How to Patch a Tube, Part II

01.6.2012 | 4:00 am

Comedian Mastermind: The Best of, 2005 - 2007Welcome to Part II of How to Patch a Tube (Part I is here). I am sure that you are as thrilled — and surprised — as I am to discover that this topic requires multiple entries.

In part I of How to Patch a Tube, you learned everything leading up to how to patch tubes, but not how to patch the tube itself. Which makes Part I quite possibly the longest-winded intro I have ever written, in the nearly-seven-year history of a blog known for extraordinarily long-winded, self-indulgent introductions.

But I promise, in today’s post you will learn everything you need to know (and much much more!) in order to patch a tube.

Step 3: Find the Leak

It’s time to put on your detective hat, because you need to find where the hole in the tube is. Now, the best way to do that is to pump the tube full of air and then submerge it in still water, watching for bubbles.

Because of this, it is very important that you always ride your bike near a large body of water. Or carry enough water and a large enough container to submerge a bike tube in.

If necessary, you may also demand other riders in the group give you their water.

Unfortunately, water can sometimes be scarce, due to some riders inconsiderately and shortsightedly drinking it.

That’s why, as a backup, when riding you should always carry a small container — no more than a quart will be necessary — full of dishwashing liquid. Simply pump the tube up, then quickly smear some dishwashing liquid on the part of the tube you think may be the culprit. If it is in fact the part of the tube that has a hole in it, the dishwashing soap will begin to bubble.

More likely, though, you will have been wrong, so it’s a good thing you brought plenty of that dishwashing liquid. Smear some more on another part of the tube. Then wait. Breathlessly. Watch the tube with fierce concentration, looking for any sign of bubbles.

Nope, that part of the tube seems fine too.

Well, obviously you’re never going to find the hole by smearing soap over a tiny bit at a time like this, so now’s a good time to pump the tube up full of air again, then go ahead and smear soap over the whole darn thing.

You should now find bubbles appearing at some point on the tube. Or, more likely, at between six and eleven points on the tube.

Go ahead and deflate the tube now that you’ve discovered where the hole (or holes) is (or are).

Now go get about six gallons of water to rinse all that soap off the tube. So hopefully you brought both a lot of water and dish soap.

Now go ahead and re-inflate and soap the darn tube, because you’ve almost certainly lost track of where the hole (holes) is (are).

This time, mark where the holes (even if there appeared to be only one hole at the beginning of this project, there is certainly a new hole by now).

Step 4: Repair the Leak

Congratulations, you’re now past the discovery period and are ready to apply the patches. Luckily for you, patch kits have advanced tremendously in the past few years, and are now extremely simple to apply, effective at sealing punctures, and reliable at keeping them sealed.

Just kidding.

Patch kits are actually exactly the same as they were when you had to fix a flat in order to get some kind of cub scout / brownie scout merit badge thirty years ago. In fact, patch kits are interesting primarily because they represent the single thing in the whole world that has not changed or advanced — in spite of huge advancments in both adhesive and material technologies — in the past eighty years. I mean, firewood has had more technological advancements than bike tube patch kits.

But hey, if it works, don’t fix it. Right?

So first, rough up the area around the hole, using the tiny little cheese grater that comes with the patch kit. I’m not sure why you’re supposed to do this, but you are. Be enthusiastic about your roughing, but not so enthusiastic that your rough your way clean through the tube.

Now, clean the area you’ll be applying the patch to. This shouldn’t too big of a problem, since you recently applied so much dishwashing liquid to the tube that it should be ready for the operating room.

Next, apply a small amount — you’re on your own for deciding what “small amount” means — of the patch glue to the tube. Keep some in reserve for sniffing later; you’re going to want something to help even your mood out.

Oh, sorry. As it turns out, that tube of rubber cement that came with the patch kit has been all dried out since 1968. Sorry! Well, I’m sure it wasn’t really very necessary anyway. Let’s continue as if everything’s going juuuuussst fine.

Or if, by some miracle, your patch glue isn’t all dried out in the first place, let the glue on the tube dry slightly, for just a minute. So it’s nice and tacky. The time window of rubber cement tackiness between “too wet” and “too dry” lasts approximately one-quarter second, so be ready with that patch.

Peel the backing off the patch. Hopefully, you have had the foresight to have grown long, bladelike fingernails during the past several months, or there is no way in God’s green earth that you are going to be able to peel that backing off.

