Avoiding punctures on my cycle to work
October 14, 2009 7:50 AM   Subscribe

What's your anti-puncture strategy? I've been cycling to work for about 5 weeks now and, in the last week, have had three punctures.

One was my fault (I didn't check the tyre thoroughly enough after the first puncture), but the other two were accidents.

So, beyond pumping the tyres up to full pressure, what else can I do to help cut down on punctures? I've seen tape to stick on the inside of the tyres, puncture resistant tyres, puncture resistant tubes and tubes with goo in them. Which are nonsense and which do you use on a daily basis?

I'm riding a road bike (with gears) but I don't mind a little extra weight
posted by fatfrank to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Gatorskin tires are pretty bulletproof. I highly recommend them.

I've heard goo-filled tubes are a load of BS, but don't have any real personal experience.
posted by wrok at 7:55 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Better luck. True wheels. Perhaps a narrower tube might help. Pump your tyres a little more than the stated max pressure. Otherwise, it's just one of those things that happens. I haven't had a puncture for well over a year. Before that, I went through a spate of them.
posted by popcassady at 8:03 AM on October 14, 2009

To quote a friend of mine: "Stay out of the crunchy shit at the side of the road." So 'take the lane' whenever practical and possible. Much of what causes punctures does indeed get blown/swept to the sides.
posted by dbmcd at 8:06 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Schwalbe "flatless" (I like the Marathon Plus) and Panaracer "tourguard" (I like the Pasela) tires are both excellent--I can usually ride all year without getting a flat. They're both on the heavy side of things, and tend to be expensive, but I think it's a worthwhile tradeoff. Goo-filled tubes, at least for people who are getting flats from normal road debris, seem like too much trouble to be worth it.
posted by pullayup at 8:08 AM on October 14, 2009

That green goo just means more of a mess when you change the tube.

For a period, after I got one flat, I'd get three or four right in a row. Then one day I got a flat right in front of the bike shop (I was going there to get more tubes). The bike store guy pointed out my problem - I was remounting the tube and tire with levers instead of all by hand. It's a real mother, but any tire can be re-mounted without the use of levers; using levers sets you up for pinching the tube and getting more flats.

Also, a little talcum powder inside the tire helps - no friction to roll the tube into a pinch yposition.
posted by notsnot at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The goo is pretty worthless, unless you happen to get tiny punctures. The goo can't keep up with the air leakage on big ones. Good tires are the most helpful thing in my experience. They often cost a little more, but they're worth it if they keep you from changing a tube in the rain. If your area has a common problem, say, a type of bush with thorns, the guys at your local bike shop should have some recommendation if it's a decent shop.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2009

A great number of tires now feature a kevlar fabric as one of the layers of the tires construction to stop cuts and punctures. The problem is, with all fabrics, there are holes in the weave.

Apparently the Specialized has come up with some sort of technology that allows them to plug these holes. Their tires branded with 'armadillo' are supposed to be quite puncture resistant.

I've commuted about five years on a set of 700c x 28 without incident.
I've also had great luck with the Continental gatorskin tires mentioned above.

A set of Michelin dynamics and Hutchinson globetrotters I tried out in between these two didn't last more than a couple of weeks for me...
posted by csmason at 8:13 AM on October 14, 2009

I've used slime (one of the several brands of goo) for years, and swear by it. It doesn't prevent punctures, but it fills in the holes, so it's likely that only a little air will escape. As long as you have a pump, even a completely flat slimed tube/tire will pump right back up again.

Just like record stores, bike shops have opinionated employees who won't hesitate to share their beliefs that slime and other goo products are "heavy" etc., but that's just gear snobbery. The stuff does work.

I've experimented with many puncture-proof tires, including Vitoria, Conti (gatorskins), Bontrager and Panaracer, and found them all to pretty much work about the same against thorns, goatheads and glass. In concert with slimed tubes, I rarely get flats, and I commute 100% by bike and ride recreationally as well.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:16 AM on October 14, 2009

Continental Gatorskins are pretty damn good for being puncture resistant while still rolling pretty well. I think Specialized Armadillos are a little bit tougher, but they also ride a lot more harsh. I personally don't like that tradeoff.

