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Bike Maintenance 101: How to Patch an Inner Tube

The bicycle is one of the greatest tools of self-reliance. 

Without any need for electricity or gas, it can carry you far distances. 

But bikes only work towards your self-sufficiency if you know how to maintain them. They may have fewer complications than an automobile, but they’re still machines that can break down and need to be repaired.  

Several years ago Kate and I bought some bikes for ourselves (our kids already had them) so we could take family rides on Tulsa’s many pleasant bike paths. But I realized that I didn’t know beans about how to maintain our new purchases. If one of us got a flat tire, I wouldn’t know how to patch it. If my brakes were acting wonky, I’d be hosed. 

So I set out to learn some basic bike maintenance and repair. It’s been fun. I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you all in a new series: Bike Maintenance 101. 

In today’s inaugural class, we’re kicking things off with how to patch a hole in your inner tube. I remember watching my dad patch a hole on one of my bike tires as a kid. It looked like a huge pain in the butt. But I learned that it’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Remove Wheel

Let’s get that wheel off so we can get to our flat inner tube.

I like to flip my bike upside down. It makes it easier to work with your wheel. I don’t have one of those fancy bike holders you use to work on your bike.

Getting wheels off a bike is a breeze with today’s quick-release systems. It’s pretty much the same for all bikes. The only difference you’ll encounter is how you’ll disconnect your brakes. That will depend on what type of brakes you have on your bike. Here’s how I removed the wheel on my bike with v-brakes. 

It’s really easy to disconnect a v-brake. You squeeze the two brake arms together and unlatch the cradle from the noodle (that’s the thing with the rubber tip on it).

Flip the quick-release lever open and unscrew it until you have enough space to remove the wheel. 

You don’t have to take the quick-release rod out of the hub, but if you want to, that’s fine. I think it’s easier to work with the tire without the quick-release rod still in the hub, so I take it out.

Wheel removed!

Step 2: Remove Tire From Wheel With Tire Levers

Time to get the tire off the wheel so we can get to the inner tube. Tire levers will make this job much easier. You can buy them on Amazon. They’re cheap.

Place your first tire lever between the wheel and the tire. You want to get the lever underneath the lip of the tire so you can pry it away from the wheel.

To keep the lip of the tire from going back into the wheel, hook the tire lever into one of the spokes. This will keep your tire and wheel separated, making it much easier to get the rest of the tire off of your wheel.

Place the second tire lever next to your first tire lever. Get it under the lip of the tire. You’ll slide this lever around your wheel to separate the rest of the tire from the wheel.

Here’s what your tire will start looking like as you slide that second tire lever around your wheel. It’s hard at first, but gets easier as you progress. As you can see, more and more of the tire lip is over the rim of the wheel.

Tire successfully removed from wheel. Now it’s time to remove the inner tube from the tire.

Step 3: Remove Inner Tube From Tire

Inner tube will be tucked inside your tire. Just pull it out.

Step 4: Find Hole

There’s the hole.

Step 5: Prepare Hole for Patching

Get your patch kit.

Inside my patch kit is a metal square that has a bunch of little bumps on it. It’s almost like a cheese grater. Use it to lightly scuff up the area on and around the hole. If you don’t have a little metal cheese grater in your patch kit, you can use sandpaper to prep your patch area. The scuffing will give greater adhesion to the patch.

Step 6: Apply Rubber Cement

Use a moderate amount of rubber cement. Spread it evenly around an area 1/2″ around your hole.

Step 7: Apply Patch

Pick an appropriate sized patch for your hole. Since mine is so small, I used the smallest patch. Remove the foil backing and stick patch onto the hole.

Peel away the plastic film on top of the patch. Press edges down firmly. Bam! Hole is patched.

Step 8: Put Inner Tube Back in Tire and Tire Back on Wheel

Inner tube back in tire.

Tire back on wheel. Getting the tire back on the wheel can be a bit tricky. You may need to use your tire levers to help you get the lip of the tire inside the wheel’s rim. Just make sure you don’t pinch your inner tube between the tire and the wheel. You’ll risk creating a puncture in your inner tube. Once you get your tire back on the wheel, inflate your inner tube and then put your wheel back on your bike.

You can patch your inner tube a few times and not have a problem. If you have more than three patches, you might start noticing that your tire goes flat overnight and you have to pump it up if you want to use it. After your third patch, chuck your old inner tube and replace it with a new one.

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