Press and hold the patch in place firmly until you are sure it is set — approximately seven hours.

Congratulations, you’ve patched the tube! Now you need to get it back on the wheel.

Step 5: Put the Tube Back on the Wheel

It’s very easy to get the tube back onto the rim. Just stuff the sucker back in there. Although you’ll probably have better results if you take the trouble to at least push the valve stem through the hole in the rim.

What’s tricky is getting the tire bead back on the rim. Especially on mountain bikes. But with some patience, you can do it. Just carefully ease the bead onto the rim, working your way carefully around the circumference of the wheel.

After you’ve been around the wheel about five times, you’ll realize that as you put one part of the bead on the rim, another part is coming off. Maybe if you chase it faster, you’ll catch it.

Nope, I guess not.

So instead, use the tire lever to force the bead onto the rim, holding the part you’ve already got on the rim in place with your hand. If you do everything correctly, as you get to the end there should be just a little piece of tube poking out between the rim and the tire bead, with no easy way to get it into the tire. Push it in with a screwdriver or something. Then, with all your might, lever the final tiny bit of the bead over the lip of the rim.

You’ve done it!

Now pump up the tire and put the wheel back on the bike; you’re ready to go!

Ha ha! Just kidding! Still! Because of course the tire won’t hold air.

Step 6: Fix the Patch

You now need to take the tire off the rim again and pull out the tube. Then fish around in the tire until you find the patch, which will have peeled off the tube. Get another patch and repeat Steps 4 and 5. Again. Because they will certainly go better this time, now that you’ve had practice.

Try inflating the tire again. It won’t. Take the tube out again. That’s weird; the patch seems to have held this time. Better get out the soap and look for new problems.

Yep, there it is: the new hole from when you pinched the tube between the rim and the tire. You’re going to need a couple of patches to fix that.

Step 7: Fix the Problem

Finally, you’ve done it! You’ve patched the old holes, as well as the new holes! You’re all set to ride again! Huzzah!

You should be able to ride for roughly two minutes before your tire goes flat again. Repeat all steps, except this time be confused when you discover a brand new hole in the tube.

Oh. Waitasec. Maybe it would have been a good idea to feel along the inside of the tire, to see if there’s something sharp stuck in there.

After rubbing your fingers along in the tube for a minute or two, you should discover the sharp thorn / piece of glass / rattlesnake fang protruding through the tire. The thing that caused the flat in the first place. And by “discover,” I of course mean, “discover by the means of that sharp object puncturing and lodging itself in your thumb.

Now you just need to work that out of the tire, which should be no problem if you happened to bring a set of extra-pointy needle-nose pliers as part of your tube-repair kit. Otherwise, you’re going to get to discover exactly what the inside of a tire tastes like as you try to bite and pull the offending sharp object out using your front teeth.

Then, go through Steps 4 – 6 as many times as necessary. Which, I regret to inform you, is probably more times than you have patches

Then get a new tube out and use that instead.


  1. Comment by Andy | 01.6.2012 | 5:50 am

    You forgot to add, then find out that you are on your Superfly and brought a 26″ tube.

    True story!

  2. Comment by Paul W | 01.6.2012 | 7:46 am

    … and don’t forget that patches work far better in the rain, and are adversely affected by UV light – so the whole procedure is best left until night-time.

  3. Comment by Anonymous | 01.6.2012 | 8:27 am

    At this point, I just leave the bike there and walk home.

  4. Comment by Paul M | 01.6.2012 | 8:53 am

    Okay, that does it! I’m going back to sew ups- rip off the flat one, put on the new one, add Co2 and go.

  5. Comment by MattC | 01.6.2012 | 9:02 am

    In lieu of holding the patch tight after gluing for 7 hours, I find it works very well to clamp the patch/tube in-between 2 small blocks of wood in a bench vise overnight. So if you can get your friends to carry a bench and a vise AND sleeping equipment on your rides, you are set…tho you’ll probalby want some hot food, and TV…so you might as well have an RV follow vehicle in case you ever flat.

    Patches put on in this manner have never failed me. Of course, I forgot to mention that after the cheese-grating I clean the area with Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA). That is the dirty little secret that will allow your patches to hold forever. You can get those little alcohol wipe things, however they will surely be dried out when you open it. It’s all quite hilarious actually!

    Great post Fatty…you had me laughing over and over!

  6. Comment by Santi M. | 01.6.2012 | 9:13 am

    Also forgot the part where you realized you mounted your directional tire backwards.

