Eugene is a keen recreational cyclist who likes mountain biking in the hills and forests of County Wicklow, Ireland.
How to Mend a Puncture on a Bike (Flat Tire)
You will inevitably get a punctured tire (tyre) at some stage, but patching an inner tube is quite simple, requiring few tools. It should be possible to perform a repair in between 30 to 40 minutes. It is an essential skill if you cycle a reasonable distance and don't want to have to walk home!
What Causes a Flat Tire?
Sharp objects such as glass, nails and tacks. In the countryside thorns from bushes such as bramble, blackthorn, whitethorn and wild rose can also cause flats. In countries such as the UK and Ireland, hedgerows adjoining roads are a common sight. These were often grown as a barrier to keep in livestock and typically consist of whitethorn and blackthorn, as well as other trees and bushes. When hedges are cut, thorns often litter the road surface and present a hazard to tires.
Also, when the tire of a bike hits a pothole, the tube can get pinched between the tire and wheel causing what is known as a pinch puncture. Ideally, you should be vigilant and watch the road surface to avoid punctures and damage to the wheel and rim in the first place.
10 Steps to Repair a Bicycle Puncture
- Detach the brake cable
- Remove the wheel
- Release the air from the tube
- Mark the tire
- Remove the tire from the rim
- Remove the tube
- Find the hole in the tube
- Locate what caused the puncture
- Patch the hole
- Put everything back together
See below for further details.
What Tools are Needed to Repair a Puncture?
You only need a few tools costing a few dollars to repair a puncture.
- Wrench. A single tool is available that can cope with all the standard nut sizes on a bicycle
- Tire Levers. These are used to lever off and separate the tire from the rim
- Puncture Repair Kit. Comprising patches, glue, sandpaper and chalk
- Pump. You're going to need this to pump the tire back up—unless you have a strong pair of lungs!
- Head Torch. Useful if you unfortunately get a puncture at dusk and end up working in the dark (which happened to me recently). You can use the front light from your bike and try to clamp it somehow so that it directs light where needed, however, an LED headlight that takes AAA batteries or is alternatively rechargeable via a USB cable is a much better choice.
There are another dozen or more tools which it's wise to take with you when cycling. Check them out in my other guide: 20 Essential Bicycle Tools to Bring on Your Ride.
Puncture Repair Kit
This Adaskala headlamp with a 3W LED available from Amazon is an essential piece of kit if you get caught out in the dark and have to repair a flat. It has a high output white LED and two red LEDs with 4 modes of operation. The reason I recommend this type is because it takes three AAA batteries which are universally available.
Also, the batteries fit in a compartment in the lamp itself and not a secondary compartment on the strap at the back of your head, connecting to the front with wires. The disadvantage of those types is that the wires can catch in e.g. branches while working. Rechargeable headlamps are also an option that can be charged from a USB wall charger or laptop.
How to Repair a Puncture in 10 Steps
Unless you are replacing the tube, you don't have to remove the rim from your bike to patch a hole. However, it is much easier to manipulate the tube and locate the puncture if you do so.
Step 1: Detach the Brake Cable
First, detach the end of the brake cable where it attaches onto the slot on the brake arms.
Step 2: Remove the Wheel
If the puncture is in the back tire, it's easier to remove the wheel by turning the bicycle upside down and resting it on its seat and handlebars. Using the wrench, loosen the nuts holding the wheel just enough that the wheel can be slipped out of the forks. If you are removing the back wheel, you will have to pull the chain and dérailleur out of the way so that the wheel can be removed.
Some bicycles have quick-release clamps which enable the wheel to be removed by pulling on a lever. Pull the lever out from the wheel and downwards. Forks have so-called "lawyer lips" which act as a backup to prevent wheels dropping out if the lever inadvertently loosens, so you will likely need to hold the lever and loosen the round "nut" on the far side of the wheel to provide enough slack to remove the wheel.
Step 3: Release the Air From the Tube
Remove the cap from the tire valve. Use something to push in the central pin on the valve: a piece of stick or match, or anything that comes to hand. This releases the air from the tube.
Step 4: Mark the Tire
It's quite likely that the object which caused the puncture is still stuck in the tire. If it's a thorn, the chances are that it's pushed into the thread and you won't be easily able to find it, especially in low light conditions. However, aligning the puncture point in the tube with the tire narrows down the location where the tire was pierced.
