Flats and Mechanical Issues

Before I started commuting, I was a very infrequent rider, with no knowledge of mechanical issues. I was even apprehensive about removing my quick-release front wheel, not knowing if I could get it back on correctly! But over time I have tried new things, and gained a lot of confidence in my general mechanical ability in the process.

Fixing Flat Tires
The most likely thing to happen on the road is the dreaded flat. Changing a flat tire is fairly simple once you've done it a few times, and web pages on how to do it are all over the web. Just google it.

The equipment you'll need is a spare tube, tire levers, and a hand pump that clips to your frame. Carry these with you at all times!

The tire levers help you separate the tire from the rim, and may be purchased for a modest price at any bike store.

The hand pump will not inflate your tire fully, but enough to get home. Some people prefer CO2 cartridges that will inflate a tube quickly and easily.

Instead of, or in addition to, a spare tube, you could also carry a patch kit, but just swapping the tube is quicker when you're out on the road, and you can patch the old one (if possible!) when you get home.

When changing the tube, don't forget to check the tire, and the rim, for whatever may have caused the flat; it might still be there! Check the inside of the tire by turning it inside out and looking. Running your hand along it may find a sharp object the hard way!

Other Tools to Carry
As people who rely on our bikes to get around every day, it behooves us to carry some tools with us in order to handle some other simple mechanical problems that can happen on the road, or make adjustments.

Some tools to consider are a set of Allen wrenches (hexagonal heads), a basic wrench or two of the appropriate size (especially for brake adjustments), and one each flat-headed and Phillips screwdriver, usually for tightening down racks and mounted things. Other choices vary among bicyclists. I personally also carry a little bit of material for shimming, adding extra space when mounting lights and other things on handlebars and seatbars. Small squares cut out of of dead tubes work great for this. In a pinch, so do dollar bills!

Learning to Wrench
So, you've got your basic toolset, how do you learn what to do with it? The old tried and true method is of course to just jump right in and experiment. But if you are not quite that daring, here are some other ways to learn. Bike stores frequently offer workshops on changing flats and other basic issues; you can call around to ask them. (In the future I intend to promote them on this site.) This group sometimes focuses on mechanics in our monthly meetings.

Last but not least, as with changing a flat, the Internet can be your friend. Here are some links I've found helpful:

  • Park Tool has a great Repair section on their site!
  • Here's a 'blog someone has been maintaining since 2006 on bicycle repair. Don't know his credentials, but one advantage of this site is that many of the topics have video accompanying them, which is helpful.
  • Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Site has tons of great mechanical information for all levels of mechanics, from a basic glossary to advanced topics such as building internal hubs. He does have the requisite page on changing a tire, too.
  • What's that noise? Look it up on Bicycle Noises, Clicks, Ticks, Repair.
  • Excellent article here on adjusting your brakes!
  • Got a question? Ask us, or better yet, ask the folks hanging out on BikeForums.net's Bicycle Mechanics board. (The revered mechanic Sheldon Brown, may he Rest in Peace, was even known to post there!)


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Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Where to Donate Used Bikes August 6, 2009 1:34 PM John B.
Vehicular Cycling Blogs November 22, 2009 4:58 PM John B.
Preventing and Responding to Bike Theft June 10, 2011 12:49 PM John B.
Carrying Things by Bike July 22, 2009 8:41 PM John B.
Bike Trails and Maps September 2, 2010 7:21 PM John B.
Flats and Mechanical Issues March 10, 2008 3:30 PM John B.
Studded tires December 16, 2009 11:46 PM john b.
Vehicular Cycling January 21, 2009 10:58 PM John B.
Winter Commuting and Clothing April 10, 2011 10:52 AM former member
Commuting Statistics and Our "Market" March 19, 2007 1:36 PM John B.
Miscellaneous Online Resources September 7, 2008 6:38 AM John B.
Other Local Bike Clubs July 12, 2007 1:33 PM John B.

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