How to Fix a Flat in 10 Minutes Flat

20 Aug

“Are there thorns over here?” Lorri asked as we rolled on the dirt and gravel paths criss-crossing the Guadalupe River Trail. We had peeled off the San Jose Bike Party Ladies Ride and were searching for the rose garden on our way back to the train. I felt like a kid again, exploring the trails along Bayou Duplantier with my best friend Molly. Except this time Lorri and I were in dresses and heels. Momma never let me play in my Sunday best.

“Mmm, maybe,” I replied. Our fear wasn’t so much thorns in the rose garden, but the dreaded goathead thorns that sneak onto the path to take down the burliest of bike tires. After meandering a bit, we found the rose garden, took some fashion photos, and made it almost all the way to the train station before Lorri’s tire went flat. We scurried onto the train where Lorri went to work repairing the tire while I offered moral support.

Fixing Flat Main

By the time we reached Sunnyvale she was done. The conductor was impressed: “You fixed it already?”

“I’m a pro,” Lorri replied matter-of-factly. As founder of Velo Girls bike club and racing teams 10 years ago, Lorri has changed more than her share of bike tires. She’s also founder and owner of Savvy Bike, which offers skills clinics, coaching and bike fit services that go far beyond a simple flat tire repair (class calendar).

Here’s how Lorri fixes a flat, adapted from her Bike Skills 002: Basic Bicycle Maintenance class. For more detailed instructions and for complicated fixes like a gash in the tire’s sidewall, read the long version.

Don’t forget to clean your hands when you’re done! I keep tissue-sized rag in my repair kit just for that. A squirt of water on the rag, a little rubbing, and I’m good until I can soap up in a washroom. Momma would approve.

How confident are you in your bike repair skills? Do you have any favorite tips of the trade?

Lorri's new love is the 1979 Schwinn Suburban she picked up in Portland.


Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Gear Talk


22 responses to “How to Fix a Flat in 10 Minutes Flat

  1. kghotz

    August 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I feel very confident doing a roadside flat repair on my recreational bike, which has derailleur gearing. I’m completely certain, though, that I will not be able to change a flat on the side of the road if it happens to the back wheel of my Dutch-style bike with the IGH, roller brakes, chain case, nearly-impossible-to-mount Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, and nutted axle. If that ever happens on the way to work, my plan is to securely lock the bike and catch a bus (I only live six miles from work). I can always call my spouse or a friend to go pick the bike up for me so that I can change the flat in the comfort of my garage and with a glass of wine within easy reach once I’m home from work.

    This probably sounds like a crazy plan, but I suspect it’s the most realistic for me. Fortunately, my spouse has incredibly flexible work hours, my town doesn’t have much of a bike theft problem, and I have a good quality Kryptonite lock.

    • ladyfleur

      August 20, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      That’s so funny that you mention this. Lorri and I talked about locking up and returning as a strategy for repairs that you just can’t get done on the road!

      I’m with you on the Dutch bike repairs. I’m completely fine changing road bike tires, but the internal hub makes it much harder since you can’t remove the wheel completely. I do carry a repair kit including a wrench, with me, but I’ve never had to do trailside repairs. Once I walked my bike to the light rail and brought it aboard. Another time I left my bike in the office and drove my car the next day.

  2. Richard Masoner

    August 20, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    The trick to IGH repairs is to patch in place by leaving the wheel on the bike. It’s harder to find the hole but it’s doable.

    • ladyfleur

      August 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      It is harder to find the culprit when the wheel stays within the frame. We went through several tubes trying to get a teeny tiny thorn out of the tire once. It took months of slow leaking before it finally completely flatted.

      I’m fortunate to have Dick, who is far more patient and detail oriented than I am

    • kghotz

      August 20, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      I’ve seen this done, but it’s not for me. I have perfectionist tendencies, and it would make me crazy not to remove the wheel and do a thorough inspection of the interior of the tire!

  3. Alfred Fickensher

    August 20, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    I’m more impressed that your friend Lorri rides an old Schwinn Suburban with (I believe, if my old eyes aren’t mis-focusing on a poor quality image) a Front Freewheeling Positron 5-speed. The Chicago-built Suburbans are classy, elegant transportation.

  4. matt

    August 20, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    In “10 minutes”!” You forgot step one: Acquire the tire-repair skills that Lorri has. Otherwise (i.e., for us regular folk), it’s at least 20 minutes!

    • ladyfleur

      August 20, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      The more you do, the faster you get and some tires and rims are easier than others. I got really fast on my old Trek 5200 road bike but the tubeless-capable wheels on my current Scott road bike are not so easy.

