Five Tips to Help You Deal with a Flat on Tube-Type Tires
With a little know-how and practice, tire puncture repairs are nothing to fear.
None of us ever enjoy getting a flat, but you can often tell how experienced an Adventure Rider is by the way they react to a puncture on tube-type tires. New Adventure Riders tend to throw their fists up in the air and curse the motorcycle gods. Veterans just get down to business because they know that a motorcycle puncture repair is just 15 minutes out of the day if you’re in practice, 25 if you’re a little rusty.
Here are five tips that will help take the pain out of the inevitable flat. We’ll assume that you know how to remove the wheels from your bike and are carrying the proper tools for the job.
1.) You Are Not Stronger Than The Tire
Motorcycle tires, like car tires, have steel wires embedded in the sidewalls to keep the tire stiff and on the wheel. Think of the wires as hoops, and remember that they will not stretch no matter how hard you try. If you pull one side out, the opposite side will go in.
Note also that the circumference of the tire’s bead is smaller than the outer lip of the wheel it has to go over. So how is it even possible to get the tire on the wheel?
The secret is in the center of the wheel. This section of the wheel goes by several names, but we’ll call it the drop center, because it “drops” away toward the hub. The wheel’s circumference is smaller in the drop center. Get the tire bead in the drop center and you can more easily pull the opposite side of the bead over the outer lip of the rim. Moral of the story: If you’re breaking a sweat, you’re doing it wrong.
2.) Your Bike Has a Built-In Bead Breaker
Some adventure bikes, and quite a few dual sports, have rims with safety beads, which is a raised area near the inner lip of the rim designed to keep the tire in place in the event of a flat. They improve safety, but can make getting the tire bead away from the rim a real chore.
The first technique to try is simply pushing down on the bead with your hands. Often that’s all it takes. If that fails, try stepping on the bead with you boot. Put your full weight on it (make sure the brake disc is up or you could damage it). Jump up and down. Use both feet.
Another method is to use your bike as a bead breaker, provided it has a center stand. First make sure to secure your center stand in place by strapping it to the front wheel so that it doesn’t accidentally roll forward. Next, extend the kickstand, place the tire under it so that the kickstand foots is resting on the edge of the bead, then lean the bike over until the bead pops. Flip the tire over and do the other side.
You can also use your tire irons as bead breakers for stubborn beads. Work them between the tire and the rim, facing up at first, in a small area. As you create a gap, turn the spoons around so they face down and can squeeze between the rim and the tire. Continue working them around and the gap will grow. It’s a lot of work but eventually, the bead will pop off. Motion Pro also makes a set of tire irons with a built-in bead breaker that simplifies the task.
If all else fails, there’s the “nuclear” option: ride the bike, very slowly, for a bit. A flat tire generates a lot of friction and heat. The tire will start to squirm around which will work the bead loose. Note: This is only recommended for rear flats. It’s extremely difficult to control a bike with a flat front tire.
3.) Lubing The Tire: Friend and Foe
The conventional wisdom is that lubing the tire bead makes it easier to get on and off the wheel. And that is correct; the bead will slide along the outer lip of the wheel much easier with tire lube, soap and water, Windex, etc.
But that also means the bead can just as easily slip back off when you are trying to put the tire back on the rim. You’ll get one section of the bead on, and the side about 90 degrees away will slip right back off. Unless you have a Bead Buddy, or something similar, you’ll feel like you need three hands to get the job done. What if you don’t have a Bead Buddy, or you run out of lube on the trail?
The answer is to practice your technique until you can quickly change a tube with just two tire irons, nothing more. Stand on the edge of the (flat) tire 180 degrees opposite of where you are working the tire irons to make sure the bead is in the drop center of the rim. Get it right and moderate pressure with the irons will move the bead right over the rim, without lube. In fact, the bead is more likely to stay put if it isn’t slippery.
4.) Lever The Tire Off The Disc Side Only
If you’re changing or patching a tube, there’s no need to take the tire completely off the wheel. Break the bead on both sides of the tire, then lever just the disc side off the wheel. Keeping the disc side up while you lever off the tire helps ensure it doesn’t get scratched or bent in the dirt. Once you get the tire off on one side, put your foot on the disc and lift up the tire bead with one hand, then pull out the inner tube with the other.
And don’t forget to run your hand around the inside of the tire and rim once the tube is out. Check for nails, stones or any sharp points that may have caused the flat. Debris can also get into your wheel bearings while you are working on your tire puncture repair, so it’s a good idea to put a rag under the wheel and store your axle and spacers in a clean area.
Bonus Tip: It’s possible to patch a tube without taking the wheel off the bike. Some riders break the bead and lever one side of the tire off, then just pull the tube out with the wheel still in place. Of course, this method assumes you are patching the tube, not replacing it.
5) Watch Out For The Dreaded Pinched Tube
The tube is patched or replaced, the tire is back on the wheel, everything looks good. Then you air it up and … it leaks. It’s the dreaded pinch flat and it happens to the best of us.
Somewhere in the process of levering the tire back on, you managed to grab the tube with your tire iron and put a hole in it. Or the tube got twisted inside the tire and damaged when you aired it back up. Either way, it’s coming off and you have to start over again.
One trick for reducing the likelihood of pinch flats with tire irons is to put a couple of pounds of air in the tube before putting it back in the tire. You only want enough to keep the tube free of twists and allow it to roll out of the way of tire levers.
Another trick is to remember not to over-rotate your irons. Don’t push the levers past 90 degrees, or perpendicular to the rim. At that point the bead should slide on the rim and you’ll have less of a chance of catching, and damaging, the tube.
Bonus Tip: After reinstalling the tube, use the levers on the bead to guide the valve stem into the hole. With a little air in it, the tube will hold its shape and you can manipulate it by moving the bead, which is much easier than trying to get the valve stem seated with your fingers. A valve stem fishing tool is also handy for getting the valve stem pushed through the hole.
Got some useful tips for fixing flats of your own? Tell us your best tips in the comments!