By Pico Triano
Photos by Simon Shirley
I lost count of the number of flat tires I’ve had to repair in my travels. If you are going to do any amount of riding, you should learn how to do it. Depending on where you ride, you might have to get real good at it. While going to college in Pasadena, California I learned to stay away from the Rose Bowl. Seems I got at least one flat every time I went there.
You need some basic equipment to do the job. Most patch kits will include patches, rubber cement, and something to roughing the rubber where the patch will be placed. I prefer sand paper to the little metal tool usually provided. Besides that you need a tire pump and a set of bicycle tire irons. I’ve made do with the handles of my eating utensils instead of tire irons in an emergency once but I don’t recommend it. There is one final item that you should carry but I’ll save it till the end of the article.
First step is finding the hole in your tire. I was taught to immerse the tube in water and look for bubbles. On the road that’s impractical most of the time. Just get the tube out of the tire and pump it up big. You’ll hear the leak even if it is a small one. If it won’t pump up, the hole will be big enough that you won’t have any trouble finding it. A nail sticking out of your tire is usually a dead give away.
Once you’ve found the leak it is important to do a good job with the repair.
- Roughen the area around the hole with sandpaper or the tool mentioned earlier.
- Then spread a thin layer of rubber cement over an area a little larger than the patch you will be using.
- Make sure you let the glue dry enough before applying the patch. You should be able to touch it with the surface of your fingernail without pulling away any of the glue. It should feel only a little bit tacky.
- Press down on the patch firmly working out from the middle out to the edges. This will remove any bubbles accidentally trapped under the patch.
- Give the glue a little more time to cure before reassembling and riding.
I usually spend the time for step number five making sure that I’ve discovered the cause of the flat and rectified it. Make sure there are no pieces of glass or tacks still stuck in your tire. Make sure there isn’t anything floating loose in your tire either. If you don’t you won’t get far before you have another flat.
If your flat tire puncture looks like two parallel slits, you have a rim cut. Either you hit a very hard edge or you’re riding without enough air in your tires. Soft tires could indicate a slow leak, which might be hard to find. In my experience most slow leaks that I can’t find just pumping up the tube involve a screwed up valve. That means either replacing the valve core or replacing the whole tube. If it’s that slow, you’ll get home.
Finally it is wise to carry a spare tube. When it’s raining out, rubber cement won’t dry adequately and none of your repair efforts will work. Replace the tube and get somewhere dry to fix it. Besides that some blowouts are so bad your patch kit might not be up to the task. Don’t let a little flat tire leave you walking.