Punctures are annoying but we have some tips and tricks to help you deal with them as painlessly as possible and to get you out of a scrape if you’re really desperate.
We all know the basics of puncture repair, right? It’s a pretty straightforward process, but we were having a chat in the road.cc office recently about the various bits of advice we’ve received over the years and the tricks we’ve developed to get back on the road as smoothly as possible, and we also had a quick chat with Muc-Off's mechanic Rob Webb. This is the result.
You might have mended hundreds of punctures in your time but we hope there’s something useful in here for you.
You might occasionally spot something sticking out of your tyre tread – a thorn or a tack, say – before noticing any air escaping. Your instinctive reaction is to pull it out… but that sometimes results in a loud hiss because you’ve just removed the plug that was keeping the air in.
It’s a dilemma. If you don’t think the thorn (or whatever) has gone all the way through to the air chamber then, of course, get it out before it does any damage.
On the other hand, if you suspect it has gone all the way through yet your tyre is still pumped up hard, consider leaving it in place and sorting out the issue when you get home.
“Since pulling a thorn out and watching the tyre go down like the Hindenburg, I often just snap off any extra stick (so it doesn't get caught and pull out) and just leave it in,” says our man Steve Williams.
The complicating factor is that it’s hard to be sure whether a thorn has gone all the way through or not, and leaving it in place might just allow it to work deeper.
There’s no easy answer here – sorry – so our advice is simply to stop yourself immediately removing anything that’s stuck in your tyre and give it a thorough inspection before deciding what’s best.
If you have a tubeless system and you see a little white/grey/pink blob on your tyre that looks like a bit of gum, leave it alone. The chances are that this is just sealant that has done it’s job and mended a puncture before you even knew you had it.
Pull it off and you could be sprayed in sealant as it again tries to mend the puncture you’ve just caused.
“As a rule, we always recommend checking sealant levels every three to six months, depending on where you are in the world,” says Rob Webb from Muc-Off.
You’ll need to top up the sealant more frequently in hot conditions.
“If you are planning an epic weekend adventure, good practice is to make sure your sealant is topped up and the tyres are in good condition.”
“The tyre lever is your best friend, so grab a decent one (or more) that won’t let you down,” says Rob Webb.
Okay, we’re getting into dangerous territory here but you can sometimes innovate if you’ve left your tyre levers at home. This guy did…
Got caught out today. Puncture, for some reason no tyre levers in my bag and late for nursery pickup. Luckily I had my trusty Afro comb. I’m the Black bike MacGyver aka the Shimano Shaft! pic.twitter.com/zdDf8wDdVB
— Takudzwa (@WUTM) April 25, 2022
Plenty of people have used their quick release skewers to get out of a fix but, you know, why run the risk? Just take some good levers on every ride.
road.cc newshound Simon MacMichael said, “My Vittoria Rubino pink Giro d'Italia limited edition tyres are gorgeous, but bloody hell, trying to get them on and off the rims… Any hacks beyond carrying a shedload of tyre levers?”
There’s no doubt that some wheel and tyre combinations are ridiculously tight and getting them to work together is a nightmare.
Although it might sound counterintuitive, our best advice is first to push the bead inwards if you’re having trouble getting a tyre off the rim. The centre of the rim – the well – is lower than the shoulders (as shown on the cross-section above), only by a few millimetres but that adds up around the full circumference of the rim.
You need to get all of the tyre bead sitting in the well before trying to lever one section off the rim. Sometimes this is enough to give you the slack to need.
It’s a similar deal when getting the tyre back on. Push as much of the bead as possible into the well before trying to lever the last section onto the rim.
We’re not saying this will make every wheel/tyre combo easy – some will still drive you nuts – but it’ll certainly help.
You might go a whole cycling lifetime without slicing the sidewall of a tyre – especially if you ride exclusively on the road – but if it does happen you could be stranded because any tube you put inside will bulge out through the hole and eventually go bang.
A boot is a reinforcing layer that you put on the inner wall of the tyre to stop this from happening.
Restrap offers a Tyre Boot Kit (£8.99) that we reviewed recently. It comes with tough patches and glue to hold them in place.