  7. Comment by Bragi Freyr Gunnarsson | 01.6.2012 | 9:32 am

    @santi.m Story of my life. Happens everytime.

  8. Comment by Christina | 01.6.2012 | 9:55 am

    I like to include a 5.a. of “Weep silently.”

    My mother claims she can fix any flat in about five minutes. She also brags about how easy childbirth was for her. I can fix a flat in about an hour and I was in labor for 24 hours.

  9. Comment by Spoony | 01.6.2012 | 9:55 am

    LOL and I mean this literally – even as a non English-speaker. Great Fun…

  10. Comment by Geo | 01.6.2012 | 10:14 am

    Why not go for the tried and true method of: patch kit is 50 cents and new tube is $5. I’ll just put in a new darn tube (since we all carry 12 spare tubes just in case) and use a $8 CO2 canister to inflate it because if I don’t get this changed quick my “friends” will have their bikes on the truck and drive away before they know I’m missing. And laugh when they do realize I’m possibly dead along the trail.

  11. Comment by 3d brian | 01.6.2012 | 10:18 am

    Oh. Waitasec. Maybe it would have been a good idea to feel along the inside of the tire, to see if there’s something sharp stuck in there.

    I don’t want to talk about how many times I’ve done this…

    BTW some real tips for patching a flat in case anyone cares:
    1) Bring along and extra tube and patch it at home. Also have a patch kit in case you get two flats on the ride.
    2) When you take the tube off pay attention to where it is seated in relation to the tire. That way when you find the hole in the tube you will know where to look in the tire for the cause.
    3) Check the whole tire – if there is one thorn there may be two.
    4) With a little practice you don’t ever need to use the tire lever thingies ever again. A guy at a bike shop showed me the trick – you push the tire from both sides to where it is tight and it fits right on – I don’t know how to describe it, sorry. Those tire lever thingies create a new hole in the tube too often to use.

  12. Comment by Dave T | 01.6.2012 | 10:25 am

    Nice detailed post fatty. I started using these last year. Much nice not having to mess with the glue.
    They work great on most leaks, not so well if it’s a large hole.

  13. Comment by Alison | 01.6.2012 | 10:35 am

    Funny because it’s true! This is why road tubeless rules.

  14. Comment by Mark | 01.6.2012 | 10:37 am

    Duct tape! I’m still using a tube patched with that after similar escapades. Never leave home without it.

  15. Comment by Onomastic | 01.6.2012 | 10:37 am

    Patch a tube? Never. Well, not unless the two spare tubes also blow. Which can’t happen to a rider with my mechanical skills.

    Hmmm, well, okay, except in “certain circumstances.” Such as when I neglect to remove (or even look for) the offending rocklet or glass shard that caused the leak. Or when I puncture the spare when remounting the tire. Or when I rip the valve off when inflating too enthusiastically with the ridiculous little pump I carry. (How can any appropriately scrawny rider be expected to effectively work one of those things anyway?)

    But even in these special circumstances I very rarely need to break out the patch kit. At least not if I’m within about 20 miles of home and my wife can be reached by phone. Which, however, can end up costing me a good bit more than either a patch kit or another tube.

  16. Comment by davidh-marinca | 01.6.2012 | 10:54 am

    @ Santi M Great! Now I have to go out and see if I remounted MY TIRE properly after last night’s repair. The fact I had flat I blame on Fatty for even making this a topic.

  17. Comment by Bee | 01.6.2012 | 11:35 am

    “Push it in with a screwdriver or something”. That line made me laugh out loud. Sadly I had just sipped some hot coffee. On the bright side, my sinuses are sparkling clear now. Wow.

    Especially since I have been SO tempted to do exactly that. There’s a sad story in my past about me, exhausted after a long ride with a flat tire at the end, sobbing on my front steps words that sound something like “the tube is pinched. It’s pinched. It’s pinched. Goddammit, the tube just won’t stop getting pinched.” My smart husband took the tire away and gave me some chocolate milk.

    Interestingly, though, I find my road bike is the hardest to change.

  18. Comment by Fat Cathy | 01.6.2012 | 11:52 am

    “After you’ve been around the wheel about five times, you’ll realize that as you put one part of the bead on the rim, another part is coming off. Maybe if you chase it faster, you’ll catch it.

    Nope, I guess not.”

    That one almost made me snort my lunch up my nose.

