If the only thing keeping you from enjoying a nice long bike ride is concern about getting a flat tire, you’ve come to the right blog post! Check out the step-by-step instructions below for all you need to know to change your bike tire on the fly:
(Note: If you do not know how to remove the wheel from your bike, you can visit your friendly neighborhood bike shop and they will happily teach you how!)
REMOVE THE TIRE
For starters, your wheel consists of the rim, spokes, tire and tube.
(photo from bookshelfboyfriend.com)
The spokes maintain the rounded shape of the rim. The rim creates friction against the brake pads when stopping. The tube contains the air pressure, and the tire encases the tub while providing traction on the road/trail. A road bike will have smooth skinny tires while a mountain bike will have knobby wide tires. Less traction on the road makes for a faster ride, while more traction on the trail makes for less slippage on loose gravel.
To remove the tire from the rim, you’ll need tire levers, which can be purchased for around $5. To make it easier, release the rest of the air by compressing the tube valve. Insert the “scoop” side of the tire level in the OPPOSITE side of the rim as the tube valve. Find the bead on the inside lip of the tire, slip the “scoop” under it, and hook it to the nearest spoke (if your tire lever includes that feature).
Insert the second tire lever a few spokes distance from the attached tire lever, and slide the free-hand tire lever around the rim until one side of the tire is completely removed from the rim.
REMOVE THE TUBE
Your tube valve will either be a shrader valve (the kind you’ll find on your car tire) or a presta valve (most common among road bike tires). Remove the valve cover and tension nut, then set them somewhere you won’t lose track of! Push the tube valve up through the valve hole, and outside of the tire. Be sure not to bend or damage the valve while doing this.
Your tube should now be completely removed from the rim, with the tire half attached to the wheel. Now it’s time to figure out where the puncture occurred, and remove any debris that might cause another flat!
IDENTIFY THE CAUSE
Whether you have a spare tube or plan to patch your flat tube, you’ll still need to figure out where the puncture took place so you can prevent it from happening again on the same ride! There are three common types of flat tires:
- Puncture flat (a sharp object like glass, rock or metal penetrated the tire deeply enough to pop the tube)
- Pinch flat (the tire rode over a sharp edge which pinched the tube against the rim causing a “snake bike” hole in the tube. This is most common when a tire is under-inflated)
- Slashed tire wall (the tire has a gash or hole large enough to expose the tube)
If the flat was caused by a puncture, you’ll want to make sure the offending item is not still embedded in the tire. If it is, the item will cause another flat! To avoid this, inspect the outside of the tire thoroughly and remove any rocks, glass, or metal. You’ll also want to (carefully) feel the inside of the tire and remove any objects that may have pushed all the way through and are not visible from the outside.
Finally, you’ll want to inspect the tire wall for gashes or holes. If you see any gashes or holes in the tire wall, you can add a “tire boot” to the inside of the tire wall to prevent the tube from being exposed. Tire boot kits can be purchased for about $3.50. However, it’s cheaper to use a $1 bill (the fibrous paper will prevent the tube from pushing through the hole)!
This fix will get you through the rest of your ride, but your tire is still compromised and you’ll need to buy a new one before taking your bike out again.
REPLACE THE TUBE
If you’re patching your damaged tube, inflate it partially with a hand pump, your mouth, or a CO2 cartridge with a “flow control” adapter. You only need to inflate it enough to give shape and hear the air leak. When you find the location of the leak, you can use a patch kit to seal it. Patch kits come in a variety of options and cost about $1.50 – $3.
Regardless of what type you have, it’ll come with a small piece of sand paper. Use the sand paper to gently rough-up the area of tube around the hole. Apply your patch, and you’re good to go!
Personally, I recommend riding with a spare tube (it saves time, plus if you damage your spare tube, you still have the original one to patch and get home with)! If you’re using a new tube, you’ll still want to inflate it enough to give it shape. This will prevent the tube from getting twisted when you tuck it inside the tire (a twisted tube will explode when you inflate it)!
Insert the tube valve into the valve hole on the rim, and tuck the tube into the tire. Screw the valve nut back onto the valve… just enough to hold the valve in place. You can tighten it all the way once the tube is fully inflated.
SECURE THE TIRE
Now that the tube is tucked into place, you can “pinch” the tire bead back into the wheel rim with your hands. I recommend starting on the SAME side as the valve (since this is where the tire will be tightest), making your way around the rim with both hands and ending on the side of the rim OPPOSITE the valve.
As you get closer to the last section of bead, it’ll become tougher to push the tire bead into place, but it shouldn’t be impossible. If it seems impossible, your tube is probably too inflated. Letting a little air out should do the trick!
You now have an undamaged (or booted) tire wall that is clean of debris or open gashes, a new tube in place, and a tire that is seated securely inside the rim. It’s almost time to inflate the tube and be on your way! BUT, first let’s make sure the tube won’t get pinched between the tire bead and metal wheel rim. To do this, just pinch back the tire wall away from the wheel rim and make sure all you see is rim tape, not tube. If you can see the tube, tuck it all the way into the tire.
INFLATE THE TIRE
If you’re not sure how much to inflate your tire, look for the recommended psi (pounds per square inch) on the wall of your tire.
There are two ways you can inflate a tire (assuming someone with a floor pump doesn’t magically appear on the side of the road… which has happened before!):
- Hand Pumps are small, sleek and efficient, depending on your tire’s minimum recommended psi. Mountain bikes typically require 30-65 psi, whereas road bikes typically require 80-130 psi. For someone who weighs less than 120 lbs, it’ll be pretty tough to hand pump your tire above 100+ psi (unless you have great triceps!)
- CO2 Cartridges containing compressed carbon dioxide and are the quick, light-weight option. However, once you use the cartridge… it’s done, so there isn’t much room for error. To use a CO2 cartridge you’ll also need a CO2 inflator/adapter. These come in different types and styles, but on the most basic level the cartridge screws onto the adapter until it’s punctured, and the CO2 is released.
CO2 cartridges have just enough gas to inflate the tire to it’s recommended psi, so make sure you purchase the correct size cartridge for your bike. Now, all you have left to do is replace the wheel on your bike, make sure your quick releases are tightly secured, and be on your way!
Remember, practice makes perfect! Practicing these steps in the comfort of your own home will make you familiar with the motions and be less stressed when you get a flat tire on the road/trail. You can even time yourself and start a tire changing competition among friends! Give it a try, time yourself, and brag about it in our comments section below!
If you want an in-person demonstration for how to change a bike tire, sign up for one of Walk/Bike Nashville’s Walk/Bike University classes, like the Bicycling 123 class coming up on Tuesday, May 26th at 5pm!
– Keeley (Team Green’s Director)