You can spend hours preparing and planning out your journey. But life likes to add a few more activities to your itinerary.
Flat tires. Severed cables. Broken chains. These common breakdowns can leave you stranded if you don’t bring the right tools and knowledge with you.
Read our simple fixes to get you back on the road. You don’t want to be stuck searching for repair shops on the side of a mountain.
Flat tires happen for a variety of reasons. Sharp objects. Pinch (snake bite) flats. Slow leaks from wear.
Don’t worry. It’s simple to change a flat.
Tire, Tube, & Wheel
Tire, tube, and wheel. They’re interchangeable in the layman world. But they have specific meanings in the bike world.
Clincher vs. Tubeless
Clinchers require a tire and inner tube. The tire is the outer rubber that touches the road. The inner tube is an inflatable tube that sits between the rim of the wheel and tire.
When you inflate the inner tube, it presses outward against the tire and wheel. A rigid bead sewn into the tire catches on the wheel’s metal lip, clinching everything into place.
Tubeless tires work the same as clinchers. However, like the name suggests, they take the inner tube out of the equation.
Instead of an inflatable tube, the space between the wheel and the tire contains the air.
To make the wheel air tight, tape seals the bed of the rim. Most tubeless tires require you to inject a liquid latex sealant once you install the tire on the wheel. This seals extra gaps between the bead of the tire and rim of the wheel.
Tubeless tires have a few clear advantages over clinchers. First, they eliminate pinch flats, when your tire and rim slam together and rupture the inner tube.
Second, the sealant inside the tire will plug small punctures. Say a piece of glass breaches the walls of your tire, the liquid latex will slip into the gap and keep the air in.
Tubeless tires cost more clinchers, however. They also require more time and tools to set up.
This guide details how to fix a flat on a clincher tire. They are the most common tire and receive more flats.
Read this to learn more about tubeless tires.
Oh No! Flat Tire
Remove the Wheel
First things first, flip your bike on the handlebars (or hang it up) and take the wheel off your bike.
Most bikes have a quick release axle or thru axle. Just lift the lever, hold the nut on the other end of the axle, and spin counter-clockwise. This will loosen the tension and allow you to pull the wheel out.
Before riding, check to see what is holding your wheel in place. Lower-end bikes sometimes lock the wheel to the frame with a nut. If yours does, you’ll need a wrench.
If your bike uses rim brakes, flip the little lever above where the cable enters the brake calipers. This will widen your calipers and allow your tires to clear the brake pads.
When removing your rear wheel, remember to lift the chain off the cassette (the group of geared cogs attached to the hub). Be careful! That chain’s greasy.
Remove the Tire
Before you take the tire off, inspect the outside. Look for pieces of glass, rocks, or slits in the rubber. This will let you know your type of flat.
Next, find the inner tube’s valve stem sticking out from the rim near the spokes. Unscrew the valve cover and metal nut holding it to the wheel.
With a Presta valve, unscrew the tiny nut at the end of the valve and press your finger to release the remaining air. With a Schrader valve, stick a sharp tool in the center of the valve.
Now nudge your tire aside and jam the tire levers between the rim and the tire bead. Pry upwards until one section of the bead pops over the rim.
(Never use metal as a tire lever substitute. Metal shards from the damaged wheel will cause more punctures.)
Pry your way around the wheel until the tire slips off the rim. Pull the old tube out and stuff it in your bag.
Now for the second inspection. Gingerly slide your fingers along the inner walls of your tire. Feel sharp bits still lodged in the rubber.
Wear gloves or use a piece of paper to protect your fingertips.
New Tube Time
Unwrap your spanking new inner tube. Remove the locking nut and valve cap. With your mini pump, or just your mouth, puff a bit of air into the tube. This will give it some form.
Wedge one side of the beaded tire into the rim of your wheel. Stick the inner tube’s stem into the wheel’s valve hole, then shimmy the tube under the tire.
Start at the valve. Use either the tire levers or your thumbs to slide the tire’s second bead over the rim.
Work both sides at once. If you focus on one end, further up your tire might pop out. (The endless loop is only funny the first ten minutes.)
Here comes the hard part. On the last bit of tire, your tire levers earn their keep.
Use one tire lever as a stopgap. Stick it between the tire and rim. Use the second lever to attack the other side. Pry the last stretch over.
No tire levers? Prepare for some sore thumbs.
Pump, Pump, Pump It Up
Take out your mini pump (or your CO2 Tire Inflator). Attach the nozzle to the inner tube’s valve. Pump once. Pump Twice. Stop!
