Want to know how to change a bike inner tube?
Being able to change a bike inner tube is the most important maintenance skill any cyclist should learn.
Not only is it the repair your bike will need the most often, it’s also possible to do at home with a bit of expert advice – saving you costly and unnecessary trips to the mechanic.
Most bike tires have two main components: the outer tire (the tough, grippy layer of rubber that makes contact with the ground) and the inner tube (the inflatable ring which holds in the air). So, when you have a flat tire, you’re more likely to need to know how to replace a bike inner tube than how to change a bicycle tire.
Punctures are an unavoidable fact of life for cyclists. Having the know-how to change a bike inner tube for yourself is the difference between riding again within a few minutes and sitting at the side of the road waiting for a taxi!
In this article, we’ll walk you through:
- The 3 Things You Need To Change A Bike Inner Tube
- How To Remove A Punctured Inner Tube (In 5 Steps)
- How To Fit Your New Inner Tube (In 6 Steps)
Ready to learn how to change a bike tube and get back in the saddle?
The 3 Things You Need To Change A Bike Inner Tube
#1: Tire Levers
Tire levers are a cheap but vital tool that every cyclist should own. They’re most useful as a pair and are small and light enough to be worth carrying on out-of-town rides when a puncture would leave you stranded.
Tire levers used to be made of metal, but plastic levers are most common now – they’re cheaper, lighter, and less likely to damage your wheel rims. It’s worth buying a decent pair of levers, as the cheapest ones tend to buckle under the pressure.
#2: Bike Pump
Hand pumps are fine for mountain bikes, but for the higher pressures used in road bike tires, it’s best to use a track pump (the type that sits on the floor with a T-bar handle at the top).
A hand pump will do enough to get you riding again on a road bike if you need a quick fix, but you should still top up the pressures with a track pump when you get the chance.
#3: A New Inner Tube
Different types and sizes of tires will need different inner tubes. These measurements are often printed on the inner tube itself, so an easy way to check which to buy is to look at the punctured inner tube and make sure the new one is a match.
If you can’t find this on the old inner tube, the measurements should also be written on the sidewall of the outer tire.
How To Remove A Punctured Inner Tube [In 5 Steps]
Step 1: Remove The Wheel From The Bike
Use a bike mount (or find something suitable to act as a stand) to hang the frame of the bike from while you remove the wheel. A low-hanging tree branch or a friendly fellow cyclist can be handy if you’re having to take the wheel off mid-ride!
If your bike has disk brakes, you’ll need to open them so that the wheel can slip out from between them. You can ignore this step if your bike has disc brakes, but you should take extra care not to bend them when you remove the wheel.
Most modern bikes use a quick-release mechanism to attach the wheels. Simply open the lever and unwind it slightly until there is enough room to remove the wheel from the forks.
If you don’t have a quick release, your wheel might be secured by a thru-axle. These are increasingly popular on new high-end mountain bike models, though they’re beginning to appear on road bikes too. Thru-axles have a small handle that can easily be unscrewed by hand.
Older bikes sometimes use hexagonal axle bolts, which may need to be loosened with a spanner. You can find bike spanners that are small enough to be taken out with you on rides.
If you’re removing the front wheel, you should now be able to lift it away from the bike to begin changing the inner tube!
If you’re working on the rear wheel, you should first shift the chain into the smallest sprocket (the hardest gear) at the back. You’ll then need to pull the derailleur backward as you remove the wheel so that it has space to slide out.
Step 2: Deflate The Inner Tube
Deflating the inner tube will make the outer tire easier to remove. You should still follow this step even if the tire already feels flat, as an inner tube with a slow puncture can still hold enough air to make removing it difficult.
If there’s a securing nut around the valve, unscrew it once all the air is out.
Step 3: Squeeze The Tire Towards The Centre Of The Rim
Using your hands, press both sides of the tire inwards towards the middle of the rim’s width. Once you’ve worked your way around the whole tire, it should begin to feel a little loose on the wheel.
Step 4: Remove The Outer Tire
Now you’ll need to put your tire levers to use. Insert the pair of them under the bead of the outer tire (the part of the tire which sits inside the rim), at the opposite end of the wheel from the valve. Try to position each of them in line with one of the wheel spokes, ideally around 4-6 inches (10-15cm) apart.
Press down on one of the levers to lift the edge of the tire up and over the rim, then hook the bottom of the lever around the spoke to hold it in place.
