What To Do When You Have A Flat Tire

So You Have A Flat Tire

We’ve all been there. All you wanted to do was ride your bike, but you can’t, because you have a flat tire. Flat tires are the bane of any cyclist’s existence. And yet, they are ubiquitous. Why?

Modern bicycles roll on pneumatic tires, which were invented in 1887 by our friend John Boyd Dunlop. Pneumatic tires are seated on a bicycle wheel. They hold pressurized air, which is what allows them to roll smoothly, comfortably, and with minimal resistance. The bike is literally floating on a cushion of air! The air is the trick here. If pneumatic tires have no air in them, they’re useless, and you have a flat.

Many cyclists are put off from riding by flat tires, but they don’t have to be. Keep reading to learn how your bike tires work, and what to do when you have a flat.

First, A Quick Refresher

Too many people don’t know the difference between wheels, rims, tires, and tubes, which causes a lot of confusion at the bike shop! It’s simple to understand the parts of a bicycle wheel. So here’s a brief run down:

Your bike has two wheels. Each wheel consists of a hub, numerous spokes, and a rim. The hub is at the center of the wheel. The hub has two sides, and the edge of each side is called a flange. Each flange has holes it in, and there are spokes laced through these holes. One end of each spoke is attached to the hub, via the hole in the flange, and the other end of each spoke is attached to the rim, via a hole in the rim called a spoke hole. A special nut called a nipple is threaded on to end of each spoke, and this is what attaches the spoke to the rim and gives it tension. The rim itself is a hoop, usually made of metal, that gives the wheel its round shape. Proper spoke tension keeps the wheel strong, true, and round.

A Bicycle Wheel

This is a bicycle wheel with no tire or inner tube installed on it.

The rim is designed to have a tire and inner tube installed on it. The tire is on the outside, making the contact with the ground, and the inner tube is underneath the tire, holding air. The tire is what prevents the inner tube from exploding when it is inflated to high pressure. The inner tube is inflated through a metal valve which extends through a hole in the rim called the valve hole. Under ideal circumstances you will not see the inner tube, only the valve. Oh, and one more thing. Underneath the inner tube there is a strip made of cloth or rubber called the rim strip. This sits in between the inner tube and the rim, and prevents the tube from getting caught on the nipples or on the spoke holes.

Bicycle Wheel with a Tire Installed

This is a bicycle wheel with a tire and an inner tube installed on it.

The Scenario

If you have a flat tire, it’s important to know whether your inner tube is punctured or merely deflated. If it’s been a while since the last time you inflated your tire, try inflating it before you assume that the inner tube itself is punctured.

If you try to inflate your tire, but you find that the tire cannot be inflated, or if you inflate to the recommended pressure, but the tire loses most or all of its air pressure within a day or less, then- and only then- can you be sure that the inner tube is punctured. In this case, you will need to repair or replace your inner tube.

Repairing an inner tube consists of removing the inner tube, locating the puncture, patching it using a patch kit, and then installing the original inner tube back on your wheel. Replacing the inner tube consists of removing the inner tube and installing a new inner tube back on your wheel. While most inner tube punctures are technically repairable, most bicycle stores, including Bicycle Roots, do not repair inner tubes- we only replace them. This allows us to have 100% certainty that when we fix a flat tire, the customer has a brand new inner tube with no potential defects

Confused? I’ve assembled a simple flow chart to help you figure out whether your “flat tire” is really a flat tire. Here it is:

This flow chart will help you figure out if you "flat tire" is really a flat tire.

This flow chart will help you figure out if your “flat tire” is really a flat tire.

How Bicycle Roots Can Help

If you have a flat tire in Brooklyn, the best thing to do is to bring your bike to Bicycle Roots at 609 Nostrand Avenue for a quick repair. First, we’ll diagnose your bike, and figure out why your tire went flat and what you can do to prevent this happening again.

If you just need to have your tire inflated, we have a self-service Free Air station for our customers to use. At our Free Air station, you can inflate your tire from an air compressor or from a floor pump. And of course, if you need any pointers, our sales staff are ready to help. Don’t feel bad if you’re a newbie. Every single day we teach new cyclists how to inflate their tires.

If you need to have your inner tube replaced, we sell inner tubes for just $5.97, and we install them for $8.50. One inner tube and one tube installation will then cost $14.47, which comes to $15.75 after Sales Tax is applied. In the course of fixing your flat tire, our mechanics will also diagnose any other factors that may have contributed to the flat. For example, if you have a torn rim strip, or a worn out tire, then this will also put you at risk for flat tires. At our store, a new rim strip will run you $1.50 for rubber or $3.99 for cloth. Basic tires start at $15 to $20, and we also sell highly puncture resistant tires for $45 and up.

Disclaimer: The above paragraph provides pricing information that is accurate as of July 31, 2014. Prices are subject to change at any time.

No More Flats!

As a cyclist, there are a few things you can do to reduce your chance of getting a flat tire:

  1. Inflate. Inflate. Inflate. Bicycle inner tubes are not, by their nature, completely airtight. An inner tube will lose 5 to 10 psi (that’s pounds per square inch) of air pressure every day. That means that, a few days after you inflate your tires, the tire pressure has already dropped below the recommended pressure. That’s why I recommend that you inflate your tires twice a week or before every ride, whichever is less frequent. A good quality floor pump will make regular inflation less of a chore. If you don’t own a floor pump of your own, you really should! Check out our selection of floor pumps here.
  2. Roll on Good Rubber. A good pair of tires is the single best upgrade you can make to your bicycle. But how do you know if your tires are any good? There are many factors that determine whether a tire will provide a good ride and good durability. In addition, different tires are optimized to different riding conditions. Attributes such as the type or types of rubber compound used, the threads per inch count of the fabric in the tire carcass, the composition of the puncture protection layer (if there is one), and the design of the tread are all important in determining tire quality. Bicycle tire manufacturers take all of these attributes into account in order to make a high quality tire that is lightweight, durable, puncture resistant, holds its shape, grips the road or trail, and rolls with minimal rolling resistance. If your bicycle tires have seen better days, check out our selection of bicycle tires here.
  3. Avoid Debris. On the road, there will always be debris that can enter your tire and puncture the inner tube inside. Try to avoid rolling over broken glass and metal in particular. Off road, punctures are commonly caused by thorns. If you do roll over some debris, you can pull over and brush it off of the surface of your tire before it works its way through the tire to puncture the inner tube.
  4. Clean Your Tire. Did your Friday night plans fall through? Here’s a good way to show your bike some love while killing time on a quiet evening: Examine the tread of your tire and look for debris such as glass which may be embedded in the rubber. When you find a piece of debris, use a small needle or a pair of tweezers to remove it. This will prevent the debris from working its way through your tire and puncturing the inner tube later.

Bicycle Roots is a full service bike shop serving Brooklyn cyclists in the neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford Stuyvesant. If you have a flat tire in Brooklyn, we can help! Bring your bike in to our store at 609 Nostrand Avenue for quick, friendly, and professional repairs, expert advice, and a great selection of high quality, puncture-resistant tires from Continental, Schwalbe, and Vittoria.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.