cycling · feminism · fitness · training

Can You Change Your Bike Tire? I Can Change Mine!

As we get ready for winter training indoors, it’s time to switch up the rear tire from the outdoor tire to the slick trainer tire. That sounds like it should be an easy thing. But it can be tricky, especially for those who are used to passing off tire changes onto the nearest willing helper.

Quite some time ago I wrote that bike maintenance is a feminist issue. A lot of independence comes from being able to maintain your own bike in at least the basic ways — top up the air, fix a flat, change a tube, replace your regular tire with a trainer tire, keep the bike clean and the chain properly lubricated, adjust the seat, hook up your bike computer and set up the speed and cadence sensors.

These are all things that even I, possibly the least enthusiastic cyclist with three bicycles in the whole world, can do without having to pay for it or call a friend.  This is where YouTube is brilliantly helpful.

A simple YouTube search for “how to change a bike tire” yielded several instructional videos. The most helpful and my favourite because it’s the only one that features a woman doing the demo, is this one:

A trainer tire is tricky because it involves the rear wheel. But not one to be discouraged by mere trickiness, I wheeled the bike out of the closet, grabbed my bike repair kit, and got out my trainer tire. I watched the beginning of the video a few times until I felt comfortable take off the rear wheel.

As instructed, I loosened the brakes, put the bike into the smallest chain ring in the rear, undid the quick release and popped off the rear wheel.  I lay the bike down and got to work on the tire.

I knew from past experience that it’s never as easy to get the tire off the rim than it looks like it will be from the videos. But I managed to get the first tire tool under the tire edge to get it started. And then I squeezed the second tool under and worked my way around the rim until that whole side was off. From there, it was easy to get the other side off and in short order I had the tire totally off the wheel and was left with just the tube.

I let out quite a bit of air, in fact, most of the air, to make it easier to work with.  Then I grabbed the trainer tire, which last year really intimidated me because it looks totally flat, not at all like it might be capable of fitting into a rim and around a tube. It’s hard to explain, but it looks like the most shapeless, untire-like thing when it’s not on the wheel.  Here’s a picture of what it looked like before I got it on the rim:

trainer tire

But since I knew this from last year, I fired up the video again and watched the part about putting the tire on.  It’s pretty easy to get one side started. From my Bike Maintenance 101 course a couple of years ago I remembered that the most dreaded thing that can happen when you change a tire is a pinched tube.  Here’s what it looked like when I got the one side on the rim:

trainer tire 2

You have to be careful trying to get the tube into the slot so that it doesn’t get pinched. I struggled most to get the second edge of the tire tucked into the rim. When you get to the last few inches, it’s pretty tight.  It feels like it’s impossible, actually. But the trusty video instructor said if you’re having trouble you can very carefully use that rim tool to pop the tire on. She demo-ed it. I tried what she said. As always, it wasn’t quite as easy as she made it look, but there you go: I did it.

Putting the wheel back on the bike is not as easy as taking it off.  To get it right, I had to watch the video a few times. I even had to watch another video because there was one part (the part about popping the wheel back into the frame) where I just couldn’t quite follow. But that’s the beauty of YouTube.  When one fails you, get a second opinion.

The whole deal, from taking the wheel off the bike, removing the road tire, replacing it with the trainer tire, filling the tire with air, and replacing the wheel probably took me over half an hour. That’s fine when you’re at home and have all kinds of time. It wouldn’t be quite as fine in a race situation, fixing a flat (mind you, in that case you’d just have to change the tube and not the tire, so it might be a bit quicker).  But I could do it. And I like the practice.

I just realized I forgot to tighten up the brake again.  But all in all, I feel pretty confident about my ability to change a tire and/or a tube when I have to. I don’t need someone else to do it. I like that sense of independence because you never know when you’re going to get a flat. And I may be lots of things, but a damsel in distress is not one of them.

How about you? Are you comfortable changing your bike tube or tire? If not, I highly recommend that you commit to practicing it a few times through the winter. It’s easy to do but not so simple that you’ll want the first time to be when you’re on your own, far from home, or in a race situation.

19 thoughts on “Can You Change Your Bike Tire? I Can Change Mine!

  1. Not only can I change a tyre but I can also build a wheel.

    There have been endless times when I’ve been out and been asked by another woman to help change a tyre as it is something she’s never done. I think it’s probably easier to change a wheel on my Land Rover than it is on some skinnies. Unless of course you’re running tubeless and you end up with white liquid squirting across the bike and yourself. Never much fun and it stinks like hell. Still, that’s only on my MTB and it has only ever happened twice. I think that one of the most overlooked issues when changing a tyre or replacing a tube is to check the inner part of the tyre for flints or sharp bits. I’ve known many a person to pop in a new tube and 5 minutes later, have the same problem because they didn’t locate the initial puncture and check for nasties.

