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How to Fix a Flat


Fixing a flat on the road is the same as learning a new computer program; the information in the manual is useful for reference but you have to do it to get it. So first comes the manual and then later some real world advice that’ll make it user friendly.
PixelThe equipment:  3 plastic tire levers that nest for convenience, a spare tube, an inflation device, either a frame mounted pump or my strong preference CO2 cartridges and a dispensing valve.  How you carry this stuff is up to you.  A small bag under the seat is the usual choice
pixelThe technique: with the wheel off the bike take the flat end of a tire lever and pry it under the tire bead. The first one is the hardest and requires some hand strength to bend the tire away from the rim. The other end of the lever is notched and that fits into a spoke so it remains in place.  
pixelTake the second lever and do the same a few inches from the first. Take the third lever and pry the bead away from the rim sliding the lever along the rim. The tire will then come half off. There’s no need to completely remove the tire although it’s no big deal to do so at that point.
pixelPull the tube out and discard responsibly. Then examine the tire by feel to make sure there is nothing inside or out that will puncture the replacement. Then examine the inside of the rim to make sure the rim tape is in place.  Sometimes it has moved and a spoke sticking through may be the culprit. pixelThis isn’t rocket science; a thorough look will reveal exactly what happened and eliminating the cause is straightforward.
pixelSlightly inflate the replacement tube and fit it into the tire, place the valve stem in the hole and then with your hands work as much of the tire as possible back on to the rim.  It goes easily at first but in most cases there’s a few tight inches of bead remaining that may require use of a tire lever to CAREFULLY pry this last part back over the rim.  The only tricky part is not to pinch the new tube in the process.
pixelInflate slightly to make sure the tube is not peeking through any part of the bead and when everything is as it should be inflate the tire to riding pressure.  Put the wheel back on the bike and life is good.
pixelNow for the real world.  All bikes come with quick release skewers but taking wheels off and putting them back on is something you definitely have to practice if you intend to be self-sufficient.  One of the many things that make bikes shops cool is they’ll willingly take the time to not only show you how it’s done but will watch you until you get it.  
pixelRear tires tend to go flat more often and dealing with the chain, cluster and derailleur that are in the way, sorry to say, takes practice. It’s also messy and for those that have read the maintenance section underscores the value of dry paraffin based chain lubricant.   Until you do it a few times it can be frustrating.  
pixelThe front is much easier, just release the brakes so the tire clears, flip the lever and then unscrew the skewer it so it clears the notches built into the fork.  That’s to prevent the wheel from falling off in the event it wasn’t put on properly to begin with.  
pixelThose little notches are an annoying pain as the once automatic skewer system now has to be adjusted for tightness every time a front wheel is removed.  It’s a relatively recent government requirement put in place to protect stupid, careless, people.  Of course it doesn’t as once underway the wheel will come flying off if not put on right; it’s not one of OSHA’s more enlightened regulations.
pixel Reverse the process when the wheel is ready to go back on.
pixelThe reason I prefer cartridges to frame pumps is it takes real strength and concentration to inflate a tire to riding pressure with a floor pump. A hand pump is even more challenging as the thin, short tube and 85 to 100 PSI (pounds per square inch) are not made for each other. The back pressure is enormous and the small volume of air with each stroke is a chore beyond those who haven’t done it a few times and therefore believe it’s possible.
pixelBefore you buy one of those ask one of the shop people to show you how they do it and you’ll see first hand how much effort is required.  Then you’ll know if it’s something you too can do.  For those that have never seen it done and wait until the moment of truth it is virtually impossible with some of these pumps and way too easy to break a relatively delicate valve stem rendering the new tube useless.
Presta valves have an external valve core that need to be unscrewed before inflation and then tightened after.  They come on all adult road bikes because only they hold the higher pressures required. Even after successfully inflating a tube it’s essential to wait a moment before retightening as the stem is warm from friction and the valve core is soft enough to be broken by handling.
pixelCartridges also require care.  It’s extremely helpful to burn a couple to get the feel of how much “air” (CO2) the valve releases.  SLOWLY, very slowly is the key.  A sudden rush can blow a hole in the tube.  There’s more than enough CO2 to over inflate a tire so be careful.  The cartridge however can’t be used more than once as the dispensing valve will not hold the remaining contents for very long.  They’re cheap considering what they can do for you.
pixelPatch kits are a thing of the past and only useful in a super emergency such as two flats on the same ride.  The high pressure and normal heat build up of a tire/tube wreak havoc on the cold patch process.  Done right they’ll hopefully last for the remainder of a ride but that’s about it.
Finally, the best advice is to look to see what’s on the road ahead.  Religiously avoid all debris which means not riding on the extreme right hand side where it accumulates.  In some 5000 miles of riding I get one or two flats a year only because I space it and ride over something that should have been seen and avoided.
pixelMy other best advice, if this seems daunting, is to ride with someone who knows how to do this.  Cell phones are not exactly the answer as not only is the service sketchy in remote areas where riding is best, but finding someone ready to respond to an emergency pick up on demand is even more so. That also presumes you know exactly where you are and can explain how to get there.

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