FIX THAT FLAT

Time to get some New Kid Know-How under your belt and learn to fix a flat. We’ll walk you through the process in detail, but more than that, we’ll cover a couple of habits you can add to your routine to ease you into being a full-time boss on the bike. Take a deep breath. Now, let’s get at it.

FIX THAT FLAT

Time to get some New Kid Know-How under your belt and learn to fix a flat. We’ll walk you through the process in detail, but more than that, we’ll cover a couple of habits you can add to your routine to ease you into being a full-time boss on the bike. Take a deep breath. Now, let’s get at it.

NEW KID KNOW HOW

FIX THAT FLAT

Flats are easy—both to get and to fix—and while the video above breaks it down to the most basic of steps, let’s deep-dive into the steps to get you truly comfortable with the whole shebang. To kick things off, we turn to Madeline Gulley, bike mechanic and supervisor at Village Service Course—the internal bike shop here at Specialized HQ—to give us the skinny on mechanical tips and tricks for beginners. She’s been fixing bikes since she was a little kid, and if there’s one thing Madeline wants everyone to know, it’s this: Anyone can do it. Take it away Madeline:

"BECAUSE IT’S EASY. IF YOU CAN PHYSICALLY RIDE A BICYCLE, THEN YOU CAN CHANGE A FLAT—IT TAKES WAAAAY LESS COORDINATION."

MADELINE GULLEY

Stuff You'll Need

Tire levers: Take two—it’ll make this a cinch.

New Tube: Take it out of the box to fit in your jersey pocket or saddle bag.

Air Source: If you’re on the road, a mini-pump and/or CO2 + inflator. If you’re at home, use a floor pump for ease of use.

Determination: You got this!

STEP-BY-STEP

Before we begin, if there’s a term you’re not familiar with, we’ve included a short list of definitions at the end of this article to fill you in. We also recommend you practice this at home before you get out on the open road or trail. Take your time, too, because the only thing worse than one flat tire is two flat tires. Ready? Let’s fix this flat!

1. Remove the Wheel

Take the wheel off your bike and let any remaining air out of the tube. To take the wheel off, you’ll be faced with either a quick-release (QR) skewer or thru-axle. These are what goes through the center of your wheel—called the hub—and keep the wheels in the frame. For a quick-release, simply flip the lever open, loosen it a little, and pop the wheel out. If you have rim brakes, remember to open the brake first by flipping the little lever on the brake by the wheel's rim. For a thru-axle, you'll unscrew the axle and then pull it out of the wheel completely.


PRO TIP: If you’re going to lay your bike on its side while you fix that flat, lay it down with the chain-side facing the sky.

2. Look for the Cause

Using your eagle eyes, inspect the tire surface and look for what may have caused your flat. Was it a thorn, a piece of glass, a staple, or something else? If you find the culprit, remove it, but be careful—there's a good chance what you're looking for is sharp. You also might not find anything and that’s ok—we’re not done yet.

3. Use Your Tire Levers

Using two tire levers, we’re now going to take one side of the tire off the rim. Using your thumb, press the tire in off the rim a little, then insert the scoop-shaped end of the first lever in under the edge of the tire. Now, push the lever down in a lever motion and hook the other end of the lever—the U-shaped end—to a spoke in the wheel. See how that’s made a gap? Slide your second lever into that gap, and then it around the circumference on the inside of the tire until the whole side is completely off the rim. Remember: You only need to remove one side of the tire to fix your flat.

Hmm, did you get a rear flat? It seems more complicated to get the wheel out, but don’t sweat it. For first timers, Madeline suggests that you flip that bike over onto its handlebars and saddle. “It’s the easiest way for you to get it stable,” she says. “And we’re not really concerned about a [perceived] level of professionalism here—it’s more important that you can comfortably change a flat.” Before you flip your bike, change the gear to the smallest cog (physical size) in the cassette so the chain’s slack. With your bike flipped over, stand behind the back wheel and look at the rear derailleur pulley cage—where your chain winds through two little pulleys. See it? Now pull the cage towards yourself, and then use your other hand to pull the wheel up and out. Easy peasy.

