Getting a flat isn’t the highlight of any cyclist’s riding experience. It can ruin your day, especially if you aren’t equipped to handle it.
Why is it you have no flats at all, and then one day you get one or more in a row? What’s up with that? Is it the law of averages? Or bad luck?
There are many things a cyclist can do before and during a ride to prevent flats.
1. Look where you’re going
It may sound obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted when riding your bike. You might be having an interesting conversation with the rider next to you, or your eyes get fixed on the beautiful scenery around you.
Large potholes, broken glass, nails, thorns, or hitting large pieces of metal and debris on the road can cause punctures. It can ruin your expensive tires, or worse, lead to a crash.
Always keep your eyes on the road. Be sure to point out anything you wouldn’t want to ride over to those behind you; it’s proper cycling etiquette.
2. Check your tires regularly
It’s common that your tire may have picked up something minuscule that you didn’t see or feel. Take a few moments to inspect your tires especially during coffee breaks or after the ride.
Little slivers of glass and small sharp stones are the usual culprits. If you catch them in time, you can remove them before they work their way through the tire and cause a flat or an annoying slow leak.
3. Replace worn-out tires
Bike tires are costing more as more technology goes into their development. These days, they can be more expensive than tires for cars!
Like most people, you want to get as much use out of them as possible. But when you constantly get a puncture, it’s a sign that it may be time for new tires.
Tires wear on the centerline, eating away the rubber compound. At a certain point, they start to square off at the top or lose their tread. This isn’t necessarily something that catches your eye, but if you stoop down and inspect them at eye level, you’ll see for yourself.
Look for minor cuts that work their way open over time because of internal tire pressure, dried-out patches, or weakened tire beads. They could cause a nasty blowout. These examples are reason enough to get your bike some new tires.
More reading : What Affects Tire Wear?
4. Choose your tires carefully
Lightweight tires are many cyclists’ favorite for their soft rubber compounds. But, they also wear down faster and provide the least amount of protection against flats.
They’re made for speed and aren’t a great choice for training for these very reasons. The more you ride any tire, the faster they wear.
Look for tires with a layer of puncture protection belt sandwiched into its compound. For some models, the puncture protection belt only goes so far and may only cover the main rolling surface and not the sidewalls. It makes tires weigh a bit more, but they are worthy of the extra weight.
5. Consider going tubeless
Tubeless tires have become a hot topic recently thanks to the added comfort they provide.
The main benefit of going for a tubeless setup is the added protection against flats. The sealant used inside the tire can repair most of the punctures you’ve ever experienced, except for deep cuts longer than 0.25″.
Some cyclists carry a tubeless plug that will work with the sealant to close any large cuts.
More reading : How to Switch to A Tubeless Tire Setup
6. Check your tire pressure
Your tires and tubes are porous and won’t hold air forever. You filled up a few days ago but noticed your tires running low on today’s ride. Tire pressure changes with the weather (atmospheric pressure) and temperature.
Latex tubes are especially susceptible to these factors. If you use CO2, the air could leak completely in less than a day.
Remember to inflate your tires before you head out. At the least, check the tire pressure to ensure the tire is firm.
If your tire pressure is ideal, it’ll more than likely roll over a shard of glass or a nail and not pick it up. You can use this online calculator from SRAM to find out your optimum tire pressure.
More reading : Butyl vs Latex - Which is Better?
7. Inspect your rim tape
You’ve gotten a few flats in a row, checked the tire, and it seems fine. What’s going on?
If this is happening to you, and you run tubes, remove and overinflate the tube the next time you flat. Where’s the damage causing the air to escape? Compare it to where the valve stem goes into your rim. Is it on the rim or the tire side?
If it’s rim side, you’ve found the offender. Check your rim.
Is there a little hole where the spoke head pokes through? Or has the strip moved, exposing the spoke hole?
Rim strips that come on most bikes aren’t the best quality. Replace them with a quality self-adhesive cloth tape from Velox or Zefal and ride worry-free.
8. Powder coat your tubes and tires
Powdered surfaces glide against each other, helping to prevent punctures, particularly pinch flats.
This is an old-school technique that works wonders. In fact, inner tubes used to come with a light layer of powder or a similar substance already on it visible in the box. But lower-quality production and the battle of cost gains or making more money saw it disappear. You can revive this old practice at home.
Before installing your tube, inflate it and sprinkle talcum powder on it here and there. Use your hand to spread it around the entire circumference. You’ll feel and see where you may have missed. Now put a small pile inside the tire and turn it 360º to coat the inside.
9. Avoid using patched tubes repeatedly
Patches are a wonderful thing, especially since the glueless ones came to market. They’ve saved me several times, getting me or a riding buddy home with no incidents.
Tubes aren’t cheap these days. So patching the inner tube is better for your budget and the planet, but patched tubes only last so long. Ride patched tubes at your own discretion, knowing that they eventually fail.
If your leak is coming from a tube’s seams, you can forget about the patch. They never hold and air seeps out from underneath on the seam. Save yourself some time and effort and use a new tube.
Instead of throwing out old tubes, use them in clever ways on your bike, such as a useful elastic band, and for projects around the house.
10. Minimize riding in wet weather
When it rains, crud and debris get washed up to the road shoulders. As cyclists, we ride on the road shoulders. This is where the tire gets into contact with these which could cause a puncture.
But if you absolutely have to ride in the rain, then proceed with caution.
11. Don’t talk about it!
A debatable theory for some, but in my experience, it’s true.
Call it superstition, but if you start talking about how long it’s been since you’ve had a flat around experienced cyclists, they’ll stop you mid-sentence. It isn’t something you talk about.
If it’s been a while since you flatted, fantastic, but it may be time to inspect your tires for wear instead of betting on your continued good luck. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and talking about it will get you nowhere.