Wheel Love for the Trail

Trailside mountain bike fixes from expert guides to remedy flat tires, taco-ed wheels and cracked rims.

Not all mechanical problems can be fixed on the side of the trail, but in many instances, mountain bikers can find a homespun solution to limp their bikes home without incident. Utah-based mountain bike guides Shaun Raskin and Weston Deutschlander of Inspired Summit Adventures are particularly invested in keeping their clients’ bikes rolling. “Reviews tend to be better when the ride doesn’t involve a long hike out with a broken bike,” Deutschlander says.

Wheel issues are especially debilitating. “If a bike doesn’t have working wheels, is it still a bike?” Raskin asks. “A positive attitude, a little ingenuity and a dash of blunt force can go a long way towards getting home,” she explains. Here are a few of the duo’s creative fixes—from the commonly used to the most arcane—to keep your mountain bike wheels round-ish and functioning. After performing any of these improvised solutions, both guides recommend getting the surviving bike checked out by a qualified mechanic before hitting the trail again.

Fit a 29-Inch Tube in Any Tire:

Most tubes can be stretched to fit any size wheel, but a 29-inch tube can fit anything from a 29-plus tire to a 20-inch BMX tire if required. “My personal bike is a 29er,” explains Deutschlander. “I always carry a couple extra 29-inch tubes knowing I can make it work for just about any bike someone in our group will have.”

Raskin agrees, adding another tip. If a tire gets sliced, try patching it up with the wrapper from an energy bar. “Everyone should have an energy bar or gel with them on each ride. You get a little nutrition and you can put the garbage to good use in a pinch.”

  • Deutschlander starts with a 29-inch tube, keeping the valve stem on the bottom.
  • Then, he uses his finger to form an indent and folds or sleeves the tube into itself to achieve the correct diameter.
  • Finally, he inserts the tube into the tire and pumps it up.

Take the Taco out of that Wheel:

Taco-ed wheels can happen whether you’ve had a crash or just picked a bad line through a rock garden, but you can usually get them straight enough to roll home. “As long as the rim isn’t totally detonated, you have a few options to make it functional,” Deutschlander says. “Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken if the wheel is really crooked, so don’t be shy.”

  • Raskin starts by turning the bike upside down, keeping the wheel in the frame or fork and spinning it to see where the bend is the worst.
  • Deutschlander and Raskin both carry zip ties so they can create a makeshift truing stand by attaching the zip tie to the frame or fork so it lightly rubs the rim as the wheel spins. This helps to accurately find where the wheel is out of true.
  • If a zip tie is not handy, Raskin suggests holding a small stick or sturdy blade of grass against the frame and rim to achieve the same effect.
  • After locating the bend in the wheel, Raskin tightens the spokes on the far side of the rim, away from the bend. (When the bike is upside-down, tightening spokes is counterclockwise and loosening is clockwise.)
  • If necessary, she also loosens the spokes on the same side as the bend.
  • If that doesn’t get the wheel straight enough to fit through the frame, Deutschlander says it’s time to get physical. He warns the following technique can irreparably damage the rim, so it should only be used as a last-ditch effort.
  • He takes the wheel off the bike and props it on a rock or log with the bend facing up, careful to make sure the disc brake rotors and cassette don’t make contact with hard surfaces, which could damage them. Then he slowly steps on the outside of the bend, progressively adding more of his body weight until the bend is visibly less prominent.
  • Once it’s straight enough to rotate in the frame or fork without making contact, he puts it back on the bike and slowly, clunkily rolls home.

Reinforce a Cracked Rim:

Broken rims in the backcountry often leave riders stuck walking, unless they’re willing to get intensely creative. Deutschlander and Raskin have a couple fixes in these scenarios, but they are a last resort. “Even if you get the wheel rolling again, remember it won’t be nearly as strong as normal. I don’t recommend riding cracked rims very hard at all,” Deutschlander warns. If the rim is cracked all the way through and no longer connected, it’s probably smoked. If it’s cracked but connected, Deutschlander and Raskin say there’s a chance to make a temporary fix.

  • The first step is to remove the tire and try to remove any sharp debris that may be present at the site of the crack.
  • If Deutschlander can get the tire to seat in the rim bed and a tube to hold air, he’ll pump the tire up as he normally would.
  • He then wraps zip ties around the wheel and tire on both sides of the rim crack, pulling them tight to add some support.
  • If he can’t get a tube to hold air, he says he’s into Hail Mary territory. He’ll use any spare clothing he might have, along with a heap of trailside grass, and stuff as much of it as possible into the tire.
  • Then he seats the tire bead as well as he can and wraps as many zip ties as he has around the tire and rim. The goal is to get a squishy, barely-rideable tire upon which he can hobble home.

Interested in learning more about trailside fixes as well as maintenance you can do at home to keep your bike running in top shape? Read up on tips from the folks at Expert Advice and sign up for a bike maintenance clinic at REI.

Learn More: Intro to Bike Maintenance