There’s no doubt about it, getting a flat while you’re in the middle of a ride sucks in a big way. Hopefully, you’re in a safe place, though, when this happens because it will occur. Once again, I’ll stress preparation for this eventuality is always key, so make sure to carry at least one tire lever with you.
What You Should Have With You to Change a Flat
In addition to being equipped with tubes, a mini pump, and CO2, another ride essential you should carry with you are tire levers. Some riders swear them off and claim you can remove your tire without levers. I would mostly agree with this.
But tire levers can come in handy when you’re removing your tire from a wheel with a deep rim. Additionally, they are useful if you need to get that last part of the tire bead over onto the rim. Tire levers can even say your hands from cuts.
What are Tire Levers?
Well, this is a bit self-explanatory, but tire levers are used to help you remove your tire from the wheel. In addition to fixing a flat, you might want to remove your tire (or tires) to replace them after they’ve become worn, cut, or you’ve picked up some nasty road debris.
Tire levers are generally made of plastic or metal and come in pairs. The levers have a thin end and an end that is cut out to hook to spokes if you need to use more than one. In most cases, you’ll only need one lever and can finish the removal and install of your tire with your hands. You may need additional levers if the rim is deep or the tire has a long or thick bead.
Another reason to have tire levers on hand is that some tires are a true pain to remove. This could be because of the type of tire you have installed on your wheel. Lastly, your wheels may have deep rims, something I’ve encountered with a set of carbon wheels I owned in the 90s.
Using Your Hands
As mentioned earlier, some riders try to minimize the amount of hardware they carry with them on a ride. To do that, they might skip carrying tire levers with them, secure in the thought they can use their hands to remove their tire from the wheel if they have a flat.
While using your hands to force a tire off the rim is the best and safest way to do it, just keep in mind that you are exposing your hands to its gritty tread. So, you should count on scoring your hands up a bit.
additionally, if you use your hands, you may get a nasty little piece of road debris lodged in your fingers. My suggestion: think about these potential hazards before attempting to muscle the tire off and on your wheel.
Watch this YouTube video from Park Tool about how to properly remove and install your tire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqR6nlZNeU8
Using Tire Levers
You should definitely use your hands if you are in a safe environment (at home or even a bike shop), or even when you’re installing a new set of tires. But even then, tire levers can help you get that stubborn new tire on the rim.
Another useful tool to have on hand (especially for new tires which are always to get installed) but strictly for shop or home use is a tire seater like the one offered by Park Tool. This tool will assure that your tire gets seated properly on the wheel and that your tube is also fully seated.
Out on the road (and if you are gentle), you can use tire levers to quickly get your tire off without endangering your hands. When I say gentle, just remember that introducing a lever into the tire removal/ change process comes with a warning: make sure you lift the tire bead from the rim without catching your tube, especially if you are installing a new one.
Keep in mind also that in a lot of cases, you won’t need to remove the tire fully from the wheel. Instead, lift one bead of the rime with your hands or a lever, then pull out the tube. Inflate the new tube enough to get it round, then reinstall it back into the tire. But before doing that, make sure to check the tire and wheel for any debris that may have caused the flat.
Types of Tire Levers
Tire levers come in many shapes, sizes, and materials, specifically metal and plastic as mentioned earlier. I’ve used lots of different tire levers, but they were mostly plastic and never metal.
Personally, tire levers that are thin are no good and should be avoided. The reasons are these: the thin end is not rounded enough, unlike in the lever pictured above, and can easily poke a hole in a tube or damage a tire bead (the part of the tire that tucks into the rim).
I’ve also had thin plastic levers snap or break. They are especially useless on deeper wheel rims. Pedros levers are the best ones on the market. The thin end is rounded enough to not damage a tube or tire bead but thin enough to slide in between the rim and lift the tire bead off the rim.
Getting a flat is definitely an inconvenience, but if you have the right tools with you, you can quickly remedy a bad situation into a good one. And tire levers weigh nothing and take up very little space in your saddle bag.
Even if you are an experienced rider and have changed flats on your bike many times over, it never hurts to have some tire levers with you. There might come a time when you might need them. You might even be able to help another rider out in a pinch.