Knowing how to fix a puncture can make life on the road much more enjoyable and stress-free. Lawrie Jones has this step-by-step guide.
It is a general rule of touring that punctures are most likely to happen at the worst possible time.
Whether you’ve returned to your trusty steed after a quick coffee stop to find one tyre sadly bereft of air, or if you’ve experienced the rapid deflation that usually follows an unfortunate detour into one of the numerous pot-holes that litter the rustic back roads of France, fixing a puncture is a skill that every cyclist needs to know.
The good thing is that changing a tube is in general a very simple process and can be done in around 5 minutes at the side of the road.
Here you will find a step-by-step breakdown of how to fix a puncture. We’ve also included some helpful hints and tips from the professionals to help you deal with a puncture quickly and efficiently, and also how you might avoid getting one in the first place!
What you'll need
- 2 x tyre levers
- 1 x spare inner tube (make sure you have the correct one for your wheel size)
- A basic puncture repair kit
- (Optional) surgical gloves
Step-by-step guide to fixing a puncture
If you’ve bought a pair of surgical gloves to keep your hands nice and clean, then it’s the time to put them on – you’re about to operate!
The first thing you need to do is to attempt to discover the cause of the puncture. Tip the bike over, and rest its weight on the handlebars and the saddle, removing all your luggage first.
Remove the punctured wheel from the frame and inspect the tyre for any signs of damage, splits or easy-to-spot damage like glass, screws or tacks.
If your tube has one, remove the cap and unscrew the retaining valve ring. Insert one tyre lever between the tyre and the rim 10cm away from the valve on the left, and one 10cm from the right and then push them both. This will separate the tyre from the rim. Once the tyre is pulled over the rim you can quite easily use the tyre lever to pull one side of the tyre off the rim.
This video shows how it's done.
Once you’ve done, this pull out the tube, leaving the valve seated. Inflate the tube a little and listen for where the air is escaping. This will help you identify exactly where the tube is punctured.
Take the punctured tube from the wheel and run your finger around the inside of it to check for any spokes that have worked through the rim strip and punctured the tube. Run your finger around the inside of the tyre to check for anything stuck inside the tyre (mind your fingers!)
If you find anything protruding into the tyre, remove it. If you're unlucky enough to find that a spoke has broken the rim tape you will need to remove this spoke from the wheel, which you can do with a spoke key. If you don’t have one, an old piece of tyre will provide a temporary fix.
Depending on where the damage is, some people will try to salvage tubes, but at the side of the road (and for my own peace of mind), I always prefer to use a new one.
Patching up an inner tube
Here, however, is a video that shows how to patch a tube (always good to know in case you get stuck without a new tube).
Getting mobile again
It is now time to fit the new one and get back on the road.
Slide the valve through the valve guide and inflate the tube a little. This will help it seat a little easier. Fix the retaining valve ring if your tube has one (although they’re really not really necessary).
Push the partially inflated tyre into the tube and begin to push the tyre back into the rim with your fingers. If you’ve put too much air into the tyre, you may need to let some out.
This video has a really good explanation of how to reseat your tyre.
Be careful not to catch or ‘pinch’ the tube between the rim and the tyre being secured back onto the rim. This can, if done badly, result in yet another puncture, which can be quite frustrating.
If you have a strong hand, you may be able to get the majority of the tyre back onto the rim. You’re less likely to ‘pinch’ the tube doing this, and cause another puncture. (It can be dirty though, so you’ll be grateful of the gloves here!)
When you’ve got most of the tyre back onto the rim you will now need the tyre levers. Use both of them to gently lever the tyre back onto the rim. At this point, take your time and make sure that the tube doesn’t get caught between the rim and the tyre.
When you’ve got the tyre back on the rim stand, don’t inflate the tyre just yet as you may struggle to get it back on the bike and past your brake calipers. Instead, slide it back onto the bike and inflate to the right pressure.
Turn the bike up the right way and check that the wheel runs freely. Check to see if you need to adjust the brakes a little.
You are now ready to go…
Top tips from the pros
- Cheap tyre levers will cause you problems and are likely to damage your wheel rims. Spend a few pounds on some good quality, durable tyre levers.
- Never use keys, a screwdriver, keys or anything sharp – you will damage your rims and suffer many more punctures.
- Pack a few pairs of rubber surgical gloves to keep your hands clean whilst fixing your puncture. They’re cheap, weigh almost nothing and will stop you from getting dirty hands and making your lunch taste of oil. If you’ve got space, a packet of antibacterial wipes or a small bottle of lotion is also useful.
- Check your tyres for damage or cracks every day before your ride and always take action – a puncture will inevitably happen at the worst possible time.
- Whilst inspecting the tyres, lift the front and rear wheels off the ground and check that wheels run smoothly. A knocked mudguard can easily cut into the sidewall of a tyre without you noticing.
- Regardless of what manufacturers may claim, hardly any hand-pumps will inflate tyres to the right pressure. If you suffer a puncture, stop at the next bike shop you see and ask politely if you can use their track pump. It’s always polite to buy something, and it’s likely you’ll need a new tube!
- Tyres degrade over time, so check for cracking and replace tyres before they wear out, particularly if you’ve not used your bike for a while. When replacing tyres, get good quality ones – I’ve always preferred Schwalbe Marathons; they’re worth the extra cost.
- Don’t just throw your old tyres away – cut a small piece and keep it with you when touring. If your tyre becomes split or damaged, replace the inner tube and insert the cut out bit of tyre and use it as a temporary fix until you get to the next town. It can also protect your tube if a spoke has broken through the rim tape.
- When refitting the tyre after a puncture, make sure that the manufacturer’s logo on the tyre is next to the valve – it makes finding the valve a little quicker and easier.
- Whilst not a perfect fit, inner tubes are generally interchangeable (a 23mm tube will fit a 28mm tyre, for instance) and whilst not recommended for long rides, should get you to the next town or village.
- A fold-up tyre might seem like an indulgence when you’re trying to pack light, but for longer trips it’s worth having. One tyre between a group of three should be enough.