Knowing how to repair a puncture is an essential skill that every cyclist needs to master. It can be daunting for the inexperienced, but only takes a few minutes once you know what you're doing.
In the following guide and videos below, we'll talk you though how to repair a punctured inner tube on either a road or mountain bike in a simple, step-by-step walkthrough guide.
1. How to find the puncture
Using the valve as your starting point, closely inspect the tread of the tire to ﬁnd the cause of the puncture. Also pay attention to the sidewalls (the non treaded portion on the side of the tire) to make sure there are no tears or holes.
Remove any glass, grit or other debris that you spot.
Even if you ﬁnd one possible cause, continue checking the tire until you get back to the valve as there may be more.
2. How to remove an inner tube
Let the air out of the inner tube and push the valve up into the tire, unscrewing and retaining the valve lockring if ﬁtted.
On the side of the wheel opposite the valve, slip a tire lever under the tire’s bead and a further tire lever, about roughly 5cm away.
Pull the nearer tire lever towards you, lifting the tire’s bead over the edge of the rim. Continue until one bead of the tire is completely free of the rim then pull the tube out.
Remove the tire completely from the rim — with most tires this can be done by hand unless exceptionally tight.
3. How to find the puncture on an inner tube
Inﬂate the tube and listen for air escaping. If you're struggling to find the hole by listening alone, try passing your lips over the top of the tube.
If the hole still can't be found, re-inﬂate the tube and pass it through a bowl of water until you spot escaping bubbles. Be sure to dry the tube before proceeding to the next step.
4. How to prepare an inner tube for patching
Select an appropriately sized patch — if in doubt, err on the side of caution and use a bigger rather than smaller patch.
Roughen the surface of the tube around the hole with sandpaper (usually included with any good puncture repair kit). Ensure that any moulding marks on the tube are completely flattened down as these can cause issues when gluing. Thoroughly brush off any rubber 'shavings'.
If you're using pre-glued patches — such as Park's GP-2 patch kit — you can now patch the hole. Thoroughly press down on the patch to ensure it's fully in contact with the tube.
If you're using a 'traditional' glue-on patch kit, start by applying a generous drop of glue — or rubber cement by its proper name — to the tube and spread this across an area slightly larger than the patch you intend to use. Allow to dry.
Apply a second, thinner layer similarly. Once again, allow to dry — when the glue is dry it will change from shiny to matte.
The key to ensuring a good repair is patience, so don't rush this step.
5. How to patch an inner tube
Firmly press the patch into place after removing the backing foil — cleanliness is also key to a good repair, so leave this to the very last moment.
If there’s a thin cellophane backing on the patch, it can be left on. It's good practice to dust any stray glue with chalk, talcum powder or fine road dust to prevent it from sticking to the tire casing.
6. Check the casing of the tire and rim tape
Before refitting the tube, thoroughly double-triple-check the inside of the tire casing — there's nothing more frustrating than going to the effort of patching a tube only to puncture it again with a stray thorn you may have missed.
It's also good practice to check the rim tape. If a hard plastic rim strip — often found on cheaper bikes — is torn, it leaves a sharp edge that can easily slice a tube. Likewise, if your rim tape has slipped, it can leave eyelets or spoke holes exposed, which can also puncture a tube.
If you have persistent problems with your rim tape puncturing your tube, try swapping it out for a roll of good ol' Velox cloth tape or similar. This stuff lasts forever, costs very little and can be reused if you're so inclined.
7. How to refit the tire
After repairing the tube and thoroughly checking the tire, reﬁt one bead to the rim.
Slightly inﬂate the tube and reﬁt it to the wheel, putting the valve through its hole first.
Starting at the opposite side of the rim to the valve, use your thumbs to lift the tire’s bead over the rim. Work your way around the rim until there’s just one small section of tire left.
Push the valve up into the tire and then, using your thumbs, ease the remaining section of the tire’s bead over the edge of the rim.
If the tire is particularly tight, avoid the temptation to use a tire lever to push the last section of the tire onto the rim — you'll almost certainly pinch your inner tube doing so.
If you're struggling to pop the tire onto the wheel, try putting the tire on the ground, holding it in place with your feet and rolling the the bead back towards you — heavy gloves really help here. This takes a little practice, but should work with even the most stubborn tires.
8. Make final checks
Check that the tube isn't trapped between the rim and the tire bead by working your way around the tire, pushing the bead into the well of the rim.
If the tube is trapped, try 'massaging' the tire to encourage it to seat properly. Pumping it up a small amount may also help to seat the tube properly.
Inﬂate the tire to a point where it feels soft but has maintained its shape then check that the molding mark around the tire follows the rim evenly all the way around.
