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How To Fix A Flat Motorcycle Tire On The Trail

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Flat tires are a bummer. On street bikes with tubeless tires and wheels, a quick fix with a plug kit can get you back on the ride. But what about when you are on a bike that takes tubes, like a dual sport or some adventure motorcycles? Today on MC Garage we talk about changing a tube on the trail.

As you can see, we are not in the shop today. Instead we are on the trail—with a flat. When riding dual sports, dirt bikes, and adventure bikes there is a good chance you will eventually be in the same situation as us. So I'm going to demonstrate how to replace a tube, and I'll throw in trailside tips and tricks that I've picked up over the years.

First, let's talk about what you should have in your tool kit. You need all the hand tools needed to remove both the front and rear wheel. You'll also need tire irons and a wrench or socket to loosen the rim lock and tire valve nut. I prefer CO2 cartridges for airing up the tire, but a small hand pump works as well. The final tools you need are your boots, knee braces or cups, and your hands.

Job one is to get the flat tire off of the ground. On bikes with a centerstand, that is easy. But for bikes with sidestands, you need to find a makeshift stand. A log or a big rock works great. If all else fails, lay the bike on its side. However, this will make reinstalling the wheel a massive pain. Consider yourself warned…

Once the wheel is removed, you have to get one side of the tire off to get the tube out. Loosen the rim lock, and remove the nut on the valve stem. Now it’s time to break the bead, if it hasn’t already on its own when it went flat. Lay the wheel on the side and step on the tire as close to the rim as possible with your boots. The best place to do this is opposite of the rim lock.

Make sure you leave the wheel spacers in when doing this to keep as much dirt as possible out of the wheel bearings. Also, if you are working on the front wheel, do this brake disc up. Same for the rear; the rear sprocket can take more abuse than the brake disc, and the rotor won’t chew up your hands like the pointy bits of the sprocket will if you slip in the next step.

Flat tires happen when riding off road. Learn how to get your motorcycle rolling again in this installment of <em>MC Garage</em>.
Flat tires happen when riding off road. Learn how to get your motorcycle rolling again in this installment of <em>MC Garage</em>. (Bert Beltran/)

Now it’s time to put your tire irons to work. Once again start opposite of the rim lock using two irons for the first bite. Use your knees (now you see why I said you need braces or pads) to keep the tire bead in the bell of the rim. This makes it easy to get the smaller diameter of the bead over the larger diameter of the rim. Work your way around the wheel bite by bite. I like to leave one iron folded under the brake disc for the first couple of bites to hold tension in the tire. After you get about halfway around you can just pull the bead off the rest of the way with your hand.

Pull out the tube and look it over. What caused it to go flat? Check for pinch marks or punctures. If it’s a puncture, make sure you look inside the tire very carefully for the culprit. You may also need to clean out pebbles and dirt. Once you are sure it’s clean inside the tire, slide in the new tube. Start at the valve stem to locate the tube properly.

Remove the valve core and pump up the tire slightly to get the tube inside the tire and away from the rim and bead. Then let the air out. Next, start the bead on the rim at the lock and valve stem, this will keep the tube from getting stuck between the tire and rim. Push the tire on as far around the wheel as you can by hand, using your knees again to keep the tire deep in the bell.

When it’s time to use the irons, take small bites. And perhaps my most important tip of all—do not move the iron past 90 degrees in relation to the rim. If you go past that, you can catch the tube and pinch it against the rim, and all this work is for nothing. Small bites, don’t go past 90, all the way until it’s hard to get the iron in between the rim and tire. Hit that last bit with your boot by stepping on it and applying pressure. It should just pop over.

Replace the valve stem nut and tighten it down to the rim. This will help you get the air pump on the stem easier as there is no pressure holding it out right now. Then put the valve core back in. Air the tube until the bead pops onto the rim. Tighten down the rim lock, and then set your pressure. Finally loosen the stem nut and put on the cap. Jam the nut against the cap. This helps ensure you don’t tear the stem out if the tire slips or spins on the rim, though it shouldn’t with the rim lock tight. But better safe than sorry.

Then put the wheel back on. Pump the brakes to make sure the pads are in to the rotor otherwise you'll be in for a surprise on the first turn or stop. And that's it for this episode of MC Garage. Flats suck, but hopefully they will be a little less so now.

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