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Sometimes when I change the inner tube due to a flat on my road bike I find that I may have damaged the tube due to tire levers hitting it.

Any tips to avoid this? How about pumping in more air into the tube before using the levers to pull the tire into the wheel frame?

I have plastic levers.

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Its all about technique.

My normal process is :

  • set gear in highest (11T cog), open rim brake caliper, undo QR, and remove wheel from bike
  • remove cap and lockring from presta valve, put aside.
  • quick visual inspection of tread looking for cause of puncture
  • use two plastic tyre levers to remove one side of tyre bead from rim
  • Pull tube from tyre, inspect.
  • finger inside of tyre looking for a sharp, and remove anything found.

Fitting new tube:

  • fit new valve stem into rim, add lockring loosely so it doesn't fall back inside rim while working. Lay rim flat like a pizza.
  • Tuck the tube into the tyre evenly all around
  • Then start at the valve and tuck the tyre's bead into the rim. Work around the rim till it gets tight. At this point some people put a small puff of air into the tube, but that's never worked for me.
  • I use fingers on one hand to shove the tube into the tyre, and then I use the other hand to squash the two sidewalls together to pinch the tube lightly so it can't be in the bead area. Then I push an inch or two of bead over the rim, and repeat.
  • If I see tube stuck between rim and tyre then I back off and reset. There's nothing to be gained by trying to recover.
  • When tyre is fully in the rim, I push the last segment over and visually look between bead and rim valley wall - a save here means the tube is still okay but if you'd started inflating the tube can be torn.

Note - some tyres are just tight, and some rims are oversized by the tiniest amount. Combinations like this can be super hard to fit.

If you're putting a too wide tube in, that can be difficult. Likewise a tube that is too long may need to be redistributed to fit in - you don't want folds anywhere.

Some people use soap or water or similar as a lube, but I find they just make the job messier.

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    +1 - I've experienced that there tire/rim combinations where working with levers makes things even more complicated because they flop around, fall off but in the end you can get the tire on/off just fine manually. Your thumbs are your strongest fingers (if you consider them fingers). I personally find pre-inflating helpful because the tube stays better in the tire expanded but even without, it's probably just a matter of care and routine.
    – DoNuT
    Sep 15, 2023 at 5:44
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    +1. I’d add that the crucial piece of “technique” is pushing the tyre bead into the rim valley (while keeping tension) where the rim circumference is less. That way you often don’t even need tyre levers and can even mount tubeless ready road bike tyres with your bare hands. This reduces the risk of tube damage greatly.
    – Michael
    Sep 15, 2023 at 5:57
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    @Michael I willtry this next time but from my experience it seems incredulous that people can do that with their bare hands. Last time I used tyre levers and in spite of having lots of leverage still had to use my adult male force to get the tyre back on the rim.
    – quarague
    Sep 18, 2023 at 9:42
  • @quarague yep it all comes down to tolerances. I have a 26" MTB tyre that slips onto its rim with barely a gentle throw, like playing horseshoes or quoits. Its quite disturbing just how sloppy some combos can be. If you ever want to try a bad combination, a slightly oversized rim plus a Schwalbe Marathon tyre, or any brand of "airless tyre" on any rim at all are both known difficult jobs.
    – Criggie
    Sep 18, 2023 at 9:52

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