Before you start, this guide assumes that you already know how to change an innertube. Read that first if you don't. It also assumes that you've found – and if necessary removed from the tyre – whatever it was that caused the puncture. Never fix a puncture before thoroughly checking the tyre.
Puncture kits come in two types: traditional, with glue; and self-adhesive. Self-adhesive patches are quicker and more convenient to use at the roadside (ignore steps 5, 6, and 10 below), whereas patches with glue are more likely to provide a permanent repair.
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If you learn just one bike-repair skill, this should be it. Bikes get punctures. Short of fitting solid tyres (and believe us, you don't want to do that!), there's no way to prevent it entirely, though tyres with thorn protection strips and inner tubes filled with sealant to block holes can dramatically cut the number of times you'll have to get the puncture repair kit out.
When you do hear that hiss, don't get deflated: it's easier than you think to find and plug the hole.
To fix a puncture, you should always have a few spares to hand. You need the following parts to make your morning commute puncture-proof:
- Spare inner tubes
- Tyre levers
Alternatively, you can buy a puncture repair kit, which are a good buy – and you can save money on it if you buy it through Cyclescheme.
Our guide assumes you have a puncture repair kit – although having the three parts above will still let you fix a puncture.
Five Steps to Fixing a Bike Puncture
Step 1: Remove the Wheel and Inner Tube
You can then locate the puncture. If it’s not easy to see, immerse the inflated tube in water and watch for bubbles to rise – it’s likely you’ll just have a tiny pinhole puncture.
Once you’ve found the hole, mark it with a big cross using a ballpoint pen. Make sure the cross is centred on the hole, and bigger than the patch you’re about to apply.
Step 2: Roughen the Innertube Around the Hole
Use the puncture kit’s sandpaper or metal scuffer to do this. The area you roughen should be bigger than the patch you’re applying it to. Whilst this will rub out the cross you’ve just drawn, you’ll still be able to see the outer edges.
Step 3: Apply One Thin Film of Vulcanising Solution
Spread the glue over an area that’s larger than the patch with your finger, and then leave it to dry for at least five minutes. Don’t do anything else until it’s totally dry – otherwise you won’t fix your puncture.
Step 4: Peel Off the Foil Backing
Once you’ve peeled off the foil backing, apply the patch, making sure it’s centred over the hole. Press down firmly for a minute, and then remove the backing, being careful not to lift the edges of the patch.
Step 5: Inflate the Tube
By inflating the tube, you can check the patch stretches with it. If there’s a hole under one edge of the patch, remove it and start again. You’ll need to roughen the tube more thoroughly, and let the vulcanising solution dry for longer.
To prevent the innertube from sticking to the inside of the tyre, dust the glue around the edge of the patch (or chalk dust or talc).
Whilst this is fine if you’re at home, or have your puncture kit with you, it’s not ideal if you’re mid-commute. However, we’ll now go through the five steps you can take to fixing a puncture on a commute.
How to Fix a Bike Puncture While On the Road
Step 1: Take One Side of the Tyre off the Rim
It is really important that you take only one side of the tyre out of the rim; putting both sides of the tyre back on the wheel can be a little trickier. To do this, you will need to place one of the tyre levers under the tyre wall and place the hook in the spokes.
Take the other tyre lever and place it a couple of inches down the tyre and place this under the tyre wall. You should now have taken enough of the tyre wall out of the rim to run the tyre lever around the tyre to release one whole side.
Step 2: Take out the Inner Tube
Before you take out the inner tube, you should make sure that there is no locking ring on the valve. Spin this off before you take out the inner tube and place the used inner tube to one side for checking.
Step 3: Check the Tube and Tyre
There is a reason why your tyre is flat; you should check the old inner tube and tyre for any glass or debris that may be the culprit.
Pump up the inner tube and find where the air is leaking, line the inner tube to where it was in the tyre and take a look/light feel of the area around the tyre for any sharp foreign bodies.
If the piercing in your inner tube is on the side or where it touches the rim, it could be one of two things: you could have trapped the inner tube between the tyre and rim, or the spokes from your wheel are sticking through the rim and piercing the tube.
Step 4: Insert the New Inner Tube
Once you have cleared the tyre or placed rim tape in the bottom of your rim you need to place the inner tube back in the wheel with it half inflated. This will help the process of putting the tyre back on the wheel and not catching the inner tube between the tyre and rim - something which will save you time and the frustration of another blown tube.
Step 5: Place the Tyre in the Rim and Fully Inflate
Work your way around the tyre, holding one hand at a point and working the tyre into the rim. All being well, your tyre should mount easily onto the rim, but road tyres or folding tyres might be a bit trickier. A little bit of washing up liquid or warming the tyre by moving it might make it easier to fit.
Disaster averted, you now know that when you have flat tyre, it can be fixed in minutes and you can get on with your ride.
This is the best way to fix a puncture on a commute. A brand new inner tube will have your bike good to go again in no time (no need to take into a shop for a service). However, there may be times where you get a puncture and you don’t have a new inner tube on you. Don’t worry, as there’s something else you can try.