I keep two sets of tires for my bike: Gatorskins with thicker butyl tubes (thicker than normal) for training/commuting and Michelin Pro Race IIIs with latex tubes for racing.

I probably only had 5 flats last year (but my training partner never got a single one with Vittoria Rubinos, but I think he's just lucky). That was down from previous years before I switched to Gatorskins.

Three flats in a week could be dumb luck. It could be that you're riding through debris too much, and this can especially happen if you're riding too near to the curb, where a lot of debris accumulates.

Good luck with it. It can be really frustrating when you have several in a row. Hopefully you're getting your flat-fixing technique down, so it's faster every time.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:19 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh! Also, make sure you're inspecting the inside of the tire very very carefully after each flat. The shards of glass that make it through a tire and eventually rub through the tube can be extremely small, so that you can't see it readily, but you can feel it with your fingers. Go through every square inch of the inside of the tire with your fingers, and dig out the tiny shard (it's like popping a zit) before you mount the tire again.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:22 AM on October 14, 2009

On my city bike I spent the better part of my first summer with it constantly changing flats (about once a week). After a few months of that (I got to be extremely good at changing tires as an upside), I got specialized Armadillos and I have gotten exactly 1 flat tire in the last two years (that was due to a nasty spike I ran over, I doubt anything would have stopped it). It is not quite as smooth as my previous sets of tires, and it is looking like it is time to replace them, but I have been very happy with their grip, speed, and durability (this is for a fixie so they are ridden pretty hard and fast).
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:27 AM on October 14, 2009

knobby tires can help
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:33 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Full pressure in the tubes is the important thing. I use a floor pump with a pressure gauge to be certain, not just a hand pump. I check the tires every week.

Good tires are also important: I've used Specialized Nimbus, Panaracer Pasela, Avocets (now disontinued), Continental Touring. The New Continental Ultra Gatorskin is probably what I'll buy next. The difference with good tires is noticeable.

Aside from that, the best defence, IMO is to ride smart. Stay away from rubble, don't ride over big bumps or curbs (pinch-flats), stay off high speed arteries if possible.

The most common flat is a pinch flat, which looks like a snakebite---two holes. It's caused by low tire pressure and often provoked by going over a sharp bump or rough terrain. It's also the easiest to fix: patch the tube and reinflate properly. No damage to bike or tire.

The second most common is caused by little wires from disintegrating car tires. The radial belts are made of fine wire; these produce short wire fragments on roads, particularly busy arterials. The symptom of a wire flat is constant rear flatting. this may be what you're experiencing.

Radial wires lie flat on the road and are flicked upright by the front bike tire. They are thus in the perfect orientation to catch the rear tire and cause a puncture. It can, less commonly, happen in the front particularly on group rides. Unless you remove the wire, which is tuck in the tire, the tube will continue to puncture. What you need to do is find the wire stuck in the tube.

Wipe the inside of the tire with a tissue or a ball of cotton wool (NOT YOUR FINGER!). It will snag on the wire, which you can then remove with a pair of pliers or tweezers. Fix the flat as normal and all will be well.

Less common for road bikes are the big gash events like glass cuts and others. Tempered glass fragments (ie from car windshields) are actually reasonably safe to ride over, few sharp edges, but bottle glass is not. For these you need to carry a tire boot, a small tough piece of fabric or card you can line the inside of the tire with to get yourself home.

Those are all the types of flats I've experienced. In my experience, the goops, tire snots and stuff just make changing the flat more unpleasant and don't offer a lot of benefit. Slime won't prevent a pinch flat for instance. The kevlar tires do seem to protect a bit for the wire punctures, but that may just be selection bias on my part.
posted by bonehead at 8:42 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

What kind of flats are you getting?
Holes poked in the center of the tube? Pinch flats?

Carefully remounting your tire after fixing a flat takes longer [do it without levers, if you can], but a series of flats in a row is often the result of a pinch with the lever as you put the tire back on.

Also, you said you have checked the tire carefully, but sometimes you don't find the *second* sharp thing until much later.

