Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Recently, while watching an otherwise excellent video about a new tire, I was reminded of how a simple mistake causes so much frustration. In the video, which was produced by one of the largest cycling channels right now, the technical editor made the point that the tire was difficult to install probably because the tube was getting in the way.
When my daughter Sarah was in high school and I’d say something that she thought was stupid, she’d say “hell-oooo?” That’s exactly the reaction I had watching the video. As in, ‘hello-ooo, didn’t anyone ever teach you how to correctly install a tire?’
I left a comment on the video in the hopes it helps some viewers and maybe even the editor. I want to explain here, too. Because flat tires are the most common breakdown and everyone benefits from tips that make the job easier.
There are lots more tire installation tips that I’ve provided in past articles, but today I want to keep it simple and focus on four tube-related tips because they can make tire installation so much more difficult if you don’t understand and utilize them.
Four Tube Tips
- Use tubes that are a smaller width than your tires (at least 1 width size down). The reason to do this is because you want the tube to fully fit inside the tire and never stick out from under it or bunch up inside it. You might not be able to tell in the photo, but the tube shown is ultra skinny – about 19mm diameter. That’s the size that I use for 25c tires.
- Always inflate the tube BEFORE putting it in the tire. Don’t get ahead of me now… only inflate it enough to get any wrinkles out of the tube and round it into shape. For we aerobic animals an easy way to do this is to open the tip of the valve and blow the tube up with our lips. You’re much less likely to put too much air in doing it this way than by doing it with a pump, but you can use one if needed. Just don’t pump it past its resting width. The tube in the photo is aired just right.
- Always close/tighten the Presta valve tip after you’ve aired and rounded out the tube. This ensures that the open valve tip doesn’t get hit letting the air out as you are installing the tube. Since there’s so little air in the tube, it can be a little challenging to close the valve without losing air. The trick is to pull up on the tip as you tighten it. That seals the valve and prevents any air loss.
- When mounting the tire, make sure that the tube is fully up inside the tire all the way around and that it stays there. That goes for the base of the valve, too. The cylindrical section of the valve should protrude of course, but the part of the valve joined with the tube needs to be up inside the tire.
A Few Additional Tricks
By following these four steps the tube can never get in the way of the tire because it’s tucked inside the tire. If it tries to come out, just tuck it back in. If it’s not rounded anymore and flopping around wanting to fall out, there must have been some air loss. If so, add more air and tuck it in again.
When should you put the tube in the tire? I do it first, before I put tires on the wheel. But, if you have trouble keeping the tube inside the tire, such as with folding tires that don’t always cup the tube and help hold it, you might find it easier to put one side of the tire on the rim and then put the tube inside the tire with the help of the rim holding the tire round. Just use care to put the valve in the rim straight.
A tube that bunches up inside the tire and gets in the way is the wrong size. If it’s really oversize, it can be nearly impossible to get it to stay inside the tire. But if it’s all you have, that’s still the goal and you can usually make even wrong size tubes fit if you pay enough attention to keeping them tucked. But it can really slow down tire installation.
Note that even though the tube you’re installing is barely inflated, that little bit of air can be enough to cause a problem. If so you’ll only notice it when you go to pop on the last tightest small section of the tire. If you run into that situation, simply let a little air out of the tube. Since the tube is already tucked up inside the tire, which is almost entirely on the rim, the tube should stay put. And letting the air out will provide the small additional slack in the tire on the rim to push it on and finish installation.
Lastly, if you make sure that that last tight section of the tire you are putting on is right at the valve, it should make popping it in place easier. Because the thick, wide base of the valve is up inside the tire and not in the way. And because opposite the valve stem the tire doesn’t have anything under it either, so you should have ample slack to finish the installation. Disclaimer: if you have your technique down and you finish tire installations across from the valve (not at the valve), that’s great and you can ignore this tip.
It may take a little practice to get these tube tips down but they’ll help you when you do. Now, let’s keep it going. Please share your best tube and tire tips!
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s cycling streak 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.