Before you remove the tire, mark it with chalk in line with the tire valve. Once you've patched the tube, then just lay the tube on the tire, lining up the valve with the chalk mark. Whatever punctured the tire should then be close to this patch (if it's still lodged in the tire).
If you reinstall the tube without doing this, you risk getting another puncture from whatever is stuck in the tire.
Step 5: Remove the Tire From the Rim
Push the blunt end of the tire lever in between the tire and rim. Don't push it in too far as there is the danger of pinching the tube causing damage. Lever the beading (the edge of the tire) out from the rim. Hook the other end of the tire lever under a spoke. Insert a second tire lever about 4 inches away and lever out a further section of bead.
It should now be easy to slide the tire lever sideways along the circumference of the rim to separate more bead. If the tire is a tight fit or rigid in cold weather, you may need to lever out further sections before you can slide the lever sideways. You can also slide your fingers in between the tire and rim and then slide your hand sideways to expose more tire.
You don't necessarily have to remove the tire completely from the wheel. It should be possible to slip out the tube through the gap between bead and rim.
The tire levers that come in a patch repair kit are often cheap, flimsy plastic or thin metal strips. I like these Tragoods premium tire spoon irons from Amazon because they're similar to what I use in the photos. They have a round-edged spoon tip and a thicker round stem and handle that's easy to hold. Also, they have a slot in the shaft for hooking around wheel spokes so that several levers can be in place at the same time.
Step 6: Remove the Tube
First, remove the valve from the rim, and then it should be easy to remove the rest of the tube from the tire.
Step 7: Find the Hole in the Tube
If you are carrying a spare tube on your journey, you can skip this step, but if not you need to find the hole in the tube. Pump up the tire until it is semi-inflated. If you are at home, you can then find the hole by submerging the tube in a basin of water, rotating it bit by bit through the water, and watching for bubbles.
If you're out in the countryside, you may be lucky and find a puddle or pool of water for doing the same thing. Once you find the hole, dry the area and mark it with chalk. If you don't have access to water, hold the tube up to your face and slowly rotate it until you feel air in your face.
Sometimes bad quality tubes can develop pinholes on the inner side of the tube ( i.e. the side which makes contact with the rim), so check this also. Again mark the hole with chalk.
Step 8: Locate What Caused the Puncture
This is essential. The puncture may have been caused by a piece of glass, barbed wire, sharp stick, nail or whatever which didn't actually remain stuck in the tire. My experience with trail riding, however, is that all punctures were caused by small thorns which lodged in the tire wall. So you need to check if the offending item is still there, otherwise, you'll get a puncture in the same place.
Lay the tube on the tire, aligning the valve with the chalk mark on the tire. If there's anything still stuck in the tire, it will be in line with the hole in the tube. I've had to do this in complete darkness with just the bike front light for illumination, so that's why it's wise to carry a head torch with you.
You can also do this by feel, and slide your fingers sideways along the inner surface of the tire. This is ok for thorns but probably not a good idea if a sliver of glass is stuck in the tire!
Step 9: Patch the Hole
Using the sandpaper, roughen an area of the tube slightly larger than the patch. Apply a blob of solvent/glue about the size of a small pea and spread it around with your finger to form a thin layer the size of the patch.
Allow the glue to become tacky to the touch, this normally takes about 5 minutes depending on temperature. Remove the backing foil or plastic from the patch. Apply the patch and center it on the hole. Press down hard on the center and push outwards to remove any trapped air.
Can I Use Glueless Patches?
Yes, you can also use self-adhesive patches like these ones from Amazon, however, they may not form as good a bond as a patch attached with glue. However, in an emergency, they're perfectly good for getting you home. Glue-on patches form a significantly stronger bond with the tube for a permanent repair.
Step 10: Put Everything Back Together
- Inflate the tube just enough to remove the limpness. This helps to push the tube far enough back against the wall of the tire so that it doesn't get caught between the tire and rim.
- Place the rim flat on the ground and lay the tire down on top of it.
- Check the treads on the tire are facing the right way (You did check which way they go before you removed the tire?!) If you didn't, the treads which are often V-shaped usually point back towards the pedals on the bottom of the wheel for the front tire and vice versa for the rear. However, the direction a tire should turn is often embossed into the rubber of the tire wall, or printed on it.
