Okay, this post should probably be titled “Minimizing Flat Tires” because, regardless of how many of these tips and tricks you follow, you’re probably still going to get the occasional flat tire. Nonetheless, there are numerous things you can do to significantly reduce the frequency of flats. The primary methods of minimizing flats are through basic tire care and maintaining proper tire pressure (of course), using puncture-resistant tires and tubes, using tire liners, or using tube sealants.
Tire Care and Pressure
Fortunately, tires don’t require much care. However, you should periodically examine your tire tread and sidewalls for excessive wear or damage and replace any tires that are deficient. While you’re examining the tires, also look for and remove any small objects that might be embedded in the tread. Such items can slowly work their way through the tire and eventually cause a puncture even if they don’t cause an immediate flat.
Regarding tire pressure, make sure you’re in the sweet spot. Tires are only rated for a certain pressure range. Over-inflation can not only cause a blow-out which can be extremely dangerous, but tires that are extremely hard are generally also more prone to being punctured. On the other end of the spectrum, under-inflation can lead to pinch flats that occur when you hit a bump (pothole, curb, rock, whatever) and your under-inflated tire compresses all the way to the rim. This creates two small holes in the tube that resembles a snake bite. Therefore, the term “snake bite” is synonymous with pinch flat in the cycling lexicon.
Puncture-resistant Tires and Tubes
There are now a plethora of puncture-resistant tires and tubes on the market. The puncture-resistant tubes are essentially just thicker rubber, but the puncture-resistant tires take things to the next level. Some of these tires just have thicker tread and others incorporate tougher materials such as Kevlar. There are even some tires, such as the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, that incorporate an extra-thick puncture protection belt.
One disadvantage of puncture-resistant tires and tubes is that they are relatively heavy compared to standard tires and tubes, and that can reduce pedaling efficiency. But for non-competitive applications such as commuting, puncture-resistant tires and tubes can be an excellent choice.
Tire liners are thin strips of plastic that are placed between the tube and the tire in order to significantly reduce the likelihood of punctures from glass, thorns, or other sharp objects. They work pretty well but they add more weight to the wheel than some people care for. But if you live in an area with lots of thorns or broken glass on roads, tire liners could be worthwhile.
Sealants are squeezed into the tube through the valve stem, and then the sealant actually plugs punctures as they happen if the hole is relatively small. There are a couple of different kinds of sealant that are designed to work for the different tube types (i.e., Presta or Schrader), so you need to make sure you get the right kind. Depending on the sealant type, a separate injector may also need to be purchased. It’s also possible to buy tubes that come with sealant already installed, but they tend to be a little more expensive than buying tubes and sealant separately, especially if you have several bikes on which you want to use sealant.