How to Fix a Bike Puncture without a Spare Inner Tube
If you’re commuting without a spare inner tube, bring some sandpaper, rubber solution, and puncture tape or foil with you. If you get a puncture, simply follow the same steps as above, except when you take out the burst inner tube, find the source of the puncture.
This could be a thorn or a sharp rock for example. If it’s not sticking out of the inner tube, try to find the source by listening to the hiss. If this is not an option for you, bring the inner tube up to your mouth. You should be able to feel the air hitting your lips.
Once you’ve identified the source of the problem, use the sandpaper to roughen the area around the hole. Then apply a thin coating of vulcanising solution. Once the solution has dried (this will take at least five minutes), attach some puncture tape around the hole or stick your foil to it. Make sure there are no air bubbles and you should be good to go.
This is a temporary measure however, and you should seek to replace the inner tube at your earliest convenience.
Not everyone will have tyre levers, either. Don’t worry if you don’t, you can remove the tyre by hand; you’ll just need to apply a bit more elbow grease.
How to fix a Puncture: Video Tutorial
Here’s a video tutorial from British Cycling that will further help you understand the process. Pay attention and try and commit this to memory. If you can get this drilled into your brain, a puncture on your commute should hopefully only cause a few minutes of delay.
How to Prevent a Puncture
Ride your bike enough and eventually, you’ll get a puncture. However there are a few things you can do to reduce how easily and often they occur.
Pump Up the Volume
Firmer, higher pressure tyres puncture less often.
A tyre at 80psi has half as much rubber in contact with the road as a tyre at 40psi, so it's less likely to encounter shards of glass or flint in the first place. When it does, the glass/flint/etc. is less likely to press into (and be picked up by) the tread of a firm tyre than a soft tyre. Firm tyres are also much less likely to suffer snakebite punctures, where a bump flattens the innertube against the wheel rim so that it gets nipped between rim and road.
Tyres have a pressure rating stamped on the side. Make sure your tyres are inflated to at least the minimum figure since they lose air over time, deflating like party balloons. Invest in a track pump (i.e. a floor pump) with a pressure gauge. This takes the guesswork out of tyre pressure checking and makings pumping much easier. Expect to spend £25-£50. Check skinny tyres every few days, medium width tyres every week, and fat tyres every couple of weeks.
Check for Sharps
Some punctures are instant and unavoidable. A thorn or shard of glass impales or slashes the tyre and it deflates immediately. Others are gradual. A crumb of glass or sharp grit becomes embedded in the tyre and gets slowly forced through as you ride, causing a puncture hours or days later.
If you know you've just ridden through glass or can see or hear that one tyre has picked up a bit of grit, pull off the road, dismount, spin the wheel slowly, and then (taking appropriate care) brush it off. When you check your bike's tyre pressures at home, have a quick look for sharp items, too. Carefully dig out any that you find with a pen knife.
Ride Where the Debris Isn't
Stay out of the gutter. Debris gets swept to the edge of the road by the repeated passage of car tyres. The gutter is where bits of glass end up.
Some routes accumulate glass. That cycle track may not be swept. That backstreet may be littered with broken glass. That difficult junction may have fender-benders. Avoid these places unless you have confidence in your tyres.
Some routes are risky only at certain times of year. Rural roads that have their hawthorn hedges threshed are a puncture minefield. Avoid them – or ride through carefully or dismount if you can't.
Fit Tougher Tyres
Choose tyres with a protective layer under the tread. This may be a synthetic fibre such as kevlar or a different consistency of rubber. The toughest tyres use a thick layer of springy rubber and have the word 'Plus' in their name: Schwalbe Marathon Plus, Continental Touring Plus, and Panaracer Tourguard Plus, for example.
They're harder to fit, heavier, and often slower, but if puncture protection is your top priority, these are what you need.
If you want lighter weight, faster tyres, you will need to compromise on puncture resistance. Saying that, even for a road bike, it's wiser to use tougher 'training' or 'four season' tyres for commuting rather than race tyres.
Use Tyre Sealant
Tyre sealant such as Slime is synthetic goo that you put inside your bike's innertubes. You can buy innertubes ready filled with sealant, which is less messy. Either way, it's clever stuff. When you get a puncture, the escaping air forces the sealant into the hole, where it hardens into a plug, fixing your puncture automatically. It only works on small holes, not cuts or tears, and you will lose a little pressure each time. The tyre might need topping up with air – break out your portable pump – or you may be able to continue, unaware that you've 'punctured'.
Note that there are two other types of sealant:
- Sealant spray is sealant-plus-compressed-air in a can; you use it to re-inflate and fix untreated tyres.
- Tubeless tyre sealant is for bikes without innertubes, such as some expensive mountain bikes.
You may want to save or bookmark this article to refer to any time you need to fix a puncture. We’ve given you all the information you need for a quick puncture repair as well as knowledge on how to puncture proof your tyres. If you should get struck by a puncture on your way to work and you don’t have a way to repair it, try to locate the nearest bike shop and make your way over there.
Any bike shop will be able to fix your puncture and it shouldn’t cost you much more than £10. Whilst you’re there, you can pick up a portable pump, inner tube and tyre levers for less than £20. Alternatively, you can pre-buy these items with us and save money. You’ll never be able to completely avoid punctures, but you can take them in your stride if you have the right know-how.
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