Unless you live next door to a bike store or have a significant other who loves bike maintenance it is a good idea to know how to fix a flat tire on a jogging stroller. Fixing a flat is a skill you should learn sooner, rather than later. Just a tiny bit of planning can make a whole difference.
Fortunately, the problem of fixing a flat tire is not a very serious one. You will find that it takes about half an hour when you are not used to doing it frequently, and fifteen minutes when you do it often. Fortunately a 10 year old can be taught to fix a flat. You can print this page and keep it in one of your jogging stroller's pockets along with the required tools.
To fix a flat on the road, you need the small handful of supplies, and you should be able to get all of them for under $30. Four items are essential: 1) a good lightweight air pump, 2) a set of tire levers, also sometimes called tire "irons" (usually made of plastic), 3) a patch kit, most preferably one designed for bicycle tires, and 4) a spare tube. If your jogging stroller does not have quick releases on the wheels, 5) a wrench that fits the axle nuts may be necessary. Sometimes you can get some very cool tools (some are even named "Cool Tool") that combines the wrench and several other bike tools in a single package.
Why are the patch kit and the spare tube both necessary? It is sometimes quicker to patch a tube than replace it, especially when you can find the damaged portion and patch the tube without removing it from the wheel. However, other times a tube can not be patched due to a torn seam, multiple holes, or a damaged valve, or large cuts. Occasionally (all too often actually), your glue will have dried up. Dried glue is the bane of a cyclists existence. Occasionally you will see tubes of glue on sale separately from the rest of the patch kit. Snap them up. Once a tube of glue is opened, it is more likely to dry out, as it is no longer perfectly sealed. After a few months, it will be useless.
Types of flats
Sometimes the flat will happen overnight or while the jogging stroller is parked. This usually happens when it is time to go running, and it is dark and raining. This is your indication that you have not pleased the stroller gods, and you have not been using it enough. What ever you do, don't take it as a sign you should use it less. At other times, you will become aware of the tire is getting flat while running. Occasionally, the tire will deflate very quickly, perhaps even blow out. Usually you will know exactly what caused the problem because it will still be protruding from your tire. The hardest leak to fix is a very slow small one because locating the tiny hole can be difficult. These are usually caused by small pieces of glass just barely protruding thru the tire into the tube.
Inspecting the tire
When you get a flat on the road, first get the jogging stroller well off of the road and in a safe and comfortable location, and look to see if you can find the hole from the outside of the tire. The wheel can be slowly turned while looking for signs of a puncture, or protruding glass etc.
If the puncture is found by visual inspection and is not too close to the valve, it is often possible to repair the injury without taking the wheel off of the jogging stroller. (If the puncture is near the valve this is harder because the valve stem will get in the way). First, take two of the tire levers and insert them (both on the same side of the tire) between the tire and the rim about two to inches on either side of the puncture. Use the thin end of the tire lever for this. The tire levers will be sticking out beyond the tire initially, but in the next step we will pry the tire over the rim. Prying with both of the levers at once you can pop the edge of the tire off of the rim. Then you can slide the levers farther apart (first one side, then the other) to pull just enough tire off of the rim to reach in and pull out the damaged part of the tube. Do not lose track of the puncture. Some tire levers have hooks on the end for hooking into a spoke. This gives you a free hand. If you are able to find the puncture by this method, you probably do not have to remove the tire completely, so you can now proceed to patching the tube.
Removing the wheel
If the puncture can't be spotted by visual inspection, or, you decide to replace the tube, it is necessary to completely remove the tube from the tire. The first step is to remove the wheel from the jogging stroller. Either pop open the quick releases or use your wrench to loosen the nuts. The wheel will come right off.
Getting the tube out
Once the wheel is off the stroller, remove the tire following the directions under the "Quick repair" parahgraph above. It is easier if you begin opposite the valve with the tire irons. Completely loosen the one side of the tire all the way around. Leave the other side of the tire alone. Then pull the tube completely out. The valve stem sometimes is difficult to remove, but by pulling open the tire you should be able to get it out. Before you remove it, take note of the orientation of the tube in the tire. This may save time finding the leak in the tube if you discover the source of the puncture in the next step, inspecting the casing.
Inspecting the tire casing
Before doing anything else, use your fingers to inspect the inside of the tire casing. (Be careful for sharp objects protruding from the tire casing). Carefully and slowly run your fingers around the inside of the tire feeling for anything that does not belong there. Sometimes you will quickly find a staple or nail, or shard of glass that caused the flat. Other times, the object that punctured the tire will be gone. If you do find anything, pull or dig it out from the tread side of the tire, not the inside. But it is important to always inspect the casing anyway because if you skip this step, you will very often have another flat within a very few miles.