PRO TIP: You’re going to get dirty. That’s good. It’s a sign that you’re a badass.

4. Take the Tube Out

Grab the tube inside the tire and pull it all the way out. Start at the opposite side of the valve, and remove the valve from the rim last. Roll that tube up and put it in your pocket or bag. And when you get home, you can always use a patch kit to patch the hole and then use it again

5. Check Inside the Tire

This is especially important if you didn’t find anything in Step Two. Run your fingers around the inside of the tire to find any debris that may still be in the tire, like a thorn or a piece of glass. Be careful! If you have a piece of cloth or glove, use it to protect your fingers to avoid cutting yourself on something unexpected.

6. Tuck the New Tube Into the Tire

First, pump a small amount of air into your tube—just enough to give it a little shape. This will actually help you tuck it inside the tire. Believe it or not, you can actually blow into the tube to get a bit of air in it. Now, put it in the tire. Insert the valve first and then work your way around and tuck the tube all the way in.

PRO TIP: When you buy spare tubes, make sure the valve stem length is the right length for your wheel rim. Not sure what that is? Ask at your local bike shop. They’ll be stoked to help.

7. Reinstall The Tire

Starting at the valve stem, work the side of the tire back onto wheel using the heels of your hands to push the bead of the tire back on. Work it all the way around, being careful not to catch (pinch) the tube between the tire bead and rim. It’ll start getting tight—use your muscles! But what do you do if you can’t get it back on all the way? We asked Madeline—should we use our tire lever to get the last little bit back on if we can’t manage it by hand?

“The technical answer is no—you should reinstall the tire with just your hands. BUT, that does you zero good if you can't get the tire on. 95% on is still not on, so if you can't get it, carefully use the lever.”

8. Air It Up, Baby

Before you re-inflate your tire, inspect it all the way around the wheel where the tire meets the rim on both sides. Check to see if the tire bead is seated correctly and that you haven’t pinched the tube. All good? Ok, now you can re-inflate the tire using your pump or CO2. If you’re using a floor pump, inflate to your desired pressure. But what should your pressure be? We’ll cover that in the section called Air Bud, below.

 

9. Put The Wheel Back On

 

NEW KID KNOW HOW

PSSST! THE SECRET TO USING CO2

Using a CO2 cartridge can feel intimidating, but it shouldn’t. Grab your cartridge and inflator—the thing that attaches to activate the air—and you’re ready to go. There are a couple of inflator types. For one type, fully screw the CO2 into the cartridge, put the valve end on your tube, then gently unscrew the CO2—back it off—a tiny bit, and the tire will air up. The cartridge is going to get super cold but don't be alarmed—it’s perfectly normal. Another kind of inflator has a trigger mechanism on it, so after you screw the cartridge in, attach it to the valve. And instead of backing the cartridge off, activate the trigger and the tire will air up. The easiest way to find out what kind of inflator does what is to ask at—you got it—your Local Bike Shop.

Note: You don’t have to put all the air from the CO2 in there. Just go until it feels right. If you keep the inflator head on, you can still get some more air out of it later. Easy breezy.

NEW KID KNOW HOW

PSSST! THE SECRET TO USING CO2

Using a CO2 cartridge can feel intimidating, but it shouldn’t. Grab your cartridge and inflator—the thing that attaches to activate the air—and you’re ready to go. There are a couple of inflator types. For one type, fully screw the CO2 into the cartridge, put the valve end on your tube, then gently unscrew the CO2—back it off—a tiny bit, and the tire will air up. The cartridge is going to get super cold but don't be alarmed—it’s perfectly normal. Another kind of inflator has a trigger mechanism on it, so after you screw the cartridge in, attach it to the valve. And instead of backing the cartridge off, activate the trigger and the tire will air up. The easiest way to find out what kind of inflator does what is to ask at—you got it—your Local Bike Shop.

