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Videos like this give the impression that mounting a tire with your hands only is stupidly easy. Now during my life I've mounted quite a few tires myself (probably ten times at least), always trying to make it without tire levers and always failing. Not only that, I always ended up needing quite some force even with tire levers to get that last bit over the edge (even broke a plastic lever once).

Now I'm wondering, is this normal, and all the videos that are trying to tell you how easy it is are just using especially loose combinations of tire and rim? Or might I be missing anything?

  • What brand of tyre are you fitting? Schwalbe Marathons are known to be very difficult tyres to fit, for example. – Criggie May 28 at 2:14
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    Depends on the tire and the rim -- some combos are very easy to put on without levers, others almost impossible even with levers. (And I prefer a Quick Stick to tire levers, though, unfortunately, Quick Sticks don't appear to be available now.) – Daniel R Hicks May 28 at 2:26
  • Its an ego thing.... – mattnz May 28 at 3:22
  • I find that, at the start, it seems impossible - there's no way this tyre will go on, my fingers just aren't strong enough and I can't get a good grip - but somehow, almost magically, without any extra effort and seemingly without anything else changing, after about 10 minutes of trying it'll just happen - maybe the heat of my hands softens the rubber. – Mr_Thyroid May 28 at 14:30
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    @MaxD usually alternating between trying roll the tyre on with the heel of my hand and trying to pull the edge of the tyre over the rim with my fingertips - I also use my mouth to insult and intimidate the tyre. – Mr_Thyroid May 28 at 16:05
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That video is of a relatively supple tire going on easy. It's pretty blasé about the difficulties that can be encountered. He does end at the valve, which is good because advice to do the contrary is one of the most parroted falsehoods in cycling, but he doesn't talk about why.

There is a universal truth of difficult clincher tire mounting situations, and it's simple. You get the last part of the bead to go over easiest when on the whole rest of the wheel, but especially 180° away, the two beads are pinched together down into the well of the rim and kissing each other. And you must finish at the valve, because the valve is the spot on the wheel where the beads can sink into the rim well the least.

You can use force, tools, water, soap, pastes, and thinner rim strips to help accomplish this. Sometimes even strong, skilled mechanics need or choose to employ some or all of those. It is true that oftentimes brains and dexterity are enough, but not always, and not always on an average time expenditure basis either. But the point is that if you want your maximum chance of doing it with hands alone, you have to focus your efforts on the above principle. It's how clincher tires work and there is no trick that's anything but a rephrasing or play on it.

A side note: Sometimes you hear cyclists and mechanics advising against finishing the job with tire levers or using them for installation at all. The basis for this is that doing it carelessly is a good way to ruin tubes and sometimes tires. Tubes when the tube is being reefed on directly by the lever without the user noticing or caring, and tires when excess force is applied when the beads haven't been properly sunk into the rim well, as above, and instead are stuck and won't simply be coaxed in with force. These situations are avoidable, although some tires don't make it easy. I install a lot of 25, 28, and 32mm Marathon Pluses and I usually finish with a tire lever because on balance I find things go smoother that way, but it requires being very careful that I'm not committing the above mistakes.

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    Wow, I’ve always been told to start mounting at the valve stem (presumably to avoid damaging the valve). I’ll have to try it the other way around next time. – Michael May 28 at 5:53
  • @Michael Start near it and then go around so that the valve area is where you're finishing. – Nathan Knutson May 28 at 6:59
  • I mainly use Challenge latex tubes and I start at the valve because a few of my wheels are skinny enough that I want to push the valve back while mounting so the bead doesn't seat onto the tube. If you used tubeless wheels it wouldn't matter where you start or end, but you'll probably be using an iron, at least on the first mount due to how tightly fitted tubeless ready tires are. – bradly May 28 at 13:21
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    Yes, those Marathon Plus tires are a PITA to install. The upside is, once they are installed, you hardly ever need to take them down again because they are just so unlikely to puncture. – cmaster - reinstate monica May 29 at 10:16
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One technique is to use the "well" or valley in the rim. The tyre wants to sit in the bead, so you have to actively squeeze the tyre bead together and make it sit in the lowest part of the rim. This gives you slack which can be used at the other side to get the tyre over the rim.

Check out How can I fit Schwalbe Marathon Plus 28-622 tires on a 622-16 rim? for an existing answer that documents this more fully.

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First of all, some tires are much easier to mount than others. It just depends on how "tight" they are.

Secondly, some people have much stronger hands and fingers than I do. I've seen others take a tire that I've been unable to mount and simply "roll" it onto the rim.

My take is if you need a lever, use it rather than kill yourself trying to get it on without them. There is no shame in that!

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I think it might be one of those skills you can't fully demonstrate in a video. You've got some great answers already from the usual suspects, but I think another aspect is that it's much about the feel of it under your fingers, and where exactly your hands go to get the leverage on that particular combination of tyre and rim.

I struggled myself until I got a puncture on a ride with someone experienced who showed me.

Hopefully you know someone who can show you, if not a decent mechanic in an LBS might take a minute to show you, it will probably encourage them if you spend a bit of money in the LBS.

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