Pre-Race Prep: Changing-a-Flat-Tire Session

For the past two years, the closest thing I’ve come to a triathlon is watching the Ironman World Championship re-runs on Versus. The images of Normann Stadler chucking his wheel after his second flat of the day in 2006 and Chrissie Wellington standing on the side of the road begging for a CO2 cartridge from any racer in 2009 were stuck in our heads. Personally, I’ve never flatted on my road bike in the four years I’ve owned it – which meant that I was not only darn lucky, but also a tad rusty at changing tubes. I didn’t want to go up to Vineman unprepared. So I asked Todd for a refresher. He also picked up some new tires and race tubes for me. First I practiced on the old tires and tubes. Then the new tires with the old tubes. And finally the new tires with the new tubes. It was a workout. In two hours, I think I changed about 10 tires.

While putting the rear wheel back on, I accidentally bopped him in the nose. I felt terrible until I saw that his nose had a big black circle from the grease on my hands. He was in that serious focus-get-it-right mode. And I got the serious giggles. I’m happy to report no serious damage was done and I can now change a tire in a few minutes – dare I say it? Flat! Phew! (Thanks Todd!)

The mental checklist/steps for changing a tire:

1. Let the rest of the air out of the tire. 2. Remove the washer for the stem. 3. Prop the tire against your torso with the stem of the tire at the top (@ 12 o'clock). 4. Start loosening the tires grip on the rim all the way around. 5. Pry the tire off the rim from the top with a good pull. 6. Slip your finger (or a tire lever) into the space created by that good pull. 7. Draw your finger down and around, quickly working the rest of the tire off the rim. 8. Push the stem of the tube through its hole and pull out the tube. 9. Reach into the inside of the tire with a couple of fingers and feel for the thorn or piece of glass that caused the flat. 10. Push the culprit out with a rock or stick to avoid cutting your finger. 11. If you have a sidewall gash in your tire, use a dollar bill or a Clif bar wrapper to insulate the tire on the inside – that’ll work in a pinch. 12. Grab the new tube, take the plastic piece off the stem (you don’t need it; it’s there to protect the tube while it’s folded up in your saddle bag), loosen the opening of the stem, and start the inflation with a blow from your mouth. 13. Place the tube back into the tire, making sure there are no funny folds or pinches. 14. Replace that little washer around the stem. 15. Work the tire back onto the rim, making sure the beading lines up by shimmying your hands around without letting go of where you made headway. For example, left, left, left shimmy, hold…right, right, right shimmy hold. Before you know it, your tire will be back in place ready to inflate. 16. Now make sure the stem valve is open, really open. Especially if you’re inflating with a CO2 cartridge. 17. The stem should be positioned at the top of the wheel so that the CO2 cartridge will be positioned in an upside down position. 18. Thread the CO2 cartridge onto the stem. 19. Give it a small test blast to make sure it’s inflating right before you blow the whole cartridge. 20. Make sure you cup your hands around the CO2 cartridge/dispenser to keep the air from escaping. 21. Okay, now let it inflate all the way. 22. Tighten that washer up a bit more. It’ll be loose after you’ve inflated the tire all the way. 23. If you’re putting your rear wheel back on, be sure to put the chain in the smallest chain ring first to ease it back on easily.

Voila! Your flat tire is fixed. Practice this a few times and you’ll be all set. Don’t have time before your race? Hmmm, maybe print out this list and stuff in your saddlebag just in case.