How to deal with an impossibly tight tyre
The stubbornly tight tyre. Anyone who’s had to change a tyre or tube has likely experienced such a pain at one point. It often results in a fit of rage following snapped tyre levers and a pinched tube, and is never a pretty sight, especially if in lycra, in the cold, and/or on the side of a busy road.
It wasn’t too long ago that our founder, Wade Wallace, complained of an impossibly tight tubeless tyre he’d encountered on a group ride, stating it nearly ruined their day. But tight tyres needn’t cause anything undo stress, and good technique, the right tools, and a few handy tips are usually all you need to tame even the most stubborn setup.
The tyre removal method
Loose fitting tyre and rim combinations often don’t require tyre levers, but the right technique can make similarly easy work of tighter setups.
Before we begin, it’s best to explain how the rim shape can be used to your advantage. Every rim has a tire bed with a slightly smaller diameter in between the bead hooks. The tyre sits on the higher edges that sit on either side when inflated, but taking advantage of that concave channel down the middle when the tyre is deflated is key to reducing your stress levels.
- First things first: remove the valve nut and valve cap (if you’re using them at all) from the valve and ensure all air is removed from the inner tube or tyre.
- Now, with the wheel upright on the ground, turn the wheel so the valve is at the highest point.
- Grab the tyre at the valve and start pushing it down against the rim, all while squeezing the two tyre beads together. This pushes the tyre bed into the rim’s central channel.
- Slowly work your way down toward the ground, working your hands on opposing sides of the wheel at the same time. Aim to pull the tyre down into the rim and toward the ground. This step may be repeated as needed.
- Holding this tension, flip the wheel up and you should have created enough free play in the tyre to pull it off the rim barehanded, or at least easily insert a tyre lever.
- Use your thumbs to help roll the tyre off the rim edge. Use the height of the tyre as leverage, and if it’s a large enough tyre, use your palms to help pull the tyre off the rim.
Tighter tyre-and-rim combinations may warrant an additional tyre lever. Following steps 1-5, insert two tyre levers, about 3-5cm apart, making sure that the scoop of each lever is underneath the tyre bead. Prying with both levers at the same time almost always does the trick.
If this still doesn’t work, then consult our short section below about tyre levers; the right one can make a difference. Also, be sure you’re closely following steps 1-5, especially with unseating the tyre bead the whole way around the rim. After all, someone put that tyre on the rim in the first place!
The installation method – thumbs up
Getting the tyre back on isn’t necessarily more difficult than getting it off, but if you’re riding tube-type clinchers, you do need to take care not to damage the inner tube. Few things in cycling are more frustrating than struggling to fit a tight tyre, only to have the tube blow out because it was stuck in between the tyre bead and rim.
Start by inflating the inner tube just barely enough to give it shape; any more will make tyre installation more difficult later. Just blowing into the valve with your mouth like a balloon usually does the trick. This step will prevent the tube from getting twisted or pinched.
Snap one side of the tyre on to the rim. Using your bare palms is preferable here, but if the tyre is unreasonably tight, it’s fine to use a tyre lever to pull it onto the rim. Either way, make sure the logo lines up with the valve hole: easy style points here.
Now, insert the inner tube valve stem into the rim’s valve hole, and push the rest of the tube up into the tyre. Push the valve up into the tyre so that the tyre beads can fall into the rim’s central channel; don’t install the valve stem nut yet.
Start installing the tyre bead on to the rim, starting at the valve hole, and making sure not to pinch the tube as you go. If it’s an easy tyre, you’ll get to the end and just be able to pop the rest on with your thumbs. If it’s slightly tight, use your thumbs or the base of your palms to roll the tyre bead into place. Use the height of the tyre as leverage to pull the bead in.
If this isn’t enough, it’s time to recall the procedure used in removing the tyre: work the tyre bead into the rim channel while pulling the tension of the tyre down, and stretch it around to a single point opposite the valve unless you have enough slack at the end to pop the bead on to the rim. You may need to repeat this step two or three times.
Dealing with a real problem tyre? It’s time to do the thing you were always told not to: use a tyre lever. It’s at this point you should pay close attention to the type of tyre lever you’re using; thinner is better.
Being careful not to get the tube caught between the lever and the rim, hold your thumb over the edge of the bead that you’re working with (so that it doesn’t pop loose from the rim), place the lever (upside-down) into the gap, and scoop the bead up on to the rim. The tyre bead should snap into place. Repeat in the next position if needed, as needed, until fully seated.
Now, don’t let all that hard work go to waste. Check around the tyre to ensure no tube is visible. If you can see it, it’ll get punctured on inflation, but otherwise, you should be good to go.
One might think that omitting the tube would make it easier to install or remove a tyre, but tubeless tyres usually fit tighter on the rim. Thankfully, you can use the same tricks here as well.
The technique is much like what’s outlined above, but you instead start at the opposite end of the valve. By doing this, the tyre can be squeezed into the rim’s centre channel, allowing some extra space to get the final section of tyre on, right where the tubeless valve sits. Follow the suggestions above, and only ever use a tyre lever as an absolute last resort.
Whether it was tubeless or clincher, now inflate and ride.
Workshop tip: if you have the luxury of a large pump, I prefer to inflate the tyre to a low pressure, deflate and then re-inflate to riding pressure. This helps to seat and untwist the tube and tyre without risk of it being pinched. This shouldn’t be needed if you’ve followed the previous steps properly.
Additional tricks and tips
The right tyre lever can make all the difference, but the wrong one can make a difficult task even more frustrating. You want a tyre lever that’s strong, is sufficiently thin to get under the bead of a tight tyre, and made of a material that won’t damage your rim or tyre.
There are a number of good choices out there. For me, I’ve had the best success with the standard plastic ones from Park Tool, but the ones made by Pedro’s and the newer Schwalbes are also worth a look. I’m not a huge fan of most steel reinforced levers (such as those sold by Soma), as I find the metal within is usually too thin to be of much use – or worse, they just bend or break.
Choosing the right rim tape can help as well. One might think that such a thin layer wouldn’t mean much in terms of how tightly a tyre fits on a rim, but even fractions of a millimeter in thickness add up when you consider the total rim circumference. Some rim tapes, especially those that are double wrapped and/or made of cloth, can add precious girth when you don’t have any to spare.
I’ve had good luck using tubeless rim tapes, such as those from Stan’s NoTubes or Silca. They won’t last forever and will divot at the spoke holes with long-term use, especially at high pressures, but they certainly help reduce overall rim diameter. As a side benefit, they’re almost always lighter, too.
Another option is reinforced fiberglass strapping tape (such as from 3M). Similar to the tubeless tape in thickness, this stuff is often far cheaper when bought in bulk. The downside is that it’s typically not as a robust as the tubeless rim tape and has a tendency to splinter into a mess upon removal.
How we got here in the first place
It’s worth noting that loose tolerances and standards in the industry are mostly to blame for unreasonably tight tyres in the first place. Some tyres are purposely made smaller for additional security, while some rim manufacturers decide to oversize their rims for the same reason. Combine the two, and you end up with a problem.
This is just the case with most tubeless designs, in fact, where both rim and tyre are usually designed on the tighter side to hold secure without the support of an inner tube.
Making matters worse yet is that there are no dead-set rules on what combinations to avoid. A tyre from one brand may fit very tightly on a Mavic Ksyrium, for example, but a different tyre from the same brand might snap on with no problem. Manufacturing variations can be big enough that the two of the same tyres can fit differently on a single wheelset, too. Unfortunately, you often don’t know you’ve got a major task at hand until it’s time to change the tyre or tube.
Regardless, these tips will make any tough combination easier to tackle.