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How to Fix and Prevent Common Bike Problems

Photo: Denver Post/Getty Images

Right now, riding a bike through busy city streets and across bridges sounds a whole lot safer than riding the subway. Heck, it almost sounds idyllic. The more time you spend on your bike, though, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong — a flat tire, a rusty chain — and the more important it is to know how to fix them yourself. We asked cycling experts Melvin Onyia, John Watson, founder of The Radavist, a blog about biking, and Chris Dixon of Dixon’s Bike Shop in Park Slope Brooklyn to walk us through the steps and tools necessary to handle five common bike problems.

How to fix a flat tire

To fix a flat, you have to remove the tire, remove and replace the inner tube, and put the tire back on. If it doesn’t come naturally at first, don’t panic. Watson says there are lots of variables, like the kind of gears, axles, tires, and rims you have. Onyia recommends looking up a tutorial video until it becomes second nature. He says GCN (Global Cycling Network) tutorials on Youtube are the best and easiest to follow.

Durable Tires

From $68 for 2

If you can prevent a flat, that’s obviously easier than repairing one. That’s why Onyia says you should never get too close to the curb, where all the dirt, nails, and broken glass end up. He suggests leaving about a foot between you and the curb (or the edge of the trail) to avoid running over something that will puncture your tire. Also, he recommends outfitting your bike with these Gatorskin tires, which have super reinforced walls and are very difficult to puncture. He relies on them himself, as do a lot of other cyclists he knows. “I’ve changed them once over the past ten years,” Onyia says.

A floor pump with pressure gauge

Another step to take before you head out on a ride, Onyia says, is checking your tire pressure, since tires with low pressure are more likely to get a flat or get punctured. “I usually keep my road bike tires at about 90 to 100 psi,” he says. He recommends getting a pump with a pressure gauge so you can make sure you’re filling the tires to the optimal PSI. (That number should be on the wall of your tires.) This standing floor pump with pressure gauge topped our list of best bike pumps on Amazon, and it comes with a patch kit.

A mini pump

In addition to the floor pump you keep at home, you should ideally carry a mini pump with you on your bike. You’ll need it to inflate tires that get low over time or to pump up a new inner tube after you change out a flat. Watson likes Lezyne mini pumps because they fit in most pockets or bags, they’re easy to use, and because they look really nice. This one comes with a bike mount which is Watson’s preferred way to carry it and a good way to ensure it’s always with you.

Spare inner tubes

Onyia suggests carrying two inner tubes with you just in case. And make sure they are the appropriate size for your tires — that, like the max psi, should be written on the wall of your tire. You’ll also need to choose between Presta and Schrader valves which really comes down to personal preference. Presta valves are more slender and have a locknut you have to unscrew before inflating. Schrader valves are more common and less complicated. Most bike pumps can adapt to fit both.

Tire levers

$5

Tire levers remove the tire from the rim and help you put it back on once you’ve replaced your tube. When we talked to Tyler West, a certified bike service educator and longtime race mechanic for Trek Bikes, for about everything you need to start biking he said he’s a fan of Pedro tire levers because they’re wide — an attribute that he says keeps you from damaging your rim.

How to fix a rusted chain or one that jumps gears

Degreaser

$12

One of the most important things you can do for your bike is wash it often, Onyia says. Clean bikes don’t break as often as dirty ones: Grease, dust, and dirt can gunk up your chain and cause it to jump gears as you ride. As part of his regular bike washing regime, Onyia degreases his chain to keep it running smoothly. “It’s messy, so some people might rather take it to their local bike shop,” he says, but if you have the time it’s not a complicated process. Apply the degreaser to your chain to remove all of the grease and grime that’s collected. Then use a washing solution on the whole bike, and, once the bike is clean, apply your chain lube. Watson likes WD40 bike degreasers and cleaners, because the one product handles both parts. Ideally, you degrease your chain two to three hours before you plan on riding your bike.

Lube