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A Tube Change at Burning Man

The Classic Tube Change
You will need:
New inner tube (check your tire size and valve type)
Wrench for removing wheel (15mm is most common) unless you have quick release
Tire lever(s)

A good mechanic can reliably fix a flat tire/tube in five minutes. A piss poor mechanic can do it less than half an hour. The first tube is the hardest. Take your time. Remember how parts were disassembled so that you can reassemble them. Don’t lose anything!

So your bike has a flat tire. You’re out on the Playa, hundreds of yards from anyone that can help. Don’t worry, you can handle this. Step One: print out this Maintenance guide so that you will have step by step instructions for changing a flat tire on the Playa without getting your computer or smart phone full of Playa dust. This basic repair guide focuses on replacing your inner tube rather than using a patch kit, but many of the instructions here will aid in the patch process as well. Good luck!

- It generally helps to turn your bicycle upside down. Balance the bike on the handlebars and the seat.
- Take out your wrench and loosen the nuts that hold your axle to the bicycle frame (If you have quick-release skewers, pivot the levers away from the wheel. It is very important to remember how to tighten the skewer again later so that your wheel doesn’t fall off.). There are only two axle nuts and they are on either side of the wheel. Do not remove the nuts from the axle. This will only increase the number of parts you need to keep track of. Just loosen both sides enough to pull the wheel loose. Also pay attention to the location of any washers on the axle. It is important that these end up back in the same place relative to the bicycle frame and the nuts. The brake pads may present some hazard depending on the type of brakes you have. Many bikes have various mechanisms for opening the brakes in order to allow a wheel to be removed or installed. Be sure to reverse this process when you put the wheel back into place or you won’t have brakes.
- If you do not have brake pads, you may have a coaster brake bicycle. If your flat tube is on the rear wheel, you will also need to use a screw driver to detach the coaster brake arm that stretches from the rear hub to the frame. You may also need a small wrench (8-10mm) to help detach this arm, but it is generally unnecessary. The nut and bolt associated with the coaster brake arm do need to be separated from one another in order to get the rear wheel off. Once you have removed the wheel reattach the nut and bolt from the coaster brake arm to the bracket left behind on the frame so as not to lose any of these parts.
- Pay close attention to how your wheel comes off of your bicycle. Whatever you take off, you will need to put back on once you have changed out the punctured tube. Front wheel removal and installation is generally pretty straight forward. Rear wheel removal and installation is complicated by the chain and the derailleur (if you have a derailleur). If you were not at Burning Man I would tell you to use your cell phone camera to take a picture of the chain as it loops around the gears and the derailleur. But since you may not have a camera with you, take a mental picture. Reinstalling a rear wheel on a bicycle with a derailleur can be the most challenging part of a tube change.
- Remove the offending wheel from the bicycle frame.
- Remove the valve cap from the valve stem of the flat tire. This will get in your way later if you don’t do it now.
- In a moment I am going to refer to the “side” of the tire. Since your wheel is now off of your bike, lay it down on the ground.
- Use your tire lever(s) to pry one side of the tire off of the rim (if you lay your wheel on the ground the part of the tire facing the ground is one side and the part facing the sky is the other side). The hardest part is getting this started. Tire levers are often essential. Once an entire side of the tire has been pried off of the rim it should be relatively easy to separate the rest of the tire and tube from the wheel.
- Take the spent inner tube out from inside the tire, but remember how the tube was oriented in the tire if you can. See the next step.
- Inspect the old inner tube. See if you can find the hole. If you can find the hole, try to figure out where this part of the inner tube came in contact with the tire. This will help you determine if you need a new tire. You may just need to remove a thorn or a small piece of glass from the tire, but you may find a hole in your tire as well. Anything that you can see light through has the potential to cause you more flats. If the hole in your tube is gigantic (bigger than the tip of your finger) the blowout may have been caused as the tube expanded through a large hole in your tire. If this is the case, you need a new tire. Replacing the tube will lead to another flat. If you can’t find the hole in the tube, don’t worry about it. Pressurized air can fit through very small holes.
- Inspect the tire. Check the inside of the tire where the tube sits. Look for anything foreign (not made of rubber). If you find something, remove it. If this leaves a good sized hole in the tire (see previous step) you may need a new tire as well.
- Inspect the rim. Make sure your rim strip (a piece of rubber or tape that sits between the rim and the tube) is in good shape and position. The rim strip covers the spoke ends to protect your tube. Run your fingers around the rim where the tire and the tube sit. Anything sharp may have caused your flat.
- Replace the old tube with the new tube. Some bicycle mechanics prefer to put two or three pumps of air into the new tube before beginning this process. They theorize that this makes the tube a little easier to work with. I do not subscribe to this theory. Do as you like.
- You are now going to reattach the tire and tube to your wheel starting with the valve stem.
- Remove the valve cap from the valve stem on the new tube. And insert the valve stem into the tiny hole in the rim. If you have gotten the wrong tube, you will probably find out now.
- Starting from the valve stem, slip one side of the tire back onto the rim. Try to move both hands in opposite directions away from the valve stem so that the last bit of tire to slip back over the rim is as far away from the tube’s valve stem as possible. This will help to ensure that the valve stem remains straight. A crooked valve stem can put undue strain on the tube and cause another flat tire.
- Repeat the above step with the other side of the tire. Again, you may need the tire levers to help with the last little bit of this.
- Once the tire and new tube are in place on the wheel inspect the way the tire sits against the rim. If the tube sticks out or may get stuck between the tire and the rim, you may cause a pinch flat as you inflate the new tube or when you try to ride the bike this way.
- Attach your pump to the valve stem. This part stumps some people as bicycle pumps sometimes differ from other hand pumps because the locking mechanism may need to be positioned up away from the stem instead of folded down. Make sure the pump and stem are locked together.
- Take note of the maximum amount of pressure allowed by your tire. Yes, the pressure load is noted on the tire as this is the main support structure for holding air in your tube.
- If you have a pressure gauge, use it to pump up your tire to within ten or so pounds of the maximum. In the sun and fun of Black Rock City the heat can cause the air inside your tube to expand beyond the maximum pressure sustainable by your tire. Keeping your pressure below the stated maximum protects you from this kind of sudden blow out. Be careful not to under-inflate your tires though. A soft tire can cause the tube to get pinched between the rim and the ground as you ride. This can cause a pinch flat. This is also a good time to check the pressure on your other tire. If you do not have a pressure gauge, pump up your tire just beyond “soft.” Very rare is the Burning Man bike that needs its tires pumped up to very hard, so my advice is to air on the side of caution and stop pumping once you determine that it takes a fair amount of thumb pressure to push into the tire.
- Remount your wheel in exactly the opposite way that you removed it. If your memory isn’t quite as good as it was last week, look at a similar bicycle to help jog your memory. The tire (as opposed to the wheel) should be centered within the front fork or the rear stays (frame tubes that leave the rear axle dropouts) and the brake pads should not rub on the rim as you spin the wheel. Your axle nuts should be tight, but don’t kill yourself making them as tight as you can. Over tightening can strip the threads. Make sure your brake pads “seat” onto your rims properly (if you have brake pads). The more contact your pads make with your rims, the more stopping power you will have. TEST YOUR BRAKES BEFORE YOU RIDE OFF.
- Continue on to the Opulent Temple.

Re-Cycle, Inc. is a privately owned company and does not have any official affiliation with Burning Man or Black Rock City, LLC.
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