    1. You are so right. When changing a flat that’s an essential step–checking to make sure whatever popped your tube isn’t in there anymore, stuck between the tube and the rim. Thanks for the reminder and yay for bike tire independence!

  2. Getting the wheel back in is easier if you are in bottom gear. Failure to do this will annoy the hell out of you and just make it more awkward. I can do this in a few seconds and with practice, so could most people.

  3. Ok, I should be ashamed. I’ve been shown …about 5 different times. I was even part of a cycling women’s organization in Toronto where we provided workshops on bike mechanics, fit, etc.

    And still can’t do it. My partner….who is a civil engineer and mechanically inclined (for other things), hates changing bike tires. He will do it if he must or has no choice. This is goes way back to getting hands all gunked up and dirty: he hates dirty hands (he was sick often as a child and this ‘dirt’ dislike is part of it. ..Even though he was also a part-time farmer in Ontario.)

    I was with another woman cyclist where I did have a flat: she changed bike tube in 10 min.

    1. Jean, the thing about being shown is that it’s not enough. I find that when people show me but I don’t actually have a tire to practice on myself I don’t learn it. Lucky you were with someone when you got that flat!

      1. To me, although prying the tire with tire irons is a pain in the butt, the harder part is getting off the friggin’ wheel. I’ve watched my partner bang it back in… different bikes have slightly different configurations..

        I want people here to even understand that even to undo the cantilever brakes and put the brake cable back, can be a barrier. My partner didn’t know how to do it…when in a panic, I discovered someone had mistakenly locked my bike to their bike + bike post! Fortunately another cyclist entered workplace bike cage with his Allen key to help us.. It’s stuff like this that can nearly cause panic.

  4. This past summer I was aiming to ride 3-4 times a week, and I’d often have to do 1 or 2 of those on the trainer. So I was swapping my rear tire around once or twice a week most weeks. It was REALLY good practice and now I can do it in a matter of minutes.

    Don’t fear tire changes! With practice they get easier and easier.

  5. I took a class because I didn’t want to be a damsel in distress. When a flat happened it was months later and I had not had any practice since, I was alone and could not remember a darn thing! I was so upset and angry that I had to call for a ride home. Back at home I watched YouTube videos and fixed my tire. I haven’t had any flats since but I have practiced a couple times just to make sure. Now I feel confident that my next flat I will be able to fix it!

    1. The hands on practice is totally necessary to get it figured out. I’m not great at it yet, but I’ve done it a few times. Good for you for doing it just for the practice. You’ll be the one people turn to when they need help!

  6. No I can’t change the tires on my current bikes just yet but I would like to tear my bike apart just to see all of the parts and how they work. Then I’d like to be able to customize my bike myself. My current bikes are more advanced than the fixie I had as a kid. As a kid, I would tear apart my bike on a regular basis and fix/customize it. I miss those days. Maybe I can find a cheap junker at a garage sale and tear apart and practise on that one 😊

    1. I know what you mean but trust me, if you set aside a bit of time and get the YouTube videos going, you’ll have it all figured out after a few tries.

  7. I’m slow at changing flats, but I’m pretty competent. I practiced changing my tubes a few times before I got my first real-life flat on a ride. It was cold, rainy, and miserable, and I ended up needing the help of a fellow cyclist anyway because I messed up my CO2 cartridge. Thankfully, cyclists are generally so good about helping others out. I’m much better at changing flats now. I just got one this weekend. Another piece of advice is that new tires are much harder to get on the wheel than older tires. So if you are planning to race on stiff, new tires, it’s a good idea to change them both a few times in your living room just to loosen them up a bit.

  8. My local REI offers a basic bike maintenance for women class and I took it. It was great– very helpful and accessible. We got a demonstration and learned some tricks. I highly recommend it for hands-on learners.

  9. I love riding my bike, but it has a flat, and I have no idea how to fix it. I was going to take it a bike shop but, money is running low and I don’t know how much they charge for that. I would love to do it myself. I watched the video, she explains it so well. I am definitely going to try it!

    1. Exciting! Please report back! It’s such a cool skill to have. I fixed my partner’s bike two summers ago when he got front and back flats in Nevada, riding over some sort of thorns or nettles. He was heartily impressed!

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