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Fix a Flat

Rolling slowly home after an extra couple of hours of post group ride bonus miles, a despondent woman on the side of the road called out for my assistance. “Do you know how to change a rear wheel flat?”, she anxiously asked. I could tell by the desperation in her voice she had been sitting there for longer than she would have liked, with more than a handful of people riding by without offering any type of aid. I decided it was in the best interest of all parties involved to lend a helping hand. 

the importance of a floor pump

There’s something to be said about owning a floor pump. Considering the amount of people that ride bikes, a shockingly low number actually possess a floor pump. When I asked the woman who I helped if she had pumped up her tires before her ride, she replied, “yes.” I followed up by asking if she used a floor pump and she said she didn’t have one. She had aired up her tires using her frame pump.

Without a floor pump, there is no way to know if you have filled your tires to an acceptable level. Most tires have a minimum air pressure. It’s generally understood that a harder tire not only has a lower rolling resistance, but is less prone to puncture. If you are still topping off your tires with a hand pump, or at the bike shop, it’s time to invest in yourself with a floor pump for home use.

tools of the trade

First of all, you are going to need a few things. A spare tube and an inflation device are obviously mandatory. A tire lever isn’t necessary, but makes life a lot easier when it comes to removing the tire. 

tire removal

The first step is to make sure all air is out of the tube. If you have a slow leak, you can simply press the valve stem to release any residual air from the tube. With a completely flat tube, you can then begin the removal of the tire.

The easiest way to get a tire off of a rim is to begin on the opposite side of the valve stem. Try to first roll the tire off of the rim. You can do this by squeezing the two sides of the tire bead together and working one half of the tire over the edge of the rim using your thumbs. This takes a bit of effort, and if you are unsuccessful after a couple of tries, this is where a tire level comes in handy. Insert the tire lever between the edge of the rim, and the bead of the tire. You can then slide the tire lever along the junction until one side of the tire comes off the rim.

tire inspection

With the tire now half off of the rim, you can inspect the casing and tread for anything that could have caused the puncture. An initial visual inspection may reveal a thorn, piece of glass, nail, or sliver of metal. If you don’t see anything, run your fingers carefully on the inside of the casing. You should be able to locate the perpetrator at this point. Removing a deeply seated sharp bit may be difficult, but not removing it means you’ll only be wasting a tube. 

tube installation

Once you are sure the tire is free of the offending cause of the initial puncture, it’s time to put a new tube in. Before you get started, be sure to center any logo printed on the tire directly above the valve stem. This will help you locate any future punctures as they will be referenced to a constant point. 

Partially inflate the tube so it has a little shape, and begin by inserting the valve stem into the valve hole in the rim. You can then work the tube into the tire that is still half on the rim. You will end up inserting the last part of the tube on the side opposite the valve stem. With the tube fully inserted you can begin remounting the tire on the rim. Let some air out of the partially inflated tube to make remounting the tire easier. 

remounting the tire

Begin at the valve stem, and with your thumbs, push the tire back on the rim by working your way around either side of the wheel with both hands. Your hands will meet again at the opposite of the valve. This is where it will get tricky. You have to get the tire bead over the rim, and this is the part where the tire may want to fight you. If you are having difficulty, you can use a tire lever, but you have to be incredibly careful. I would advise against it unless absolutely necessary. It is all too easy to pinch the new tube between the rim and the tire lever. This will  cause a puncture.

tube inspection

Once you have the tire back on, you want to be sure the tube is properly mounted in the tire. If it’s not, the tube will inflate between the tire and the rim. Best case, you catch it in time, remedy the mistake, and continue on with inflation. Worst case, you blow out the tube at a volume level close to that of a fire cracker going off!

To check if the tube is properly seated in the tire, begin at the valve stem. Pinch the tire together to be sure you don’t see any tube sticking out between the edge of the tire and the edge of the rim. You should only see the rim strip or the inside of the rim, if you have a wheel fancy enough not to require a rim strip. If you do see a bit of tube sticking out, tuck it into the tire however you can. Once you have made an inspection of the full rotation of the tire, you can be relatively certain the tube is properly seated. 


From here you can begin to inflate the tube. If you have a hand pump, it’s time to get your daily upper body workout. If you use CO2 cartridges, you can make quick work of the repair. I prefer a pump, as you’ll never run out of air. CO2 is admittedly quick, but the spent cartridges are wasteful. Plus, when you are out of cartridges, you are out of luck. Be sure when you begin to inflate the tube to inspect for any bulges that may indicate an improperly seated tire. If you do spot a bulge, stop immediately. Let all the air out of the tube, and reseat the tire until you don’t have a pinch. You can now continue to inflate the tube to a pressure high enough to get you home.

I hope that explanation makes sense. It is likely a bit wordy, but only because it is important to cover all the bases. Hopefully you have learned something, even if you have had to change a flat before. It’s all about developing a workflow. Just like anything, practice makes perfect. I hope you’re rides are all puncture free, and as always, keep the rubber side down!

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