As the saying goes, nothing in this life is certain, except death and taxes… and punctures.
Unfortunately, while the tube and tyre system remains arguably the most convenient way of fitting wheel with rubber, there is no system that completely rids us of the scourge of the crevaison, even though tubeless system devotees may claim otherwise.
Even with that emerging system and the benefits of using tyre sealant, the last resort to get you home should all else fail is to fit an inner tube – so knowing how to change one remains an essential skill all cyclists should be familiar with. We also know that the worry of being unable to change a tube when miles from home can sometimes stop new and experienced riders alike from even getting on their bike.
So let’s break it down into seven easy steps – with expert tips from Dean Eyre, manager of Cadence Cycles bike shop in Bath – where we’re going to assume the worst case scenario – you’re out riding your bike miles from home, and your tyre suddenly and unexpectedly deflates. You’ve obviously suffered a puncture of some description, so you need change your inner tube to get back underway.
Step 1 – Remove debris
Use your hands
“Wipe your hand over top of the tyre to clear any initial debris, and this may help you feel or spot any leftover air escaping,” says Eyre. “Sometimes sharp debris can still be stuck in, so take care if you’re not wearing gloves.”
First things first, you should try to identify the cause of the puncture. It’s very important to try to find the offending sharp embedded into the outer tyre, or at least the potential entry hole so that it can be removed, or easily spotted later.
Thorns and flint can be the same colour of the tyre, so it’s very important to take your time and pay close attention to save missing them. If you spot something wedged into the tyre, do your best to remove it before continuing.
Step 2 – Take tyre off rim
“If the tyre fits tightly around the rim, try initially pulling it towards you instead of pushing it away for a little extra force,” Eyre says.
Drop the wheel out of the frame, fully deflate the tube it if it isn’t already, and push the sidewalls of the tyre into the centre of the rim. This will give you the space to get your tyre levers under the tyre.
Start by hooking the first tyre lever a few inches to the right of the valve. Use this lever and lock it into place on a spoke using the hook. This will hold it in place while you take a second lever and do the same thing a few centimetres away.
In most circumstances that’s enough, and you simply push the second tyre lever around in a clockwise motion away from you. Tyre levers usually come in packs of three, so there’s the option of using a third if you need to.
Step 3 – Remove tube
Keep the bits
“If you have them, you may need to remove the valve cap and lockring against the rim if they’re present,” says Eyre. “Do this, and make sure you keep them in a safe place.”
With one edge of the tyre now on the outside of the rim, pull the flat tube out through the gap. Start from the opposite end to the valve, removing the valve last.
Stash the old tube in your pocket because you may need it again if you get another puncture and need to repair it. Whatever you do, don’t throw it away at side of road.
Step 4 – Check tyre and rim bed
Find the cause
“Aside from the usual, you could have rim tape that’s become dislodged or a spoke poking through,” Eyre says. “Grit can get inside even during the tube-changing process, and we’ve found things like staples in there before.”
You need to make sure that you check both the inside of the tyre and the rim bed for the cause of the puncture, especially if you couldn’t positively identify the cause from your checks in Step 1.
Gently rub your finger on the inside edge of the tyre to make sure there’s nothing poking through or left inside, while a close visual check of the rim bed for damage is also a good idea.
Step 5 – Insert new tube
Add a little air
“New tubes come packed with all the air sucked out so they form as small a package as possible," says Eyre. “The first thing to do before fitting is to add a small amount of air so it’s able to support itself and hold shape as you fold it in.”
With checks for leftover sharps and faults completed, it’s time to fit the new tube.
Insert the valve into the top of the rim and push the inner tube into the gap between the tyre and rim bed. Just as when you removed the old tube, work from the opposite end of the valve. Fold it in around both sides simultaneously, checking all the way for pinch points, twists and folds in the tube.
Step 6 – Reseat tyre bead
“If the tyre is very tight and you can’t get it to seat even with the help of levers, try applying pressure at the opposite end to the last unseated section, and gradually squeeze around the tyre until you reach the tight area,” Eyre says. “This may help to add a little more slack in the tyre, allowing you to hook the last of the tyre bead into the rim.”
The next job is to refit the tyre bead into the rim recess. Just like in Step 2, you’ll probably need to use a tyre lever or two. It’ll be easiest to seat the tyre initially, before it gets tighter at the end and may need some extra leverage to pop in.
Take care that as you seat the bead you’re making sure there’s no tube stuck in between the rim and tyre, because this will more than likely lead to a pinch flat when you come to inflate the tyre.
If it does get caught, carefully remove and reseat the tyre bead into the rim, then check it again. Continue all the way round the tyre until it’s fully seated on the rim.
Step 7 – Inflate
Half and half
“Help avoid pinch flats by adding half pressure first and make a visual check to see if it’s seated correctly and evenly,” says Eyre. “If there are no bulges or indents, you can add the other half.”
Pump away, but do so carefully initially. No matter how much you may have checked the tube and tyre as you reseated it, there may still be unseen pinches, tangles and twists that will only announce themselves with a deflating hiss (or bang) when you’ve added pressure.
If not, and you spot a big kink in the tyre, you may need to redo your tube fitting – it may be frustrating but don’t be tempted into trying to ‘ride it out’, as you may cause more damage and completely ruin your new tube.
Finally, pop the wheel back into the bike and give it a spin to double check that there are no kinks or bulges.