  19. Comment by Bikemike | 01.6.2012 | 12:06 pm

    I always just carry a spare set of Zipp 303’s with tires mounted. They’re very light weight. I then just throw the old wheels in the ditch on the side of the road because they’re bio-degradable.

  20. Comment by centurion | 01.6.2012 | 12:06 pm

    “Patch kits are actually exactly the same as they were when you had to fix a flat in order to get some kind of cub scout / brownie scout merit badge thirty years ago. ” Since the current crop of cub scout/brownie’s are still doing this, why not just stuff one into your seat bag. And the brownie can supply cookies as well!

  21. Comment by Patrick McNeal | 01.6.2012 | 12:09 pm

    I remember when I learned what double flat is… I ran out of patches and tubes on Colossal Cave road on day around 1994 I was walking the bike back when I Guy in full Motorola kit stopped to help me he did not have a tube but he did have a Motorola Cell phone! When my mom got out to me she was surprised that I was so far out.

  22. Comment by Clydesteve | 01.6.2012 | 12:21 pm

    Just enough truth to be pretty darn funny, Fatty.

    I have never found a rattlesnake fang in my tire carcass, however – that one took me by surprise. But once my son found a shard of scrap titanium that was unbelievably big in a rear tire.

  23. Comment by roan | 01.6.2012 | 1:00 pm

    TACKY, TACKY, TACKY…sometimes the cause of the flat. Durn drivers.
    I’ve found that checking for the hole in the tube is a heck of a lot more fun by putting the water inside the tube. I made a presta fitting adapted to a 60ml syringe. I fill the syringe with water and inject into the tube, 3 refills of the syringe is enough(road tire tube), if mtn tube about 30 refills or what ever amount of water you have remaining. Then I check the inside of the tire for sharps using my tongue, way more sensitive feel due to numbness of cold fingers. Then I put in a new tube and wrap the tube filled with water around my shoulders to squirt the riders that didn’t stop to help.

  24. Comment by MattC | 01.6.2012 | 1:43 pm

    Just to share my tried and true method of saving a ride from flats (road only, cuz I ride tubeless on the MTB)…I carry a Genuine Innovations Second Wind MTB pump (it’s also a CO2 inflator…it does BOTH) in my seat bag. I also carry ONE spare tube, a few glueless patches (Scabs work pretty well). I then carry two 12gram threadless CO2 cartridges (cuz they are SO cheap compared to the 16g ones..I get a 25 pack at Walmart for about $12 I think…look in the bb gun area).

    For the first flat I swap the tube w/ the new one. Pump the tube to about 30-40psi w/ the hand pump (where it starts getting HARD to pump), THEN install and use one CO2 cartridge. That gets me right up to about 110psi. IF I get a 2nd flat, yes, I have to patch the tube, but I can still do a full air fill w/ the pump & 2nd cartridge. AND if I have a catastrophic 3rd (or more) flat, I can still get the tire well over 60psi w the pump only, and it’s rideable. (I store one CO2 cartridge INSIDE the pump w/ the head off, as that’s just wasted space otherwise). NEVER been stranded w/ this system.

    Also EVERYBODY should carry a cut piece (or 3) of an old tire (road) to fit between the tube n the hole (paper money will work but not as good). This will get you riding even w/ a gash of epic proportions, & the tube won’t blow-out thru the hole. I rode home on a fully blown tire a few weeks back w/ this method… the gash was almost 3/4″ long. I couldn’t pump it much above 60psi (or it would blow out anyway) but I made it 11 miles on the totally trashed tire.

  25. Comment by MattC | 01.6.2012 | 1:53 pm

    Oh..I forgot to add…the Second Wind inflator claims it doesn’t work w/ 12g threadless cartridges (they are about 1/4″ shorter than a 16g is why, so it doesn’t reach the pointy bit that punctures the cartridge when you screw the pump head on). To remedy this, all you need is some kind of spacer to drop in the pump body before dropping in the cartridge..this makes it stick up enough to work. I used mine just last night on a friends flat. I carry a small plastic block in my pump already in place below my 1st spare cartridge. If you lose that (or forgot to find one), a small flat rock, or sticks, anything to make the 12g cartridge stick up just a tiny bit more will work).

    Improvise, Adapt, Overcome (from Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge). But I’m a cheappie…those w/ lots of disposable cash just keep buying 16g cartridges. Or send the spare $ my way..that would work too.

