As you are no doubt aware, bikes are cool. Through some weird magic some like to call “physics,” bikes can make you go faster than you otherwise could go, while expending less energy than you otherwise would expend. Meanwhile, you’re having fun while exercising, which is even more magical than the whole further-faster-easier mindbender.
And bikes look great, too. Especially my bikes.
The thing is, though, bikes are not perfect. I mean, consider the number of moving parts. No, on second thought, don’t consider the number of moving parts, because the number is far to great. Especially when you consider the number of moving parts in a bike chain alone. We’re talking about ten moving parts per inch.
The mind boggles.
There are cables and derailleurs and spokes. And hubs. And pedals. And handlebars. and shifters and brakes.
But really, you shouldn’t worry about any of those things. Why? Because if any of those things break in the middle of the ride, nobody really expects you to be able to fix them and then continue on your way. (Except maybe the chain, and even that’s a kinda-sorta thing).
But if you get a flat tire during your ride, the folks you are riding with are going to expect you to repair the flat and continue on.
Luckily for you, I am an expert not only at riding bicycles, but at repairing them as well. So today, I shall teach you how to patch a bike tire.
Step 0: Get the Futile Attempt Out of the Way First
Of course, before you try to patch a tube, you should try to pump it back up. Just to see if that leak is a one-time thing. Because hey, why wouldn’t it be? Maybe the tube was just playing a little prank there for a few moments, and now it’s going to reliably hold air.
It could happen.
Step 0.5: Look Around Hopefully
Once you have verified that the flat you’ve got is in fact not one of those rare-but-awesome self-healing ones, you’re all set to begin the work of repairing your tube.
Unless, of course, you can get someone else to do it for you.
Now, most people won’t automatically volunteer to fix a flat for you; as it turns out, most people are every bit as incompetent as you. However, if you fumble around long enough and badly enough, there’s an excellent chance someone you’re riding with will get so exasperated that they will finally offer to fix your flat for you.
In order to make this happen, the first thing you should do is ask to borrow a wrench (unless you have a bike that requires a wrench to remove the wheel, in which case ask for a handsaw). Be as unspecific about which kind of wrench as possible. When asked why you would want a wrench, say, “So I can remove the saddle, so it won’t get dirty when I turn the bike upside down.”
Then say, “I think I’m going to need a chain breaker, too.”
Finally, shrug your shoulders and confess, “Honestly, guys, I’ve never done this before. In fact, I’m a little bit shocked to learn that these tires are full of air. I always imagined they were solid rubber or something.”
I would put your chances at someone pushing you aside and getting to work at approximately 84%. Which is pretty good odds, really.
Step 1: Remove the Wheel
OK, suppose the “get someone else to do it” gambit didn’t work, either because you’re a poor actor, or you’re riding alone. For whatever reason, you’re going to have to patch the tube yourself.
There is nothing quite so disheartening when one is riding a bicycle as the discovery of a flat tire. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. It’s even more disheartening to discover one’s femur poking out throught one’s skin.
But a flat tire is still pretty darn bad.
So, after coasting to a stop — it’s very important to not try to change the tire until you have come to a complete stop — you need to remove the tire from the wheel.
Which means you first must remove the wheel from the bike. And don’t go thinking you can skip this step, because you’ll look foolish if you do. Trust me, I know.
If it’s the front tire that’s gone flat, you’re in luck. Well, not really in luck, because if you were really in luck you wouldn’t have gotten a flat in the first place. But you’re at least not in as bad of luck as if you had gotten a flat tire in the back. A flat in the back adds a whole extra layer of suck frosting to the cake of suck that you’re already going to have to eat.
So anyway, if it’s a front flat, you just pull down the quick release lever, and pop the wheel off.
But if it’s a rear flat, well, you may first want to shift all the way to the smallest ring on your cassette — this will make things easier when (and, let’s face it, if) you eventually get the repaired wheel back on the bike. Then drop the chain off the front chainring, to give you a little extra play with the chain.
Now loosen the quick release (if you’re using bolts instead of quick releases, well, you’re on your own), pull back the rear derailleur, and pull the rear wheel out of the labyrinthine mess that is your bike chain path.
Now take a good look at the path of the chain and take a moment to consider the fact that you aren’t really exactly sure where in that tangle of metal you’re supposed to put the wheel back when (if) you get the flat fixed.
Oh well, nothing you can do about it now. May as well get to removing the tire.
Step 2: Remove the Tire
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the easiest part of the process: removing the tire and tube. Here, just insert a tire lever between the rim and the tire, then force it under the bead of the tire. Kind of like you would with a coat hanger between a car door sill and window when you lock your keys in the car. For really old cars I mean.
Once you’ve got the lever under the tire bead, pry it up and over the rim. Then run the lever around the circumference of the rim, easily bringing the bead of the tire off the rim.
Now grasp the tube — because it suits our purposes to pretend that everyone still uses tires with tubes, even though that’s a really terrible idea — and pull it off the wheel.
There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? And the good news is that actually getting that tire bead back onto the rim is only 10,000,000,000.9 times more difficult.
And you will learn how to do that (and much much more!) in Part II of How to Patch a Tube.