hands replacing the tube in a bicycle tire

Angie's How To Fix a flat bike tire

Date Published: June 2, 2014

Time: 15 Minutes

A pleasant bike ride can go sour with a hiss, pop or silent leak that brings two wheels to a grinding halt. Fortunately, if you have the tools, supplies and skillset to fix a flat, you can return to the road in minutes — as opposed to needing to call for backup, wait on a good Samaritan or walk miles for help.

“Practicing at home is probably a good idea so you know all the steps you need to take on your particular bike,” says Connie Szabo Schmucker, advocacy director for highly rated Bicycle Garage Indy/BGI Fitness in Indianapolis.

Tools & Materials Needed 
Spare tube
Tire levers - three
A tire pump that clips onto the frame of your bike
CO2 (carbon dioxide) inflator and cartridge
Find the quick-release lever on the bike wheel
1Remove the wheel

If possible, invert the bike so it rests securely on the seat and handlebars.

Most newer bikes have a quick-release lever. For the front wheel, it’s easy, Schmucker says. Release or loosen the brakes to provide room between brake pads and the wheel, open the quick-release lever, and remove the wheel.

For the back tire, however, you’ll need to take additional steps. That’s the wheel where flats most commonly occur because it supports much of the weight of the rider. To remove it, shift the bike chain onto the smallest sprocket, to reduce tension. You might also need to pull back the body of the rear derailleur, a device that changes gears by moving the chain from one gear to the next, to remove the wheel.


Notes: Brake releases differ by bike. To open, you’ll need to flip a lever for some, while for others you’ll need to disengage a cable. Familiarize yourself in advance with the system for your bike. Additionally, with older bikes and some children’s bikes, nuts — not a lever — hold the wheel on, requiring properly sized wrenches. Use one to hold either side to remove.

Removing the tire and tube from the bike wheel
2Remove the tire and tube

Beginning on the opposite side of the tire from the valve, insert the curved edge of two tire levers side-by-side under the tire’s edge, or bead. Hooking the other end of the first tire lever to a spoke, slide the second lever around to move the bead over the edge of the rim. Use a third tire lever as needed.

Once you have one bead completely over the wheel’s rim, you can remove the punctured tube. Before you do that, though, you may first need to remove a washer, which is around the stem on some bikes. You’ll want to hold onto that for when you replace the old tube with a new one.

Patch the effected area with a makeshift wrap
3Carefully inspect for the cause of the flat

In addition to a visual inspection, use a bike-gloved hand or thin rag to feel inside the tire and check the tube to get a better idea of the source of the flat. Some experts suggest taking the tire off entirely for a good look.

In certain cases, the culprit proves low tire pressure, rather than nails, glass or another sharp object. But if you find anything stuck in the tire, remove it to prevent future flats.

Also, check the tire for major holes, Schmucker says, in which case you’ll need to replace it along with the tube. “To get home, put an energy bar wrapper between the tire and (new) tube as a boot,” she says. The wrapper, or anything you can find like it, will protect the new tube from puncturing until you arrive at your final destination and put on a new tire.

Inserting a tube in the bike tire
4Insert the spare tube

Partially inflate the new tube so it has some structure. Then thread the stem of the new tube into the stem hole of the tire and put the tube evenly into the tire, making sure it’s completely enclosed. If you have extra time, desire to patch and a patch kit, you can attempt that to repair the popped tube by following the kit directions, and save the spare for another occasion.

Place the tire back onto the wheel rim
5Put the tire back on the rim

By hand, work one bead over the wheel’s rim, if it’s not already on.

Rather than utilizing the tire levers again, use the heel of your hand and an extended thumb to begin working the bead of the tire outside the wheel back over the rim. That way you don’t risk pinching or popping the tube.

Continue doing this around the circumference of the wheel — careful not to pinch the tube between the bead and rim — so that the whole tire goes inside the track of the rim. This will become increasingly difficult as you work the last part of the tire over the rim. Don’t lose heart. Focus all your energies on the exact spot where you need to slip the last part of the bead into the track of the rim.

If you just can’t do it, let the rest of the air out of the tube by pressing the pin in the valve you use to fill the tire, and try once more. Still no luck? Exhausted? If there’s no way to get it over by hand and you must use a tire lever at this final stage, do so sparingly, slowly and carefully so as not to squeeze the tube between the lever and rim and risk blowing your spare.

Once on, make sure that you have pushed the tube valve all the way through the valve hole, and add additional air, though still not getting close to fully inflating the tire.

Reconnect the wheel to the frame
6Put the wheel back on your bike

Recall step one and reverse. Reconnect the wheel hub to the bike, make sure everything looks straight and reconnect the brakes. For back wheels, shift to the gear you were riding in before you heard the whooshing sound.

Fully inflate the tire so it’s firm to the touch, whether squeezing the sides together with your thumb and finger or pushing it down with your thumb. Be careful not to overinflate, but don’t ride soft either, as that can cause another flat.

At home, you’ll want to have a floor pump that shows the PSI, or pounds per square inch of pressure at which you have the tire filled. Fill it to match what’s recommended for the tire. Usually higher for road bikes and lower for fatter tires, such as for mountain bikes. Don’t exceed the maximum PSI listed on the side of your tire.

Now, pedal down — and up, and down again — and ride on!

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