How to Patch a Bike Tire
- Remove the wheel: Use the quick-release lever or turn the nut using a wrench to loosen the wheel. Remove brake pads and possibly gears (if it’s the rear wheel).
- Locate the leak: Inflate the tube slightly and inspect it to locate the puncture.
- Sand the hole: Roughing the area slightly can help the patch stick better.
- Apply the patch: Some patches are self-adhesive others require glue, follow the instructions. Allow it to dry before reassembling the wheel.
- Replace the wheel: With the tube inflated, put the tire back on before assembling the wheel.
Knowing how to patch a bike tire is essential if you’re a frequent cyclist. Maybe you’re on your way to work and hit a sharp object, or racing to the finish line when you hit a nail.
Things happen, but when they do, you need to be ready.
Learning how to patch a bike tire first involves finding the leak and marking it in case you lose its location. You then need to sand the hole down and apply the patch before placing the tube back and reinflating the tire.
But there’s a lot more to it than that…
Finding the Leak
Locating the puncture is the first thing you should do; otherwise, how will you know where to patch the tire?
Before you can locate the puncture, you have to remove the wheel from the bike; here’s how:
Step 1: Nut or Quick-Release?
To remove the wheel from the bike, you have first to loosen it. This is either easy to do or slightly more complicated, depending on how the wheel is attached.
If you see a small lever at the wheel’s center, your bike is a quick-release. Simply pull the lever and spin the wheel counterclockwise to loosen and remove.
If you see a nut, you’ll need to do this the old-fashioned way using a wrench. Apply the wrench to the nut and turn it counterclockwise until loose.
Step 2: Disconnect Brakes
The next thing you want to do is disconnect the brakes. Remove the brake pads and then remove the wheel.
If the flat is in the rear, you’ll have to disconnect the gears and chain.
- Start by shifting the bike into the lowest gear to put some slack in the chain.
- Once there’s slack, loosen the wheel by pulling the quick-release or unscrewing the nut.
- If it’s not coming loose as easily, pull the rear derailleur back using your hands. The rear derailleur is the arm-like component that the chain goes through.
- You can also maneuver the chain out of the way while removing the tire.
Step 3: Remove the Tire
When the wheel is off the bike, you need to remove the tire.
For this, you need a non-metal prying tool, such as a tire lever that you can buy at your local bike shop.
A tire lever is a small tool designed to work its way between the rim and the tire without damaging the tube.
If you don’t have a tire lever, you can use other similar tools. However, avoid screwdrivers and knives as these can further puncture the tube.
Step 4: Locate the Leak
When you’ve removed the tire, pull the flat tube from the tire, and locate the leak.
This is easier said than done as punctures can sometimes be tiny and hard to see—luckily, there are a few ways you can quickly pinpoint the damage.
Start by inflating the tube about three to four times the standard size by one of the following ways:
- Sight: Check the surface visually for any holes or rips that could be causing the leak.
- Sound: Listen for a hissing sound, which is the air escaping through the hole.
- Touch: Glide your finger around the tube to see if you feel the air as it leaves through the punctured hole.
- Water: Submerge the tube in a container filled with water. Look for the source of air bubbles.
Step 5: Mark the Hole
Because the hole is likely tiny, it’s good to mark it with chalk or a pen, so you don’t lose it and have to spend time locating it again.
If you’re patching the puncture with glue, make the mark bigger to still see it once the adhesive is applied.
If you don’t have chalk, use a silver sharpie. Avoid using black, blue or other dark colors as these are tricky to see on the black rubber.
How to Patch a Bike Tire
With the wheel, tire and tube removed and the leak located, it’s time to fix it.
For this, you’ll need a patch. I’m listing the general way of patching up a tire; however, if your kit’s instructions have other directions, follow those instead.
Step 1: Inspect the Hole
Inspect the hole carefully, taking its size into consideration, and check to see if you find the object that caused the puncture in the first place.
If it’s a pinch flat, the hole will look more like a snake bite, and there won’t be an object in the way.
If you do find a foreign object, remove it carefully to avoid injury. You should also check the rim for any protruding objects that could’ve caused the damage as well.
Step 2: Sand the Hole
Depending on the type of patch your kit included, you might need to sand around the hole to create a rougher surface for the patch to stick to.
Other patches require a smooth surface to adhere to, so make sure you check before sanding.
If the kit’s directions instruct you to sand, use a small square of sandpaper to slightly roughen the area. If the directions don’t mention whether or not to sand, sanding the area slightly won’t hurt.
Step 3: Apply the Patch
When the area around the hole is ready for the patch, apply it according to the instructions.
There are two types of patches; one requires glue while you can apply the other like a sticker.
Stickers are more convenient and quicker to use; however, glue patches tend to be stronger.
Non-Glue Patch (Self-Adhesive Patch)
- Remove it from its wrapper.
- Apply it over the hole like a sticker or band-aid.
- Apply pressure to ensure it’s secure.
- Apply the included glue or rubber cement directly onto the tube around the hole.
- Allow the glue to set until tacky or dry (consult the instructions).
- When the glue is at the correct consistency, apply the patch over the glue and press firmly for a couple of minutes.
- The glue will need 24 hours to dry entirely; however, it should be dry enough to go in about 5 minutes—in case you’re in a rush.
How to Put the Wheel Back Together
When you’ve fixed the puncture, get your bike back together and hit the road.
Step 1: Put the Tube Back
- Before you put the tube back in place, feel the inside of the tire for any metal wires or other protruding objects.
- Place the repaired tube in the hollow side of the tire carefully. It can be a bit tricky, but you can make it a little easier by inflating the tube slightly and slide one side into the tire first; then work your way around until the tube is entirely in place.
- Once you’re done, give it a quick check to ensure the tube isn’t hanging off the rim.
The inflation valve should point down when the tube’s on the tire—otherwise, you won’t be able to inflate it.
Step 2: Place the Tube and Tire on the Wheel
Once the tube is in the tire, it’s time to get them onto the wheel’s rim.
Note, if there’s an arrow that shows the wheel’s intended rotation direction, make sure you put the tire on the correct way. Otherwise, you might accidentally install the wheel backward.
The inflation valve should go through a hole in the wheel for easy pumping access.
- Use your thumbs to slide the tire and tube onto the rim gently. The tire’s outer lips should go over the rim’s metal lip to lock it in place. However, be careful not to pinch the tube between the rim and tire; this could damage it.
- If you find it tricky to get it on, use the tire lever to slip it on—this might be necessary towards the end as the last bit is often the trickiest.
Step 3: Inflate Slowly
- Inflate the tube slowly and stop a few times to let it settle, then continue.
- It’s crucial the tube isn’t sticking out between the rim and the tire. If it does stick out, it might explode as you inflate it.
- Once it’s fully inflated, squeeze the tire—wait a moment, then squeeze again—it should feel as firm as the first squeeze.
- Put the wheel back onto the bike once you’ve inflated the tube.
Knowing how to patch a bike tire is one thing, but it’s also essential to understand when the tire isn’t fixable.
It’s good to carry a small patching kit with you whenever you go on longer bike rides. You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a punctured tube!
If there are multiple holes, tears or even air leaking after you’ve patched it up—there isn’t much left to save, and you’d be better off replacing the tube.