Changing Tight Tires

Changing Tight Tires

A version of this article was originally
published in Triathlete Magazine

Aloha Tech Support,
I have trouble putting tires on the rims of my Zipp 404’s after fixing flats. In hopes of loosening up my new Michelin Pro Race tires, I practiced putting the tires on the rim and then taking them off several times without using tubes. When I do this with a partially inflated inner tube I often break the tire levers and/or pop the tube. Is it the new tires that are just very tight, or am I doing something wrong?

Waialua, HI

Dear Jimmy,

Some rim and tire combinations work easier than others. While there are international standards, small differences in design and manufacturing create variance between brands. As far as tires go, if ease of installation is high on your list, Kenda Koncept tires are some of the looser fitting clincher tires available. Keep in mind that one of the risks of running looser fitting tires is that it is also easier to blow the tire off the rim while you are inflating it (especially with a C02 cartridge in a race). Another product to consider is the TUFO “Tubular Clincher”. The “Tubular Clincher” works on clincher rims, like your 404, and is designed to offer many of the advantages of a tubular tire without the glue and preparation usually required. Like a tubular tire, they are virtually impossible to puncture during installation and will not roll off the rim in the event of a high speed flat. The only compromise is that they are a few ounces heavier than the lightest clincher tire and tube options.

From a technique standpoint, here are some brief hints that can make installing a clincher tire a little easier:

1) Install one side of the tire bead on the rim, leaving the other side open to allow the tube to be installed. Before installing the tube, use your mouth to slightly inflate it and give it some shape.

2) Place the slightly inflated tube into the tire. Push the tube’s valve stem up into the tire to avoid catching the tube beneath the bead and push a segment of the open side of the bead onto the rim at the valve stem. Once the bead is seated on both sides, pull the valve stem back down towards the center of the wheel to “lock” the bead into place at the valve stem.

3) Before going further, let the air back out of the tube to reduce the tube’s pressure on the tire. Then, using your thumbs to work away from the valve stem in both directions, push the bead onto the rim.

4) If you exercise your thumbs a lot, you should be able to push the final section of most beads on without tire levers. If you need to use a tire lever, make sure that you use rigid plastic levers (I’ve had good luck with blue Park Tool levers), and not one of the softer levers that tend to bend and flex so much you either break them or pinch the tube trying to force the issue. Some of the longer shop tire levers, like those made by Crank Bros. and Park Tool, can add even more leverage and are stronger than average too. Use as small a piece of tire lever as possible to push the final piece of the bead onto the rim and visually check to make sure that you are not catching the tube between the lever and tire before levering it on. Applying baby powder or talc powder on the tube before installation can reduce the likelihood of the sticky tube rubber catching on the tire lever or the inside of the tire casing as well.

Tubular tires are also worth considering the next time you buy race wheels. While requiring more initial preparation work and a different installation technique, high quality tubulars are often the most puncture resistant option, during and after installation, available.

Keep working those thumbs…


Originally published July 2002/Copyright © 2002

About Ian

From first time riders to Olympians, Ian has helped thousands of athletes achieve their cycling and triathlon goals. Ian develops much of the Fit Werx fitting and analysis protocols and is responsible for technology training and development. He is regarded as one of the industry leaders in bicycle fitting, cycling biomechanics and bicycle geometry and design. He is dedicated to making sure the Fit Werx differences are delivered daily and provides Fit Werx with corporate direction and is responsible for uniting our staff and initiatives.

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