How to Fix a Bicycle Tire Flat

Bikes Fun & Games
How to Fix a Bicycle Tire Flat

Image from Road Cycling Tips

In this how-to, mountain biker Chris Nodder (author of Bike Boo Boos) outlines how to deal with punctures on both tube and tubeless bicycle tires. – Gareth

Puncture – Regular Tube Tires

This repair assumes you are patching your tube. Use regular tire repair patches and glue. The peel-and-stick patches don’t conform well to the shape of tubes and tend to come unstuck as the tube is re-inflated inside the tire. They are also a very temporary repair that can fail on subsequent rides. Regular patches are good for the life of the tube, if applied correctly.

Clean as much dirt from the tire and rim before you start your repair. Remove the wheel from the bike (remember to release rim brakes first) and deflate the tube completely if it still has air in it.

Tire and Tube Removal
Push the tire towards the center of the rim all the way around on one side. This allows the tire bead to sit in the middle of the rim, giving you more room to pull or lever it over the rim. Start trying to remove this side of the tire by “rolling” it off the rim with your (gloved) hands. If this doesn’t work, find your plastic tire levers, and insert two of them under the tire bead (which is still sitting in the center of the rim).

Using lever tools on a bike rim. Image from

Lift both tire levers up at the same time so that the bead clears the rim. Now hold one lever still, and slide the other one around the rim to pop the bead over the rim all the way around. Once one tire bead is completely clear of the rim, you can remove the tube. Before you do so though, check to see if you can find the source of the puncture through the tire. This makes it easier to locate the place you need to repair on the tube. If you can’t find the source, remove the tube but keep it in the same orientation as the tire.

Finding the Puncture Hole
Now, inflate the tube to find the hole. Holding the inflated tube up to your face will allow you to feel where air is leaking. Water (or spit) will bubble when placed on the hole. Look on the same location on the tire for any remnants of the thing that caused the puncture. Also run your (gloved) hand carefully around the inside of the entire tire to find and remove any other spikes. The last thing you want to do is to have the same object puncture your repaired or replaced tube.

Gee, where do you think the puncture could be? From

If you find a hole or pair of holes on the side of the tube, it is most likely a “snake bite puncture” caused by the rim pinching the tube against a rock you rolled over. Run a higher pressure to prevent this kind of puncture from occurring again.

Puncture Repair
Clean and roughen the area around the puncture hole on the tube, making sure it’s completely dry. Then put a layer of tube patch glue on it, slightly larger than the size of the patch. Wait for the glue to become cloudy and dry to the touch. It is impact adhesive, so it won’t work unless it’s dry.

Peel the foil off of the patch but leave the clear plastic bit on the other side. Now place the patch on the glue (rubber side down, clear plastic side up) and press hard for about 30 seconds. Don’t try removing and re-placing the patch once it’s touched the glue — this won’t work.

Leave the tube for another five minutes for the glue to set (longer in cold climates), then inflate it just slightly. With one bead of the tire on the rim, replace the tube in the rim, starting at the valve stem.
Start the second tire bead back on the rim at the side away from the valve. Put it way down in the center of the rim to give you more “play” once you have worked the rest of the bead on to the rim. Rest this piece against your belly, and use both hands at the same time to hook the bead back over the rim all the way round to the valve. You should not need to use the tire levers to put the tire back on. Use your (gloved) hands to roll the bead on. Using the tire levers will most likely pinch the tube and cause it to puncture.

1. Roughen 2. Glue (let Dry) 3. Press Hard. Photos from Repairing a Flat Tire on

Once the tire is back on (yes, it’s hard sometimes, but it came off, so it can go back on), ensure that the tube is not trapped at any point under the tire bead, then inflate to 10-15psi (very soft). Now run your hands around the tire, squeezing it as you go. This allows the tube to seat within the tire, and ensures that it is not pinched anywhere. Now continue to inflate the tube. For a newly repaired tube, inflate the tire to 45-50psi (hard) or higher if your tire suggests. This uses the tire to press the patch securely against the tube.
Re-insert the wheel, re-attach your brake cable (rim brakes) and ride!

Tip: Out on the trail, you probably want to replace the tube using the spare you carry rather than patching it. Still check around the inside of the tire for spikes before using the new tube, or you’ll be patching that one too.

Puncture – Tubeless Tires

Tubeless tires use a thicker tread area and sidewall to prevent punctures. This allows riders to run lower pressures for more grip. The lack of tube also creates lower rolling resistance. Tubeless rims are also specially designed to form an airtight seal with the tire.

The tires typically have a soft compound rubber on the inside of the tire to “grip” thorns that do penetrate, thus not allowing air to pass out.

