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Flat Tire Repair

Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. When it does, it's best to be prepared. Sure, that little bundle in your jersey pocket or tucked into your saddle bag'll add a few ounces, but when fate catches up with you, you'll be glad to have those tire levers and that patch kit or extra tube. But no amount of preparation will help if you don't know your tire lever from a lincoln log. Here's our comprehensive guide to efficient roadside (or trailside) flat repair, so you can get the show back on the road (or trail).

  1. Always find the safest spot you can to stop and repair your flat tire. Pull off the road or find a spot off of the trail. Be aware of your surroundings!

  2. Remove the wheel from your bike. If your rear wheel is flat, you might find it easier to remove and replace if you flip your bike upside-down first. Shifting the chain to your smallest rear chainring might also make things easier. Open up your brakes to slip your wheels between them more easily; the caliper brakes on my road bike can be opened at the brake itself and at the lever. Open your quick releases (or unscrew your axle nuts) and pull the wheel out of the dropouts.

  3. Take a look at the tire before you pull it off the rim and see if you can find the cause of the flat. If you see a chunk of glass or a staple or something else that obviously caused the puncture, you'll be able to save yourself some time, since you'll be able to locate the puncture in the tube that much more quickly. Remove the offending object if you do find it.

  4. Remove the tire. If there's any air left in your tire, let it out first. Then break out one of those tire levers and hook it underneath the tire bead and carefully lever the bead over the rim. If you can wiggle the lever enough to pop the tire definitively over the rim all the way around, more power to you—if not, use another tire lever a bit further around the tire. Your lever might have a little hook on the other end that you can hook around a spoke to hold the lever in place while you get the next lever underneath the bead. Wiggle the levers until you can pop the tire bead over the rim, then slide the levers around the wheel to pull the bead over the rim all the way around.

  5. Pull out the tube. You may or may not want to take the tire all the way off the rim. If you identified the object that punctured your tube in step 3, you should be able to easily find the hole in your tube underneath where you found the offending object. If you didn't, leaving the tire on your rim without rotating it, at least for now, will allow you to check for the object in the right place once you've found the hole in your tube.

  6. Find the puncture in your tube. This might be easy. If it's not, try inflating the tube partially—this is where having a small hand pump or a frame pump can be more convenient than carrying a CO2 cartridge and inflator, since it allows you to pump stuff up and let out air as often as you need to. With your tube partially inflated, you can listen and feel for escaping air to find the hole.

  7. Patch the tube (if you're not going to just replace it). Follow the instructions on your patch kit, which will probably go something like this: Use the small piece of sandpaper to roughen the area around the puncture. Apply vulcanizing fluid (glue) to the area around the puncture and let it dry. Apply a patch, and bam, you're good to go!

  8. Check the wheel rim and the inside of the tire for debris. You may want to take the tire off the rim for this, but you may not need to. If you don't fix whatever caused your flat in the first place, you'll just get another one, probably sooner rather than later. First, check the spot where your tube was punctured. If your puncture was two "snakebite" holes next to each other, don't worry so much about an object in your tire—your flat was almost certainly a pinch flat, caused by hitting a curb or other object that squashed your tire against your rim, pinching the tube. Pinch flats can often be avoided by running your tires at a higher pressure. Punctures can also be caused by worn rim tape; check and make sure there are no sharp bits around rim's spoke holes that might have contributed to the flat. If there are, you can pad the sharp part with a tube patch or a piece of duct tape, but make sure you replace your rim tape soon.

  9. Replace your tire and tube. With one side of the tire bead installed on the rim (if you want to look pro, make sure you line up the tire's logo with the valve hole), add a little air to your tube. That'll make it easier to tuck into the tire. Start by putting the valve stem through the valve hole, and make sure it's in there straight and perpendicular to the rim. Then tuck the rest of the tube under the tire, being careful not to twist or fold it.

  10. Re-seat the tire bead. Start at the valve and work your way around, carefully tucking the tire bead under the rim hook, making sure not to pinch the tube. Use both hands, working in both directions from the valve. If you can get the last bit of the bead to roll over the rim with your hands, great! If not, you can use a tire lever to carefully lever it over—again, being very careful not to pinch the tube. Check out this article for some useful tire installation tips.

  11. Squeeze around the tire to make sure the bead is where it needs to be and the tube isn't being pinched anywhere.

  12. Re-inflate using whatever you've got: a hand pump, a frame pump, a CO2 inflator, a floor pump borrowed from the bike shop down the block (lucky you!).

  13. Replace your wheel on your bike. Make sure you close your brakes before you take off again!

  14. That's it! With a little practice, a flat tire doesn't have to slow you down too much. The first time you repair a flat by the side of the road by yourself, you'll feel like a superhero. And you are—you just rescued yourself from a potentially very long walk!

    Questions? Comments? Superhero stories? Get in touch at 1-800-651-4050 or [email protected].