Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

How to Fix a Flat Tire

Written by Cody Zalk (Illustrations) & Ian Abrams (Text)
When you get a flat, the confidence you feel while riding your bike deflates in kind. A sure way to build it back up is to fix that flat yourself. Once you learn how, it takes very little time to get your bike, and your spirits, rolling again.
{multithumb resize=1 full_width=600 full_height=600}When you get a flat, the confidence you feel while riding your bike deflates in kind. A sure way to build it back up is to fix that flat yourself. Once you learn how, it takes very little time to get your bike, and your spirits, rolling again.
 
Before you get a flat tire, you should go to your friendly local bike shop. If you don’t have a friendly bike shop in town, you can order stuff on the Internet (try the Harris Cyclery, Performance, and Nashbar sites) instead. Either way, there are a few essentials to keep around so you’re always prepared: a bicycle pump, a set of tire levers, and new tubes. Tubes are cheap, so get a few of them in case you mess up. Make sure you get the right size tube for your tires. Most bike maintenance is pretty easy, unless you hit a snag by not having the right tools. So suck it up and factor that into the price of your bike. At the very least, make sure your pump is decent.

First order of business when your tire goes down is to take off your wheel. You will have to loosen your brakes to make room to take the wheel off and on, which is a matter of just flipping a little lever on the brake or loosening a cable. On most bikes, the wheel is held on by a simple quick-release mechanism; if it involves bolts, you can use an adjustable wrench.

So now it's just you and your wheel hanging out. There are three parts you should know about. The rim is the metal part that is held together by the spokes. It has a channel in it that holds the tube. And the clincher is the tire itself, which fits over the rim and covers the tube. Fill the tube with air, and you've got yourself a wheel.

99 percent of the time, flats are caused by a problem with the tube. It can be an annoying, slow leak or more of a blowout, but either way, you need a new tube. Some people advocate patching the tube, floating it in a bathtub to see where it's losing air, and other voodoo. But a brand new tube is cheap peace of mind, and you can even use the old one for a variety of projects like making wallets, coin purses, and belts; or you can donate it to bike shops who collect and recycle the materials themselves.

Before you begin prying the tire off, take ALL the air out of the tube. If you have a really bad flat, the tube might be empty already, but it's easy enough to check and finish the job if necessary. Take a look at the valve. There may be a nut on it; remove that and the valve cap if there is one and set it aside. Now you are ready to take the tire off. Stick a lever underneath the side—or bead—of the tire, and pull it away from the rim. Now stick a second lever underneath, about 2" away, and slide that lever around the wheel until the bead closest to you is off the rim. At this point you can take the valve out of its hole and pull everything off the rim.
Now is a good time to appreciate the mechanical elegance of your bicycle's wheel. And while you are doing that, look on the inside of your tire for any foreign objects that may have helped puncture your tube. You don't want to get another flat right away. Most likely you will be able to reuse the tire, but if there is a large hole (over ¼”), you'll need to replace the tire as well. Back to the bike shop or Internet for you.

Take out your new tube and pump it up just until it begins to round out. Find the label on the tire and place the tube inside with the valve just underneath the label. Note which side the label is on. To make sure the tire tread goes in the right direction, you want to mount the tire so the label of the tire is on the right side in most cases.

Stick the valve through the hole, placing the bead nearest you inside the rim. Using your thumb on the surface of the bead, push the bead inside the rim, in sections. You now have the job half done. All you need to do is flip the tire around and carefully work the other bead of the tire in the rim as well, making certain that the tube doesn't bunch up at any point. Once everything is mounted, fill up the tube a little more to check that everything is smooth, and there are no bulges. Then fill up all the way and mount the tire, doing the opposite of what you did to get it off. Make sure the wheel is on tight and that you've put your brakes back in position.

Give the wheel a test spin, and then head out the door for some ice cream. You've earned it.

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