Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Since tires are the biggest trouble-makers for roadies, let’s follow last week’s story on tire seating, with another for putting them on in the first place. Even complete beginners can get tires most of the way on, but getting the last tight section on can seem impossible.
That’s when people understandably reach for tire levers or worse, some other leverage tool. But that can lead to rim, tire and tube damage. So to help, I’m going to explain how to put on that tight final section of tire with only your hands.
Please read to the end for advice on dealing with defective tires – a relatively new issue to be aware of and understand.
Props to Bruce Anderson
I call what I’m describing “my technique,” but it’s actually bike shop owner Bruce Anderson’s. He mentored me when I first went to work at Andy’s Bike Shop in 1973. Over the years I’ve taught the technique to hundreds of cyclists at camps, as a presenter at bike club meetings, at my bike shops and while I was a college professor teaching bike repair. I’ve even used it to win fastest-flat-fix contests.
So I know it’s a game-changer that works for most people. Again, I’m assuming that you can already get the first side of the tire on, the tube inside the tire (if you’re using one) and get 3/4s of the second side of the tire on the rim. Those steps are pretty straightforward. It’s when you get to putting that last tight section on that the fun begins.
For All Tires
My technique works for tubed and tubeless tires and for road and mountain bike rubber. The wheel and rim don’t make a difference, either.
Three First Checks
- With all tire installations, the rim strip or tape needs to lay flat inside the rim. It must not interfere with the tire when you’re putting it on. The less thick the rim strip/tape is, the better. You want to add the least amount of height to the inside diameter of the rim as possible.
- It’s important to mind the valve and make sure it never gets stuck beneath a tire bead(s) (the edges of the tire). The beads should end up next to, not on top of the valve.
- And, as was mentioned last week, be sure on tubed setups that you inflate the tube just enough to round it out before neatly stuffing it inside the tire. That way it won’t get beneath the tire edges causing installation difficulty or worse, a blown-off tire.
My Technique for Getting the Last Tight Tire Section On
Most of what I’m describing next is explained in the photo so please study it. The six key things are:
- You should finish tire installs so that the final tight section is lined up with the valve. That makes getting that last part on easier.
- Use your non-dominant hand to clamp down on the tire and prevent that end from creeping out from inside the rim as you install the other end. You will use your dominant hand to push on the tight section little by little (keep reading for how to do this).
- For optimum leverage and control, bend down so that you can rest the part of the wheel with the tight section of tire on your knee.
- Use the heel of your dominant hand to put the last section of tire on, not your fingers or thumb. With that part of your hand you can push down hard against your knee and move the tire bead up and onto the rim… but
- Start at the very beginning of the tight section, never the middle. And then put on only about an inch of tire at a time before moving your hand in further toward the middle to put on another inch. Gradually like this, the tire will pop completely onto the rim. Most people try to put on too much at a time and that makes it too hard. Just go little by little to get it on.
- If the tire seems not to want to go on, there’s always a reason. If it’s a tubed tire, there is probably still air in the tube. Let it all out and try again to install the tight section.
- The most common reason a tire refuses to go on is that the tire beads aren’t in the center of the rim. To fix this, while you hold the tire in place with one hand, go around the wheel with your free hand squeezing the tire and wiggling it to get its beads to go to the center where they need to be to give the slack for you to put on the tire. You should feel the beads as they find center. You may need to switch hands to go all around the wheel. But keep one hand gripping the tire firmly at the tight spot so it doesn’t start coming off the rim again.
John’s Great Tip
That’s all there is to it. I’ve seen that with a little practice, even pre-teens can install road tires with this technique. I hope it works for you, too.
Coincidentally, RBR reader John Jauss offered a tip for seating (last issue’s topic), that is also a great trick for installing tires. He wrote:
“I’m an old roadie, riding since the 80’s and just stumbled on an almost unbelievable solution for installing my Continental Grand Prix. I’ve tried heating the tire with a heat lamp, using a Tire Jack type tool https://amzn.to/31QGTgB and sometimes it turned into an hour project. Even sometimes get one on 99% and come back the next day to fight with it..
Then one day I put on some cheapy work gloves (rubberized fronts, cloth backs https://amzn.to/33hNQYx ). They grip the tires so well ya think your hands are 5x stronger! I’m 76 and I do suffer from arthritis in my hands but now I can usually install a couple tires in 15-20 minutes. A pair compresses down pretty small and I carry the gloves in a baggie in my bike bag now.”
Dealing with Defective Tires
There’s one more important issue related to putting on tires that I want to bring to your attention. The issue is undersized tires that can actually be impossible or almost, to mount. If you’re unlucky enough to run into one of these tires, even the best technique won’t get the tire on. Because the tire is actually defective.
As best as I’ve been able to figure, these misfits are the result of tire makers ignoring long held sizing standards. Instead they essentially shrink their sizing from fear of their tires blowing off hookless rims. When confronted with the issue, the tire makers blame the rim makers saying it’s the rims that are oversize. But, in my tests, every time I’ve run into this issue, you can find tires that go on that same rim easily. So the blame rests on the tire makers.
Beware Continental GP5000 Tubeless Tires
I ran into one of these this weekend and surprisingly it was a Continental Grand Prix 5000 Tubeless tire, which I paid the princely sum of $95 for at my local bike shop (that’s for one tire!). It was easy to find lots of online comments about how impossible others say these are. It surprises me because I’ve used Conti’s GP4000s forever and they’ve been great. Unfortunately, the Continental engineers totally blew it with their first tubeless tire, the 5000.
I called Continental and complained and was told they stand behind their tires and to bring it back to the shop for a replacement. However, they did not promise that the new tire would go on and admitted that they’d heard from others about the tire’s awful fit.
Don’t Accept Defective Tires
My advice to avoid the hassle of getting a defect like this is to do your research before purchasing a tire you haven’t tried before. If you’re buying from a shop, ask a mechanic at the shop if you’ll be able to put the tire on with your hands. Not if they can, but if you can. If they can’t confirm, ask if you can try one in the shop before buying it.
If you’re buying tires online, the best you can do is make sure they have a return policy that allows returns, no questions asked.
And, finally, if you run into one of these defective tires, the best solution is to get a different tire. If you force a defective tire onto the rim with a friend and multiple tire levers, etc., you risk damaging the tire and it could fail on the road. And, you could find it impossible to fix a flat out on a ride, plus it’s unlikely you’ll be able to return a used tire.
The best reason to return these tires, though, is to get the message across to the tire makers that we won’t accept defective tires and they need to make tires that go on by hand.
Ride total: 9,424
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. A pro mechanic & cycling writer for more than 40 years, he’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Tune in to Jim’s popular YouTube channel for wheel building & bike repair how-to’s. Jim’s also known for his cycling streak that ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.
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