The anatomy of a bicycle wheel is quite simple, yet involves some very important parts that riders should familiarize themselves with, and be prepared to monitor and maintain on a regular basis. In particular, every rider should know how to change a bike’s inner tube.
The majority of bicycle wheels will be made up of four main parts; the tire, the inner tube, the wheel (includes hub, spokes and rim) and the rim strip.
Today, we will be focusing specifically on the inner tube, and going over how to properly change a bike’s inner tube when the need arises.
What Is A Bike Inner Tube?
A bike inner tube is a soft, pliable balloon-like structure that can effectively be inflated and deflated, using the valve that is built into its underbelly.
The bicycle’s inner tube is designed to act like a cushion of air. When it is properly inflated within the tire, it provides stability, padding and shock resistance, in order to provide riders with a safe and comfortable ride.
There are a number of different inner tube sizes, which are measured and fitted primarily by considering the width and diameter of the wheel itself.
Road wheels are usually 700c, or 622 millimeters, and will need 700c inner tubes to match them. These are sometimes also referred to as 28 inch tubes.
Here are some common inner tube sizes for a variety of bike styles or models:
Road Bikes (700c wheels)
- 700 x 20 – 25mm: 20 – 25mm tires
- 700 x 25 – 32mm: 25 – 32mm tires
- 700 x 28 – 37mm: 28 – 37mm tires
- 700 x 32 – 47mm: 32 – 47mm tires
Mountain Bikes (26 inch, 27.5 inch, 29 inch diameter wheels)
- Up to 2 inch width – narrow mountain bike tires
- 2 – 2.3 inch width – typical cross country mountain bike tires
- 2.3 – 2.6 inch – trail, endurance, all-rounder mountain bike tires
- 2.6 – 3 inch – plus sized mountain bike tires
- 3 inch + – fat bike mountain bike tires
Bicycle inner tubes are most often made of one of two types of rubber – butyl or latex. Butyl rubber inner tubes are the most common, as they are cheaper than latex.
However, they are inherently heavier and will as a result cause more rolling resistance.
Butyl rubber inner tubes are also easier to repair with a standard puncture repair kit, so riders will often end up getting more life out of them in comparison to a latex rubber inner tube.
Latex inner tubes are significantly lighter than butyl tubes, in addition to the fact that they cause less friction against the tire and produce less rolling resistance when riding.
With this being said, they are also more fragile and in some cases harder to fit properly, thanks to their inherent floppiness and flimsy build.
One other drawback to using latex rubber inner tubes is that they leak air a lot quicker than butyl inner tubes, which will lead to them needing to be pumped up alot more often.
How To Change A Bike’s Inner Tube
The first thing to note before we get started is that not all bike’s wheels, and therefore inner tubes are the same.
We will be doing an overview of how to change a bike’s inner tube using a typical road bike wheel as the basis for example. Here is a step by step breakdown, including required tools:
- Screwdriver & Bike Tire Lever
- Replacement Inner Tube
- Air Pump
Step 1: Remove The Wheel From The Bike
- First, flip the bike over so that it is resting on the seat and handlebars. Make sure you do this on a soft, smooth surface so that you do not cause any damage to these parts.
- If you are replacing the inner tube on the front tire, loosen the anchoring bolts on either side of the tire and then remove the tire.
- If you are replacing the inner tube on the back tire, you must first remove the chain from the gear before you can remove the tire itself from the bike.
Step 2: Removing The Tire’s Inner Tube
- Take the closure cap off of the valve, and remove the fastener as well
- Take your screwdriver and wedge it in between the tire and the wheel
- Continue around the entire circumference of the rim, taking the tire out of the rim. In this step you are not taking the tire off, simply dislodging one side of the tire from the rim
- Next, pull out the inner tube
- Examine the inside and outside of the tire for anything sharp or irregular that could potentially puncture the new inner tube
Step 3: Installing The New Inner Tube
- Make sure that you have the correct size and type of inner tube for your bike’s wheel(s). The correct size is typically noted on the tire or old inner tube
- The first step for installing the new inner tube is to place the valve inside the rim first
- Next, insert the rest of the inner tube into the tire, section by section (once it has been half fitted, you slightly inflate the tube to make the rest easier)
- From here, fit the tire itself back into the wheel
- Next, tuck the tire back into the rim while slowly turning the wheel. Be sure to check that that this tucked portion is not protruding at all
- To finish, use your screwdriver or other prying tool to get the final section back on. Be extra careful with this step as applying too much pressure will potentially cause a puncture in the new inner tube
Step 4: Inflating The New Inner Tube
- Use a good quality pump or air compressor to inflate
- Finally, put the fastener cap back on and ensure that it is firmly tightened
Should I Change Or Patch Up My Inner Tube
When it comes to the question of whether you should change or patch your bike’s punctured inner tube, there are a few important things to remember.
Deciding which route to take will depend mainly on the extent of the damage to the inner tube in question.
If it has multiple punctures and seems like it is damaged beyond reasonable repair, it is always a good idea to replace it with a new one.
Another factor to consider is the relative age of the inner tube in question. If it is an old tube that is looking excessively porous and worn, it is definitely a better call to replace it and be safe.
If it is a relatively new tube, then you can patch it and feel confident that you won’t have any problems moving forward.
Regardless, it is always smart to carry both a puncture repair kit (also known as a patch kit), as well as a new inner tube.
This will ensure that regardless what your situation and the state of the damaged tube ends up being.
Most people who don’t know any better will assume that going the route of replacing the damaged inner tube with a new one will be a faster solution than patching. In reality, it only takes about 10 minutes to repair a puncture if you have the proper materials and tools handy.
Which you should at all times! These tools and materials include:
- Patching kit (vulcanized patches, vulcanizing glue, sandpaper)
- Set of tire levers
- Air pump
- Rags, gloves
If you are looking to be both environmentally and financially responsible, it is definitely better to go the patching route when it comes to dealing with a damaged bicycle inner tube.
Refraining from adding rubber to the landfills is always a great thing, and it is obviously a lot cheaper to patch your inner tube rather than buying a brand new one!
Proper maintenance is a crucial factor that contributes to the longevity of your bike and its parts. Educating yourself in regards to the different aspects of bike maintenance is an important part of being a cyclist, of any kind.
One of the most common parts of bicycles that needs regular maintenance are the tires and their parts, which just happen to be arguably the most important parts of a bike, or trike.
We have discussed in specific the ins and outs of how to change a bike’s inner tube, with a step-by-step guide covering every aspect of the replacement.
We also talked a little bit about the differences between patch repairing a punctured or damaged inner tube, and replacing it. Thanks for reading, be safe and enjoy the ride!
Last Updated on May 29, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic