You Ride Alone. So Are You Ready to Fix a Flat Tire When You Get One?

Updated on June 5, 2020
boxelderred profile image

I'm an avid cyclist who has ridden 20,000+ miles over the past five years. I enjoy sharing the little I know with interested others.

The Time to Prepare is Now

Photo by greg cain 2020
Photo by greg cain 2020 | Source

Let's say you're out on your daily bike ride, looking for and successfully finding solitude. You're all alone, more than walking distance away from home, no cell phone signal (this happens more than you might think up here on the Palouse), enjoying the fresh air, exercise, perspiration and isolation. Suddenly, your front wheel (or your back wheel) starts to feel different, less responsive, maybe even squishy beneath you. This is a telltale sign of a slow leak in your tire…and probably means that soon it will be completely flat.

Right now -- now, when you're sitting in your chair or at your computer reading this article and maybe have some time and inclination to do something about it -- is when you need to think about the answer to this question: When your tire does go flat, and you're out there all alone, will you be ready to fix it? Are you prepared? This very thing happened to me about two weeks ago now (slow leak, squishy handling, rapidly deflating front tire) and, though I truly thought I was prepared for that moment, I found out quickly I was not! I definitely made some rookie mistakes along the way.

The Right Tools for the Right Job

When I ride my road bike, gravel bike or mountain bike, I almost always carry a saddle bag kit under my seat. It looks like this:

Seat packs are a great place to carry the essential tools you need to change a flat tire
Seat packs are a great place to carry the essential tools you need to change a flat tire | Source

When I stopped to repair my most recent flat, I pulled off to the side of the road, opened up my seat kit pack and found this inside: a miniature patch repair kit, tire levers, and a CO2 inflator with a spare CO2 canister. At this point, I thought I was probably going to be able to do what I needed to do to get rolling again. Indeed, in most situations this would have been enough.

In a lot of flat tire situations, this is all you really need to get yourself going again: tire levers, patch kit, inflation source
In a lot of flat tire situations, this is all you really need to get yourself going again: tire levers, patch kit, inflation source | Source

Rookie Mistake #1

When I removed the tube from the front wheel of my bike, though, and began troubleshooting, I found trouble and then said, "Shoot." I was prepared for a lot of stuff, but I was not prepared for this: the tube was torn length-wise--like maybe 1" to 2" rips--in a couple different spots. When I discovered this, I started digging through my seat kit pack again, looking for a spare tube. That's when I discovered rookie mistake number one: I didn't have a spare tube with me. Ugh.

What to Bring in Case of a Flat

1. Patch repair kit

2. Spare inner tube

3. Tire levers—at least two (2)

4. Air source—small hand pump -or- CO2 inflator kit w/ two (2) CO2 canisters (minimum)

Not all flats are created equal.  When you have a major blowout, you'll be glad you carried a spare tube (if you did).  If you didn't, well...
Not all flats are created equal. When you have a major blowout, you'll be glad you carried a spare tube (if you did). If you didn't, well... | Source

Sometimes You Have to Improvise

Though I didn't have a spare tube, I did have lots of Skabs on hand so I was able to jury-rig a fix to the problem by overlapping the little patch circles along the entire length of the rips in my tube. I did this in two places. Here's what one of them looked like:

Actual, unretouched photo of my workmanship...
Actual, unretouched photo of my workmanship... | Source

Rookie Mistake #2

You might think that rookie mistake number two was putting the tube back on the wheel, going to inflate it only to find that I didn't actually get the tube fixed. Or, maybe you think I didn't check the inside of the tire for protrusions, goat heads, small things that might re-puncture the tire. Well, those aren't it. I did both of those things (but not in that order) and when I went to check that the tire would hold air, that's when I discovered rookie mistake number two.

I need to digress a bit here to set the stage for mistake number two. See, about six months ago, back when the world was normal and all, I put my bike in my truck and headed to a town south of here about 33 miles. I wanted to ride on the trail down there, and there's no way to ride a bike from here to there without braving a narrow, no-shoulder, two-lane US Highway. Braving wouldn't be the right word for that either, actually. It would be more like stupiding if you were to attempt it. And now I've digressed too far...