Finding the hole by inflation
If you can't find the hole by visual inspection, try inflating the tube a bit with your pump. The tube should inflate in spite of its leaks. If not, it is probably too damaged to be repaired. Pump the tube until it is larger than its original diameter (somewhat stretched). Then hold it near your ear and listen for a hiss as you rotate the tire past your ear. If the puncture is large enough, you may be able to feel the air rushing out if you hold it near your face. However, if the puncture is tiny, I may need to splash some water on the tube or hold the tube under water to find the leak. Sometimes, you will find a long or deep cut in the casing. Very often patching the tube and continuing to use a gashed casing will result in another flat, quite probably in less than a mile. Often you can apply your largest patches to the inside of the tire casing, and thereby get hundreds of more miles out of the tire. Other times, gashed tires are too far gone to be salvaged. To get home, a favorite cyclists trick is to place a dollar bill, folded in half or quarters between the tube and the tire, so that it covers the gash in the tire. Paper money has very high bursting resistance. If the leak is very tiny, only an occasional bubble will escape when the tube is held under water, but then this type of leak seldom forces a repair on the road. You could just pump it up and continue running home. Being observed giving your inner-tubes a bath in the ditch seldom does much to enhance your image as a runner.
Once the puncture is found, be careful not to lose sight of its location. Some patch kits include a piece of chalk or pencil to mark the spot, some cyclists carry a ball point pen to circle the hole, and make a mark on the tire in the corresponding position for careful inspection when done patching. On some occasions, it is possible that there may be two punctures. This is especially true if you run into a curb or stone. This is called a snake bite, because side of the rim will pinch the tire leaving two holes that look like a snake bit the tire. If you find one leak, don't assume that is the end of it. Further, patching a tube and sticking it back into a tire that still has a foreign object embedded in it will result in another flat almost immediately.
Patching the tube
When patching the tube, the following precautions must be observed. First, the tube must be clean and dry; water and glue do not mix. Second, the tube must be roughed up a little, using a little tool included in the patch kit; the glue won't bond well to a smooth or dusty tube. Just use the bit of sand paper or the mini-file to scuff up the area around the puncture. Scuff an area slightly larger than the patch you intend to apply. Don't get crazy with the scuffing. Unless you are using glueless patches, you must apply and spread a little glue - just enough to get the surface wet - and wait until it almost dries. This glue spot must cover an area slightly larger than the patch. It is important to rub the glue around in a little circle just bigger than the patch. This gives the glue a chance to mix with the rubber, and form a layer of softened rubber that will bond with the patch. This is how the glue works, it just softens the rubber so that it can stick to another piece of rubber. The glue itself is not really an adhesive. This process is called vulcanization. If it does not seem tacky enough, you may want to add and spread a little additional glue, and allow it to dry a little. Patching with the glue too wet and runny leads to poor quality patch jobs. Some of the patches have a clear plastic backing and a thicker plastic covering the glue side. Peel the thick plastic from the patch, and place the patch on top of the drying glue. (Sometimes it is a good idea to apply a drop of glue to the glue side of the patch and rub it around and let it get tacky).
As soon as you apply the patch press it down strongly with your thumb and hold it tightly for a minute. It is not necessary to remove the thin plastic backing plastic from the patch. In fact, it is better to leave it on, because it keeps the edges of the patch from sticking to your fingers. Remember: the pressure is important, you are actually driving the molecules of softened rubber of the tube and the patch into, around, and between each other. The tighter you press the better the patch will hold.
Before putting the tube back onto the wheel, inspect the patch carefully to see that it has sealed all the way around. If a gap is found that is not sealed a small drop of glue can be used to seal it tight.
Putting the tube back in the tire
If you are doing the quick repair, stuff the tube back into the tire, making sure it is not twisted or unduly stretched, use the tire levers to pop the tire back into place, and re-inflate the tire. Some of the directions below may be necessary, however.
If you had to remove the entire tube, the task is somewhat more difficult. Often a tube with just a little air in it is easier to install than a completely empty tube, especially when installing a new tube. If the tire is not still partially on the wheel, first put one side of the tire one the rim, all the way around. Then maneuver the valve stem between the rim and the tire and into the valve hole. Be sure to do this first or it will be difficult to get the valve stem into the hole. After making sure the valve is correctly in the hole, start tucking the tube into the tire all the way around, keeping it from getting twisted. Some tubes will have to be stretched slightly to fit; others will seem slightly too long. Just distribute the tube evenly around the tire. It is very important to avoid kinks, folds, and twists.
Putting the tire back on the rim
Now that the tube is in, it is time to finish putting the tire on. Sometimes it helps to put the wheel in your lap (unless the tire is dirty). Or you may find it easier to hold the wheel with the valve up and opposite end against the ground. It is easier to seat the tire at the valve first, pushing the valve stem back into the valve hole just a little ways, to allow the tire to fit between the stiff base of the valve stem and the rim. Then you can pull the valve back out of the valve hole and the stiff base of the valve will hold the tire in place as you seat the rest of the tire working your way around the wheel.
