Whether you ride your bike every day or twice a year, you’re going to get a flat tire eventually. Here’s how to change your tube with minimal headaches.
We’ve all been there. You’re biking along when suddenly something feels…wrong. You ran through glass or over a stray thorn, and now you have a flat tire. But your ride isn’t over yet. With a couple of simple tools and a bit of know-how, you’ll find it’s simple enough to replace your tube and get back on your bike.
Here, we cover what tools you’ll need and outline seven easy steps for how to change a bike tire.
Tools You Need to Change a Flat Tire
Whenever you go for a bike ride, you should carry these tools with you. Without them, you risk being stranded halfway through your ride.
- A spare tube. Make sure you have a tube of the right size for your wheel. There will be two numbers to look at: the diameter and the width, such as 29 inches and 2 inches, respectively. You should be able to find those numbers on your tire and on your tube (or on the tube’s box). In a pinch, you can make a size off work (so a 27.5-inch tube could fit either a 26-inch or a 29-inch wheel), but generally having the right size spare tube will make the process much easier.
- An inflation device. You can carry a handheld pump with you, or if you’re changing your tube at home, you can use a floor pump. Alternatively, you can use a CO2 cartridge and inflator to quickly fill your tube. These canisters are smaller and easier to carry than a hand pump and do the job a lot quicker, although many people find that CO2 doesn’t last as long in your tires as normal air does. No matter what type of inflation device you use, make sure that it’s compatible with your valve type. The majority of tubes use either Presta or Schrader valves. Schrader valves are what most cars and motorcycles use, and Presta valves have a nut that needs to be loosened before you put the pump on it.
- A tire lever. This is a small, easy-to-carry tool that’s a huge help when you go to remove the tire.
- A patch kit. This one is also optional, but nice to have if you forget your tube or get multiple flats on your ride (it sucks, but it happens).
- A wrench/bike tool. If you do not have a quick release to remove your wheel, you likely need a wrench to undo the bolts. Or if you have theft-proof skewers, you’ll need special tools to undo them.
How to Change a Flat Tire
1. Remove the wheel.
Flip your bike upside down to make the process easier if you’re out and about. If you have a stand, or there’s a bike repair station nearby (common on many city bike trails), place your bike on it. If your wheel has a quick release, open the lever and unscrew the skewer (and make sure to catch whatever random springs or washers fall off).
Or, if your bike has bolt-on or theft-proof skewers, make sure you have the appropriate tools to remove them. Set the skewer aside and pull your wheel free.
If you have rim brakes (the ones that stop you by clamping onto your rims), you may have to unhook those to get the wheel off. If you’re taking off your back wheel and you have gears, it helps to shift to your highest gear so that your chain is on the smallest cog of your rear cassette, giving you a bit more room to maneuver as you lift your tire clear of the chain and rear derailleur.
2. Remove one side of the tire.
First, let out the rest of the air from your tube to make this step easier. Then, use your tire lever if you have it (and you really should have it, especially if your hands aren’t super strong) to remove one side of the tire from the rim. Hook the lever under the bead of the tire (the hard part of the tire that sits inside the wheel) and pull it over the rim, all the way around.
If you’re just changing the tube, leave one side of the tire on the rim. This way, you can pull out the tube without totally removing the tire, which saves time. If the tire was also damaged or you just want new tires and you’re planning to swap the tire out too, take both sides off the rim.
3. Find the puncture.
First, try to find where the hole is in the tube. (You can look for punctures on the exterior or listen or feel for air.) This will help you determine the cause of the flat so it doesn’t happen again. If the hole is on the inside of the tube, it’s likely because the rim tape — a strip of tape that goes along the inside of your rim — has shifted, exposing the spoke holes which can wear out your tube. If that happens, try to push the tape back in place.
Then, run your fingers carefully along the inside of the tire to check if there’s anything sharp stuck there. You don’t want to have to change your tube again a mile down the road because there’s still a staple in your tire. Just be careful not to slice your hand open in the process.
4. Replace the tube.
If you’re using a patch kit, apply the patch according to the instructions. You’ll rough up the area around the hole with sandpaper to help the patch stick better. Then, spread glue on the area, if it requires glue, and place the patch. Alternatively, you can pull out your brand-new spare tube.
Next, put a little air in the new tube to make it easier to handle and put it in the tire, starting by putting the valve stem in place. Make sure it’s in straight; if it’s at an angle, there will be too much pressure on its base and it could tear the tube. If there’s a lock ring for the valve stem, screw it on now to keep the valve in place.
5. Replace the tire.
Once your new (or newly patched) tube is in place, you need to replace the bead of the tire. You can usually do this just with your hands, or you can use the tire lever to help.
The wall of your tire should have a recommended psi that you will want to inflate your tube to match. It’s nice to line that info up with the valve stem so it’s easy to find when you’re airing up your tires in the future.
6. Air up the tire.
If you have a Presta valve, open it by unscrewing the top nut. Place the inflation device on the valve according to the instructions and air up the tire. When the tube is partially inflated, check that the tire is seated correctly and the tube isn’t bunched up anywhere. Then finish inflating to the recommended psi.
If you’re using CO2 cartridges, follow the instructions with the inflator.
7. Replace the wheel.
Put the wheel back on your bike, slide the skewer in place, and tighten it. If you have a quick release, it should be a little difficult to close, but you don’t want to have to wrestle with it. If you have rim brakes, reattach them.
Give the wheel a spin and make sure it spins smoothly. If not or if the brake is rubbing, your wheel may be on crooked.
If you’ve had lots of flats or your tread is worn down, it may be time to replace your tire as well. But for starters, these seven steps should get you from the side of the road to the end of your ride.