Note: You don’t have to put all the air from the CO2 in there. Just go until it feels right. If you keep the inflator head on, you can still get some more air out of it later. Easy breezy.

NEW KID KNOW HOW

Some New Kid Habits

While fixing a flat is the number one must-know for new cyclists, we asked Madeline what she thought two essential habits for beginners were. Two stood out: chain maintenance and checking your tire pressure before every ride.

NEW KID KNOW HOW

SOME NEW KID HABITS

While fixing a flat is the number one must-know for new cyclists, we asked Madeline what she thought two essential habits for beginners were. Two stood out: chain maintenance and checking your tire pressure before every ride.

HOW TO LUBE YOUR CHAIN

 

1. Use a rag and run the chain backwards through it to clean any built-up grime. Use your hand to back-pedal your bicycle as you hold onto the chain with the rag.

2. Apply lube—aim for one drop per link as you back-pedal the chain, noting where you started so you know where to stop.

3. Run the chain up and down the rear cassette by changing the gears. You'll need to hold the back of the bicycle in the air when you do this. It helps if you have a bike stand, but if you don’t, you can hook the nose of your saddle over a porch railing, get a friend to help, or just change the gear, pick it up, and pedal forwards with your hand. Rinse, repeat.

4. Hold a clean cloth on the chain and run the chain backwards again, wiping off excess lube. Now leave it for a little bit—really let that lube soak in.

5. Some people leave it overnight before a big ride, while others give it a half-hour or so. Now wipe the chain again by running it through a rag. There's actually a thing as too much lube. It attracts grime, so wiping it down alleviates this.

 

PRO TIP: Use the good oil. What chain lube should you use? Well, that’s a hot issue, and it's very much a personal choice. “It’s like picking out someone else’s socks for them,” says Madeline. For New Kids, let’s just keep this simple. Choose the right oil for the conditions, and make sure that it’s a lube that’s specially formulated for bicycles. Again, Madeline says to ask at your Local Bike Shop for a recommendation.

YOUR CHAIN SHOULD LOOK SHINY. IN IDEAL CONDITIONS, IT SHOULD NOT BE BLACK—UNLESS IT IS ACTUALLY [PAINTED] BLACK

HOW TO LUBE YOUR CHAIN

 

1. Use a rag and run the chain backwards through it to clean any built-up grime. Use your hand to back-pedal your bicycle as you hold onto the chain with the rag.

2. Apply lube—aim for one drop per link as you back-pedal the chain, noting where you started so you know where to stop.

3. Run the chain up and down the rear cassette by changing the gears. You'll need to hold the back of the bicycle in the air when you do this. It helps if you have a bike stand, but if you don’t, you can hook the nose of your saddle over a porch railing, get a friend to help, or just change the gear, pick it up, and pedal forwards with your hand. Rinse, repeat.

4. Hold a clean cloth on the chain and run the chain backwards again, wiping off excess lube. Now leave it for a little bit—really let that lube soak in.

5. Some people leave it overnight before a big ride, while others give it a half-hour or so. Now wipe the chain again by running it through a rag. There's actually a thing as too much lube. It attracts grime, so wiping it down alleviates this.

 

PRO TIP: Use the good oil. What chain lube should you use? Well, that’s a hot issue, and it's very much a personal choice. “It’s like picking out someone else’s socks for them,” says Madeline. For New Kids, let’s just keep this simple. Choose the right oil for the conditions, and make sure that it’s a lube that’s specially formulated for bicycles. Again, Madeline says to ask at your Local Bike Shop for a recommendation.

HABIT TWO

AIR BUD

A second habit you should get into is checking your tire pressure before every ride. And while you might think a simple press down with the heel of your hand should be enough, as Madeline warns:

“If you're at the point where it's 'squishy,' you've probably already waited too long. Having a pump with a gauge is something I think everyone should have [at home].”

If you leave the house with your tire pressure too low, you can easily get a pinch flat when you ride over a pothole or obstacle. Too high? That might make for a bumpy and uncomfortable ride. Madeline recommends that you check the recommended pressure—indicated as the PSI on the side of the tire—and then dial it back a little. How much do you weigh? If you’re a lighter rider, you can go lower. If you're heavier, err on the side of a higher pressure.