Start seating the tire around the rim, using both hands - and not the tire levers - to pop the bead of the tire (the lip) into the cavity of the rim. However, you will often have to use the levers to re-install the tire if the job begins to be difficult. Start using the tire levers again, inserting them where the tire is properly in the rim, and sliding them around the tire so that the un-seated bead gets smaller. Eventually you will end up with a small segment where the last little bit of tire remains outside the rim. This is the most difficult part. You need the tire levers here. Warning: watch those tire levers. You can easily "pry" a hole into your newly patched tube. Be very careful not to allow the tip of the tire lever to apply any pressure against the tube. This is tricky, because you can't always see what is happening inside the tire. Finally, before pumping air into the tire, go all the way around the wheel, pinching the tire from both sides. Peek into the gap between the rim and the tire. Looking for places where the tube is sticking out between the bead of the tire and the rim. You must poke the tube back into the tire if you can see it in the gap. Often two or three strokes of the pump will assist in this task by adding just enough air to give the tube some shape. If you let the tube stay between the tire bead and the rim, sooner or later you will have the most spectacular blow-out (it can sound like a gun shot) and your tube will be totally unsalvageable with a long rip.
Pumping it up
Now it is time to re-inflate the tire. Before you start, see if you can figure out how too release your brake cable tension. There are many different kinds of brake cable releases and we can't show all of them here. If you can't find your brake release or if it requires tools to release the brake tension, then follow the steps under the "Attaching the wheel" paragraph before you pump it up. Reason: the tire may be too fat to fit between the brakes when inflated.
First pump enough air back in to get the tire slightly firm, usually no more than 8 or 9 strokes of the hand pump. Then look where the tire meets the rim, and follow the rim all the way around the tire. Is the tire evenly seated on the rim? Does it seem to be deeper in the rim in some spots than others? If it is not even, readjust the tire by pulling it sideways slightly, first to one side, then the other. Push with your thumbs against the side wall and pull with your fingers over the top of the tread. If this fails to even out the depth to which the tire sits in the rim, let some air out and try again. When the rim is next to the bead all the way around the tire it is time to fully inflate the tire.
Be careful with hand pumps. You should not put too much force on the valve stem, as you can sheer it off. It is best to "hang" the tire on the pump, then hold the pump only, never applying force to the tire, just let it hang there with its valve stem pointing down into the pump. If working at home, you may have the luxury of a floor pump. This makes the work much faster, and many have a built in gauge.
Remember to read the inflation pressure from the side of the tire and inflate to no more than that pressure. (Well, if the truth were known, many cyclists use a little more pressure than the sidewall says because it reduces rolling resistance. You should never be tempted to go above 110% over the side wall rating, and even then, only on fairly new tires).
Without a gauge, how do you tell when there is enough air in the tire? Feel the firmness of one of the other tires, and pump the patched one till it is about the same firmness. If you still can't judge, apply a fair amount of your weight to the top of the other tire and compare how much it squashes down where it meets the road. Adjust the repaired tire to match. You can buy a small tire pressure gage at bike stores which is small enough to take along in your jogging stroller pocket.
Hand pumps in general are just barely adequate to the task, and it takes a lot of pumping to get the tire inflated. It is slow going requiring many many strokes, but the smaller the hand pump the less strength it takes. Remember that it is better to spend a few extra minutes than it is to start out with too little air in the tire. Doing that could cause another snake-bite flat on the first bump you hit.
Attaching the wheel
Remember that above we told you that if you inflated the tire before you mount the wheel on the stroller that you may have to loosen your brake cables in order to get it back on. This is usually accomplished with cable releases on one of the brake pad arms. Just squeeze the brakes together and pull the brake cable out of the slot with the little tab on the end. There are many different brake release systems, but all usually have a cable release somewhere. If worse comes to worse, and you can't release your brake tension enough to get the tire back in, just deflate it and pump it up after you mount the wheel. If you release your brake tension, be sure to restore it before riding, that is before you get back on the road, check your brakes to make sure that the quick releases or cables have been properly reattached. Pick up your tools, and the old tube if you replaced it. Not only because you don't want to litter, but also because there are several good uses for old bike inner tubes.
Keeping an eye on it
After installing a tire and running away, watch it carefully for a while. Sometimes there is more than one leak, and sometimes you can cause another leak by rough use of the tire levers. It is disheartening to have to stop and patch all over again, so remember to be careful with the tire levers. Run home to your floor pump or to the nearest bike shop and check your tire pressure with a proper gauge. Avoid gas station air hoses. The gauges are seldom accurate. They are also set for car tires (25 to 30 pounds) which is not usually sufficient for strollers, or they are set for trucks (125-150 pounds) and will blow the tires right off your stroller.
Patching tires is a hassle, and it is dirty work. Once you do it, you will gain two things: the first is new confidence of being able to handle the situation by yourself. The second is an uncanny ability to spot broken glass by the little twinkle it reflects while you are just riding along.
Run The Planet thanks the Bicycling Life website (www.bicyclinglife.com) for the permission to adapt and reprint the article "How to Fix A Flat Tire" by John Andersen. The purpose of Bicycling Life is to promote bicycling by demonstrating that legal cycling on streets, roads, and highways is safe, clean, healthy, enjoyable, economical, and beneficial to society, and to provide bike riders with the information and encouragement they need to become vehicular cyclists. Text © by Bicycling Life. Illustration © 2004 by Run The Planet.