  5. lorrileelown

    August 20, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you for the bike compliments, Alfred. I just acquired the Schwinn in July. She’s a beauty. Previously, I had a green 1970 10-speed Schwinn Suburban (not nearly as nice as the red one).

    And Matt, 10 minutes included about 7 minutes of fumbling with my pump head (set for presta) and trying to reverse the chuck for the schrader valve. Practice, practice, practice. And one of the best ways to learn is to teach (which I do). I’m just thankful it wasn’t the rear wheel, because dropping it out of the frame is a real bear. I had to put new tires on the bike when I got it (still had the originals and they were dry-rotted).

    • Alfred Fickensher

      August 21, 2014 at 7:53 am

      Ladyfleur, if your friend lorry might consent is there a way that ladyfleur might get lorry and I together (email-wise, and besides I’m safely old and far off in Iowa) without spreading our email addys all over the universe?

      Of my several bikes my preferred, special bike is a Suburban that I prettied up with some Shimano Ultegra jewelry and other customization, and I’d love to send lorry a few piccys and brag up my bike a bit.

      • ladyfleur

        August 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

        If you email me at ladyfleur500 at with your email address, I’ll give Lorri your contact information.

  6. lorrileelown

    August 21, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Alfred, I’d LOVE to see your photos. You can email me at

  7. anniebikes

    August 22, 2014 at 5:45 am

    While I’m adept at fixing flats, I prefer the minimalist approach (see blogpost below). Glueless patches are one of the best bike innovations to come around in recent years.

    • Alfred Fickensher

      August 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      When I was a pup the neighborhood boys and I’d patch our tubes with hot patches. The patch came attached to the bottom of a shallow tin slightly larger than the rubber patch, and filled with a material that would burn or smolder much like an incense stick. Using rubber cement we would first glue the patch-on-the-tin over the hole in the inner tube, then using a small cast iron press (not unlike a hand-sized C-clamp) which pressed the tin to the inner tube we would clamp it tight. We’d ignite the incense-like “punk” material and allow it to smolder itself out. After burning out and cooling we’d unclamp the whole affair, the patch would hopefully be “vulcanized” to the tube, throw away the used tin, and put the wheel together again.

      Pretty close to an hour affair. Cold patching hadn’t been invented yet.

      From time to time I see one of the presses on a table of dirty tools at a flea market. I don’t think I remember ever seeing one of the patch tins at a sale tho.

      • ladyfleur

        August 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm

        This sounds vaguely familiar, like I’d watched my dad do this when I was a pup in the late 1960s.

  8. lorrileelown

    August 22, 2014 at 9:18 am

    I LOVE the Park Tools “bandaid” patches. The old-fashioned patches that use vulcanizing fluid are just silly. Besides being time-consuming, I’ve found the vulcanizing fluid (glue) is typically all dried up by the time I wanted to use it.

    Thankfully, I only get a flat about once a year. I always replace the tube but carry a patch kit as a back-up.

  9. Kevin Love

    August 24, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    I still have my 1977 Chicago Schwinn. Purchased when I was 16 years old and still rides just fine. With a lifetime warrantee on the frame!

    Five years ago I bought a Pashley Roadster Sovereign. It fits me much better.

    The Pashley came from the factory with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. Which were a life-changing encounter for me. Suddenly no more flats!

    Still, nothing is perfect. Where I live, the local public transit vehicles are kitted out to take bicycles. And there is an excellent bike shop on the way to work. So if I do have a breakdown, my strategy is to take the bike with me on public transit, and drop it off when I pass the bike shop.

  10. Matt

    August 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I have a question. It appears that for a field repair job, replacing the tube is easier than patching. So, when you get home, do you patch the puncture and then put it back in the tire? That is, treat the replacement tube as a temporary fix like a spare tire for a car? It just seems weird to throw out a tube simply because of a puncture.

    • ladyfleur

      August 27, 2014 at 9:52 am

      I’m pretty sure Lorri said she patches them when she gets home. I know my husband does. I’m too lazy to do it but he often does it for me.

    • lorrileelown

      August 28, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Hi Matt! Admittedly, I don’t patch the tube when I get home. I do, however, give old tubes away to folks who need them (and will patch them). Knock on wood, I typically only get a flat about once a year, so it’s not too much waste.

  11. Lloyd

    September 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve been changing tires for years and years, but a trick I learned only recently is to start mounting the tire bead opposite the valve, not at the valve. It makes it a lot easier to get that last part of the bead on the rim with for narrow road tires. In fact, I was first motivated to look this up the first time I attempted to install a 23c road tire.

    For wider tires it’s usually easy enough to get the bead seated even if you start at the valve, but for narrow ones, this tip will save a lot of pain on your thumbs.


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