Avoiding Punctures with Tubeless Tires
Regardless of the thicker construction and soft compound lining, these tires do sometimes get a puncture that causes them to lose air.
The best way to avoid this situation is to use a tire sealant such as Stan’s NoTubes ( A small amount of this sealant will prevent even large holes from becoming an issue. You may need to re-inflate the tire after a major puncture, but no other repair is required.

Tubeless tires also sometimes “roll” off the rim because of the lower pressures used, causing them to burp air. This can lead to dirt getting between the sidewall and the rim, preventing a good seal. Sealant will sometimes turn this goop to glue, but not always. If you are not using sealant, you have got dirt in the bead/rim interface, or the tire has a major gash in it, you may have to “tube” the tubeless tire.

Putting a Tube in Tubeless Tires
The procedure for tubing tubeless tires is the same as for regular tires. However, before you can put a tube in you must remove the valve stem by unscrewing the retaining nut from the outside of the stem and then pushing the whole valve unit into the rim from the outside. This will unseat the valve seal from the rim and allow you to pull the valve out. Keep the valve safe, as you will want to replace it later.
With the tubeless valve removed, you can place a tube in the rim in much the same way as a regular tire. You will most likely have more difficulty getting the tire bead back over the rim. Make sure that the tire’s bead is sitting in the lowermost indentation in the middle of the rim, and work the bead round, pushing it away from you with both hands until you get to the far side of the rim. At this point, it should be possible to roll the last portion of tire bead over the rim. If you really must use plastic tire levers, do so very carefully so that you do not pinch the tube between the lever and the rim.

Re-inflation of Tubeless Tires
Tubeless tire beads tend to “snap” on to their rim. Ideally, you should inflate the tube to 50 PSI and listen for the tire making cracking noises as it seats in the rim. If you can’t reach 50 PSI because of a poor pump, be prepared for cracking noises that sound almost like a spoke breaking as you ride along.

Tip: If you find yourself on the trail with a pump that seems to be sucking more than it blows, try taking it apart and dropping oil on the plunger washer. This creates a better seal.


5 thoughts on “How to Fix a Bicycle Tire Flat

  1. Jonathan R says:

    Why remove the wheel from the bicycle? That just wastes valuable time reattaching it and making sure that the bolts are tight and that the wheel is evenly seated in the dropouts. It’s only necessary to remove the wheel if you have a huge rent in the tube, too big to patch, or if the hole is too near the valve to patch.

    1. Anonymous says:

      You remove the wheel because you usually don’t know where the hole is. You have to take the tube out, put some air in it, and dunk it in water to find the hole.

      Before you put the patched tube back into the tire, inspect the tire and wheel. Look for sharp edges on the holes where the spokes go through the wheel rim and run your hand over every square mm of the inside surface of the tire. You will often find thorns or little bits of glass coming through the tire that caused and will cause another flat tire unless you remove them.

      I think prevention is just as important as being able to patch a tube. Take a look at people riding their bikes on the street. You’ll see that the vast majority (not the guys in spandex pants- all the other guys) are riding on underinflated tires. The number one cause of flat tires isn’t something poking a hole in the tube, it’s underinflation. If you ride with low pressure you will get pinch-flats.

      Air leaks through the walls of the tube all the time. The higher the tire pressure, the faster it leaks. If you leave your bike sitting somewhere for a week you’ll discover that the tires have lost a lot of pressure. If you are only an occasional rider, you MUST inflate the tires EVERY time you ride or suffer the consequences. Invest in a good floor pump ($30-50) or even a $50 compressor from Walmart. You’ll save hours of labor and end your frequent flat-tire frustrations.

  2. Jelle Ursem says:

    You’re forgetting an important part here. Now people will ride around with the clear plastic still on their inner tube?

    Peel the foil off of the patch but leave the clear plastic bit on the other side.
    Now turn the patch over so that you face the clear plastic, and find the tiny perforated line. Fold the patch along this line to ‘break’ the perforation. An air bubble will show, on top of the patch, you’ll need this in 5 minutes.

    Now place the patch on the glue (rubber side down, clear plastic side up) and press hard for about 30 seconds. Don’t try removing and re-placing the patch once it’s touched the glue — this won’t work.

    Let this dry for about 5 minutes. And then find the air bubble in the center of the patch again, start peeling the 2 plastic bits off outwards. You’ll notice that the patch will be flawless with a tight seal.

  3. AndrewS says:

    gee.. i guess people are too dumb to follow the instructions on the packet…

  4. Antron Argaiv says:

    Talcum powder helps keep the inner tube from getting bound up as you reinstall the tire and tube onto the rim. Dump a few shakes into the tire, then spin it around to distribute the talc evenly.

    Also, put the inner tube into the tire and partially inflate it (just until it’s round, not a lot) before putting both onto the rim. This makes it a lot easier to get everything where it belongs.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn