Since this is the last Tech Talk before Christmas, I want to give you a gift that’ll keep on giving. My present to you is the seemingly little-known secret that makes it much easier to put on and take off bicycle tires.
I used the words “seemingly” and “secret,” because here at RBR, emails from roadies frustrated over “tight” or “impossible to remove/install” or “stubborn” tires almost never let up.
We enjoy answering email. But wouldn’t it be better not to have to ask, and instead to have the know-how and skill to laugh at those annoying too-tight tires and simply pop them on/off with ease? Yes? I thought as much.
So, in the spirit of the holidays I’m sharing the most important tough-tire-taming tip. That way, you should be able to more easily fix and replace your tires, and also show your riding buds how to do it.
Standard and tubeless clincher tires
This tip works for all clincher road wheels and tires (mountain, too) whether they include tubes or not. Those without tubes are called tubeless or tubeless-ready or tubeless-compatible.
You might hear that having tubeless tires is the reason you can’t get your tires on/off. While it’s true that tubeless are stiffer than standard clinchers (they need to be to remain airtight), the installation and removal tip here works the same on them.
To help you visualize my explanation, I asked my cycling illustrator friend Karl Edwards http://karledwards.com/ for a sketch, which he kindly provided gratis (thanks, Karl!).
Outsmart that stubborn tire
Before I discuss the secret, I need to give you a little pep talk. Fixing flats and even replacing tires can be high-stress situations. Frustration, even anger, is understandable. But to master those tough tires, you’ve got to keep it together – or as my head mechanic at The Bicycle Center in Santa Cruz, California, Jeff Jolin, used to say, “You’ve got to be smarter than that tire.”
Jeff was spot-on with that advice. Tight, stubborn tires require thinking about what you’re doing and solving the issue that’s causing the tires to be stuck and refusing to go on or come off. It won’t do any good to get into a wrestling match with the tire.
If you adopt Jeff’s philosophy and always put your thinking cap on when installing and removing tires, you may never struggle again. All you need to keep in mind is two key factors to ensure that tires behave.
1. The center and deepest portion of the rim (called the rim “well”) has to have nothing in it besides the rim strip or tubeless tape/tubeless valve. Otherwise, whatever is in there will get in the way, preventing the second key factor below.
2. You must get the beads (see Karl’s illustration) down and into the rim well all the way around the rim, or as much as possible, and keep them there to ensure easy on/off.
If you can manage these two things, the beads will sit down inside the rim, in the area that is the rim’s smallest diameter. With the beads down inside the rim, you create slack between the tire and rim; it’s that slack that makes taking tires on and off easier. Actually, most tires and wheels work this way, motorized vehicles included.
If you have trouble
If you still struggle during your next tire change, remember what I said about outsmarting the tire. Carefully inspect around the whole tire and rim on both sides.
For tube-type tires, the most likely thing to get in the way is the tube. Take your time and make sure it’s fully up inside the tire and not in-between the tire bead(s) and rim.
For tubeless tires, the most likely thing is that the tire beads are not down in the rim well all the way around the tire. Inspect carefully and make sure they’re not sitting high on the rim’s bead shelves. Sometimes you have to push them off and down into the rim well a few times to get them to stay down there.
Tip: Since tubeless wheels have a tubeless valve taking up space in the rim well, mount the tire around the rest of the wheel first and pop the beads on last at the stem.
Once you find and fix whatever is preventing the beads going down and sitting in the rim well, that tire will go on and/or come off. You can do it!
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 streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.