Do you ever get that deflating feeling?
You’re happily sailing along on your road bike and then all of a sudden you get a puncture and your little world of cycling joy grinds to an inelegant halt. Hopefully the worst can happen is the inconvenience of having to change an inner tube at the road side (because you do carry spares and tyre levers with you don’t you!?) but it’s still a bit of a pain in the bum!
There’s not much you can do to prevent punctures completely but here are some tips to help prevent getting punctures on your road bike.
Firstly, there are three ways that you can get a flat tyre. The first is by something sharp penetrating the inner tube such as a nail or a sharp thorn. The second way is what’s called an “impact puncture” where you go over a pothole or other large bump and the inner tube is pinched between the road and the wheel rim.
The third way is a bit like shooting yourself in the foot and is basically caused by human error for example when there isn’t any rim tape on the inside of the wheel to prevent the ends of the spokes puncturing the inner tube. There’s also numerous other ways that you yourself can cause punctures (all of which I have clumsily endured due to my own incompetence!) – these include pinching the inner tube with tyre levers, pinching the inner tube between the tyre and the wheel rim, not removing sharp objects from tyres when repairing punctures and accidentally skewering inner tubes with screw drivers!
Ride on clean road
One of the best ways of preventing punctures is to look ahead and always try to ride on “clean road”. By default we often ride in cycle lanes near the edge of the road where there is always an accumulation of grit, glass and gunk as well as often riding through the wash of grit at road junctions and turnings. Obviously these poor road areas come with a much greater risk of puncture as they are full of sharp little objects that can easily find their way through your tyres and into your inner tubes.
Try to ride, as close as is safely possible, in the tyre track of cars and other vehicles as these areas will be much smoother and cleaner. It’s also worth looking well ahead for potholes and abrasions in the road, all of which will increase your chances of having a puncture. Have a go at learning how to bunny hop (in an emergency!) over holes in the road as well as this could potentially prevent you hitting a pothole and puncturing a tyre or coming off the bike.
Obviously, whenever you are trying to avoid dirt and debris on the road be fully aware of other road users and always put safety first. It’s also worth planning your routes to avoid really dirty gritty roads, particularly in the winter.
Ride in the dry
Seriously! Well not really but your chances of having a puncture increase on wet roads as the dirt and grit stays around longer and also penetrates tyres more easily as it’s lubricated by rain water.
Use the best tyres for the conditions
Of all of the reasons for punctures the perforation of the inner tube by something sharp is the most common and it stands to reason that, if you are riding on skimpy little tyres on a dirt track you are going to get a flat! To avoid this you would need fatter sturdy tyres to stand up to the conditions. The problem with big fat sturdy tyres though is obviously that they weigh a lot and that they put up a great deal of resistance to rolling down the road and riding with them would be a bit like trying to run a 400m race in a pair of wellington boots!
There has to be a bit of a compromise! We all want lightweight easily rolling tyres but they can’t be so lightweight that they can’t be ridden without getting a puncture every ten miles.
It stands to reason then that particularly if you want the ultimate in performance, you need to match the tyres to the conditions. You could potentially use a much lighter tyre for a dry road race in the summer than you could for winter training for example.
However, a majority of riders use an all round tyre that is strong enough to repel a reasonable amount of road debris and is also light enough to not slow them down too much. If you are interested in the ultimate performance you might change your tyres to match the conditions but for most of us it’s not really worth it.
Use the correct tyre pressure
If your tyre pressures are too low then the tyres are much less likely to repel sharp objects and the chances of getting a puncture are much higher. Also, if you go over a pothole the inner tube can be squeezed between the road and the wheel rim and will often split. Tyres at higher pressures are much less prone to both punctures and by penetration and impact so keep them well pumped up!
It’s worth giving them a quick check before each ride to make sure that there aren’t any problems – a slow puncture that you don’t notice at the start of a ride can quickly develop into a flat tyre for example. At the very least you should check that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressures for your weight on a weekly basis.
Regularly check for sharp objects in the tyres
It’s also worth regularly giving each tyre an inspection to check that there isn’t anything sharp lodged in it that could potentially work it’s way through into the inner tube and cause a puncture. Tiny bits of glass, thorns and bit’s of sharp grit and flint can all cause problems and are easily removed before they get through to the inner tube if you catch them in time.
Check your tyres are in good condition
Any splits and cracks will make a tyre more prone to puncturing as will any area where the tread is severely worn and thin. It can sometimes be a bit tricky to know if road bike tyres need replacing – hopefully my post on this here will help.
Use Puncture proof tyres
You can go one step further in your quest for puncture resistance by upgrading to what are known as puncture proof tyres. Now these are not guaranteed to be puncture proof but they have a much greater resistance to punctures than ordinary tyres. The downside is that they are a bit more expensive than normal tyres and have a nominal amount more of weight and rolling resistance but they are a great solution for most people.
The Continental Gator Skin Dura Skin Tyres are almost legendarily good and they have fantastic all round reviews.
It’s also possible to buy tubeless road bike tyres, a bit like you would for a motor bike or car and these are supposed to be very good. They are a little niche market at the moment and so there isn’t a great choice and they are quite expensive. Similarly they are tricky to fit in that they need sealant between the tyre and the wheel rim and you need to have wheels that are specially designed for tubeless tyres. However, they seem like a great idea and, as tyre technology develops they will probably become much more common.
It’s also possible to get solid tyres which are 100% puncture proof as they don’t contain any air. Again these are rather rare and I suppose sort of seem a bit odd as the pneumatic tyre was invented to get away from the disadvantages of the solid ones. Who knows, maybe they will become increasingly popular as well.
So, for now, we have to live with punctures being a minor but annoying fact of cycling life. You can do a number of things to help prevent getting punctures but even if you don’t they are relatively rare.
Whatever you do learn how to change the inner tube of your bike at the road side and carry a spare and some tyre levers. That way when that deflating feeling strikes it’s not going to be too much of a problem!