You likely don't need goo or a tire liner. Puncture resistant tires like those listed upthread are a definite bonus, though. I prefer the Paselas, but Conti gatorskins have also proved their worth to me. Just be calm and thorough as you fix your flats.
posted by Acari at 8:43 AM on October 14, 2009

knobby tires can help

Not in my experience. On a road bike particularly, this just makes riding worse and numb hands more likely, not to mention the danger of wipe outs on descents. Just say no to nobbies on the road.
posted by bonehead at 8:44 AM on October 14, 2009

I got 8 flats in one year three years ago. Then I bought some kevlar strips and put one in each tire. Haven't gotten a single flat since.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:48 AM on October 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all for the really useful info. I think new tyres is the way forward. For what it's worth I'm currently on some Specialized mondo with "Flak Jacket" protection which seems to achive bugger all.

Acari First was a small hole, second (my fault) was caused by wire poking out from the inside of the tyre, presumably as a result of the first puncture. Third is a slit in the middle of the tube
posted by fatfrank at 8:52 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh yeah, one possible cause I forgot: a poorly-fitting liner or rough spoke ends. If you are flatting on the inside of the tube, you may need to change your liner. You can get both pinch flats (two hole) or single hole punctures this way. Is this a new bike or a new wheel? Does the liner cover all of the spoke heads? When you rub your finger around the tire bed, does it feel smooth or can you feel sharp bits? Is the liner loose? If any of these are yes, change the liner, the band of plastic of rubber that covers the spike heads in the wheel.

You can do a new liner yourself, just make certain that it's wide enough for your rim. It's little harder than changing a tube.
posted by bonehead at 8:56 AM on October 14, 2009

I use Mr. Tuffys. They are liners that go between the tire and the tube. They seem to work well for me, although I've heard some people say they can actually cause flats. I think the secret is to use talcum powder inside the tire as you install them so everything can sort itself out without snags or pinches.

The best protection is probably from the puncture-proof tires others recommend, but those tires are pretty expensive. Mr. Tuffy liners plus a pair of new basic tires costs less than the super-duper flat proof tires, and when the tires wear out you can re-use the protective Mr. Tuffys. When you wear out a flat-proof tire, to get puncture resistance on the next tire you have to pay out for the expensive one again. I just get the cheapie and move my Mr. Tuffys over.
posted by Doohickie at 8:58 AM on October 14, 2009

Those do sound like wire flats to me fatfrank.
posted by bonehead at 9:02 AM on October 14, 2009

Lately we've been rolling Panaracer Ribmo tires for bike polo, which places incredible stress on all parts of the bike, especially tires (lots and lots of skidding, and the field of play is often in neglected urban areas full of bits of metal and glass). I've only been riding mine for a couple of months, but they still look like new, even after some 10+ foot skids.

posted by rocketman at 9:23 AM on October 14, 2009

TLDR; how old are your tires? Usually frequent flatting is the sign that your tires are too worn. Then again it could be just dumb luck. At any rate, your tire is definitely jinxed so get a new one!
posted by neilkod at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2009

Continental Gatorskins
posted by Rad_Boy at 9:30 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

second (my fault) was caused by wire poking out from the inside of the tyre, presumably as a result of the first puncture.

From the tyre itself, or from the rim. Good rim tape is needed to prevent the spoke heads from puncturing the tube. I don't know any tyres that use wires except in the bead and if that is poking out you probably need a new tyre.

Third is a slit in the middle of the tube

This sounds like the kind of damage that occurs when mounting the tyre using tyre levers. Don't use them for that, use your palms. Any other cause would seem to require a pretty significant injury to the tyre.
posted by caddis at 9:30 AM on October 14, 2009

I routinely patch punctures with super glue, Quick and easy. Especially great on valve stem cuts.
posted by hortense at 9:33 AM on October 14, 2009

Third is a slit in the middle of the tube

This sounds like the kind of damage that occurs when mounting the tyre using tyre levers.

I agree. Wire puncture, wire puncture, putting-tire-on-in-a-hurry puncture. This sequence happens to cyclists all the freaking time. You are not alone. I wouldn't say you *need* new tires, as a wire will poke through anything, and you only really had one foreign object enter your tire, but still. New tires are fun.
posted by Acari at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2009

Repeating what's said above as my own experience:

I take the lane and use Continental Gatorskins (or the cheaper lookalikes that I think are the same tire). I might get one puncture every 1000 miles.

