The pros give up tips on how to keep your bike rolling along.
By Dan Oko
Traveling the back roads or backcountry without a spare tube and portable pump in case of a flat tire is a mistake most cyclists make only once or twice early in their biking careers. So I'm a little ashamed to admit that in my many years of biking, it's happened to me a handful of times, leaving me at the mercy of the elements on any number of occasions. I can testify firsthand that there are few worse feelings than heading out for a few hours of bicycle-based exploration and being forced to walk your bike over hill and dale while dinner grows cold, just because you weren't prepared.
In short, replacing a flat tire is just about the easiest repair you can make to your bicycle. It doesn't matter whether you're a roadie-in-training or a dedicated off-road hammerhead, you just need a few tools - pump, spare tube, patch kit, tire levers and maybe a small wrench - and a little bit of know-how.
Jay Robinson, an avid bike racer, has worked in the service department at Austin's Cycle 360 bike shop for the past three years. Needless to say, he's got plenty of experience fixing flats. Here's his advice:
- Check the condition of your tires before every ride. If a tire shows excessive wear or has a hole, invest in a new one. Also pay close attention to your air pressure. Most tires have a maximum (and on mountain bikes a minimum) pounds-per-square-inch (PSI) printed on the side. Pump the front and rear tire to their recommended PSI.
- When you notice a tire going flat, stop riding to avoid damage to your wheel. Dismount and release the break mechanism in order to remove the wheel. If the rear wheel has gone flat, shift gears so that the chain hangs loosely between the smallest cog on your rear cassette and the smallest chain ring in front.
- Flip the bike over so it's resting on the seat and handlebars. Undo the axle skewer by loosening the bolts or opening the quick release. If your bike does not have a quick release, you'll need a wrench that fits the nuts holding the wheel in place. Remove the wheel.
- Use the plastic tire levers to lift one edge of the tire, known as the bead, from the rim. Do not take the whole tire off. Remove the punctured tube. Carefully, feel the inside of the tire for anything (such as glass or thorns) that might have punctured the tube. Partially inflate your new tube and fit it in the tire. Or you can partially inflate the old tube and look for the leak to patch it.
- Use your hands or the levers to reset the tire bead in the rim. Fully inflate the tire, and replace the wheel on the bike. If it's the rear, move the derailleur before situating the skewer back in the frame. Reattach the brakes! Spin the wheel and make sure the tire is not rubbing on the brake pads or frame.
Don't be discouraged if it takes a time or two to figure out how to change a flat. After you've done it a few times, changing a flat will be second nature - just like riding a bike.