4 Flat Bike Tire Repair Issues To Avoid

September 15, 2021 0 Comments

Close-up on front bicycle wheel in a row of road bikes

Flat tires are par for the course for any cyclist. It’s not a question of if, but when they will happen. 

We’ve covered how to change a flat bike tire in another post — and that’s an essential read — but some common problem areas merit a bit more exploration. When the time comes to fix a flat bike tire in the middle of a ride, it helps to know where most cyclists have trouble.

Over his years of cycling and coaching countless others, Coach Darryl MacKenzie has seen four areas that can cause problems for cyclists when they need to fix a flat bike tire during a ride. Let’s look at each in turn.

Getting the Tire Off

Even when your tube is deflated, your tire is made to have a pretty snug fit around the rim. That makes getting it off the rim — particularly the first 6 inches or so — fairly difficult. You need tire irons (also called tire levers for a bike) to do it, but there’s more to it than just having the tools.

“People often have tire irons but don’t know how to use them,” says Coach Darryl. 

Essentially, many cyclists think they can get the tire over the rim by pulling up with a single tire lever. Often, though, that’s not enough, and the tire will just slip back onto the rim. You’ll probably need another tire lever to get the job done.

With your second tire lever, dig in underneath the tire 2 or 3 inches away from the first one. Once you have the tire raised above the rim in two spots, hold the wheel perpendicular to your chest and, while holding the first tire lever in place, slowly move the second tire lever toward you until the gap between the levers is about 8 or 10 inches.

Make sure you have the levers angled properly so that you can get the tire up over the rim. As Darryl describes it, the lever should hang down over the rim in about the four o’clock position (a 65-degree angle). That way you’ll have enough leverage to pull the tire off. 

Looking for the Hole Too Late

At the next step in the process, many cyclists are tempted to race forward and get the tube out before they know where the hole is.

“Once the tube has been removed from the tire — even if you know where the hole is on the tube — it’s extremely difficult to trace back to where it is in the tire,” says Darryl.

If you don’t find where the hole is in the tire, you don’t know if the object that punctured your tube is still there or not. And if it is still there, you’re just going to pop your brand new tube once you get back on the road.

To avoid this problem, don’t remove your tube completely from the tire until you find the hole. Remove it most of the way, leaving a few inches in place on either side of the valve. Then find the hole on your tube and trace it to that spot on the tire (you can use a hand pump to push some air through if you’re having trouble finding the hole). Clear out the offending object, then take your tube the rest of the way out.

Getting the Tire Back On

If you thought getting the tire off was difficult, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise when it comes time to get the tire back on the rim after you’ve replaced your tube. This is the most challenging step in the whole process.

“I have gotten telephone calls and text messages from people on the road, saying ‘Darryl, I’ve got a flat tire and I’ve been trying to get the tire back on for 20 minutes,’” says Darryl. 

Once you get to that last 6 inches of the tire, it can seem nearly impossible to get the rest over the rim. But there are four things you can do to make it easier:

Keep your gloves on. This will give you a much better grip than just working with your hands.

Don’t use your tire levers. This is the knee-jerk reaction — after all, they worked for getting it off, right? But Darryl warns that you’re liable to nick the new tube with a hole before you’ve even filled it.

Make sure the tire is seated properly. The base of your rim has a low spot in the very center, and the edges of your tire need to fit perfectly into that. As you’re seating your tire around the rim, squeeze the tire and seat the tube down inside that dip. Doing this will minimize the stretch on your tire and make it a little easier to push those last few inches over the edge.

Use your hands, not your fingers. Once you get to the last 6 inches, you need as much leverage as possible. Don’t try to push the tire with your thumbs. Instead, use the palms of both hands and, working your hands toward each other, roll the tire up and over the rim.

Not Seating the Tube Properly

Once you have the tire back on, you might be overeager to inflate it and get riding again. There’s one more thing to check, though, or you risk undoing all your hard work.

Before you inflate, make sure the tube is fully enclosed under the tire. Check all the way around the tire — on both sides of the wheel — for any signs of the tube sticking out from underneath the edge of the tire. If you inflate it with even just a small bit of tube pinched under the tire, you’ll explode your brand new tube. 

Push any stray bits of the tube under the tire — then you’re ready to inflate and hit the road.

Whether you’re changing a tire on your own or with your cycling group, these are the critical moments in the process that you don’t want to rush. Everyone wants to fix a flat bike tire as quickly as possible, but if you’re not careful, you could ruin your whole ride.

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Daniel Llorente on Unsplash