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Bike Shorts: How To Extend the Life of Your Bicycle Tire Tubes

Few things are more important to cyclists than their tires.

Your tires are, quite literally, where the rubber meets the road. These wondrous wheels do much of the hard work to get you from point A to point B. And they have to be perfectly filled to the ideal pressure to get the job done right.

When it comes to keeping and maintaining that ideal pressure, though, bicycle tire maintenance is more about your tire tubes than the tires themselves. And you’ll have to change many of those tubes throughout your cycling life.

Changing tubes is a pain — whether you’re on your own or in a group — so you don’t want to do it more than you need to. That’s why experienced cyclists know two tricks that can extend the life of their tubes and prevent unnecessary changes. Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie shared these two secrets with us about the best bike tire maintenance practices. 

Don’t Fill Your Tire More Often Than You Need To

On a road bike, there’s one sure way to cause an early blowout for your tube: filling your tire more often than necessary. Newer cyclists often get in the habit of filling up before every ride. But due to the valve on road bikes, this habit creates a problem. 

Unlike mountain-bike or car tires, which use thicker Schrader valves, road bike tubes use Presta valves. These more slender valves have a thin, threaded metal shaft with a locking nut that screws open and closed. When open (ready for pumping in air), that thin shaft is particularly vulnerable to damage.

“Every time you pump up your tire, you’re risking bending that piece of metal,” says Coach Darryl. “And when that breaks off, that’s it, you’ve gotta change the tube.”

In other words, the more you pump, the more likely you are to ruin that valve and, hence, end your tube’s life prematurely. That’s not good bicycle tire maintenance. 

The solution? Use the thumb test before you ride to decide if you need to fill up. Squeeze your thumb and forefinger around the tire to see how much give it has. The exact amount of give depends on how firm you like your tires, and you should learn what it feels like when they’re filled to your ideal level. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can use the thumb test for a quick check to avoid filling when you don’t need to — and extend the life of your bicycle tire tubes.  

Purge and Refill After You Use CO2

When you do have a flat on the road, it’s handy to use CO2 cartridges to refill. It’s much faster, fills your tires more effectively, and you don’t have to wear out your arm pumping your hand pump hundreds of times.

But there’s a catch: Using CO2 is really only a temporary solution. That’s because carbon dioxide has a way of sneaking its way right through rubber. 

Even when you pump your tires with regular, atmospheric air, the CO2 that’s in that air will be the first thing to leak out. Thankfully, the oxygen and nitrogen in that air will stick around much longer. But, when it’s only full of CO2, your tube will deflate significantly within just a few days.

If you aren’t aware of this, you may think that the brand-new bicycle tire tube you just installed after a flat was a dud. You’ll swap it out with another one, even though there’s nothing wrong with it.

The remedy for this common bicycle tire maintenance mishap? 

“If you’ve used CO2, you need to change the air in your tire when you get home,” says Darryl. Here’s his process to make sure the tire is fully purged:

  1. Completely empty the tire to let all the CO2 out.
  2. Pump it back up to about 50 or 60 PSI, then deflate it once more to purge any remaining CO2.
  3. Pump it up to full pressure so it’s ready with stable, atmospheric air for your next ride.

Always Be Prepared for a Flat

With these tricks in hand, you’ll probably prevent a few flats and save a few bicycle tire tubes during your cycling career. But you should still always be prepared for a flat. Know the process for changing them, have the spare tubes and tools you need, and get out there and ride.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Image by Ty Lu from Pixabay