When it comes to mountain bikes, sometimes you’ll want to adjust your tire pressure based on the conditions at hand. If the trail is dry and in tip-top condition, go for the higher end of the recommended pressure. If wet or muddy, drop the pressure so your tire has better contact with the ground for more control.

Any last bits of advice from Madeline? Get to know your bike. “Knowing what your bike feels like when it's working properly is very important for knowing when your bike is not working properly,” she says. And once more—get to know your Local Bike Shop.

YOUR LOCAL BIKE SHOP WANTS YOU TO UTILIZE THEM AS A RESOURCE. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, SO DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. THEY’LL TEACH YOU HOW TO FIX A FLAT. AND SERIOUSLY, ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BIKE. ‘DO I HAVE A QUICK-RELEASE OR DO I HAVE A THRU-AXLE?’ GET TO KNOW WHAT THESE THINGS ARE CALLED SO THAT YOU CAN ASK THOSE QUESTIONS, GOOGLE THEM, OR BE ABLE TO CALL SOMEBODY AND ASK THEM HOW TO DO IT WHILE YOU'RE ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. LEARNING THE VOCABULARY AT THE TIME YOU PURCHASE YOUR BIKE CAN BE REALLY HELPFUL FOR YOU DOWN THE LINE.

WORTH IT WILL DO

ARE YOU A FLAT-OUT FLAT FIXER YET?

You know-how to fix a flat correctly, but what if time were no object? What if it was a front tire flat—no hassle of the chain—and you had CO2 at the ready and no shortage of “I will crush this” moxie? Do you think you could fix it in under six minutes? Well, ain’t that a coincidence—we have a Worth It Will do that specifically challenges you to fix a flat in under six minutes to earn the Flat-Out Flat Fixer badge. Learn more about this challenge and get ready to cross that off your bucket list.

WORTH IT WILL DO

ARE YOU A FLAT-OUT FLAT FIXER YET?

You know-how to fix a flat correctly, but what if time were no object? What if it was a front tire flat—no hassle of the chain—and you had CO2 at the ready and no shortage of “I will crush this” moxie? Do you think you could fix it in under six minutes? Well, ain’t that a coincidence—we have a Worth It Will do that specifically challenges you to fix a flat in under six minutes to earn the Flat-Out Flat Fixer badge. Learn more about this challenge and get ready to cross that off your bucket list.

TERMS USED IN THIS STORY

BEAD: Part of the tire—the edge along the inner-side of the tire that fits inside the rim.

BRAKES: Your brakes will be either rim brakes or disc brakes. Rim brakes apply a brake pad to the rim of the wheel, while disc brakes apply the brake pad to a rotor that’s attached to the center of your wheel.

CASSETTE: The set of cogs on the rear wheel. When you change gears, the chain moves up or down the cassette.

DERAILLEUR: The gear-shifting mechanism on a bicycle. There's a front derailleur that shifts from the big ring to the small ring at the front of your drivetrain, and then there's a rear derailleur that shifts gears up and down the cassette.

QUICK-RELEASE: Also known as QR. The quick-release lever allows you to remove the wheel from your bike when fixing a flat. The fork or frame will have slots (dropouts) to slide the wheel in. Pressing the QR lever closed will then clamp the wheel to your frame or fork.

THRU-AXLE: A thru-axle slots through the frame of the fork legs, which are closed (no dropouts). And while some thru-axles have a lever on one end to help you unscrew them, others will require an Allen tool—another great reason to always carry a multi-tool. Check with your local bike shop for what you’ll need.

VALVE: Found on a tube, a valve is where you put the air in. There are two types—Schrader and Presta. A Schrader valve is identical to those found on car tires. A Presta valve is typically found on high-pressure tubes, and has a little metal cap on the end that has to be unscrewed before air can go in. An easy way to remember the difference? You “press” a Presta to release the air.

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