Anyway, while I was riding down there in the Lewiston, ID/Clarkston, WA area on the trail along the Snake River, I got a flat tire when I was about 12 miles away from where my truck was parked at Walmart. Long story short: I had everything I needed except a frame-mounted bike pump. My CO2 canister failed, I didn't have a spare, and I also didn't have a frame-mounted pump with me. That's when I started doing the walk of shame back toward Lewiston, pushing my injured bike down the road, looking at my feet, listening to the flat tire bump bump bump rhythmically round and round. See, I didn't have cell phone coverage, either (remember I said that happens routinely up here on the Palouse?) so I also couldn't call my bride and tell her about my dilemma.

Thankfully, mercifully, a man hauling a trailer, and who'd been out camping with his young kids the night before, stopped alongside and offered me a ride. I took him up on it and vowed to buy myself a frame-mounted bike pump as soon as I got home.

Which brings us back to our story: Before installing the tube back on the wheel, and not wanting to use my CO2 canister except in case of real dire emergency, I went to check whether the tube would hold air, using the frame-mounted pump I'd purchased some five months before. That's when rookie mistake number two really hit home: the cheap pump I'd purchased and mounted so nicely on my bike frame right next to the water bottle...well, it didn't work. At all. It didn't push air out of the little hose thingy. It didn't deliver the goods, as it were. So in the end, I had to use my CO2 canister to troubleshoot (shoot!) and also to inflate the tire.

Though somewhat bulky, a high-quality, frame-mounted bike pump is the most reliable inflation source when you're out and about.  The operative word:  high-quality.
Though somewhat bulky, a high-quality, frame-mounted bike pump is the most reliable inflation source when you're out and about. The operative word: high-quality. | Source

Things to Remember (How to Avoid Rookie Mistakes)

1. Make sure you have the right tools for the right job BEFORE you need them. Right now is a good time.

2. Carry a spare tube and a pump. Make sure the pump actually works.

3. Don't forget to run your fingers round and round through the inside of the tire checking for small protrusions (goatheads, stickers, tiny pin-like things) that may re-puncture your tube once you put air in it.

4. Don't reinstall a repaired tube on a wheel until you've checked the tube's viability. Will it hold air?

Preparation Is Key - Do It Today!

Using the inflator, I was able to get enough air (CO2) into my front tire, and the patch-up job held long enough for me to make it back closer to civilization. Close enough to have cell phone signal, anyway, so I could call my wife and have her come pick me up. At the end of the day, that was plenty good enough. After my two rookie mistakes, I also learned a few things about my level of preparation, and I've since taken steps to correct them: I always carry a spare tube; I have a pump that actually works; and I look through all my saddle bags regularly to make sure I'll have what I need when I need it out there on the road.

If you're planning your own ride someday soon, if the trail/road/mountain is calling your name and you plan to answer...there is no better time than right now to take inventory and make sure you have what you need. And if you don't, there is also no better time to get it. If you do, when you'll definitely be ready for the next time your wheel starts to wobble and your tire starts to hiss.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 greg cain


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      • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

        greg cain 

        2 months ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

        Hi Liam - agreed. Tubeless is a great option for many folks. I don't have any of my bikes set up for tubeless, but I know those who do love the arrangement. I am considering it for my gravel bike. I also buy cheap tubes, and carrying more than one spare is an even better idea if you have capacity to do so. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great week!

      • CyclingFitness profile image

        Liam Hallam 

        2 months ago from Nottingham UK

        Tubeless is great on the mountain bike rather than the need for tubes- far better handling and performance. I tend to buy cheap tubes and take 2-3 with me. Getting patches to seal on dirty mtb inner tubes can be a challenge in itself.

      • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

        greg cain 

        2 months ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

        Kyler - thanks for the thoughtful comment. Yours sounds like a harrowing (and memorable) learning experience. I'm glad all I had was a shredded tube and not a shredded face! Thanks for stopping by, and have a great week!

      • Kyler J Falk profile image

        Kyler J Falk 

        2 months ago from Corona, CA

        A very important article.

        When I was gifted my first mountain bike, we took it to an amateur trail that was quite long and I pulled my front hand brake and went right over the handlebars. Took off half my face and, unbeknownst to us, my dad's tire was swiftly deflating while we field-treated my face. His spare had a hole in it too!

        After walking about half a mile with my face bleeding, no water left, the ranger pulled up to us and gave us a lift. Thank goodness we were lucky enough to have the ranger pull up!


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