How to Fix a Flat on the Trail

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Flat tires are a rough reality when you spend time biking. Though it’s not a big deal when you can change it at home or drop by the shop, it’s a much bigger deal to fix a flat when you’re out on the trail on the mountain or in the deep woods. However, with a few handy, easy-to-carry tools, a little know-how, and some practice, you can confidently change a flat tire anywhere and anytime.

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To be more prepared for the difficult situations you’d face in a couple of our favorite runs like A-Line in Whistler, BC , Canada or Livewire in Northstar, California, US, try fixing flat tires at home a few times before you go out so you have a good grip on how to do it when you’re out on terrain. Of course, always remember to bring your tools with you every time you head out.

1Tools You Need to Repair a Flat Bicycle Tire

Before you go out on your first ride, stock up on the tools you need to fix flat tires. Buy a quality set and get to know your tools and how to use them before you ride.

  • A portable, high-quality bicycle tire pump (or CO2 inflator)
  • A good, small, portable (packable) bike tire repair kit that includes:
    • Tire Levers
    • Spare bike tire tube
    • Tire patch kit
    • A small wrench that fits your axle nuts
    • A small amount of soap-water solution (just a two- or three-ounce plastic bottle)
      • Simply combine water with any dish soap in a 2-water to 1-soap ratio

Invest in saddlebags or a good backpack to hold your repair kit. Make sure to check your supplies at least once a year to make sure everything is still there and usable if you haven’t used your kit in a while.

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2Fixing a Flat Tire on a Trail

  1. When you get a flat on the trail, move a safe distance off the trail where you’re both easily visible to other riders and out of their path of travel. Make sure you’re not in any danger or creating a hazard for anyone else on the trail.
  2. Once you are in a safe spot, take out your toolkit and spread out the tools on the ground so you can easily see and access what you need.
  3. Remove the wheel that has the flat tire.
    1. If the front wheel is flat
      1. Undo the quick-release lever, turning it from closed to the open position, and remove the wheel.
        1. If you have bolts on your front wheel, unscrew the bolts and remove the wheel.
    2. if the rear wheel is flat
      1. Move the bike chain to the smallest ring on the crank and the smallest cog on the rear wheel.
      2. Open the breaks (unless you have disc brakes).
      3. Retract the rear derailleur by pushing down on it until the chain is loose. This will make it easier to remove the wheel.
  4. Find the tire puncture or leak
    1. On the side of the wheel facing you, slip a tire lever in the space between the tire and the rim. Drag the lever around the rim in a full circle, until the bead (edge) of the tire facing you has popped out over the edge of the wheel rim.
    2. When you pull the side of the tire facing out over the rim toward you, make sure to leave the valve in the rim. This will keep the tire and tube aligned, which makes it easier to find the puncture.
    3. Check the tire for a puncture or tear. Look on the tire’s exterior for a sharp stone or nail which may have poked through.
    4. If you can’t see a puncture, run your fingers SLOWLY around in the inside of your tire. You want to go slowly and be careful, so you don’t cut yourself on any object that may have punctured through. If you find a stone or something sharp, remove it.
    5. If you don’t find anything sharp in the tire, remove the tube from the rim and wheel to examine it for any punctures or rips.
      1. On the far opposite side of the tube from the valve, reach into the gap you created between the tire and wheel, grab the tube, and pull it out.
        1. If the tire still has some air, you may want to deflate it more to make the tube removal easier.
      2. When all the tube except for the valve has been removed, push the valve through the valve hole to remove the tube completely, being careful not to damage the valve.
    6. If you can’t see any holes or punctures, apply your soap-water solution to the tube. Start with the exterior circumference, as the greatest chance of puncture would have occurred there.
      1. The air coming out of the leak will make the soap solution bubble. Make sure to use enough solution to make the tube wet and cover any leak – covering it is what makes the bubble.
      2. Once you find the leak or puncture, you can either repair the tube or replace it with a new one.
  5. Install a new bike inner tube
    1. Mount the new tube onto the rim and into the tire.
    2. Start by putting the tube’s valve in the valve hole of the rim, then slowly work the rest of the tube into the tire and around the rim.
    3. Be careful not to twist the tube. It may help to put a little air into the tube first to give it a little shape and make it easier to work with.
  6. Patching a flat bicycle tire.
    1. If you don’t have a spare tube, or just prefer to patch the one you have, use a bicycle tire patch kit to repair the puncture on your tube.
    2. Simply follow the instructions that come with the patch kit.
    3. Be sure to use a big enough patch to cover far beyond the edges of the puncture or tear.
    4. Re-install the patched tube onto the wheel per 5b above.
  7. Install the bike tire onto the wheel
    1. Before you put the tire back on the wheel, again make sure the tube is not twisted or kinked. It must be smooth inside the tire.
      1. It may help to put some air in the tube. Inflate it 25-30%. This will give the tube somebody and shape, so it stays in place while you put on the tire.
    2. Put the tire bead back into the rim by pushing it in with your fingers. You will need more strength and leverage to get the last part on.
    3. Be careful not to get the tube caught between the tire bead and the rim.
    4. Work in a circle around the rim until the bead is fully back in place.
      1. To make it easier, insert your tire lever between the wheel and the tire’s bead (edge), and run it at an angle around the circumference of the wheel as before to lever the tire bead back over the edge of the wheel rim.
    5. Check again that you haven’t pinched the tube, so you don’t immediately get another flat.
  8. Inflate your tire with your air pump or CO2 inflator.
  9. Replace your valve cap.
  10. Put your wheel back on your bike.
    1. Make sure your axle is in a proper position, then lock your quick-release lever (or tighten the axle nuts).
    2. Give your tire a firm spin to make sure it spins true, does not wobble, and is not rubbing up against the rim or brakes.
  11. Close your brake caliper and re-align the tire as needed. Check your brakes and gears.

Now, you’re ready to hit the trail again! Have fun!

 

 

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