Cycling - Knowledge

Bike Maintenance: How to Prevent and Deal with Bike Flat Tires

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It starts with an indistinctive wobble in your ride which grows more prominent as the wheels turn or a slight hiss which many times go amiss. There are subtle signs to indicate that you’re losing air fast, which means you’re taking on discouragement faster. There’s nothing more disheartening than to learn you’ve popped your tire with still miles to go before you reach your destination or the end of your path. Sure, there are ways to fix the problem, but there are also ways of preventing bike flat tires from happening. Like the famous saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’ and in the case of bike flat tires, prevention starts long before you begin your ride. By engaging the correct precautions, you could be looking at avoiding getting into meddling with a flat tire repair system altogether. Hereon, we’re going to be discussing ways to prevent you from facing such a situation, not teaching you how to change a bike tire. 

Reasons for Bike Flat Tires

Before diving into preventive measures, or learning about flat tire repair understand what’s the reason behind the occurrence of bike flat tires. These can be simply narrowed down: 

  1. Rim imperfection
  2. A hard impact causing Snake bites. No, we aren’t talking about the actual bite of a snake. A snake bite, in cycling, refers to the tube being pinched between the rim and the tire or an object. They are also known as pinch flats occurring normally with two holes in the tube, on top of one another.  
  3. Debris commonly found along pathways such as thorns, sharply edged stones or pebbles, sharp objects, glass etc. 

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bike flats
Imperfect rims can damage your bike tires

Types of Flats in Bike

In order to be able to fix something, you need to know what exactly you’re dealing with. Learning about the different types of bike flat tires will help you to go about not only fixing it but also knowing how to avoid it. A flat tire put very simply is an opening or tear or a hole in the tube that lets the air out, and not necessarily anything has gone wrong with the tire per se. Like road bike tires will be very different than mountain bike tires. Bike flat tires can be broadly classified as follows: 

  • Slow Leaks

These allow you to carry on riding the bike for a while, but you’ll mostly be pumping up the tire more often than necessary. They usually go about an hour before fully going kaput, and for a flat tire repair generally, require a replacement of the tube since finding a hole that small is impossible. 

It’s quite normal that a tire will lose its air pressure over a time period of a few weeks which is why you should test your pressure once every week at least. If you leave your bike unridden for a few months only to return to find soft or flat tires, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that something is the matter with them and that you need to know how to change a bike tire, all they might need is some pumping up. However, if you are going to be leaving your bike unridden for that long, its best to hang the bike up instead of letting it rest on flat tires for that long. If they sit for that long on flat tires, chances are they will hold the flat shape, making it difficult for them to sit evenly on the rims.   

  • Punctures

These are caused generally the cause of running over sharp or protruding things which insert through the tire and into the tube causing a hole. Objects such as thorns, sharp bits of wire, glass slivers, nails, or any other small sharp objects are the ones to blame.

A standard puncture is a small hole in the tire, which doesn't make any difference. For the inner tube, mostly patching does the trick sometimes even replacing the tube is the best depending on the enormity of the puncture. You should always keep a tire patch kit at hand, and know the basics of patching to get you through a sticky situation. All said and done, don’t forget to remove the object from the tire that caused it all. 

Read about -  Repairing and Preventing Punctures

  • Pinch Cuts or Snake bites

These are caused due to hitting curbs, stones or sharp edges of holes that are on the surface of the road. What happens is that at the time the tire hits a sharp edge with a hard impact, it compresses, such that it bottoms out, pinching the tube between the rock or tire and the rim. Its appearance of two holes one above the other lead to it being termed as a snake bite. 

Livingit Tip-
Pinch cuts only harm the tube and not the tire. In some cases, though the tire too could be damaged. The impact could also lead to blip or a dent in your rim.

  • Blowouts

These are sudden losses of air, and as can be understood from the name are usually accompanied by a loud noise or a Bang! Basically, if the tire is unable to hold the tube all around, then it leads to the tube popping. So if you’re pumping the inner tube outside of a tire, it will expand like a balloon to a point and then burst. It can only bear a certain amount of pressure by itself beyond which it needs to be surrounded by the tire to keep it in place. 

replace flat tires
Different types of flat tires

Bike Flat Tires Resistant Equipment

As a cyclist you’re bound to ride over or through patches of obtrusive objects like debris or glass or hit a bump which could lead to a puncture, and it’s always advisable to have a tire patch kit handy, but there are a few equipment choices that can spare you the trouble of reaching for your tire repair kit:

Talcum Powder

Might sound a bit ridiculous but lavishly lathering on some of this soft textured powder over the inner tube before installing it, could be a life-saver. How it works is that the powder prevents the tube and tire from sticking to one another, thereby reducing friction that can wear out a hole in the tube. 

