Tired of changing bike tires alongside the road? Getting a flat tire every now and then might be unavoidable, but if you've been having lots of flats there are certainly several simple things you can do to greatly reduce their frequency.
Pay Attention to Your TiresIf you'd rather ride your bike than walk long distances, then paying attention to your tires is a good thing to do. Take care to inspect them after every ride, repair or replace any damaged tires and keep 'em inflated properly, and you'll have made great progress towards keeping the air in your tires and your feet in the pedals, where they belong.
Watch Out for the Shiny Stuff
When you are going down the road, as much as you can help it, don't ride where the debris collects. Glass, nails, wire, small sharp rocks, etc., are all pushed to the shoulder by the sweeping action of the car tires. They don't want to drive in it, and neither do you. In particular, watch out when you see shiny stuff ahead. That's where the small shards of broken glass are, the stuff that if it gets stuck in your tire, can gradually work its way down and eventually cause you to lose air.
"Whenever I see a puddle of broken glass in my path, which is often, I get off and walk the bike around it," says John Weeks, a 70-year-old cyclist from Topeaka, Kansas. "If I don't see the glass in time I get off at once and check the tires. I have managed to avoid flats for quite some time."
Rub Away Your Troubles
When you do hit a patch of shiny stuff or a lot of small sharp rocks, once you're past it, rub the thick padded part of your glove against your tire as it turns a couple of times. By doing that, you can dislodge anything that has embedded itself in your tire before it has a chance to go deeper. Most flats occur down the road a ways after you've picked up whatever sharp stuff punctures your tube, rather than causing an immediate loss of air.
Of course, it is safest to do this by dismounting briefly and spinning the tire by hand. Faster -- though more risky -- is to do this check while riding. If you go that route, be very careful. Best practice is to keep your hand on the front side of the fork and on the front side of the rear seatstay so that you don't get your hand caught in the spokes.
Check Your Tires After Rides
You can also help yourself avoid flats by thoroughly checking your tires after rides. It just takes a couple of minutes and can save you lots of hassle later. Position yourself in good lighting and take the time to slowly spin each wheel, looking for embedded objects or damage to your tire, like cracks, cuts or punctures on the sides and top.
Patch Those Minor Cuts
If you see a cut or puncture during an inspection, simply dig out any debris and then seal the hole with super glue or shoe goo, even placing the adhesive down in the hole if you can. Let the air out of your tire, then pump it full again. This will help set the sealant in the gouge and hopefully protect against further problems.
If the cut is not repairable, you may need to replace the tire. This can offer you the chance to buy decent puncture-resistant tires. We talk about that below.
Double Tire Method: Twice the Fun, Twice the Protection
Some cyclists have had success in thwarting flats by lining their tires with a second layer of rubber taken from an old pair of bike tires. You won't see the racers on the pro tour doing this as it may add a few grams of weight overall, but hey, personally I don't care - I'm just interested in keeping my tires full of air and not having my buddies stand around watching me trying to patch a tube when we should be riding. And this will certainly help cut down on the number of flats you'll get.
What you need is an old pair of skinny tires from a road bike, 23cm wide or so. Your local bike shop should have plenty of these around to give you. Cut off the bead -- that's the sides of the tire, the part that fits snugly into your rim -- and take the rest of the tire, what used to be the part that actually hit the road, and use them as liners for your real set of tires. Just tuck them in between your tire and tube and inflate as normal. Don't be afraid to trim the old tire as necessary to make it fit.
Use Tire Liners
Rather than cutting up old tires, you can also purchase tire liners that were designed specifically for this purpose. Mr. Tuffy is just one company that makes good tire liners. These work in the same way, helping reduce flats by providing an extra layer of thickness and protection against cuts and punctures.
Buy Better Tires
It's going to cost you some money, but one final way to avoid flats is to buy better tires. Many tires on the market today are specifically advertised as being puncture resistant. They come extra thick and/or kevlar reinforced to make them especially resistant to cuts and punctures. I've been very happy with a pair of Continental's Ultra Gatorskins on my road bike that now have 1,000 plus miles. They greatly reduced the number of flats I was getting in the stock tires that came with the bike. Some good sturdy tires that are more mountain-bike style with knobby treads are the Panaracer Fire XCs. This is another good brand you should check out if you're having trouble with flats on your mountain bike or hybrid.