Getting tyres on and off rims can be hard work even if you have a strong grip. Here are some tips and tools to make it easier.
Tyres are tougher to get on and off rims these days thanks to the rise of tubeless wheel setups. While some tyres have always been tight on some rims, tubeless tyres have a tighter, more secure fit by design to prevent the tyre beads (the loops of wire or kevlar at the edges of the tyre) accidentally coming away from the rim, which would result in rapid deflation. This means it’s also harder to get the tyre off the rim on purpose – as well as making it harder to refit.
The situation is worse if you use tubeless tyres and rims with innertubes. Punctures won’t self seal like they would with a tubeless setup, so you’ll have to remove the tyre to replace or patch the tube. When you refit the tyre, resorting to levers risks pinching the tube and putting a hole in it. Using only your hands to refit the tyre is safer but can be extremely challenging. Don’t despair: there are ways to get this done that don’t require a bodybuilder’s grip strength.
First push the bead of the tyre away from edge of the rim on one side, so that it sits in the ‘well’ in the centre of the rim. The rim diameter is smaller in the well than at the ‘bead seat’ at the edge of the rim, so this will win you enough slack to fit a tyre lever under the tyre bead. Before you do that, though, go all around the tyre and push the tyre bead into the well so it’s completely free on one side.
With tubeless rims and tyres, there’s sometimes considerable resistance when you try to push the tyre bead into the rim well. Thumb strength may be insufficient. Flip the wheel around so it’s facing away from you, then place both hands on the tyre side by side. Use the fingers of both hands to squeeze the tyre to push the bead away from the bead seat. Once you have some of the tyre bead free, the rest should follow fairly easily.
Next fit a tyre lever under the bead and prise a section of tyre over the side of the rim. Holding this lever in place, or wedging it behind spoke, insert your second lever a few inches further around the rim to prise the tyre off there. Go all around the wheel with your second lever, shucking the tyre off completely on one side. You can now remove the innertube. (Don’t forget to check the tyre for sharps before refitting the tube.)
Fit one side of the tyre loosely to the rim, if it isn’t already. You can use tyre levers for this as there’s no innertube to pinch at this stage. (If you’re fitting a tubeless tyre, you can use levers to fit both tyre beads.) If the tyre is especially tight, refer to the advice below about pushing the tyre into the well of the rim. Slightly inflate your new or repaired innertube to give it some shape. Put the tube in the tyre and valve through the hole in the rim.
Put your tyre levers to one side now. We’re going to use just our hands. Hold the wheel in both hands, with the valve at 12 o’clock. Start to fit the tyre opposite the valve, working your hands up and around the wheel, pushing the tyre into place with your thumbs. The tyre will go on easily at first. Eventually you’ll be left with an unfitted section of tight tyre bead between, say, 10 and 2 o’clock or 11 and 1. This is where it gets difficult.
Deflate the innertube, then grasp the rim and unfitted section of tyre in one hand. Hold this tightly. Using your free hand, go around the wheel squeezing the tyre beads into the rim well. This will win you some slack, hopefully enough to push the unfitted section of tyre bead into place. If you can’t do this with your thumbs, flip the wheel around so it’s facing away from you and use both hands, gripping hard and rotating your wrists to roll the bead into place. No joy? Holding tight to the unfitted section with one hand, go around the rim again with your free hand, forcing the tyre beads into the well of the rim. Then try again.
Still no luck? Get some cable ties or old-fashioned toe straps; three or five should do it. At the 6 o’clock position, opposite the valve and the unfitted section of tyre, squeeze the tyre beads into the rim well, then fasten a cable tie or toe strap around rim and tyre to hold the beads down in place in the well. Repeat at roughly 8 and 4 o’clock, and if need be at 10 and 2 o’clock. You should then be able to fit the last section of tyre.
If even this isn’t sufficient, you’ll need a special tool that’s designed to seat tyres.
‘Bead jack’ tools make it much easier to fit tight tyres. One part of the tool sits on the rim opposite the unfitted section of tyre (laterally opposite not vertically), while the other part hooks under the unfitted bead. This can then be levered into place without the risk of pinching the tube you’d have with standard tyre levers.
The Var Tools RP-42500 is a compact tool that doubles as a set of tyre levers for tyre removal.
The Cycle Pal Tyre Seating Tool is bulkier and only does tyre seating, not removal, but is arguably even better at its one job.
Wrestling with tight tyres isn’t something you have to put up with. If you don’t plan on riding tubeless, don’t choose tubeless-compatible rims and tyres. Ride a bike with rims and tyres designed for innertubes: fitting and removal should then be easier. If you want a bike with especially easy-fitting tyres, the Islabikes Icons range for older riders has Easy-Tyre-Change rims and tyres that live up to their name.
The other thing you can do is to try and prevent punctures in the first place so you won’t have to change tyres at the roadside. Tough tyres such as Schwalbe Marathon Plus are almost impregnable.