The signs of a flat tire are always dishearteningly distinct: the hissing of air, the wobble of the handlebars, and a frustrated cyclist pulling off to the side of the road. Sooner or later it happens to everyone, and it sucks when it's you.
While it's true that not all punctures can be prevented, there are simple steps that you can take to avoid most common causes. Instead of waiting until you're the one staring at a flat tire, start thinking about prevention now. Use these seven tips to keep your wheels rolling.
What Causes Flats?
Before you can understand how to prevent flat tires, it's important to know why they happen. Most flats that occur on the road happen because of one of the following:
1. There's an imperfection of the rim.
2. A hard impact, which causes the tube to get pinched between the rim and the tire or object, such as a rock. Pinch flats are also commonly referred to as a snake bite because the impact usually creates two holes, one right on top of the other, in the tube.
3. Debris on the road such as glass, thorns or other sharp objects.
There will be times as a cyclist when you'll have to ride through a patch of glass or hit a bump that you didn't see coming. Before you do, there are several equipment choices that will help you survive this scenario without a puncture.
The tire pressure is the amount of air your tire and is measured by pounds per square inch (PSI). Most of the time your tire will have a max PSI written on the sidewall. This is not to be confused with the recommended PSI of your tire.
An underinflated tire is more susceptible to pinch flats. You might also notice that less air will mean increased rolling resistance, which will make it harder to pedal. Conversely, an overinflated tire will give you less traction on the road and cause your ride quality to be more jarring, which will also slow you down. Higher PSI's also increase the likelihood of a blowout, which occurs when the tire or wheel becomes too hot and makes the air in the tube expand beyond its capacity.
There are several factors that play a role in achieving the correct tire pressure. These include your tire's width, the type of rim you're riding and your body weight. You'll find plenty of debate on this subject, but if you're looking for a general rule to follow, use this as a starting point and experiment from there. For a 700 x 23mm tire:
- Inflate your tire between 90 and 100 psi if you weigh 165 pounds or less.
- Inflate your tires between 100 to 110 psi if you weigh more than 165 pounds.
This range may need to be adjusted for several factors. If you're at the extreme high or low end of a weight range, adjust you PSI accordingly.
Don't Use Old Tires
If you've had frequent flats, old tires could be the culprit. Check the fabric on the inside part of the tire (the side that contacts the tube) to make sure the thread isn't worn or fraying. While the outside rubber can look to be in poor condition, it isn't necessary to change to a new tire unless there are visible cuts.
What is important to remember is that when the inside fabric or the edges of the rubber that fit inside the rim start to wear, it's time to splurge for a new pair.
Inspect Your Rims
Rims often go unnoticed when cyclists assess the cause of a puncture. If you've recently had a flat tire that wasn't caused by a sharp object or hard impact, inspect your rims for the following:
1. Make sure the rim tape is smooth and flat around the wheel, not bunched.
2. Check to see if the rim tape is covering each spoke hole on the rim surface.
3. Inspect the valve hole and the edges of the rim where the tire is held. Make sure there are no sharp edges that could cause a flat.
If you notice any of the above, fix the issue before you mount the tire. File sharp edges as needed and replace old rim tape. Remember to never use electrical or other household tapes to cover the rim. It will not provide the proper protection to prevent a puncture.
Use a Wider Tire
If you ride or commute on rough roads, a wider tire could be a good option. Why? The greater volume of air will resist impact punctures, or pinch flats, which are common on rough roads.
The only tradeoff to a wider tire is the increased weight. But unless you're racing or climb steep gradients, this shouldn't make too much of a difference in your daily training or commuting. Try a 700 x 25mm tire or larger to decrease your chances of a puncture.
Pick the Right Inner Tube
If you decide to use a wider tire, make sure that you also use the right inner tube. Inner tubes have widths just like tires do. If you buy a 25mm width tire but still have a 23mm wide inner tube, the rubber of the tube will be spread too thin, increasing your chances of a flat. Use the correct size tube to match the tire to be safe.
Also beware of race-light inner tubes. While lighter, they don't provide the same protection that the cheaper tubes made of thicker butyl rubber do.
Pay Attention to Where You're Riding
Main traffic lanes are usually pretty clear from glass and other debris that may cause a flat. The problem is, cyclists tend to pedal closer to the shoulder, where most of the glass and other dangerous stuff piles up. If this is where you usually ride, a puncture is more likely to happen.
If there are no bike lanes, ride as safely away from the gutter as possible. Moving away from the curb has the added benefit of making you more visible to motorists.
If there are sections of road with limited space, and you're left with no other place on the road to ride, stop and check your tires after you've gone through a patch of glass or other dangerous objects. If you can remove the debris before it works its way into the inner tube, a flat can be prevented.
Try to avoid potholes or manholes when possible. Paying attention to what's ahead of you will decrease your chances of an impact puncture.
Is Tubeless the Future?
Tubeless tires work with tubeless rims to remove the need for an inner tube. A special sealant is used to hold the tire onto the rim. Not only does this remove the possibility of an impact puncture, but the sealant also repairs sharp object punctures as they happen.
If you still have a puncture from an object that's too large to be sealed, an inner tube can be used with the tubeless rim to get home. The initial investment for tubeless rims and tires is a hefty one—$1,000 on the low end of spectrum. But the upgrade will improve your ride quality and provide superior flat protection that could prove to be worth the price in the long run.
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