Like it or not, flat tires are part of cycling. They’re inevitable. And if you’re unprepared, an enjoyable Sunday afternoon ride could turn into a nightmare.
Whether you’re out on the road or trail, use this guide to learn what you’ll need to do when a punctured tube happens to you.
WHAT YOU NEED
Changing a flat tire roadside starts with being prepared before you leave the house. Whether you opt to carry your gear in a saddlebag or a jersey pocket, here’s what you’ll need to have with you when the inevitable occurs:
- At least one inner tube
- Valve extension (especially if you have deep aero rims)
- A mini pump or a CO2 inflator with cartridges
- 1–2 tire levers
- Tire patch kit
Keep in mind that if you choose a mini pump over a CO2 inflator, it will be difficult to inflate your tire to 90 psi. A frame pump will give you more leverage to inflate your tire to a higher psi but will weigh more than other options.
If you opt to go with a CO2 inflator, it’ll be easier to inflate your inner tube up to 110 psi, but you’ve only got one shot to inflate your tire correctly. If the inflator isn’t connected to valve stem as it should be, it could leave you stranded. A combination mini pump/CO2 inflator will weigh a little more, but it offers you a backup option should something go wrong.
While a patch kit might seem like overkill, a second or even third flat on the same ride could be a real problem if you don’t have more than one innertube. While it will require a bit more effort, a patch kit will allow you to make multiple repairs to a punctured innertube and get home without having to call for an emergency pickup.
WHAT TO DO
Whether you get a pinch flat from hitting a pothole or a puncture from broken glass, you’ll need to complete the following steps to get back on the road:
STEP 1: LOOK FOR A CAUSE
Once you’ve found a safe place off the road to repair your flat, remove your wheel from the frame and inspect the outside of the tire for damage. A blown sidewall or gash could require additional repairs.
If there’s no visible damage, inspect the outside of the tire for any debris (glass, thorns, nails, etc.) that might have caused the flat. If you don’t see anything, use your hands or a tire lever to remove the tire.
Place the flat end of the tire lever under the bead. If the tire is especially tight, the tire lever can be hooked onto the spoke. Place a second tire lever under the bead, and slide around the rim until one side of the tire is off.
Once you remove the innertube, finish your inspection by looking over the inside of your tire for sharp objects. If you don’t remove the object that caused your flat, you risk puncturing your new innertube during the repair.
STEP 2: REPLACE THE INNERTUBE
While it’s OK to remove the entire tire from the rim during the repair, leaving one side of the tire on the rim will make this step a little easier.
Once you have one side seated onto the rim (this can be done with your hands), inflate your new innertube just enough so that it is round instead of flat. This will help prevent your innertube from pinching in between the rim and tire during installation.
Beginning at the valve hole, place the valve stem in the hole and work your innertube around the rim inside the tire. Once this step is finished, roll the tire around the rim with your hands to get the bead inside the edge of the rim.
If the fit of your tire is tight and you can’t get the last part of the tire onto the rim, carefully use your tire lever to get the bead onto the edge of the rim. Use caution to prevent the tire lever from pinching the innertube.
STEP 3: INFLATION
If you’re using a mini pump, most will have a Schrader and Presta valve option. If you’re using a road bike, the Presta valve will normally be what you need. Attach the pump to the valve and inflate to your tire. Since you won’t know your psi, gauge the firmness of the tire as you inflate it by comparing it to your other tire.
Most CO2 inflators will state the psi one cartridge will inflate to, which is usually around 100–110 psi. This is assuming all the air goes into the innertube and none of the air leaks out during inflation. When using a CO2 inflator, make sure you have a good connection before you begin releasing the air from the cartridge.
TIPS FOR EMERGENCY REPAIRS
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Whether it’s a tube that can’t be repaired or a gashed tire, here a few emergency tips you can use that could help get you home in a pinch:
- A hole in an innertube that’s too large to repair: If you don’t have another innertube and you get a pinch flat or puncture that creates a hole too large to repair, your options will be limited. As a last resort, you can cut out the unrepairable section of innertube and tie the two ends together. While not ideal, it should allow you to get around 50psi in your tire until you are able to find a more permanent solution.
- A gashed tire/sidewall: If your tire gets sliced, the innertube can protrude through the opening during inflation and make a second puncture more likely. While you’ll probably need to replace your tire once you get home, you can make a boot by covering the hole from the inside with an old gel wrapper, a dollar bill or a piece of duct tape. A strip or two of duct or electrical tape can be wrapped around a water bottle before leaving home and then used in a pinch for other roadside repairs as well.
Remember that the more you practice, the better and faster you’ll get at changing a tire. Before you’re forced to make a repair on the side of the road, it’s a good idea to practice a few times at home.
If you find yourself frustrated, keep in mind that flat tires happen to everyone — and occasionally, it can get the best of even the most experienced cyclists. When you’re in need of a visual refresher, check out this video by Lance Armstrong that offers a little guidance and a bit of humor, too.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE