important: Nuts and bolts on your bike should always be tightened to the manufacturer's specifications.

How to Fix a Flat Tire

How to use a patch kit to repair a tube. Also demonstrates how to remove and install a tire.

Video updates

  • 03:25 - Don't smear the glue as long as is shown here (I got distracted reading the script).
  • 03:45 - Peel off the paper or plastic backing after the patch is applied.

Fixing a flat tire is one of the most common bicycle repairs. I personally recommend replacing a tube when you get a leak, but that is not always possible. If done properly, a patch will work just fine. Here’s how it’s done.

Required Tools

For this tutorial you’ll need a patch kit, a set of tire levers, and an air pump. Your patch kit should contain a few different patch sizes, sandpaper or a metal scraper, and a tube of glue.

Inspect Tire

With the wheel removed from your bike, inspect the outer surface of the tire to make sure there are no sharp objects like a thumb-tack or thorn stuck in the tread.

Remove Tire

Remove the valve cap and fully deflate the tube by depressing the valve stem with the hooked end of your tire lever. There are two main types of valve stems, a schrader valve and a presta valve. This tutorial is based on a schrader valve, but I will be covering the different valve types in another tutorial.

Now it’s time to remove your tire, one side at a time. Choose a section of tire that is away from the valve and hook one of the tire levers under the bead, directly in line with one of your spokes. Pry one side of the tire bead over the edge of the rim, and then hook the end of the tire lever to the nearest spoke. Insert another tire lever two spokes away from the first, and a third another two spokes away. Now the middle lever should fall out, and you can continue the process. When the tire is loose enough you can just run a tire lever around the rest of the rim to pull the whole side over.

After you have removed one side of the tire, the other side should come off very easily.

Inspect Tube

Now remove the tube from the tire, and try to keep track of where it was positioned in relation to the tire. Inflate the tube to approximately twice its original size. This will expand the hole making it easier to find.

Listen carefully to the entire circumference of the tube; you should hear a hissing sound that will indicate where the leak is. As a last resort you can submerge the tube in water and watch for bubbles, but you’ll want to avoid doing this as you’ll need the tube to be completely dry in order for the patch glue to work.

Once you’ve found the leak, take note of whether it is on the inner or outer side of the tube.

If the hole was on the outer side of the tube, inspect the inner surface of the tire in that spot to make sure the object that caused the puncture is not still stuck in the tire. Double check the entire inner side of the tire by running your fingers along the entire surface, feeling for obstacles along the way.

If the hole was on the inner side of the tube, inspect your entire rim to make sure there are no sharp burrs in the metal, and that the rim tape is properly protecting the tube from your spoke ends.

Patch Tube

Now that the rim and tire are clear, it’s time to patch the tube. Select an appropriate sized patch for the hole. Use the sandpaper or scraper provided in your kit to buff the surface of the tube for an area a bit larger than the patch. You need to buff the tube so that it is no longer shiny. If the molding line is running along the area where the patch is to be applied, you must sand it down completely, or it will provide an air channel. Once buffed, avoid touching that area with your fingers.

Apply a dab of rubber cement, and then spread it into a thin coat, using your cleanest finger. Work quickly. You want a thin, smooth coat of cement; if you keep fiddling with it as it begins to dry, you’ll risk making it lumpy. The thinner the cement, the faster it will dry. It is very important to allow the cement to dry completely.

Peel the foil from the patch and press the patch onto the tube firmly, squeezing the patch tightly onto the tube.

Install Tire

Now inflate the tube so it is round and place it evenly into the tire. The first bead of the tire should fit easily onto the rim. Make sure you line up the valve stem with the rim’s valve hole.

Carefully fit the valve through the hole and place the cap on to keep it from falling out again.

The outer bead is harder to install, although most tires can be re-installed by hand. Staring at the valve, work the bead onto the rim using both of your thumbs.

You should never use tools to install the tire, but very tight tires may need some help. Kool Stop makes a great tool called a bead jack, which helps to pull the tire bead over the rim.

Once the tire is seated, inspect the outer edge on both sides to make sure it sits evenly all the way around, and push the valve down into the tire to make sure it didn’t get caught between the tire bead and rim.

Inflate Tire

Inflate the tire to the recommended pressure, which should be written on the side. Make sure to inspect the tire a few times while you are inflating, to make sure the tire remains seated properly and doesn’t start to bulge anywhere.

Once the tire is fully inflated, install the valve cap and put the wheel back on your bike.

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