There are hundreds of videos and how-to’s online that you can look up on how to change a tire. Thing of it is, no matter how many times you watch it done, you’ll never get good at it until you do it yourself. Many, many, many times.
But this post isn’t about changing the tire itself. It’s about the things to remember when you have deal with a flat. These will keep you safe, and get you on your way faster.
1) Clear the road. By far the most important thing you can do. If you get a flat, don’t just stop in the middle of the street or bike path. And don’t start changing your tire there. Move off the path and/or road. Try to find a level patch of grass (if your bike falls over, better on grass or dirt than asphalt or gravel).
2) For rear flats, decelerate carefully. Lots of riders depend on their rear brake more than their front, for fear that using the front too much will lead to disasters like flipping over you handlebars. Despite this feeling, yes, you can use your front brake without your rear brake – you won’t flip over. It just takes practice. Don’t slam on it hard, hold the handlebar firmly, and shift your weight to the back of your bike. Don’t try to pedal further – your power will be wasted, you risk damaging the rim, and your tire can slip off the wheel, leading to all sorts of nastiness.
3) For front flats, steer carefully. All your steering control comes from the front wheel. A fast flat on the front will leave you with very little steering, and any turn away from the line of travel will cause the tire to shift away from the wheel (just like trying to accelerate on a rear flat). Lose that tire-to-wheel contact, and you’ll be in a world of trouble. Use the rear brake to decelerate and hold line. Drift out of traffic more than steer, and avoid leaning.
4) Make the call. Like any other emergency, sometimes there isn’t time for hand signals. Or it’s loud, or dark, etc. Call out “Flat!” followed by “Slowing!” so that riders know you will be slowing quickly. Call out slowing repeatedly, as other riders coming up behind may not have heard the first call as you slow to a stop.
5) Flip it over. A bike is very stable sitting on its saddle and the hoods. It’s easier to take your wheels off, and you don’t have to have someone hold your bike. Two things. First, if your gear is in a saddle bag, take out what you need before flipping the bike. Otherwise, your saddle bag will basically be on the ground and the zipper will most likely be upside down. If it’s shaped/packed like most saddle bags, things will start to fall out once you open it that way. Second, if you have a mount for your light, Garmin, or phone, make sure you’re not about to slam those things into asphalt.
6) Give it space, Ace. If you have a rear flat, you’re going to need to take off that wheel. That means dealing with the chain and the derailleur. If you have time as you cruise to a stop, shift to your big chain ring (big gear in front) and your lowest gear (biggest cog in back). This will extend the derailleur to the max position, giving you the most room to take your wheel off. You should be able to just pull back a little on the derailleur to swing it out of the way, avoiding the need to touch your chain.
7) Check your pack, Jack. Getting a flat is frustrating at best. Infuriating and even dangerous at worst. So your mind might not be at its sharpest. And if you’re in an event or riding with others, there’s a sense of “Gotta get moving!” that adds pressure to the situation, along with the tire that won’t come off and the tire lever that’s somehow disappeared. Before you jump on your bike, double-check that you’ve zipped up your bag, stowed all your gear, and taken everything (including your busted tube, don’t litter people) with you. Nothing adds insult to injury like getting a flat and then leaving behind your $20 multi-tool.