tire and then deflate the tire just to the point where you can use your hands to break the bead again. This procedure makes sure there are no twisted parts of the tube that may eventually cause a flat.
Note: see the last video – unfortunately this procedure is seldom covered in these types of videos.
- Put full pressure in the tire and ride off into the sunset!
Best overall flat fixing video or non-video (text version)
If you’re 30 years old with this bike, then this video is great.
Trike videos: link, link, link
Most of the videos don’t deal with avoiding pinch flats – this one shows a bit of the procedure – (not very well – but somewhat helpful).
As long as we’re talking about tools, here is how I carry my emergency stuff for touring type rides – especially if I’m riding alone. On the other hand, if I’m out for the day doing a charity ride that is has sag wagon services, I’ll just use a small bag with minimal stuff. However, as this website hopes to encourage bicycle touring, we’ll continue with that theme.
Scroll to the image near the end of this post or see a larger version here. Although it looks like a lot when spread out, most of the items displayed below fit into two small nylon bags. All the tire stuff, except the extra tube and pump, go into one nylon bag. I leave the pump, tube, zip ties, rain hat, and multi-tool loose in the bottom of my “rack bag” – I find that Topeak has the best rack bags. Everything else goes into plastic bags and then into the other nylon bag.
Most of the items below are pretty obvious, but here are explanations for a few of the them:
- A multi-tool is essential for common bicycle adjustments. Get one with a “chain breaker” unless you carry a separate tool for fixing a broken chain.
- The medical kit just has the essentials for minor cuts and scrapes.
- The pliers & knife (Leatherman) is a heavy tool and not necessary unless you’re doing some pretty serious touring.
- Money is insurance against forgetting to take your wallet along to the coffee shop stop. If I carry the essential pages of my bike computer guide, I always know where it is!
- Surgical gloves and a shop cloth beats wiping black grease and grim onto your bike shorts.
- Zip ties weigh next to nothing and can really fix a lot of unexpected problems.
- The inner tube is wrapped in Gorilla Tape to both protect the tube from getting punctured in your bag, and also providing for some emergency tape.
- My spare parts result from experience in losing or breaking certain small items. Let your own experiences guide you – start with nothing but a chain master link.
- Cables – brake and derailleur – one of our email list members can attest to the value of having such cables on a remote road in Ireland! Make sure they are the correct length for your bike.
- You can Google the spoke kit – sure beats carrying spare spokes. And, be sure your spoke wrench is the right size.
- If you want the most important protection in case of unexpected rain, carry a helmet rain cover.