Fixing Flats Faster

I’ve always considered myself to be pretty competent when it comes to fixing flats. I’ve had enough of them that, while they will be forever a pain in the patootie, they don’t ruin my ride like they might have done several years ago.

But my confidence in my flat fixing ability was challenged earlier this month, when I had a spate of them within a relatively short time. I had three flats in two weeks. It turns out that my rear tire had worn so badly, the cords showed through in two places.

What vexes me is this: I take too long to fix flat tires.

I think I go about it just as most other folks would. I shift into the smallest cog and the smallest chainring, then take off the wheel. My seatbag contains three tire levers, and I usually need only two to get the tire out of the rim. I’ll pull the tube out, keeping the other side of the tire inside the rim, then I feel around inside the tire to see if I can find any bits of glass or metal or whatever that might have caused the flat.

I take the replacement tube from the seatbag, and blow a little air into the valve to give the tube a little shape, then fit it inside the tire. Once I’ve got the tube inside, it’s time to grab the part of the tire that’s outside the rim and pop it back in. As always, I have a little trouble getting the last three inches of the tire over the rim, so sometimes I’ll use one of the tire levers to help with that (Yes, I know — could cause a puncture in the tube). Pump up the tire, put it back on the bike, clean up after myself, and I’m off.

I can do this in five minutes. Well, I have done it in five minutes maybe once. More often, it takes 15 minutes. But when I had the flats this past month, I noticed it took me a full half hour to get underway again.

What gives?

I can’t pinpoint the exact cause of my slowness. But two weekends ago I realized that tire changing was not being done as efficiently as in the past. Whatever the cause, I have to get quicker at the whole roadside repair routine, so I can get moving again quicker.

I suppose I could practice, and build my speed that way. Have you ever practiced fixing flats? (Okay, when I started biking seriously a few years ago, I really did practice it — but only once, and never since.) But really, I’d rather wait until faced with the real thing before I dirty my hands doing that chore.

So, readers — I’m asking for help. What kind of techniques do you use to fix a flat quickly and get out on the road where we wanted to be in the first place. What’s the best part of the routine to cut the amount of time I would spend getting the tire changed?

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14 thoughts on “Fixing Flats Faster

  1. The quickest way to fix a flat is to not get a flat in the first place. Inspect and replace your tires more often. If you are showing cord, you are asking for trouble.

    Your mileage may vary……but IMHO, worn tires = more flats.

    • No argument here. I was embarrassedwhen I flatted two weeks ago to find the worn-down areas on the tread. I should do a better job of keeping tabs on equipment wear. Still, you’re gonna get flats…

  2. Excellent topic … I’m with you, same technique, about 15 minutes and always have trouble getting the last bit of the tire back onto the rim. No really good suggestions I’m afraid, but I’ll be checking back to see if you get any!

  3. Whenever I rush fixing a flat tire, the tire pops when I inflate it! I use the same technique as you describe, plus after I’ve re-seated the tire I carefully check both sides of the bead to make sure that the tube is not being crimped between the bead and the edge of the rim.

    Once I got a series of flat tires in fairly quick succession and, upon very careful inspection, say there was a tiny slit in the tire (where the tread would be if my tire had a tread). It was only maybe 2mm long… I thought it was inconsequential.

    But when I showed it to my knowledgeable bike technician, he shook his head knowingly and said that without a doubt the tiny hole was the source of my problem. I replaced that tire with a Michelin Krylion and haven’t had a flat since… at least not on that tire!

  4. The time really should not matter unless you’re cooking (literally) in the Texas heat and without water. Otherwise, when I get a flat I actually stop and take a minute to drink some water, remove water bottles, odometer, helmet, etc. I then take time to collect the stuff that I need — tube, pump, cartidge, valve, etc.– before I even touch the tire. The point is to not be rushed to the point where I make a mistake that results in another flat tire. Once I get everything ready, it takes about five minutes to change the tire. Nothing sucks more (other than this drought) than getting another flat after you already had one. I also have a way of making flats fun: anytime I get a flat, I allow myself a six pack of Flat Tire (one of my favorite brews) as a consolation. That helps.

  5. The only thing I do different than you Noob is I put the chain on the big ring in front and the smallest ring in back. I had a run of flats on the commuter a couple years ago and it turned out to be due to a loose spoke. Since then, no problems. On my road bike….no flats ever(~10K miles) until I got to the Mississppi River during my recent RAGBRAI adventure. That flat was on the front which had been sucked into a crack earlier in the week. After truing, the wheel still had a wobble in it. I don’t think that had anything to do with the flat, tho.
    +1 on taking your time up front to get organized and comfortable……patience makes all the difference.
    +1 on frequent inspection and ensuring proper tire pressure. If something looks “a little different” then somethings wrong…..spontaneous tread separation on both tires on my commuter two years ago taught me that….sounded like gunfire!

  6. Ray you may remember those Tuesday night time trials they used to run along Loop 1 in south Austin. Only did one. Purchased my chip, got some good advice from David Dorman who was finishing a ride as I was exiting the veloway after some warm off laps, and off I went. Everything went fine going up the hill, but I was just accelerating into a strong tempo on the downhill side when things didn’t feel right.

    Sure enough, it was a flat. On a time trial.

    So how fast can you change a flat in a time trial? Thinking I did it in under five minutes since there was a clock at the end of the eight mile course. The irony was that a big cloud had blown up (remember when it used to rain here?) and got ever more darker while I was changing the tire. Flat fixed and thoroughly inflated (CO2 cartridge) I mounted the bike and took off again, only to hit a wind downburst from the cloud on the two mile finishing leg at the bottom of the hill. That was one tough headwind. It started to rain just after I turned my chip back to the sponsors.

    The four mile slog back up LaCrosse in rain so heavy that it was difficult to see 8 to 10 feet ahead added insult to injury when it stopped right as I got to the top of the hill and within a quarter mile of the house.

    Finished the 8 mile course at 28 minutes, flat included. In retrospect, that wasn’t a time trial, it was just a trial.

  7. Yes it’s a pain – I thought about practicing one too, but it’s nearly impossible to get motivated to actually do it…
    I’ve never let a tyre get so bad as to have chord showing through though – not sure how you didn’t notice!
    Anyway, don’t use steel rimmed tyres & I buy tyres with some sort of puncture resistance too. When it comes to the crunch, push down on the tyre from the top with both hands working round evenly each side till you’ve “stretched” the tyre to allow either easy access to pulling it off the rim or to get a lever in easily. I never fix a tube either, just replace. I also use Pitlock locking skewers which make the wheel nice & easy to get on & off the bike (no springs pinging into the road) – as long as you remember the lock!

  8. Pingback: “I Saw It on YouTube Once…” | Bike Noob

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