I also inspect my tires, and if I see more than one or two cuts in the tire, I replace it, on the believe that each one of those cuts makes it easier for the next piece of glass or metal to get to the tube.
posted by zippy at 9:46 AM on October 14, 2009

Consider the width of your tubes relative to the width of the tires. Think of the tube as a balloon. A balloon with less air in it is less susceptible to bursting than a balloon with more air in it, as with inflation the thickness of the rubber decreases and is more prone to bursting. So, if your tube matches the tire's width as closely as possible (even better if the tube is a little bit wider and you can still fit it into the tire), it won't need to inflate as much and therefore become thinner to meet the interior dimensions of the tire. That said, you cannot trust what the manufacturers list for this measurement. If you go to your bike shop and ask them to sell you a 26 x 2.1" tube, open that box and measure it for your self, after you have measured the inflated width of your tire. Make sure they match through your own measurements.

As an example I have 700x45 tires on my cyclocross bike, but can find 29 x 2.3 tubes that fits these tires. A difference in the manufacturer's described width of FIFTEEN MILLIMETERS!!!

I find this outrageous.

It SUCKS that these measurements from the manufacturers are not consistent.

I also advocate using SLIME brand tire sealant to prevent flats.
posted by Oireachtac at 10:06 AM on October 14, 2009

I don't use slime or any of that stuff but I do support of a charity ride. When doing this I spend the whole day changing flats. Last year I changed about 30 flats, this year it was only about 20.

I was sort of surprised to find that it looked like the slime worked. I know what you are thinking, "hey, if the slime worked why where you changing some riders flat?" A couple of times when I pulled a tire off a rider's bike who was using slime there would be a number of places on the tube where the slime has leaked out and sealed a puncture. So it looked like these people had saved themselves from a number of flats before I got to them. I saw this on a couple of tires.

I don't get a lot of flats so I don't use slime, but I've seen evidence that it works to some extent.
posted by bdc34 at 10:15 AM on October 14, 2009

I like the Mr. Tuffy tire liners. They seem to make a big difference.
posted by orme at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009

Good thread with interesting info. Nobody's mentioned my solution, however -- thicker inner tubes, often called "puncture-proof" which isn't actually true but they sure are puncture resistant. These tubes' outer walls are thicker than on the inside. Not sold everywhere but more available now than previously.
posted by Rash at 10:26 AM on October 14, 2009

Response by poster: caddis & Acari The "wire" in the second puncture was from the actual tyre itself and I don't need to use tyre leavers to get the tyre back on.

I should note that I replaced the inner tube between punctures two and three (all three are on the back wheel) as I pinched the tube when inflating after repair number two and it asploded, luckily whilst sat in the hallway. Nearly gave my girlfriend a coronary...

And this is all on a new bike, less than two months old.

Rash That was one of the things I was considering
posted by fatfrank at 11:06 AM on October 14, 2009

Those wires aren't from your tire, fatfrank, unless you can actually find the tire wearing. Small wires poking through the tire rubber, usually black, are from other tires, car tires. Bike tires aren't made with wire the way car tires are. The only wire in a bike tire is the bead, which is a silvery woven cable. A single black wire is from a car (or truck) radial tire.

You've experienced a pretty normal radial wire flats. You almost certainly got the second flat from the same wire as the first. That's why it's important to do the tire wipe check before mounting the tire after fixing the flat.
posted by bonehead at 11:45 AM on October 14, 2009

Currently commuting on Michelin Transworld City tires with Slime liners (actual liners, not the goop). These work ok except I got a flat from the liners rubbing the tube, so next time I'll pick up a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Pros. I don't recommend the Performance Forte brand.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:49 AM on October 14, 2009

Response by poster: Ah, am muppet. I tried to pull the wire out with a pair of pliers bonehead and it just wouldn't come so I assumed it was something to do with the Flak Jacket incorporated into my tyres.
posted by fatfrank at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2009

Kevlar, the fabric used in your tires, looks like a coffee-with-cream coloured weave (or perhaps individual strands). In other tires, the cord can be a white colour. Black wires aren't used in bike tires, to the best of my knowledge.
posted by bonehead at 12:03 PM on October 14, 2009

I find slime works very well; in one gratuitous case I got a nasty glass puncture at the beginning of a ride but pedaled for awhile and the slime eventually sealed it up. It eventually bled out later that day, once we were back, but that was many hours later.

