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Time to get some New Kid Know-How under your belt and learn to fix a flat. We’ll walk you through the process in detail, but more than that, we’ll cover a couple of habits you can add to your routine to ease you into being a full-time boss on the bike. Take a deep breath. Now, let’s get at it.
Take the wheel off your bike and let any remaining air out of the tube. To take the wheel off, you’ll be faced with either a quick-release (QR) skewer or thru-axle. These are what goes through the center of your wheel—called the hub—and keep the wheels in the frame. For a quick-release, simply flip the lever open, loosen it a little, and pop the wheel out. If you have rim brakes, remember to open the brake first by flipping the little lever on the brake by the wheel's rim. For a thru-axle, you'll unscrew the axle and then pull it out of the wheel completely.
PRO TIP: If you’re going to lay your bike on its side while you fix that flat, lay it down with the chain-side facing the sky.
Hmm, did you get a rear flat? It seems more complicated to get the wheel out, but don’t sweat it. For first timers, Madeline suggests that you flip that bike over onto its handlebars and saddle. “It’s the easiest way for you to get it stable,” she says. “And we’re not really concerned about a [perceived] level of professionalism here—it’s more important that you can comfortably change a flat.” Before you flip your bike, change the gear to the smallest cog (physical size) in the cassette so the chain’s slack. With your bike flipped over, stand behind the back wheel and look at the rear derailleur pulley cage—where your chain winds through two little pulleys. See it? Now pull the cage towards yourself, and then use your other hand to pull the wheel up and out. Easy peasy.
PRO TIP: You’re going to get dirty. That’s good. It’s a sign that you’re a badass.
First, pump a small amount of air into your tube—just enough to give it a little shape. This will actually help you tuck it inside the tire. Believe it or not, you can actually blow into the tube to get a bit of air in it. Now, put it in the tire. Insert the valve first and then work your way around and tuck the tube all the way in.
PRO TIP: When you buy spare tubes, make sure the valve stem length is the right length for your wheel rim. Not sure what that is? Ask at your local bike shop. They’ll be stoked to help.
Starting at the valve stem, work the side of the tire back onto wheel using the heels of your hands to push the bead of the tire back on. Work it all the way around, being careful not to catch (pinch) the tube between the tire bead and rim. It’ll start getting tight—use your muscles! But what do you do if you can’t get it back on all the way? We asked Madeline—should we use our tire lever to get the last little bit back on if we can’t manage it by hand?
“The technical answer is no—you should reinstall the tire with just your hands. BUT, that does you zero good if you can't get the tire on. 95% on is still not on, so if you can't get it, carefully use the lever.”
Not to be dramatic, but a well-lubed chain is a happy chain. Why do you need a happy chain? Because a well-maintained chain lasts longer, makes shifting easier, and prevents rust and fatigue. The first sign that something’s amiss is almost always some form of caterwauling coming from the chain. Is it squeaking like crazy? Does your chain feel "crunchy" when you ride? It’s probably dry, or caked with muck—however you look at it, that chain's sad. It’s time to make it happy again.
As Madeline says, it’s not just a matter of drowning it in chain oil from time to time, either. If you’re getting in the habit, remember to wipe the chain down while you’re at it: Before you lube it—to wipe the muck and grime off—and after you lube it—to remove excess lube. Madeline recommends that you get in the habit of lubing your chain regularly, not just when the sound of its sad screams finally catch your attention. Think about the conditions you’re riding in. If you ride in the rain, or in dusty conditions, lube your chain afterwards and your chain will love you for it. Here’s a quick guide to when and how.
1. Use a rag and run the chain backwards through it to clean any built-up grime. Use your hand to back-pedal your bicycle as you hold onto the chain with the rag.
2. Apply lube—aim for one drop per link as you back-pedal the chain, noting where you started so you know where to stop.
3. Run the chain up and down the rear cassette by changing the gears. You'll need to hold the back of the bicycle in the air when you do this. It helps if you have a bike stand, but if you don’t, you can hook the nose of your saddle over a porch railing, get a friend to help, or just change the gear, pick it up, and pedal forwards with your hand. Rinse, repeat.
