Thursday, June 01, 2006

How to Fix a Flat

After my recent adventure, I wanted to try to use it as a learning experience. If you ride, you will eventually fix a flat. However, if you're prepared, it doesn't have to be a harrowing experience.

Before you flat:
In an ideal world, you will know how to fix the flat before you're out there alone. If you can take one evening, and practice changing the tube in your tire, it helps A LOT. Especially b/c, if you've never flatted or changed a tube on your bike, your tired may be incredibly stiff and hard to work with. (They loosen up after several flats). In addition, the practice is invaluable for when it really happens.

Ride prepared:
Some tools to always carry:
1. tire levers
2. spare pump
3. spare tube (or 2)
4. patch kit
5. Allen wrench (especially if your tires aren't quick-release).
6. cell phone (in case you give up and need to call for a ride)

1. Stop screaming profanities. Take a deep breath. Identify the tire that has the flat.
2. Pull off to the side of the road or trail.
3. Flip the bike over.
Remember to remove your water bottle from the cage first or you'll have a wet, flat bike.
4. Get out your tire levers, spare tube, and pump.
5. For bike tire, shift up on the back derailer until the chain is on the outermost gear (it will make it easier to
put the wheel back on).
For front tires, it's much easier to take off the wheel.
6. Let any remaining air out of the tire.
7. Flip up the brake lever.
8. Loosen the quick release lever and unscrew.
Be careful not to lose any parts.
9. Carefully remove the tire.
Take care when setting it on the ground to have the gears facing up and away from debris.
10. Visually inspect tire for obvious offending penetrating objects.
Most times, you won't see anything.
11. Remove the tire from the wheel.
Much easier said then done.
Tire levers help for this but be careful not to puncture the tube. Use only fingers if you can (usually,
you can't). Try to only hook the tire, NOT the tube, or your tube will be permanently damaged (keep
the lever on the very edge). Once you get the first part off the rim, the rest usually pops right off.
Remove one side at a time.
12. Remove the tube from the tire.
Make sure you maintain the orientation of the tube to tire so you can find the location of where the
penetrating object entered the tire later.
13. Identify the location of the hole.
Partially inflate and squeeze to find where the air is coming out.
If it's a slow leak, you might have to use more air and listen for a hissing sound. If you were at home,
you could dunk the tube in a bucket of water and look for the air bubbles but you're not at home, you're
stranded on the side of the g*d*mned road, aren't you?
14. Once you identify the leak, trace it back to the location on the tire. (see step 12).
15. Analyze tire CAREFULLY to identify whether offensive, penetrating object is still present.
This step is VERY important. Failure to remove objects from the tires will only cause future flats to
your new tubes and lots of frustration (coming from personal experience. 3 flats in a row....cough,
Don't just look at the inside of the tire. Run your fingers along the interior. Turn it inside out if you have
to. I'd rather cut my fingers than get a new flat (personally).
16. Remove object (if still present).
17. Decide whether to patch or use new tube.
Personally, I've always just used a new tube and carried the old tube home with me to decide whether
it could be salvaged later.
If the hole is too big, you won't be able to patch it.
I just don't want to have to worry about good patch jobs. However, this is purely a personal
18. Partially inflate new tube and insert into tire as best you can.
This will allow the tube to get up inside the tire, avoiding the sides; and therefore, preventing a pinch
flat when you reinflate the tube.
19. Begin putting tire (with tube well up inside) back onto the wheel.
Gently push between the rims, pushing the tube up as best you can as you go. Some people like to do
one side of the tire at a time, but I find it works best pushing both sides in and working a few inches at a
Start with the valve. This is the stiffest part of the tube and most likely to be "pinched".
Note: the valve will not go fully into the tire until you have everything on. This is good; it will prevent
As you put the tire on the wheel and you feel tension, let the rest of the air out of the tube.
20. Put the rest of the tire on the wheel.
Try to use finesse and avoid the tire levers. This is sometimes impossible.
I usually put as much of the tire I can on, working in both directions away from the valve.
The last inch or two is the most difficult.
If you have to use tire levers, be very careful. Don't slide.
Keep at it. It will pop on eventually.
21. Put tire back on bike.
Tighten the quick release skewer until it is "finger" tight. Avoid over-tightening.
22. Wiggle the valve out of the tire, gently.
23. Inflate the tube part-way.
24. Spin the tire to see if it spins "true". Is there any obvious wobble or irregularities as it spins?
25. If there is a problem spot, let air out of tire and gently adjust this section of the tube. Usually, it is not seated properly up inside the tire.
26. Once the tire is seated properly, reinflate to proper psi.
Do this slowly, checking the tire as you go to make sure the tube is still seated properly. Otherwise,
you may get a new flat.
You may not be able to get it to reinflate to the full 120 psi easily with your spare tube but you will
be able to reinflate enough to get home.
27. Remember to close your brake levers and change the gears on your bike to a comfortable riding position.
28. Put tools away, flip bike back over, and get ready to ride off into the sunset.
29. As you ride off, ride slowly to evaluate any differences in how the bike feels.
I usually stop again after going a little ways just to make sure the tires feel okay and everything is
still a "go".

