“I Saw It on YouTube Once…”

Don Blount’s post about flats called to mind an experience I had a couple of weeks ago. In fact, it was at the same ride where I climbed the “big” hill. And it reminded me how important it is for bikers to acquire at least the basic minimum knowledge about bike maintenance.

I pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant where the ride would start. Although it was 8 a.m., the crowd was already pretty big, and I squeezed into a parking space between two other cars. As I got my bike out of the back and started attending to details like checking water bottles, making sure I brought my sunglasses, transferring money from my wallet to the ziploc bag I carry on rides, the woman at the car next to me started complaining.

“Augh! What is this?” she cried. “Am I going to be able to fix this?”

A guy who was with her looked on. He obviously couldn’t answer her question.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“It’s this,” she said. “The top of the valve came off. I’m not sure how to fix it.”

The presta valve on her rear tire had broken in two.

“No, you’ll have to put in a new tube,” I said. “Do you know how?”

“Oh, no!” she answered. “I don’t have a clue.” She looked at the guy, who apparently was her husband, or boyfriend, or something.

“I saw how to fix a flat on YouTube once,” he said. “But I don’t know if I could do it.”

Flats happen.

I took the tire. As I pulled out the old tube, I talked my way through the procedure, so they could see what I was doing. I’m not much of a bike mechanic, but I’ve fixed my share of flats.

She handed me a new tube from the trunk of her car. I blew into the valve to give some shape to the tube and fitted it inside the tire. I explained how to work around the tire to get the bead inside the wheel, while being mindful not to pinch the tube between the wheel and tire. The bead did something my tires rarely do: it popped into place easily.

I pumped about 30 pounds into the tire, then showed them how to check to make sure the tire is seated correctly, with no tube sticking through.

“I think you two can probably fill it the rest of the way,” I said, handing the tire and pump to the guy.

She thanked me profusely. I turned away to get on my shoes and helmet. The ride would start soon. The tire change had taken me about five minutes.

Changing a tire is simple, yet satisfying. If done right, you’re left with a tire that you can depend on through normal riding. If done faster than usual, you’re left with a sense of accomplishment — of improvement. So don’t be afraid to learn. It’s a necessary skill, and one all bikers should have. If you don’t know how, I did what the guy did — I looked it up on YouTube. Here you go:


  1. Chris says

    Mine are always a bear to get back on, too. :^/
    I have to agree though, that fixing a flat can be very satisfying. I love the idea of having the tools and knowledge to keep rolling, or at least to get back home safely. That sense of self-sufficiency is part of the joy of cycling for me. It reconnects me with childhood, too, when working on my bike was where I first learned about practical mechanics.
    About Youtube–I’ve used it many times to double-check on how to do a procedure. It’s been great, so long as you’re able to find a good video. The man in your story just missed the last, most important part of the process: practical application of what he had “seen on Youtube.”

    I wonder–the next time either one of them have a flat–will he say “I don’t have a clue–though I saw a man do it in a parking lot, once…”

  2. says

    I’ve recently experienced my second flat on the road bike and it did not go as smoothly as the first one. I insisted on patching the tube instead of replacing it and it was a prime example of Murphy’s Law: the patch wouldn’t stick, had a hard time getting tire back on, managed to “blow out” my last co2 cartridge, etc. Of course all that happened simply because another cyclist was watching me. Had I been alone I’m sure everything would have gone swimmingly. Meh.

  3. says

    Arguably the first bike repair technique that a new bicyclist should learn. My favorite tip on changling flats is to place the valve stem in the middle of the tire’s logo. It will make it much easier to find the source of a flat (glass, thorn, etc…) the next time you get a flat.

  4. Veer says

    Thanks for the nice article. Have a question: are these telescoping speed levers for pulling out the tire useful enough to warrant getting one – Crank bros. ones are in the lbs. I recently got a new road bike and have not had any flats yet but on my mtb I have fixed enough flats to see if there are any better ways. Of course, when one gets a flat on a tubeless tire on the back trails I think most any lever requires a ton of elbow grease..

    • says

      I have no experience with tubeless tires, Veer. Ordinary tire levers have always worked just fine for me. I have, however, considered buying a tire bead jack to get the tire back on the rim.

  5. says

    I recognize the folks in that group. This particular flat happened to me during with the “hammerfest” group on our 5AM Wake-Up ride. A couple of folks came up to me and said: “Thank you for getting that flat, I was dying out there” 😀

  6. says

    I learnt to change a tire on youtube. Of course, by the time I actually needed to change a tire, it was months later and I’d forgotten the finer details, but got a crash course from a visiting Belgian cyclist.

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