You can also use a section of an old tyre that you’ve tucked away, or even put something like a £5 note between the inner tube and the tyre’s sidewall.
Park Tool says that its Emergency Tyre Boot Patch Kit (£4.99) is suitable for any tubed tyre and also for tubeless tyre systems.
off.road.cc's Matt Page says, “If you don't want to buy a specific tubeless tyre patch, a cut section of toothpaste tube works a treat. It’s worth adding to any saddlebag.”
Whatever caused your puncture will often stay in the tyre carcass just waiting to strike again.
"If you’re running tubes and you get a puncture, run your hand round the inside of the tyre to check for debris like thorns," says Muc-Off's Rob Webb. "Make sure you look first as there could be glass. From experience, it can make a mess of your fingers pretty quickly.”
Tiny objects stuck within the tyre can be hard to find.
road.cc’s Tony Farrelly says, “If you can’t find the flint or bit of wire that's embedded in the carcass, it can pop out and puncture your new tube once the tyre is deformed by your weight pressing down on the road. I really flex the carcass to open up the rubber on the inside so that I can find whatever's buried in there.”
This one is pretty basic but swapping a punctured inner tube for a fresh new one on the side of the road is easy while patching a tube when you’re away from home can be a pain in the butt.
Okay, it’s usually straightforward enough, but then you get those times when it’s raining, your hands are frozen, the light is fading, it’s a pinch flat with two holes…
Life’s just much easier if you carry a spare inner tube.
“Test your spare inner tube intermittently to make sure there are no issues,” says Muc-Off’s Rob Webb. “Faulty valves, small holes… You don’t want to find out it doesn’t work when you’re out on the road or trails.”
Once you’ve found the hole in your inner tube you need to roughen the area with sandpaper to prepare the surface for the vulcanising solution. Rema TipTop suggests that you do this in a crisscross pattern. If the patch is going over a ridge in the inner tube surface, use the sandpaper to flatten it.
“I reckon the sanding is the crucial step people under-do so I made a contraption to hold an inner tube to make it easy,” says John Stevenson. “It’s made from two bag clips, a bit of scrap wood and a dirt-cheap wooden bowl off Amazon that started life as a coconut shell.”
You stretch the tube over the bowl and clamp it in place with the bag clips before going to work with the sandpaper. Inventive, huh?
This is something for the shed/garage. It’s far more awkward if you need to repair a tube at the side of the road, but don’t skip this step or you run the risk of your patch not sticking.
“People often use too much vulcanising cement,” says Dave Atkinson. “They tend to think of it like glue, but it's not really. The patch is designed to adhere to the rubber and the vulcanising cement is just to prepare the surface. The more you put on the less likely it is to dry, and that's why most patches come off.”
Put a thin layer of vulcanising cement on the tyre, let it dry, and only then put the patch in place.
If your patch has a plastic backing, leave it in place until the vulcanising cement has done its thing. Once the patch is firmly in place, roll it between your fingers and thumb to crack the backing and then peel it away from the centre outwards.
If you start from the side you risk lifting the edge of the patch and ruining your repair.
Inflating a repaired tube too soon can make the patch come off. It needs to be firmly in place, especially if the tube is narrow for the tyre and will be stretched more than usual.
Inner tube repair brands might tell you that no waiting time is required once the patch is in place but we’d still prefer to put it on a flat surface and weigh it down with something heavy – like a pile of books or a chopping board – for a few minutes. Certain members of the road.cc team are known to clamp repaired tubes, just to be sure.
These aren’t options if you need to make a repair on the side of the road, so just be patient before sticking your tube back in the tyre.
You’ve probably heard about the old trick of filling your tyre with grass if you’re in real trouble. Have you ever tried it, though? It’s not easy.
You need alot of grass – or moss or leaves – and it gets compacted fast. Plus, if what you pack inside is too dry it will gradually turn to dust.
It’s an option if you’re in a real pickle but we’d try this next alternative first…
If you’ve got a puncture in an inner tube and you have no patches – or the hole is too big to patch – this solution often works.
You can just make a loop in the tube and knot it tightly to isolate the punctured section.
