A flat bike tire is the most common mechanical problem for cyclists. While the idea of changing a flat sounds daunting, it’s actually an easy fix. To avoid getting stranded (or surfing through half the contacts on your mobile phone), grab your wheel, a set of tire levers and an air pump and practice changing your bike’s tube.
Step 1: Remove the bike wheel
Begin by either unhooking or flipping the lever on the cable that clasps your brakes together. This ensures there’s space for the wheel to pass through the brakes. Then either unscrew the bolt or flip the lever on the wheel’s quick release and loosen it. If you need to replace the front tire, remove it. If the puncture’s on the rear tire, shift the chain to the smallest rear cog and then pull the derailleur back, sliding the wheel out from the chain.
Step 2: Locate the offender
It could be a tiny piece of glass or a sharp cinder that caused the flat. Hitting a pothole can also compress the tire, pinching a hole in the bike tube. Hitting a larger object like a rock will leave a gash in the sidewall of the tire, which is usually easy to spot. Start by checking the valve stem for damage and if it looks okay, fix your peepers on the rest of the tire, slowly scanning it for damage. If you locate something that doesn’t belong, carefully remove it.
Step 3: Remove the flat bike tire
Let the rest of the air out of the bike tire and then grab your tire levers and slide the edge of the lever under the tire’s stiff bead on the side opposite to the valve stem. Push the bead toward the center of the tire as you slide the lever underneath and move around the tire. If you can’t unseat the bead with just one lever, hook the first lever on a spoke and slide a second lever under the bead. Then carefully work your way around the tire. Once the tire is unseated on one side, carefully pull the valve stem out of the wheel. Inspect the tube and tire for damage and remove any sharp items. It’s crucial that you remove the sharp object from the tire or you’ll have another flat in your future.
Step 4: Replace the flat bike tube
While you can patch a tube, it’s still safer to replace it. Take the new tube, open the valve stem and blow enough air to just barely inflate it so it begins to take shape. Next insert the valve stem into the hole in the rim and slip the tube into the tire. When one side/bead of the tire is in the rim, repeat this step on the other side, using your thumbs to push the tire onto the rim, working from the valve stem out. Just be careful not to pinch the tube in the rim.
Step 5: Inflate the new bike tire
Before you begin adding air, take one last look to ensure that the tube isn’t sticking out of the tire. Then inflate the tire using either a CO2 cartridge or pump and reinstall the wheel. Don’t forget to replace your CO2 cartridge and tube so you’re prepared for the next time.
Quick tips to avoid a flat bike tire:
- Inspect your bike tires regularly for excessive wear, flat spots or any sharp objects
- If you accidentally ride through glass, reach down with the palm of your glove and lightly scrape the bike tire as it spins (careful with the rear tire) or stop riding and spin the tire
- Check your tire pressure every couple of rides and inflate it to the proper PSI. Under and over-inflated tires are both susceptible to pinch flats
- Avoid riding through debris
- Frequent flats? Talk to your local bike shop about using a more durable bike tube or tire
- Ride with the right bike tools with you