The Ultimate Guide to Preventing Punctures on Your Bike
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Ever been through one of those phases where you get so many punctures you don’t feel like cycling any more?
Sod’s law says that it will probably be raining and you’ll already be late for work when you heard that dreaded hissing sound.
It might seem like it’s just bad luck (or that the cycling gods are out to get you) but there are several steps you can take to reduce the number of punctures you get.
Check your tires are inflated to the right pressure.
Keeping your tires properly pumped is the easiest way to reduce the number of punctures you get.
(Also, buying a decent track pump… the kind that stands on the floor… will make this less hard work).
Most tires have the recommended pressure printed on the side which you can use as a guide, usually between 80 to 130 psi for road tires. But don’t feel like you have to stick to this religiously — there’s room to experiment and find the pressure that works best for you.
Some tips to guide you on this:
- A slightly lower pressure can give you a more comfortable ride
- Lower pressures also give you more grip in the wet
- Your front tire doesn’t need to be pumped up so much, because it’s the back wheel that takes most of your weight.
Get some Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires
When it comes to puncture-proof tires, the Marathon Plus is the daddy. They have an extra layer of rubber which means you could jab a drawing pin in and it wouldn’t go through to your inner tube. They are heavier than normal tires because of all the extra rubber, and don’t roll as easily, but the payoff is the piece of mind that comes from such a high resistance to punctures.
Buy from Amazon.co.ukBuy from WiggleBuy from Evans
Or try some of these other puncture-resistant tires
- Continental Ultra Gator Skin
- Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons
- Schwalbe Durano Plus
Get tougher inner tubes
After you’ve gotten yourself some tougher tires, you might also want to beef up your inner tubes. Look for the “thorn resistant” kind, which are a few times thicker than normal tubes, and also have the benefit of holding air much better.
Sheldon Brown (naturally) goes one step further in his compendium of inner tube knowledge:
“Good rubber has a distinctive odour, not at all unpleasant. Get to know that odour. If the tube smells different, reject it.”
Avoid cycling right in the gutter
If you cycle right next to the edge of the road, you’ll be riding through all the glass, grit and other gunk that accumulates in the gutter. Avoid it by riding further out in the road — ideally a bit more than a car door’s width away from the pavement.
If you’re riding in a group
On group rides, keep an eye out for hazards in the road, and point them out to your buddies behind you.
Or if there’s no time to avoid, say, a patch of broken glass, you can hop your bike right over it… +20 style points.
Keep an eye on your tires
Before long rides, it’s best to check your tire pressure using a decent track pump. Not only do these have a pressure gauge built, they’re much easier on your arms than using a smaller hand pump.
You should also check your tires for any shards of glass or other nasties like flints embedded in them.
These are not your friends — whilst it’s ok to leave the smaller fragments stuck in your tires, bigger ones should be removed. Some people like to fill in the hole with super glue too.
When you’re fixing punctures
Don’t use tyre levers when putting a tire back on
Using tire levers to force a tire back onto the rim often ends up pinching your new inner tube and causing another puncture. (Argggh!)
The best way to reseat a tire is using your bare hands. If you have fairy-soft hands like me, this can be a bit painful at first. But with practice — it’s all about rolling the last bit of the tire over with the fleshy bit of your palm — you’ll soon develop the satisfying ability to get a tire back on without levers.
This helpful video will walk you through changing a tire without levers:
Inflating your inner tube with a small amount of air before you remount the tire is good too — this helps it to hold its shape and reduces the likelihood of a pinch flat.
When you do get a puncture, figure out what caused it straight away
Let’s talk about the two main kinds of punctures…
The first is the obvious kind — something sharp penetrating the tire, like a thorn, rusty nail, or a flint. Depending on the size of the offending object, this can cause anything from a tiny hole (= slow puncture) to a huge gash in the side of your tire (= instant puncture and sad face).
You need to — carefully! — run your hand along the inside of your tire to be sure that this object isn’t still rattling around inside your tire. Otherwise it can cause another puncture.
If you’re struggling to find what actually caused your puncture, try this… Once you’ve removed the punctured tube, find the offending hole in the rubber. (Blowing some air into the tube and holding it to your ear to listen for a hiss will help you find less obvious holes). Now hold your tube up alongside your tire, and align the valve on the tube with the valve hole in your wheel. You can now see where the hole in your inner tube aligns with your tire — and look for a problem at this point.
The second main kind of puncture is a pinch flat — the telltale sign to look for here is two holes… usually short parallel lines, or a “snakebite”. Pinch flats happen when you hit something sharp like a pothole, and the inner tube pinches on the rim of your wheel. Which obviously is not cool. (If you get a lot of pinch flats, it could be a sign that you are under-inflating your tire)
If you keep getting punctures in the same place, check your rim tape as well. If it’s come loose then your spokes can poke into your inner tube and make the bad thing happen.
If you really can’t face getting a puncture ever again
There is a 100% puncture-proof option: the solid rubber tire. We know, we know, it’s an ungodly thing. But we just wanted to float the option. Check out the Korean brand Tannus Tires, who cite a lifespan of 9,000 miles for their solid tires. (Enough to get you through the Tour De France four times over). Solid tires will never compete with performance of a pneumatic tire, but you can’t deny the practicality.
One last thing…
Don’t beat yourself (or your bike!) up if it takes a while to master these tips.
The key is simply to keep practicing.
I still remember the first time I changed a tire on my road bike… it took me over an hour and my hands were raw from the effort, but I was happy because I knew I wouldn’t have to pay a bike shop to fix my punctures any more.
Armed with the right techniques (and a pump, tire levers, and spare tube), you’ll always be in a good place to fix that flat.
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What are your best tips for avoiding punctures?
We’d love to know… let us know in the comments below :)