4. Hold a clean cloth on the chain and run the chain backwards again, wiping off excess lube. Now leave it for a little bit—really let that lube soak in.
5. Some people leave it overnight before a big ride, while others give it a half-hour or so. Now wipe the chain again by running it through a rag. There's actually a thing as too much lube. It attracts grime, so wiping it down alleviates this.
PRO TIP: Use the good oil. What chain lube should you use? Well, that’s a hot issue, and it's very much a personal choice. “It’s like picking out someone else’s socks for them,” says Madeline. For New Kids, let’s just keep this simple. Choose the right oil for the conditions, and make sure that it’s a lube that’s specially formulated for bicycles. Again, Madeline says to ask at your Local Bike Shop for a recommendation.
A second habit you should get into is checking your tire pressure before every ride. And while you might think a simple press down with the heel of your hand should be enough, as Madeline warns:
“If you're at the point where it's 'squishy,' you've probably already waited too long. Having a pump with a gauge is something I think everyone should have [at home].”
If you leave the house with your tire pressure too low, you can easily get a pinch flat when you ride over a pothole or obstacle. Too high? That might make for a bumpy and uncomfortable ride. Madeline recommends that you check the recommended pressure—indicated as the PSI on the side of the tire—and then dial it back a little. How much do you weigh? If you’re a lighter rider, you can go lower. If you're heavier, err on the side of a higher pressure.
When it comes to mountain bikes, sometimes you’ll want to adjust your tire pressure based on the conditions at hand. If the trail is dry and in tip-top condition, go for the higher end of the recommended pressure. If wet or muddy, drop the pressure so your tire has better contact with the ground for more control.
Any last bits of advice from Madeline? Get to know your bike. “Knowing what your bike feels like when it's working properly is very important for knowing when your bike is not working properly,” she says. And once more—get to know your Local Bike Shop.
You know-how to fix a flat correctly, but what if time were no object? What if it was a front tire flat—no hassle of the chain—and you had CO2 at the ready and no shortage of “I will crush this” moxie? Do you think you could fix it in under six minutes? Well, ain’t that a coincidence—we have a Worth It Will do that specifically challenges you to fix a flat in under six minutes to earn the Flat-Out Flat Fixer badge. Learn more about this challenge and get ready to cross that off your bucket list.
BEAD: Part of the tire—the edge along the inner-side of the tire that fits inside the rim.
BRAKES: Your brakes will be either rim brakes or disc brakes. Rim brakes apply a brake pad to the rim of the wheel, while disc brakes apply the brake pad to a rotor that’s attached to the center of your wheel.
CASSETTE: The set of cogs on the rear wheel. When you change gears, the chain moves up or down the cassette.
DERAILLEUR: The gear-shifting mechanism on a bicycle. There's a front derailleur that shifts from the big ring to the small ring at the front of your drivetrain, and then there's a rear derailleur that shifts gears up and down the cassette.
QUICK-RELEASE: Also known as QR. The quick-release lever allows you to remove the wheel from your bike when fixing a flat. The fork or frame will have slots (dropouts) to slide the wheel in. Pressing the QR lever closed will then clamp the wheel to your frame or fork.
THRU-AXLE: A thru-axle slots through the frame of the fork legs, which are closed (no dropouts). And while some thru-axles have a lever on one end to help you unscrew them, others will require an Allen tool—another great reason to always carry a multi-tool. Check with your local bike shop for what you’ll need.
VALVE: Found on a tube, a valve is where you put the air in. There are two types—Schrader and Presta. A Schrader valve is identical to those found on car tires. A Presta valve is typically found on high-pressure tubes, and has a little metal cap on the end that has to be unscrewed before air can go in. An easy way to remember the difference? You “press” a Presta to release the air.
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