Quick Fixes

How to fix your bike after common breakdowns.

Once your get you bike in tip-top shape, you can feel confident to set out on your cycling journey. But, the unexpected always happens.

Ghosts haunt houses. Flat tires haunt riders. If you have a traditional tube and tire wheel, you need not fear. Fixing a flat tire is a simple exorcism.

First, you need the right tools and gear.

Once you spot your flat tire, flip your bike over and take the wheel off.

Most wheels are have a simple thru axle. Just flip out the locking lever and twist until the wheel is loose. If you’re removing the rear wheel, lift the (greasy) chain off the cassette and pull the wheel out.

Now, inspect the outside of the tire. Look for obvious signs of a flat in the rubber. A nail. Piece of glass. Rock shard. Take it out.

Tire, tube, and wheel may be interchangeable in the layman world. But, they have specific meanings in the bike world.

Tire (tyre) refers to the rubber that meets the road. The inner tube is the tube stuck between the tire and wheel. This is the part inflated with air. The wheel is all of the metal parts: the spokes, hub, and rim.

Tube, Get Outta Here

Next, lets get that tire off.

First, unscrew the plastic valve cover on the tube. If you have a Presta valve, simple unscrew the metal head and locking nut. Push down.

If you have a Schrader valve, remove the cap and stick anything pointy into the valve. Your tube should take its last breath.

A picture of a set of tire levers.
Tire levers save your hands and fingers when changing a flat tire.

Now, get your trusty plastic tire levers (never use a metal substitute). Jam the lever between the rim and the tire. Get under tire bead and pry up.

Work your way around the tire until one side of the tire is completely off the wheel. Now, pull out the tube’s guts and stuff it in your bag.

If you’re nervous that the puncture culprit is still inside the house, take the tire completely off the wheel. Run your fingers along the inside the tire and feel for sharp bits. Wear a pair of gloves or use a piece of paper to protect your fingers.

Fresh Tube Time

A picture of two bike inner tubes.
Keep an inner tube or two on you to fix flat tires.

Now, let’s break out a fresh inner tube.

Remove the valve cap and locking nut (for Presta). Puff a little air into the tube with your mouth or pump. Just enough to give it form.

Next, wedge one tire bead back on the rim of your wheel. Slip the tube’s valve stem into the valve hole and stuff the tube under the tire.

Place the wheel on the ground in front of you. Starting at the valve, use your thumbs to slip the second bead over the rim.

Work both sides at the same time. If you use one hand, you’ll find yourself in an endless loop: tire bead goes in one side. Tire bead pops out the other side. (It’s only funny for the first hour.)

The last bit of the tire bead will test your grit. Whip out your tire levers. Stick one between the rim and tire. Use the other to lever the last stretch of bead over the rim.

You can use your bare hands to reinstall the tire. But, you’ll come out the other side a different person.

Pump, Pump, Pump It Up

Next, take out your portable pump. Attach it to your valve and pump once. Pump Twice. Stop!

The quickest path to another flat is a pinch flat. This is when your tube gets caught between the tire bead and the wheel. When you inflate the tube and ride, the ensnared tube will rip when jostled.

A picture of a portable air pump.
There's no use for an inner tube if you don't have a pump to inflate it.

Therefore, pump the new tube a few times, then rock the tire back and forth in the wheel’s rim. This will free any flabby tube bits from the clutches of your tire.

Now, pump, pump, pump it up. But, not too much.

The tiny slit from a piece of glass won’t make a difference. However, a dime-sized hole from a blowout might mean serious trouble.

You can fix it. But, it might cost you. Literally!

Before you pump up your new tube, stuff a three-times folded ₩ 1,000 bill between the tube and the hole in the tire. then, pump the tire till it’s minimum psi.

Instead of money, you could also use a vinyl candy wrapper or rugged leaf. But, what’s the fun in that?

This is a temporary fix. Replaced your tire ASAP.

A picture of a chain with a broken chain in Seoul.
A bike with a broken train leans sits near the I·SEOUL·U sign in Seoul. If you don't have the simple chain breaker tool, you might be out of luck.

Let’s classify two types of bike riders. Spinners and crankers. Spinners stay in a low gear and pedal with ease and efficiency. Crankers stay in high gear and pedal with power and force.

Being a cranker puts a lot of strain on a bike chain. Sometimes too much strain.

My first day riding across Korea. After a few pics of the I•SEOUL•U, I hopped on my bike and cranked down. Pop! My chain split in two. I found a shop quick and was back on the road in an hour.

My second break, however, was on a mountain in Mungyeong. My bike trip suddenly turned into a walking and coasting trip.

If your chain breaks, you need only one tool and one part to fix it: a chain breaker tool and a quick link.

Once your chain pops, remember this: chains are grease covered filth machines. Wear gloves or just embrace the dirty.

Turn the bike upside down or lean it against a pole. Find the broken link.

You can take the chain off the bike. However, remember how the chain threads through the rear derailleur cogs. It can get tricky reinstalling.

A picture of a chain breaker tool and quick links.
Broken chain? There's only one way to fix it. A chain breaker tool and quick links.

Find the link you want to punch out. Rest the chain on the tines of the chain breaker tool. Line the metal probe up with the pin you need to remove. Now, turn the rivet tool until the rivet punches out pin to the broken chain link.

Take out your quick link.

A quick link is a single link chain link you can easily pop in to reconnect the chain.

We cannot undo some quick links (10, 11-speed Shimano) once they’re in place. We can remove some quick links to help clean the chain.

Check that your quick link is the correct speed. A ten-speed chain needs a ten-speed quick link.

You can mix-and-match brands. A SRAM quick link will work with Shimano chain. However, a wider eight-speed quick link won’t work on a narrower 11-speed chain.

Quick links will replace an outer (wider) chain link. That means you need to connect two inner (narrower) chain links, not two outer chain links.

Now, if you took the chain completely off the bike, thread the chain through the cogs of the rear derailleur and front derailleur’s cage.

Stick the quick link pins through opposite inner chain links holes.

Bring the quick lengths together. You should feel tension in the chain. If there’s no tension, you might have missed threading the chain through a cog.

Stick quick link pins through each others’ slotted holes. The divots at the end of the pins will catch on the slots.

If the quick link is a permanent, it’ll take force to push the pins into the back of the slotted holes. However, once they’re back there, they’re fixed. No redos.

Now, pedal the chain. Check that the chain runs through the gears smoothly.

If you lost more than one chain length, you’ll have trouble getting into the largest cogs. Your chain fits your bike’s gears. A shorter chain has less room to stretch.

You can finish your ride with a short chain. But, stay away from the larger gears. Visit a bike shop to resize your chain.

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