Dos & Donts:
Don't curse at your bike. You will only offend it.
Do stay calm.
Don't accept help from weirdos (strange guys in cars). Use your street-smarts.
Don't leave trash around. Tubes with small holes can often be patched up at home. I stuffed my tube in my jersey so as not to litter.
Do take your time.
Do move off to the side of the road and avoid traffic.
Do accept that you might get a little greasy. Hey! Tires are dirty.
Don't roll around in the chain unless you want to get really dirty.


theseamonster said...

Here's a pic of Red Bike flipped on its back getting a flat fixed on one of my rides last fall:

The Sea Horse has aerobars with bar-end shifters... it won't stay on its back during a flat fix which can make for some interesting acrobatics while removing the rear tire.

Jack said...

Great stuff, thanks for sharing!

Jodi said...

Thanks for the info! I've been fortunate enough to be able to fix my flats in the comfort of my own home (and I'm afraid I offended my bike a little bit). I think I'll print out your post in case of emergency :)

Papa Louie said...

Have you timed how long it takes to change a flat? Hopefully, I can remember all the steps if it every happens during a race. Thanks for the info.

Mon said...

don't they sell that fix a flat in a can for bikes? cus that would be awesome!

Ken Schulz said...

Step 18 is key! Recently I've run into a few more flats then I even thought possible. One or two because I didn't seat the tube correctly. Thanks for sharing!

theseamonster said...

Oh yeah, here's a handy tip my ironman friends shared with me:

You can use a Cliff Bar wrapper, dollar bill, gel wrapper, etc to shield the tube from a big hole in the tire. It will get you home (just don't forget about it).

Both me and Mr. P have done this on rides and it works
Image couresy of Mr. P's blog:

And another from a coach: if you use C02 to refill a tube, when you get home, let the C02 out and re-pump the tube so it's filled with air. I guess C02's not good long term for tubes?

Rachel said...

Thanks for the tip, SeaMonster. I think I'm going to need some CO2 cartridges in case I ever get a flat in a race. It should help reinflate the tire quickly and to a good pressure, right?

PapaLouie--Don't worry about the steps. Just practice at home. Once you've done it a couple of times at your own pace, it'll be a lot easier. Once you start doing it, it's mostly common-sense. Besides, everyone has their own way of doing it. You have to experiment with what works best for you. As for time? I'm slow. It took me 20 minutes but I was just happy to do it! I think experienced people do it in 10 minutes or less.

Mike said...

Hey Rachel,
I'm a sucker for a girl stranded with a flat. Seriously, now that you know you can change a flat,flash that passing cyclist a big smile and take them up on their offer of help. You can keep your hands clean too! :-)