Tube Sealants 

This slimy semi-solid is an extremely handy option as a repair tool for flats and also as a preventive tool to avoid future flat tires. Its usage is simple enough, just squeeze a small amount of the sealant through the valve system, enough to coat the inner part of the tube. In the scenario of a puncture, the sealant will quickly fill up the hole or the tear or the leak and acts as a plug to last a while. A slight bit of disadvantage is the messiness that comes with it during installing. But, do not depend upon a sealant to save you in the case of cuts or large gashes. 

tube sealants for flat tires
Sealant for bike flat tires (source)

Tire Liners 

Bike tire liners (or flat stop liners) are extruded plastic strips that fit in between the tube and the tire acting as an extra layer. Due to this extra layer, chances of being affected by thorns and glass and other sharp objects reduces. While a popular option, note that they do add around 6 oz. of weight to your tires, which is a noticeable factor to your rolling resistance especially in the case of higher performance tires. Despite that, if you’re in areas where you’ll be facing debris on a common basis, tire liners could be worth their weight!  

Tire Wipers

Having lost in the popularity battle, these could be slightly hard to track down but are still a good preventive measure against flat tires. How it works is that these tire wipers are attached to the brakes or the fenders of the bike and bear a rubber-coated metal bar that brushes off the tires as they rotate lightly wiping away the debris before it has the chance of causing any damage. A bit of serious internet searching could help you lay your hands on some good tire wipers if you’re seriously looking to prevent flat tires. 

Tubeless Tires

While a slightly more expensive option, it’s quite a popular one with most bikes already boasting of tubeless tires in today’s day and age – typical of flat resistant road bike tires. Going in for a tubeless conversion kit or heading for UST tires (Universal System Tubeless) is a good way of bringing down the number of punctures and leaks in your tires, all the while also improving your bike’s overall control. There are various varieties of puncture resistant mountain bike tires or puncture resistant bike tubes or flat proof bike tires to choose from. No tubes mean no pinch flats. Also, you’ll need lesser of air pressure to inflate the tires, also providing a higher level of shock absorption over rough terrains. 

Checklist Before You Go on a Ride

There are also a few pointers that you can pay attention to before you head off on your bike, which could lower the chances of you picking up a bike flat tire: 

  1. Check your tire pressure. An underinflated tire will be more susceptible to being a victim of pinch flats. The pressure will vary for each type – like road bike tires and mountain bike tires. 
  2. Don’t overinflate. While you might be tempted to pump in the extra air as an overcorrection to an underinflated tire, it could be dangerous in the long run. Overinflated tires while undoubtedly make easier riding are super susceptible to popping. 
  3. Don’t use old tires. The outer rubber might still seem strong and sturdy but the inner part of the tire which touches the tube could be worn out and fray which isn’t enough of a barrier between the tube and faulty debris. 
  4. Check the condition of your rims. The tape should not be bunched, instead, it should lie smooth and flat over the wheel and should cover each spoke hole on the rim surface. There shouldn’t be any sharp edges where the tire is held, especially near the valve hole. 
  5. Using a wider tire especially if you’re riding over rough terrains since the higher volume of the air will act as a resistance against pinch flats or impact punctures which are a common occurrence on rough surfaces. 
  6. Choosing the right inner tube to match the width of the tire. Using a 23mm width inner tube with a 25mm width tire means the rubber of tube will get spread out thinly increasing the chances of a flat tire. 
  7. Look where you’re going. While most of the pathways are clear of debris otherwise cyclists tend to ride closer to the shoulder which is where most of the obtrusive objects tend to pile up. Steer clear of patches which could damage your tire in any way. If there’s no other way around it but to ride through it, make sure to check your tires afterward. 
tire maintainence
Check your tires before your ride

Staying Inflated 

No matter what the measures or tips and tricks be, running a bike flat tire is all a part of cycling. All that one can do is keep a lookout and opt for proper tire care to reduce the possibilities since the elimination of the situation is impossible. No air bike tires certainly have arisen as a prominent solution to man’s bike flat tires problem. Preventive measures are and should be taken as an integral part of maintaining your bike equipment so that your single tube lasts long enough for the miles to come

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