There might be a bit of inner tube caught between the wheel rim and tire bead. If so, when you ride again, the next big jostle will rip a hole in the inner tube.
How do you prevent that? Simple. Moving around your wheel, rock the tire side to side in the rim. This will unstick any bits of tube.
As you rock, look between the rim and tire. You should only see the rim tape. Not the black tube.
Now pump, pump, pump it up. And read our guide to getting the right tire pressure.
A small slit from a shard of glass won’t cause too many problems after you replace the tube. A hole the size of a dime, however, will cause problems. The tube will bulge from the tire and blowout.
The problem has an easy fix. But it’ll cost you. Literally.
Once you install your new tube, slip a folded ₩ 1,000 bill (or any other paper currency) between the inner tube and hole. Then pump the tire to its minimum psi.
You don’t have to use your hard earned cash, though. Vinyl food wrappers work just as well.
This is a temporary fix, though. Seal the hole with a tire patch kit or buy a new tire ASAP.
There exist two types of bikers. Spinners and crankers. Spinners frolic in the lower gears. Their legs churn with speed and efficiency. Crankers dominate the high gears. They drive the pedal down with mighty power.
Besides lowering their knees’ lifespan, crankers put a lot of stress on their chains. Sometimes too much stress.
From Personal Experience
It’s the first day of my trip across Korea. I stop by the I•SEOUL•U, along the Hangang Bike Path. After a few pics, I jumped on my bike and cranked down. Snap! I blew a link in my chain. After a quick Naver Map search, I found a bike shop and was back on the path in an hour.
Before you get started, remember your chain is a dirty clump of metal. When handling it, wear gloves or embrace the grease stained lifestyle.
Find the Missing Link
First, kneel next to your bike and find the broken link. There are two sections of a chain link: an inner plate and an outer plate that’s wider. They connect with a pin through holes at either end.
It’s almost impossible for anyone to remove a chain pin without a specifically designed tool. You’ll need a chain breaker tool to punch out the link of the broken chain.
Before you punch any old chain link out, look!
Quick links are a pair of outer plates. Therefore, they join two inner plates together. If you punch out an inner plate, you must punch out one more outer plate. This will shorten your chain.
(A shortened chain isn’t ideal. But it’s still rideable. Just don’t shift into the two largest gears on the crankset and cassette. You might end up with another broken chain.)
Break the Chain
Rest broken chain link on the chain breaker’s tines. Twist the crank on the chain breaker so the metal probe extends to the chain’s pin.
Before you apply force, stop and make sure the probe rests on the chain’s pin. Then crank down.
If you’re using a smaller, portable chain breaker, you must apply considerable force.
Once you feel a pop, the pin is out. The broken link is free.
Removable quick links (KMC) have two pins that slip into each other’s plates. They hold together by the pulling force of the chain.
Though not as strong as permanent links, removable quick links help bikers detach their chain for a good cleaning.
Major chain manufacturers, like Shimano and SRAM, state you must only use their brand of quick links. However, most 10-speed quick links work fine with 10-speed chains.
The New Link
Break out your fresh pair of quick links. Exam them.
Each link has a pin and an outer plate. At the tip of the pin, you’ll find a ringed cutout. On the outer plate, you’ll find a slotted hole with a wider and narrower end.
Quick links work by joining opposite pins in the slotted holes. When you pull the quick links tight, each of their pins’ cutouts catch in the narrower slotted holes.
Check the Rear Derailleur
Before you reconnect, check how the chain weaves through the jockey wheels on your rear derailleur. Thread it back through if it slipped out.
It’s trickier than it looks. The topside of the chain goes over the rear derailleur, then bends back and over the upper jockey wheel. Metal guides over the jockey wheel cage will lead you the rest of the way.
Link the Links
First, slip the pin of each quick link into opposite ends of the chain. One quick link hangs on the right side of the chain. The other link sits on the left.
Bring the ends of the chain together. You’ll feel tension as the chain pulls the rear derailleur forward. No tension? You might have threaded the chain wrong.
Pressing inwards on both quick links, stick the cutouts of the pin into the other’s slotted hole.
When you release the chain, the links will catch on the slotted holes. But they won’t lock together.
Give an extra outward tug so the pins settle into the narrow parts of the slotted holes.
Permanent quick links require extra force. The pins warp into the metal of the slotted hole, locking together forever. This gives you an extra second to double check everything. No redos once they’re set.
Now pedal. Check to see if the chain runs through the gears smoothly.