  26. Comment by rich | 01.6.2012 | 1:56 pm

    this post is a classic Fatty! So funny because we’ve all been there.
    One of the worst parts about riding with my group is that I’ve actually become known for fixing flats pretty quickly and now everytime someone even shows the slightest sign of struggling, everyone says, just get out of the way and give the damn thing to Rich to fix….
    It usually means a free beer or two on the post ride refresher though….

  27. Comment by MattC | 01.6.2012 | 2:26 pm

    Hey…sorry to go off topic, but does ANYBODY know where we go now to order our free LIVESTRONG wristbands (as part of Team Fatty)? I want to get mine ordered soon, and I’m tired of searching around for the location. If you find it, please post the link…it would be MUCH appreciated!

  28. Comment by blair | 01.6.2012 | 3:11 pm

    i have a foolproof means of avoiding all of this

    buy a case of tubes in bulk, and place one of the tubes in your saddle bag

    the moment you do that, all possibility of getting a flat will be eliminated, leaving you forever after with a full case of bulk tubes and a significantly slimmer wallet to show off to your cycling friends

  29. Comment by Eric L | 01.6.2012 | 3:54 pm

    Fatty’s spot on about patch kits still being in the 19th Century.

    I always enjoy trying to position a 1.5 inch patch on a tube that’s about .5 inch wide when uninflated.

    I gave up on trying to patch skinny road tubes and I just bring the corpse home to re-use in my garden.

  30. Comment by AngieG | 01.6.2012 | 6:14 pm

    I think they should add fixing a flat to the TdF. One stage unsupported! That would spice things up a bit. :-)

  31. Comment by Dean | 01.6.2012 | 9:27 pm

    LOL. Nicely done!!

  32. Comment by gregc | 01.6.2012 | 11:35 pm

    you forgot the part where you are feeling around the inside of your tire on the second flat (cause the first repair was punctured by a sharp object sticking int he tube that you forgot to look for in haste to be quick). I invariably always find it when it slashes my finger- and now there is blood all over the tube and the tire and the wheel etc- the aftermath looks rather like a stage of last years the tour de france!

  33. Comment by Lonster | 01.6.2012 | 11:57 pm

    I loaded up an old fiberglass tub on my old BOB trailer and after carefully reinforcing it with rebar filled it with water. I am now struggling on any climb over 5 ft in elevation but finding holes in tubes is extremely easy. The only other problem is my quads… they have quadrupled in size and I can only wear biking shorts now.

  34. Comment by davidh-marinca | 01.7.2012 | 1:42 am

    @AngieG Love the ‘unsupported TdF’ concept. If successful maybe we could carry it over to the Gran Fondo. Get Levi, and Patrick, and that Fatty Guy starting back in the pack with the rest of us.

  35. Comment by TimD | 01.8.2012 | 5:55 am

    My wife got me a set of these for Christmas after I spent over an hour trying to fix a flat, pinching the new tube trying to get the tyre back on.

  36. Comment by The FORMER 560 Pound, Cyclist | 01.8.2012 | 8:29 am

    LOL. Nicely done!!

  37. Comment by zeeeter | 01.8.2012 | 3:17 pm

    Hey MattC, try this login with your fundraiser ID.

  38. Comment by AustinSteve (aka Captain Steve) | 01.8.2012 | 4:04 pm

    Good thing I read this last night… Flat today, I was thoroughly prepared… But so very much to remember… I wonder what I forgot, or didn’t…

  39. Comment by lynn e | 01.8.2012 | 8:14 pm

    Thank you for removing the fear factor from the prospect of my 1st flat changing.

  40. Comment by dumbass | 01.11.2012 | 10:42 pm

    gotcha beat with the pulling shards or rattle snake fangs out with your teeth. Once I flatted and found two white looking shards in my tire, couldnt work them out so I bit them out with my teeth only to figure out that the white shards where the teeth of the dead ‘possum that I ran over about a 100 yards back. I worried about having to get rabies shots for 6 months

  41. Comment by Angie | 01.27.2012 | 10:46 am

    Ha ha! That was a great post! I laughed a few times, and at work! Not good… not good….

    Sounds like me, the first 10 times I had to fix a flat. Only, I had all those types of problems using replacement tubes, not patches. My first time, getting the wheel off and knowing I’d forget how to get it back on… Messing up the CO2 canister and wasting it… Blowing up the tube when I didn’t have it fully inside the rim… Ug. I gave up and walked home in my road bike shoes, pushing my bike.


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