The first thing you need on a ride is knowing how to keep your bike rolling with these two basic bike repairs 

Of the approximately 50 components on a road or mountain bike, the two most crucial to moving you ahead are the chain and tires. Knowing the two basic bike repairs of how to fix a broken chain and a flat tire will avoid the trouble of getting stranded. 

Fortunately, with a few tools and a basic understanding of your bike you can repair these yourself. Your recourse is to walk your bike home and pay for the repairs at a bike shop. 

Let’s begin as simply as possible by assuming that you are prepared with a tool kit that includes the basic tools for your bike. Of importance for fixing your chain is the correct quick link for your chain and a chain-breaker tool. For the flat you’ll need the correct tube even if your tires are tubeless (explained later), a tire tool, and a simple multi-tool. You don’t leave home without your phone so don’t bike without the basics. 

Let’s fix the broken chain first and then the flat tire.

Broken Chain

1) Locate the broken chain link and remove the damaged link. Use the chain-breaker tool to push the pin out of the old link. You will need two “female” ends of your chain to use the quick link (see illustration). 

2)  Retrieve the quick link you smartly included in your kit. Links are chain specific (notice “11 speed” on the package) so be sure to purchase the correct quick link for your specific chain! 

11-speed chain mountain bike repair
Carter Atkinson

3) Align the “male” ends of the quick link opposite each other as illustrated. Note: the direction of the quick link is important. The oblong part of the quick link faces the opposite direction of force. The direction of force is the direction the chain is traveling when the bike is being pedaled (see illustration).

4) Slide the male ends through the openings, or female ends, in the links (illustration).  

connected mountain bike chain repair
Carter Atkinson

5) Make sure the indentations on either side of the quick link are correctly aligned, then tug in the opposite direction (outward) with both hands to pull the link into place, securing it. Note: If you cannot fully secure the link by tugging, the force from your first or second pedal stroke will cinch it together if it is properly aligned. 

Double check your work for correct alignment. If aligned, you’re good to go. 

Flat Tire

Oops, now you have a flat tire. Let’s fix it! 

1) Get out your multi-tool and remove the wheel with the flat. Let’s assume it’s the rear tire that’s flat; this adds more complexity and grease to the fun. 

2) Shift gears to position the chain on the smallest gear of the cassette. This makes removal of the wheel so much easier. 

chain ring mountain bike repair smallest chainring fixing a flat
Carter Atkinson

3) Remove the wheel either by unscrewing the axle or the skewer.

4) Unscrew the valve and release any remaining air. Squeeze the sidewall to break the tire bead from the rim, then insert the tire tool. For a tire with a tube, slide the tire tool around the circumference of the rim to break the entire bead. Unscrew the retaining nut from the valve and push the inner tube stem inside the tire and remove the tube. Be sure to remove only one side of the tire from the rim. 

mountain bike flat tire repair bead inner tire
Carter Atkinson

5) Run your finger around the inside of the tire to remove the thorn or other culprit that initiated the air loss. If nothing is found, slightly inflate the new tube. Insert the valve stem and situate the tube in the tire. Use the tire tool to reinsert the tire bead back into the wheel while taking careful not to pinch the tube (this is why we slightly inflate the tube). Inflate the tire to proper air pressure, then screw the nut back on the valve – but not too tight. Put the wheel back on the bike in reverse order of removal while taking care to align the brake disk with the brake caliper. Re-insert the axle or skewer and tighten. Voila!  

gash mountain bike flat tire repair
Carter Atkinson

6) For bikes with tubeless tires, scan the rear tire closely to see if there is a sealant leak that would indicate a puncture or breach in the tire bead. If you see a thorn protruding, remove it. Then turn the wheel so that the sealant inside the tire sloshes to the puncture point. The sealant will stop air from escaping a small hole.

7) For a larger hole (pictured), the sealant may still be an option to create a repair. With the hole pointed toward the ground, start pumping the tire – and cross your fingers! Sealant may fizzle out but will eventually decrease and, if luck is on your side, seal the breach. 

8) Now, if the tubeless tire bead is separated from the rim, you are looking at a partially dismounted tire, a puddle of sealant and a $1,000 carbon wheel smeared with gooey slime. I’ve been there! First thing you could do is just insert the back-up tube, inflate the tube and be on your way. For a 50-50 chance of success – in my experience – you could reinsert the tire bead and pump like mad or use a Co2 cartridge inflator and hope the effort quickly seals the bead.

When all else fails, call for someone to come get you! If you are too far back in the woods or out of reception, stash your bike and return to it with repair supplies. Or, you can secure the tire on the rim the best you can, put the pedal nearest you in the top position to avoid hitting your shin, grab the bike by the handlebar stem and start hoofing.

Knowing these basic bike repairs, what to do and how to prepare yourself for a ride will keep you riding and bring you safely back home. 

CARTER ATKINSON lives in Bozeman, Montana, with his family where he enjoys the outdoor playground as much as he can on two wheels.