Puncture Free Cycling
Puncture Free Cycling
Four reliable ways to make your bike puncture-free
So there you are riding home after a hard day at work. The skies ahead are looking dark and heavy, so you push a little harder than usual to get back home before the rain. Then, all of a sudden: “PSHHhhssHHHhhhhsshhh”.
Punctures aren’t the most common, but they are by far the most prominent bike repair issue. Working as a bike mechanic at Honor Cycles, I’ve seen my fair share of pinch flats. In sheer numbers, they still trail behind a bunch of other predicaments such as your brake pads wearing down, or your gears coming out of tune.
Still, the pure dread of a puncture places it firmly top of the list when most of us think about bike problems. If Jay Z was a cyclist, punctures would comprise all ninety-nine of his problems, and probably then some. With that in mind, here are four different ways to live the remainder of your life puncture-free:
1. Use Reinforced (“Puncture-proof”) Tyres
Going tubeless is like buying the bike equivalent of a kevlar vest. It used to be that there were not too many reinforced tire options and those available were generally subpar. Luckily, the massive uptake of cycle commuting in recent years has done wonders for the reinforced tyre market. Good performance and comfortable puncture-proof tyres such as Schwalbe’s “Plus” series have even become a bit of a commuter favourite.
The downside here is that these don’t offer much protection from pinch flats, which remain one of the most common forms of puncture. To really benefit from their protection, you’ll have to make sure you keep them pumped up to just the right pressure. They’re also more prone to sidewall damage as they need to flex more to compensate for the stiffer mid-section of the tire. Overall, reinforced tyres tend to cost and weigh a bit more. All things considered though, that’s still a small price to pay for the protection they offer.
2. Go for Thicker Tubes
Probably the most obvious option, tubes usually range in thickness from thin to extremely thick. The main advantage here is that you can keep using your current setup (wheels and tyres) without any modifications whatsoever. It’s quite simply a case of replacing your old tubes with a thicker pair, with no added expenses.
For all that, thicker tubes are hardly a silver bullet when it comes to punctures. Hitting a kerb or pothole hard enough will still give you a pinch flat, and it only takes a piece of glass longer than the tube is thick to overcome its high strength and durability. Having said that, unless you’re cycling in an abandoned glassware store, those situations should be quite rare.
The other thing to note is that they are pretty heavy. When it gets spinning, all that extra weight is bound to have a negative effect on your handling, and will slow down both your braking and acceleration rate.
3. Opting for Solid Tyres
So if punctures are such an annoyance, why have air in the tires at all? Why not just use solid rubber or foam wheels like so many kid bikes do?
In fact, this is by far the most logical solution. Solid tires will go through pretty much anything and survive. You could literally have entire chunks of the tyre missing and still be able to ride. If they were to remake Mad Max with bikes, this is what they’d use.
It’s not all good news though, as such a sturdy solution comes at a cost. The amount of ‘give’ that the solid tyres have is less than what you’d get from one full of air. In other words, you’re likely to feel the bumps and ‘textures’ of the road a bit more, as well as sacrifice some of your grip. Though lack of comfort is nothing new to most cyclists, the reduced grip can still be pretty dangerous – especially when wet.
Another thing to consider here is the cost – solid tires are around £50 each, depending on your preferred model. Now, the argument can certainly be made that their longevity and ‘tubelessness’ makes them no more expensive than regular tyres in the long run. Regardless, that price tag can still be a bitter, foamy pill to swallow.
In short, I’d say solid tyres are great for the daily abuses of city commuting – just be mindful of the painted road lines and manhole covers when raining.
4. Go Tubeless
This has been around in the world of mountain biking for quite some time – doing away with the tube altogether but keeping the air in there using a sticky liquid.
In fact, I’d say it’s pretty close to becoming the standard for those looking for performance and puncture resistance. Pinch flats have always been a particularly big problem in mountain biking (big rocks and roots!), and going tubeless pretty much resolves the issue.
The biggest advantage of the tubeless tyre over the other two is that the quality of your ride will not be affected – if anything, it’ll be slightly better. Handling, speed, acceleration, braking, comfort – all of these are either the same or marginally superior compared to a normal thin tube.
The biggest downside is that your tires can still lose a bit of pressure when riding over sharp objects. This is mainly as it takes a little time for the sealant liquid to kick in and work its magic, blocking the hole.
Tyres may drop from 80psi to 60psi whilst the tire fixes itself. Basically, your ride home will be a bit slower, but you’ll get home without having to stop by the side of the road and fix the tire. A bit of a compromise, but the best of both worlds in my opinion. I’m sure Jay Z would agree.
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