If you've had your bike for a while, or you're a demanding rider, there will come a time when it's obvious you need to replace those tires.
Perhaps you're getting too many punctures, or they're slipping on rainy streets or wet leaves. Maybe they don't stay inflated for as long as they used to, or the tread's obviously worn down. Whatever the symptoms or signs are, you need to pay heed - cycling on worn tires can be dangerous!
Here are the most common signs to look for:
- Treads look worn or thin in places
- Damage to the tire sidewalls
- Tires don't stay inflated as long
- Regular punctures
- Tires slipping where they used to grip
- Ride quality has diminished
If you have one, or more, of these symptoms, it may be time to invest in a new pair of tires. Now, you could take your bike to the shop and ask a professional to replace your tires for you. But why pay extra fees on top of the cost of the replacement tires when the task is something any reasonably competent cyclist could accomplish themselves?
How Long Should Tires Last?
It all comes down to the type of bicycle you have and how many miles you've done on it. As a rough guide:
- slimline racing tires -1000 miles
- low-cost road tires - 2500 miles
- high end touring tires - 4000 miles
- mountain bikes - up to 8000 miles
But this is very much a rule of thumb - you need to regularly inspect your tires and look for the signs outlined above.
Once you've come to the conclusion that it's time to renew the rubber, here's how to go about it. A first question to ask is:
Tubed or Tubeless?
If you're a mountain biker who's gone for tubeless tires, it should be easier, in a sense, to change them. Easier, but messier, because any liquid sealant still inside will come out when you remove the tires. Other than making sure you are wearing old clothes and working where you can mop up easily, you just deflate the existing tires and pull them off using tire levers (see the start of the section below). Mountain bike tires are thicker but shouldn't present any more difficulties when it comes to removing or fitting them.
Follow this guide for replacing and re-sealing your tubeless tires.
This article is designed primarily for most of us who are still reliant on inner tubes. Until a revolution takes place in road bikes, the vast percentage of road cyclists will wrestle with these frustrating objects. But changing tubed tires needn't be as daunting as it seems. Let's look at how to change your tires and refit your inner tubes, step by step.
To do this with ease you'll need the following:
- two plastic tire levers
- a pump (ideally one that indicates tire pressure)
- (optional) an adjustable spanner (if you need this to remove and replace your wheels)
How to Change a Tire
Part One - Removing the Old Tire
First, remove the wheel from your bike. You may need an adjustable spanner for this, although many bikes are fitted with quick release mechanisms.
Deflate the inner tube either by unscrewing the valve and pressing it in (Presta valve) or removing the cap and pressing in the internal valve pin (Schrader valve - automobile style). Try to remove as much air as possible before progressing to the next step.
At a point 180 degrees opposite the valve, insert the first tire lever between the tire beading and the inner rim groove. The "hook" at the end of the lever should face down into the rim as you prise back the lever to lift the rubber outside of the rim. Keep that lever in place (you may be able to hook the other end behind a spoke).
Now insert the second lever as close as you are able (ideally 5 to 10cm) to the first (on the same side) and repeat the process. Do this several more times until you have about one sixth of the tire outside of the rim. Be careful not to trap the deflated inner tube between the tire and the rim as you do this.
You should now be able to slide the second tire lever around the rim in a circular motion to easily release the rest of the tire. One whole side should now lie outside of the rim.
Now you need to remove the inner tube. Starting with the side opposite the valve, reach under the tire and gently ease out the tube. Now simply pull it free towards you, releasing a little on each side of your starting point until you reach the valve. Remove the valved section last, and be careful not to damage it. If it is too difficult to remove the valve with the tire in place, you can leave that part of the tube in until you have half the tire completely off. It should then be easy to remove both tube and tire.
Using your hands, remove the other side of the tire, again beginning diametrically opposite from the valve. It should come off easily, without the need for tire levers.
With the tire off, you should take the opportunity to check the rim bed and any rim tape you have installed to make sure it's still intact and sealing off the spokes. If not, consider replacing it before continuing.
Part Two - Fitting the New Tire
Make sure you check if your tire has a direction indicator since some treads are designed to flick water away from you if correctly fitted. Make sure any such arrow or chevron points in the direction of travel when you refit the wheel.
You should be able to put half of the tire's beading into the rim by hand. For neatness' sake, line up the manufacturer logo with the valve hole.
Now put a little bit of pressure into the inner tube with your pump. Just enough to give it a bit of shape, but so that it remains malleable.
Insert the valve and then ease the rest of the tube under the tire, working around both sides until it's fully fitted. Again, make sure that none of the inner tubes is trapped between the tire and rim.
You should now be able to pull the rest of the tire into place. If you need to use a tire level for the last few inches, then so do very carefully.
Once in place, pull back the tire beading with your fingers and look around the wheel on both sides to ensure no inner tube rubber is snagged.
The tire can now be inflated with the pump to the manufacturer's recommended PSI specified on the side of the tire. Once you've fitted the tire, you may decide to alter this pressure a little to suit your riding style.
So that's how to fit a new tire. You may still have a few questions, so we've tried to answer them in the FAQs section below.
Here's a useful video demonstrating the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I replace both tires at once?
This really depends on how worn both tires are. If one is noticeably more worn than the other, or you get most of your punctures in one tire, then that's the one to focus upon. However, if there isn't much difference between front and rear tires, then it is a good idea to change both. This will mean that they are in sync in terms of wear and tear and it will be easier to maintain them in the future. You'll always know that when it's time to change one, it's time to change both.
Can I use different tires on the front and rear?
Absolutely. This comes down to personal preference. A lot of riders prefer a thicker tire on the front wheel for better grip and performance. However, you should make a note of the manufacturer's recommended mileage for that particular tire type. It will also mean your tires will wear out at different times. It may be worth making a calendar note of when you last changed each tire.
I can't find the same tire brand and size. How can I correctly size my tires to buy a different brand?
It's a little complex. You need to look for a five-digit ISO (or ETR-TO) number with a dash in the middle. You should find this both on the old tires and on your bike's rims. Broadly speaking, this relates to the width of the tire (smaller number) and rim diameter. There's also "common sizing" of wheel diameter, which is expressed in inches (i.e. 27 inches) but it's not as precise.
Here's a video that talks you through how to determine if your tire is compatible. If in doubt, do check with the seller that your bike is compatible.
Do I need to be a strongman?
Not at all. If you have tire levers and a compressed air pump, anyone should be able to change a tire. It would not be advisable to use a fully manual pump, unless you have no alternative, since your arms will really feel the effort, particularly if you're changing two tires at once.
What if my new tire is too hard to manipulate with ease?
You can leave your tire on a radiator for 30 minutes or so (make sure it's not too hot) to make the rubber a little more pliable.