Fitting and removing tyres is usually considered a dirty and troublesome job. While we can't promise to make it a clean experience, we think we can help you make it one that's easier to master than you think.
Tyres come in two broad designs, clincher and tubular. Most modern road bikes use clinchers - tyres which use a rounded 'bead' shape around the circumference of their inner edges. This bead interlocks with a similar profile on the inner edge of sidewall profile of the rim. Air pressure applied to the inside of the tyre carcass, either directly if tubeless, or from within a separate inner tube for clinchers, forces the tyre bead and rim bead together, effectively 'locking' your tyre into position.
Tubulars use a rim without hooked beads. The concave rim bed requires glue, or adhesive tape to hold tyre and rim together. Traditionally popular with road racers, tubulars are a totally different beast, and we'll cover fitting those elsewhere.
Getting clincher tyres on and off is (usually) relatively easy, depending on the make and model combination you've chosen. It’s worth remembering some tyre/rim combinations can create problems. Too loose or too tight can both be problematic.
Fitting is mostly technique and learning a few tricks. Here’s how we fit a new clincher tyre. Note this is a tyre lever free explanation. Learning to do it without tyre levers is a good skill that will save you, eventually.
Tools and materials:
Fitting a clincher
Remove the new tyre from its packaging and unfold it. Creases in the tyre and any bends in the beads will hamper the fitting process. Use your hands to work out the creases where it has been folded. They can be stubborn, but with warmth and persistence they'll disappear.
2. Shape the tyre
With the creases eased out, you can work around the tyre pinching the carcass edges together with your fingers. This process encourages the tyre carcass to take its intended tyre shape, instead of a flat band of rubber. Time spent doing this will help when you come to present the tyre to the rim, as it will be more likely to hold its shape, with beads correctly orientated and make their engagement with the rim easier.
3. Fit rim tape
If you need to fit rim tape do so at this point, ensuring the valve hole lines up with that on the rim. It's a schoolboy error that we've all made. If using a pre-joined, non-adhesive rim tape loop (rather than a roll of adhesive rim tape), we begin at the valve, drop a screwdriver shaft through the two holes when lined up, to lock them together while we fit the remainder of the tape. It stops the tape hole from creeping away from the rim hole as the tape is stretched onto the rim bed.
4. Use more tape for tubeless if necessary
If fitting tubeless ready tyres, with the intention of using them tubeless, then you'll need to ensure you're using an airtight tubeless ready rim, or that your regular rim has been fitted with an airtight tubeless tape. In both cases, sometimes an extra layer of tape can help build up the rim bed depth. This pushes the tyre beads nearer the rim sidewall and makes tyre fit tighter, and encourages a faster creation of an airtight seal, between tyre and rim.
5. Present the uncreased and shaped tyre to the rim.
It looks counter intuitive, but you'll have opposite sides of each item next to each other, this is because you're effectively backing the tyre onto the rim. It can be a tricky few moments as the tyre won't always want to hold its shape as you present it. You'll have to experiment with how you hold it to figure out what works best in each case.
6. Fit the bead
Holding the wheel by the spokes underneath the uppermost section of the rim, allows the opposite edges of the tyre and rim to be presented together. Drop the edge of the bead nearest the rim into the rim bed. You should get a good few inches of the bead easily engaged, enough to stabilise the two items as you reposition your hands for the next bit.
7. Work the bead into the rim
Use your free hand to work around the circumference of the rim, easing the tyre bead edge backwards, over the rim sidewall edge and into the rim bed. The more tyre you engage with the rim, the easier it gets to manage the wheel, as the two items slowly become integrated as a working unit. The last bit will be trickier
8. Fit the final segment
When you get to the last few inches of the first side, it will become harder to push the last inches of tyre bead backwards over the rim wall. Position the bead that is already in the rim bed into the centre of the rim, where it's deepest - to create some slack. With that done, use your thumbs to push the last bit of bead over. It can be very tight and seemingly impossible, but It WILL go.
9. Make room
Now the entire first side of tyre bead is in the rim bed, work around the circumference of the rim and centre the seated tyre bead into the centre of the rim bed. This will help create the most amount of space possible inside the tyre to fit the inner tube.
10. Start fitting the tube
Add a little air to your tube, just enough that it takes a circular shape, but not more, otherwise you won't get it inside the tyre and onto the rim. Stand the wheel up at your feet, with the valve hole positioned uppermost. Insert the valve into the rim's valve hole and gently begin tucking the tube inside the tyre carcass. Work around the tyre and seat the inner tube fully into the tyre. If you're fitting a tubeless valve stem, ensure the rubber foot creates a good seal against the rim bed and do the relevent lockring up appropriately tight to make the valve air tight.
11. Start fitting the second bead
With the tube fully inserted inside the tyre and the wheel stood at your feet - again with the valve uppermost - you'll now need to fit the first section of the unfitted side of tyre bead. We always start with the section that is next to the valve. With the valve section of tyre fully in position, work your hands apart, away from each other, around the rim, seating the majority of the second side of tyre bead as you work around the edge in opposite directions.
12. Push the second bead into place
As with the first side of the bead, the trick is to keep pressure on the tyre with your hands as they move around the edge of the wheel. You're trying to move all the available slack in the tyre bead towards the far edge of the wheel rim, to help give you enough 'spare' bead to pop the final inch or two over the rim edge. It's a skill for sure, and takes a combination of timing and strength to work the bead into the exact position. The more tyres you change, the more intuitive it becomes.
13. Continue fitting the bead
Continue to work your hands around the tyre circumference until you’ve got both your hands at about the 'ten to two' position, then carefully, and without letting the slack you've painstakingly generated go, lift the wheel and place the top edge into your waist.
14. Pop the last bit of bead into place
Use the extra leverage from bracing the wheel with your waist, to ease the slack bead from each side together at the final section - remember we're talking millimetres here, not great flaps of rubber - you will end up with the last bit of tyre just loose enough to be eased over into position. Depending on your choice of tyre, rim and tape, it'll be tight, and you might have to go back to the valve end (where you started) and rework the pressure on the tyre bead to ensure you've got every last bit of slack to the far end. You'll be amazed how 'impossibly' tight tyres can and will fit.
15. Check the seating
With the tyre and tube fully installed, work around the tyre inspecting the seat of the tyre bead. Pull on the shoulders of the carcass to ensure that you haven't trapped any of the inner tube under the bead. Doing so would cause a puncture if you then inflated the tube. It's another easy error to make especially if you're rushing to refit a tyre at the roadside. A few seconds spent checking is well worth it. If you spot a trapped section of inner tube, squeeze and lift the tyre carcass to try and ease it back under.
15. Add sealant
If you're going tubeless, you won't have had the worry of the tube fitting to this point. Remove the valve core and add the appropriate volume of sealant fluid though the valve stem. Replace the valve core, tighten it, and replace any lock ring.
16. Inflate the tyre.
17. Final seating check
The beads of the tyre, esecially when the rubber is new and tacky, can sometimes be a little reluctant to 'pop out' and move into position to the meet the rim bead. Even at your regular tyre pressure, elements of the tyre bead may still be 'tucked'. You can see te difference between seated and tucked portions here. You may have to temporarily overinflate with air to make these bits seat. They will make a distinct 'PING' when they finally snap into position, especially so in the case of tubeless systems. When you've got the tyre beads correctly seated. Check the pressure and adjust to suit you taste and manufacturers recommendation.