- The two sharp internal edges of the tires are called beads. Insert the bead closest to the ground into the bottom edge of the rim of the wheel. Fit the section of the tube with the valve into the tire first and thread the valve through the hole in the rim. Continue to feed the tube into the tire.
Now use your two thumbs or fingers to force the upper bead of the tire bit by bit into the rim. It might be easier to do this with the tire held vertically. This can be a little difficult as you get to the last section of the bead. You can use a tire lever to lever the bead into the rim as shown in the video below (similar to how you levered it out, but in reverse). Be careful you don't nip the tube with the lever.
- Inflate the tire while checking that the tire valve is at right angles to the rim. If it isn't, correct this by sliding the tire on the rim. Continue to inflate the tire to the rated pressure. Replace the wheel into the forks of the bike taking note of which way the thread points.
Next, tighten the nut which holds the wheel in place. If your wheel has a quick-release lever, clamp the lever upwards, parallel to the forks so that it is out of the way. This takes a little bit of trial and error and the whole arrangement should be so tight that you need to wrap your fingers around the fork and use your thumb and palm to push the lever closed. Lastly don't forget to replace the brake cable on the brake arms.
Replacing the Tire
Using Levers to Feed Tire Bead Back into Rim
Schwalbe Landcruiser Puncture Resistant Bicycle Tires
I use Schwalbe Landcruiser puncture resistant tires on my mountain bike and I haven't had any thorn punctures this year (or any for that matter). The tires have an integral Kevlar layer which helps to prevent penetration.
The middle section of the tire tread or rib is quite slick (smooth), so rolling resistance is reduced, making for easier riding on roads. The outer section has chunkier treads and this gives a better grip on muddy roads / off-road. These tires are available in 1.75 inches or 2 inches for standard 26-inch MTB wheels (other diameters also available).
What to Do If You Get a Blowout
Check your tires regularly for any cracks or bulges, especially if they are old or have a lot of mileage. Rubber cracks naturally with age as a result of oxygen and UV exposure even if tires haven't been used. (Store tires in a cold dark place). Stones and potholes on roads and trails bruise tires leading to damage. Bulges indicate damage to the nylon reinforcement of the tire and are a sign of an impending blowout.
A blowout is a failure of the tire as the pressure of air in the tube forces it through the tire wall or tread. You may hear a sudden gush of air as the tire slowly deflates, or the event can be more catastrophic, with a bang and rapid deflation. This can rip a bigger hole in the tire and inevitably the tube may be damaged to the extent that is unrepairable. So always carry a spare tube with you.
Once the tire is damaged by a blowout, there's no point trying to inflate a new tube inside it until you block the hole. It's a good idea to bring a section of the old tire with you and this can be used to cover the hole inside the tire at the site of the blowout (Assuming it's not a huge tear or hole). This prevents the tube from pushing out through the hole when it's inflated. Inflate the tire to the minimum pressure and this should get you home! Don't use the tire again, replace it!
Recommended Hand Cleansers
Working on a bike is a filthy job and you'll inevitably get lots of dirty grease, oil and black grime from the wheels on your hands. If you dispense with gloves and work barehanded (which often happens because it's difficult to handle small parts with gloves), an abrasive hand cleanser will do a much better job than soap at removing grime and is pretty much essential.
I use Dreumex anti-bacterial Pumice Heavy Duty Hand Cleaner, available from Amazon for removing oil and grease from my hands. It's also good for removing oil paint, tar, soot and general garden grime. (even used it once for taking black bicycle grease out of a white carpet!)
Max tire pressure for a mountain bike generally ranges from 50 to 65 pounds per square inch (PSI).
58 PSI approximately equals 4 bar = 400 kPa. Less pressure gives better traction, but it's more difficult to cycle when tires are softer.
Pressure Conversion: 1 bar = 14.5 psi = 100,000 pascals or 100 kPa
Remember always wear high-viz reflective clothing when cycling. If you have to repair a puncture, move to a location well in from the edge of the road, where you're safe from passing traffic. In the city, repair the puncture on the pavement, but if you're out in the countryside, find the nearest gateway.
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.
© 2012 Eugene Brennan
victoria from Hamilton On. on November 26, 2012:
Great info! I hope I never have to do it,but one never knows!
I'm putting this hub in my favorites for study in better weather.
Gordon D Easingwood from Wakefield, United Kingdom on March 08, 2012:
Good hubs been years since I have had to do this