Slime does make patching tires a hit or miss opportunity though. When inflated pressure is poor, slime fails to block leaks, and instead the slime rather bubbles out under the patch, ruining it. I find instant patches much more vulnerable to this than traditional scuff-it-up-and-glue-it patches.

I *hate* fixing flats on the road. Hate it. So I use slime. It is not without tradeoffs.
posted by rr at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2009

Lots of great advice here. I'll second the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires... since I started using them I've had very, very few punctures.
posted by Emanuel at 1:17 PM on October 14, 2009

The slime works for me, I haven't had a puncture since using it.

Interestingly, my cycle-racing friend swears that in the rain you get more punctures, I forget what the reason was. Anyway, he washes, and brushes his tyres with a fingernail brush after cycling in the rain.

He might have a point, nearly all my punctures have been in, or shortly after riding in, the rain.
posted by jonesor at 4:30 PM on October 14, 2009

N-thing kevlar tire liners. I used to cycle in London - experienced a puncture a week until I started using these. Never had a single puncture after that. There's a page that discusses two types here.
posted by Susurration at 4:53 PM on October 14, 2009

used to get flats bi-weekly or so on my 10-mile commute until I switched to Armadillos. After that, no problem. As far from scientific as you can get, but there you are. I'd definitely buy them again.
posted by fishfucker at 7:35 PM on October 14, 2009

Anecdata: I've had a Hutchinson Top Slick last for 6000km and it's still going strong (front). On the rear, the same kind lasted 2500km before I discarded it due to it looking terribly shredded from road debris... but still no punctures. Replaced it with a Specialized slick and had a puncture every 50km so I replaced that with a Gatorskin and it's been faultless for 1500km.

Cheap tyres suck, Kevlar-armoured tyres are worth the extra $40.
posted by polyglot at 8:35 PM on October 14, 2009

Had Schwalbe tyres fitted to my new bicycle at double the cost and have yet to experience a puncture. Not a single one. I drive 99% of the time on roads. These tyres I've had, with the bike, since 2004. Five years and no punctures is worth a great deal, I would never buy another type again.
posted by Elfasi at 3:26 AM on October 15, 2009

Another vote for Marathons here: I haven't had a puncture in years. I use the standard Marathon, not the Plus version. Obviously there's a weight cost, but for a commuter bike I'll gladly trade the weight & the £ cost of the tyres for all those puncture free journeys.

(No doubt I'll go to work tomorrow and ride over a nail now.)
posted by pharm at 6:04 AM on October 15, 2009

Good call on the rim tape issue, bonehead. That plagued one of my bikes for weeks, and the store mechanic wouldn't believe I needed wider tape. Eventually I just stopped trying to convince him..

The most common flat is a pinch flat, which looks like a snakebite---two holes. It's caused by low tire pressure and often provoked by going over a sharp bump or rough terrain. It's also the easiest to fix: patch the tube and reinflate properly. No damage to bike or tire.

I have to disagree here.. The most common flat in urban areas is glass bottle shards. Also wires and tacks. I'm sure some of them are the car tire wires you mention, but there are also tones of staples and other lamp post fastening devices all over the road.

Of course pinch flats are pretty common, but I find them quite hard to repair, relatively. A puncture on the running surface side of a tube is easy to repair because of the way the patch is sandwiched between tire and tube. Just globe it all together, it is almost impossible to do wrong. Patching other types of punctures (pinches, poorly seated rim tape) takes quite a bit more care.

I've used the goop. It works, but I decided the mess was too much to deal with. I'm riding with an extra thick tube on my back wheel right now, and I've had very few flats since I started using it. It might be making my ride a little rougher though, and it is quite heavy.
posted by Chuckles at 11:30 PM on October 15, 2009

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