We prefer to cut through the inner tube at the site of the puncture. In an ideal world, you’ll have a knife on your multitool. If not, you can use your chainring as a makeshift saw – although the results won't be pretty.
Then you tie the ends of your inner tube together tightly – a reef knot will do the job – and put it back on the rim. The inner tube’s circumference will now be much smaller than before, of course, but you’ll manage it.
Once re-inflated, your tyre isn’t going to feel great but you can pack grass, moss or leaves around the knot to make it run a bit more smoothly as you limp home.
A couple of zip ties squirrelled away in a saddle pack can come in handy if you have a punctured inner tube that you can’t fix.
Fasten one zip tie around the inner tube on one side of the hole and the second zip tie on the other side of the hole. You need to tighten them as much as possible so that no air can get into the punctured section of tube.
As with the knot trick (above), the ride home is going to be bumpy but stuffing anything soft around the non-inflated section of tube will help.
“If you’re running tubeless and you get a puncture that doesn’t seal first time, add a bit of pressure and float the hole to the bottom part of the wheel to make sure the sealant coats everywhere,” says Rob Webb. “If that fails, it’s time to grab a plug.
“Never understate the power of something like a Puncture Plug Repair Kit (£13.99). It can save your tubes and your tyres.”
Kits like this contain self-adhesive puncture plugs – otherwise known as tyre worms – that you can use to repair holes. If you get a huge hole, you can double these up to plug it.
“I carry a needle and some dental floss in my kit,” says our Dave Atkinson.
Dental floss? Really?
“I’ve used it to fix a ripped sidewall more than once,” says Dave, who is prone to heading off on long rides to places where mobile phone coverage isn’t guaranteed.
“Dental floss is great because it’s super strong. If you get a waxed version it’s easier to pull through.”
Just take a short piece. You don't need the full 50m plus dispenser.
If you use inner tubes with long valves for deep-section rims, chances are that you’ll take a spare with a similarly long valve. That makes sense, right? But if you puncture that second tube, having valve extenders gives you other options.
“Keeping valve extenders in the saddlebag means you can either buy a tube with a short valve – which you’ll find more easily than a tube with a long valve – or borrow any tube from someone you’re riding with,” says off.road.cc's Matt Page.
Most people probably know this but just in case you don’t: if your tubeless tyre goes flat and sealant won’t plug the puncture, you can stick an inner tube in.
Beware, though, that if there’s a big hole in the tyre carcass, you might need to put a boot in (see above) in to stop the tube bulging through.
“Don’t use a CO2 canister with bare hands,” says Rob Webb from Muc-Off. “Avoid freeze burn by using a neoprene sleeve/case provided."
Muc-Off's Road Inflator Kit includes a neoprene sleeve, for example.
As the pressure inside the canister drops, so does the temperature, and if you have your fingers on it at the time you could end up in pain and maybe blisters.
If you have nothing else, covering the canister with a sleeve or an arm warmer will do the trick – or just wear gloves.
“I’ve at least three times thought I’d replaced a punctured inner tube, inflated it and was ready to set off again, only to find I’ve not seated the tyre properly so the tube is hanging outside the rim,” says our man Jack Sexty. “I’ve had to go back to square one and reseat the tyre to make sure no tube is popping out.”
If any part of the inner tube is poking out from inside the tyre you’re in danger of it exploding with a huge bang, and you’re never going to fix the tube.
If you’re lucky, it might just be that a section of the bead hasn’t been caught by the hook of the rim. In this case, you need to deflate the tyre and make sure all of the inner tube is pushed inside the bead before inflating it again.
Stop a couple of times to check that the tyre is seating correctly this time.
If you use a CO2 canister to inflate an inner tube out on the road you might notice that the tyre pressure drops significantly overnight. Inflate a tyre using a traditional pump and the pressure will stay high for longer. How come?
Carbon dioxide is much more soluble than air (which is mostly nitrogen and oxygen) in butyl, so it can move outwards through the tube walls much more quickly. Honestly.
The answer is to deflate your inner tube when you get home and re-inflate using a standard floor pump with standard air.
If you have any more tips for fixing punctures, let us know in the comments below.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.