If not, deﬂate a little and ease any high spots down and pull low spots up until the bead is ﬁtted evenly.
Inﬂate to the recommended pressure and check once again that the tire’s bead is still seated evenly and that the tire isn't lifting off the rim at any point, then adjust your pressures to suit.
Fixing a puncture: useful tips
- When taking the tube out of the tire, note which way the tube was around in the wheel. This will help identify the position of the hole in the tube once the position of the object in the tire causing the puncture has been found
- Once you've located the hole in your puncture, mark it with a piece of chalk (usually included with a repair kit) so you can pinpoint it accurately later
- If you don't have any sandpaper, you can try gently to roughen the tube by rubbing it against a stone or the road surface
How to identify a puncture
A 'regular' puncture is usually caused by debris — glass, thorns, wire, nails etc. — entering the tread of the tire and piercing the inner tube.
There's little you can do to avoid these types of puncture beyond opting for puncture resistant tires — while effective, these are best saved for town or commuting bikes as they tend to weigh a lot more than regular tires and really dampen the ride quality of a bike.
Those unfortunate enough to get punctures regularly may have noted that they tend to get more flats during wet weather. This is because surface water essentially acts as a lubricant, allowing anything sharp to enter the tire more easily.
Wet weather allows debris that would otherwise stay on the ground to stick to your tire more easily, with the rotation of the wheel slowly driving it into your tire.
Two small holes in a tube placed fairly close together indicate a pinch — or snakebite by its other name — puncture. This is caused by the tube getting trapped between the tire and the rim when riding over a hard edged object.
Tires that are not inflated enough are the most frequent cause of this. If you consistently get pinch flats, particularly on a mountain bike, it may be time to convert to tubeless.
If you have a pinch flat, be sure to check that the tire’s sidewall isn't cut as well.
- How to set up tubeless tires — video
- Why gravel roads made me a believer in road tubeless
- 6 of the best: tubeless pumps and inflators
- 4 tips for understanding tubeless tire set up
Rim tape or spoke puncture
A hole on the inner side of the tube indicates that the puncture was caused by something around the well of the rim, usually a rough edge on a spoke hole or torn rim tape if it is made of a hard material.
Check around the inside of the rim to ensure that the rim tape properly covers the spoke holes and that all spoke holes are free of swarf — if you find any sharp edges, these can usually be filed down.
A less common cause of a puncture is a rough edge around the valve hole. A puncture here will occur at the base of the valve and will not be repairable.
What puncture repair kit should I buy?
The puncture-fixing brigade is divided into two distinct camps — those that insist on using an old-school, glue-on patch kit and those that prefer pre-glued patches.
In our experience, glue-on patches are more reliable in the long run, but pre-glued patches are far, far more convenient.
What you prefer to use will largely be down to personal preference and likely dictated by your temperament — is stopping for five minutes to fix a tube properly and enjoy the view an opportunity to be relished or an unwanted distraction?
For those that want pre glued patches, Park's GP-2 patches are our favorite.
For an old-school style patch kit, it's hard to beat the exceptionally cheap Nutrak P3 kit.
For those after a more Gucci patch kit — yes, such a thing exists — you can bring a bit of French charm to your saddle bag in the form of this handsome patch kit from Rustines.
Whichever patch kit you buy, if it comes with one of those nasty little multi-tools that feel as though they're made from cheese rather than metal, please put it into your nearest recycling point. Trust us when we say that they'll do more harm than good to your bike.
It's also a good idea to pack a pair of gloves with any repair kit. Braking surfaces, particularly rim brake tracks, will make an absolute mess of your hands and nobody wants to inadvertently grab a stray patch of dog poop with bare hands.
What are the best tire levers?
Believe it or not, not all tire levers are made equal.
Thankfully, we've done the hard work for you, whittling down a selection of the most options out there, with Pedro's levers coming out on top.
What is the best pump?
While a mini pump is a great option if you're out on the road, do yourself a favor and get a decent track style pump for use at home — these take far less effort to use than a mini pump and will allow you to get your tires up to much higher pressures.
We're working on a long overdue update to our best pumps guides, so check back soon!
If you prefer to take a CO2 inflator with you, check out our top six recommend options here;
Weekly check-up for tires
Check your tires for cuts in the tread, swelling in the sidewall or serious wear.
Tires with severe cuts, swelling or casing visible through the tread must be replaced. Remove any grit or glass embedded in the tread with a fine pick.
Regularly check your tire pressures with a proper gauge. tires inﬂated to the correct tire pressure will have fewer punctures and a longer life.