Quick methods for fixing a flat tire when mountain biking

What to do when a rock keeps you from rollin’.

EMERGENCY SITUATION: You’re mountain biking on Mount Mitchell when a rock punctures your tire. Foolishly, nobody has a patch kit. How do you get moving again?

SOLUTION: You could try doing a very long-distance wheelie—assuming you punctured the front wheel. And assuming you knew how to pop a wheelie in the first place. But this probably won’t help your guys earn their Cycling merit badge. However, there are a couple of better (and safer) emergency fixes that may.

If you have a bike pump and some tape but no patch kit: First, turn the bike over and examine the tire. If the breach is obvious, mark it with a dab of mud or some chalk. Then, using tire levers or a flat-blade screwdriver, carefully remove the tire and its tube. The matching spot on the tube will have the puncture.

If the breach isn’t clear, you’ll need to locate it. There are a number of ways to do this. If you’re near a stream or other body of water, submerge the tube and squeeze it to force any remaining air out. Track the escaping bubbles to locate the hole. You can also fill a pot or pan with water from a canteen, provided you’re not broken down in the desert, of course. If no water is available, squeeze the tube while holding it next to your face; you’ll feel the air escaping. Mark the hole.

Cut a three-inch piece of electrical or duct tape. Believe it or not, materials contained in patch kits often aren’t as effective as good-quality tape. Place the piece of tape over the hole, making certain the hole is in the center of the strip. Wrap the tape completely around the tube. Put the tube back in the tire and the tire back on the rim. Add air to the tube using the pump.

Ride back to camp. Avoid rock-hopping.

If you have no patch kit, no tape, and no pump: First, raise your right hand. Then, make a solemn pledge to never, ever ride your bike in the wilderness without a spare tube and air pump. Make sure you have witnesses.

Remove the tire, leaving the damaged tube in place. Next, begin pulling up as much grass as you can find. You’ll need lots. Take care not to pick thistles or anything with thorns, or you’ll be mending your fingers as well as the tire—and you’ll probably further damage the tube. Next, stuff the tire with the grass, packing it in until the inside of the tire is full. Carefully put the tire back on the rim. You may need to add more grass as some falls out.

Ride back to camp slowly.

Be prepared: First-aid kits often include plastic-coated medical tape. In a pinch, you can substitute this for electrical or duct tape.

If you’ve punctured the rear tire—and you have the proper wrenches—consider putting the front wheel on the back before making your repair. Particularly if you’re riding with a heavy pack, more of your weight will be above the rear wheel.

Josh Piven is the co-author of the Worst-Case Scenario Handbook series. www.joshpiven.net.

One thought on “Quick methods for fixing a flat tire when mountain biking

  1. Use the “thorn resistant tubes” (thick) and carry at least one spare. Doesn’t weigh much more than tape. You are right about the so-called patch kits. Better to get one at the auto parts store and it pays to get the most expensive. The grass idea is a great one.

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