Next, do the same with the second lever to lift more of the tire over the rim. On a very tight tire, you might need to use both levers at the same time to ease the tire off.
Be careful though – when you’re applying that much force there’s always a risk of a tire lever pinging itself across the room!
Once you’ve lifted the first section of the outer tire off the rim with the levers, you should be able to pull the rest of it off with your hands. If it’s still too tight, unhook one of the levers from the spoke and slide it around the circumference of the tire, pulling it over the rim.
Remember, you’re only trying to lift the tire over the rim on one side. There’s no need to completely remove the outer tire from the wheel!
Step 5: Remove The Inner Tube
Push the valve back through its opening on the wheel, then pull the inner tube out from underneath the side of the outer tire that’s hanging over the rim.
That’s the first half of the job done!
How To Fit Your New Inner Tube [In 6 Steps]
Step 6: Inspect The Outer Tire
Before fitting your new inner tube, check the outer tire to make sure the sharp object which caused the puncture is gone. This is an essential step that cyclists often forget!
If it’s still there, it could puncture your new inner tube as soon as you’ve fitted it and you’ll have to start over.
To inspect the tire, reach inside and carefully press your fingers all the way around it. Go slowly – you don’t want to let the same thorn or glass shard which punctured your inner tube puncture your finger as well!
A great tip used by experienced riders is to always keep a ball of cotton wool stashed in your cycling jersey. The wool will snag on anything sharp when you run it around the inside of the tire, so you can find and remove the cause of the puncture without putting your fingers at risk!
If the outer layer is looking very worn and has lost its tread, it’s also worth learning how to change a bicycle tire. Pull the damaged outer tire the rest of the way off the wheel. Then, fit one side of the replacement outer tire over the rim, ready for the new inner tube to be installed.
Step 7: (Slightly) Inflate The New Inner Tube
Before you try to install it, partially inflate the new inner tube – just enough for it to hold its shape. This will make it easier to fit while reducing the risk of the inner tube getting pinched.
Step 8: Fit The New Inner Tube
First, push the valve through the hole in the rim, ensuring it is as straight as possible.
With the valve in place, gently tuck the rest of the inner tube inside the outer tire so that it sits inside the rim. Take care not to pinch or twist the inner tube, as this could cause a new puncture.
Step 9: Re-Fit The Outer Tire
This part can get a little tricky, but there are some steps you can take to make it easier!
It’s best to position the wheel on the ground in front of you, with the valve at the bottom and the side of the tire which is hanging loose facing away from you.
Starting at the top, use your fingers to tuck the bead of the tire back inside the rim. Once the top section is in place, use your thumbs to ease the rest of the tire back into place, working downwards towards the valve.
Try to follow this technique to re-fit as much of the tire as you can. Re-fitting the tire by hand is the best way to avoid pinching your new inner tube. When it starts getting difficult, you can squeeze the whole tire towards the middle of the rim to create some slack, as you did when removing the tire.
However, sometimes the tire is just too tight – no amount of grunting, sweating or swearing will force it back on by hand.
When your thumbs have taken you as far as they can, insert the tire levers under the edge of the tire with an inch or two (3-5cm) between them. Be careful not to trap the inner tube under the lever or you risk a puncture.
Gently raise the lever which is further from the valve, lifting the tire back onto the rim. Keep this in place while you raise the second lever, then remove the first lever and insert it a little further along. Repeat this alternating pattern towards the valve until the whole tire is back in place.
Step 10: Inflate The Tire Fully
With the tire back on the wheel, have a quick visual check to make sure none of the new inner tube is poking out. If it is, it might burst when you start to inflate it.
Slowly pump air into the tire to bring it back up to pressure. Check the tire’s sidewall to find out the recommended pressure window if you’re not sure.
Step 11: Put The Wheel Back On The Bike
Slot the wheel back into place and secure it. If it’s the back wheel, you’ll need to pull the derailleur back again to allow the wheel into position.
Don’t forget to reattach the brakes once the wheel is in!
Now you know how to change a bike inner tube!
Now you know how to change a bike tube, you should be ready to take your newly repaired bike out for a test ride!
If this is your first time changing a bike inner tube, it may seem like a daunting process with a lot of information to take in, and it might take you a little while to see it through.
But remember, changing a bike inner tube gets quicker and easier each time you do it – before you know it, you’ll need just a few minutes after suffering a puncture to get yourself back on the road again!