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Close-up of a flat bicycle tire

How To Prevent Flat Tires on Bike Rides

Nothing can take the wind out of a cyclist’s sails like a flat tire. It can slow you down just enough to derail your plans for a great ride.

In one sense, flats are a part of riding — and every cyclist should be prepared and know how to fix flats quickly. But, at the same time, they’re not common enough to force you to be more proactive. You might go hundreds of rides without one, then get six on one ride, like our friend and veteran cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie once did.

That’s why Coach Darryl urges every cyclist not only to be prepared to fix a flat but to try to avoid them in the first place. Here are a few tips for how to prevent flat tires on bike rides he offers that can help you dramatically reduce your chances of getting a flat when cycling. 

Why Flats Happen When Cycling

To some degree, flat tires are an inevitable part of cycling. Bike tires are built to be tough, but they’re not indestructible. And, if we’re being technical, “flat tire” is a misnomer. It’s your tube that goes flat, and that’s basically just a sturdy balloon filled with air. All it takes is one nail or glass shard to burst that bubble.

Still, that doesn’t mean the tire has nothing to do with it. Your tires protect your tubes, and they can get worn down over time or partially damaged enough to make the tube more vulnerable to sharp objects or sudden bumps in the road. 

Over time, tires get more and more susceptible to damage — and less protective of your tube. The more you ride, the more the tire surface wears down and the quicker your bike tire puncture protection system fades. And the more the surface wears, the more of the tire touches the road, accelerating the process even more. Your average rear tire on a road bike is only made to last around 1,500 miles. Knowing how to prevent flat tires on bike rides gives you peace of mind no matter how old your tires are.

2 Things To Look for To Prevent Flat Tires

Because there’s no way to completely avoid flats, every rider should be ready to pitch in and change a tire so one flat doesn’t ruin a group ride. But you should also get in the habit of examining your tires before every ride — before you take your bike out to your starting point.

“It’s far better to change a tire in the comfort of your home than in the parking lot miles from home where everybody is waiting to leave,” says Darryl. It’s best to even have a spare bike on hand in case you’re running short on time to change your tire.

When you get in this habit, you can head off many flats before they ever happen —one of the best practices for bike tire flat prevention. As you do your inspection, there are two things you want to look for: nicks and holes.

Nicks in the Tire

These are the most common issue you’ll find when inspecting your bike tires for damage. You may notice small cuts or valleys in the tire surface — probably the result of something you unknowingly hit in the road. Typically, they’re no more than half the width of a small paper clip.

As Darryl puts it, you need to “identify whether this is a terminal problem or something you can live with.” To do this, run your finger over the cut, once in the direction of the cut and once at 90 degrees across it. 

If it’s smooth in both directions, your tire should still be in good shape. However, if you feel any resistance in any direction, it’s probably time for a tire change.

Small Holes From Wear and Tear

Another issue is less common and more the result of long-term wear on your tire. Sometimes this also comes from slamming on your brakes and skidding across the pavement.

What you’re looking for here are small holes — just a few millimeters, not even the size of a BB. You might see the rubber peeling back slightly, and there may be cloth from the inner tire casing exposed. 

If you find one of these, it’s definitely time to change the tire. It’s not safe to ride on, and a flat is much more probable if you do. That flat is most likely to happen at the worst time, when you’re zipping down a hill and putting more strain on your tires.

Another Option: Change Up Your Equipment

These checks aren’t the only thing you can do to try to prevent flats on your rides. You can also  make some strategic changes to your tires:

  • Go tubeless. More cyclists are using these nowadays, especially among mountain bikers. They use a sticky substance that sort of acts as an instant sealant when something penetrates the tire. This substance makes quite a mess if you do end up needing to change a flat, though, and many riders don’t like them for that reason.
  • Get thinner tires. The less tire surface you have rubbing on the road, the less likely you are to puncture it. 
  • Change your tires more often. If you’re having a lot of flats, it may simply be that you’re wearing your tires too thin.
  • Change your tire style. Tires are designed with different purposes — some are made to maximize speed, while others are made to last longer. Many are in between. A few years ago, Darryl changed from race tires to all-weather ones, and he was surprised to find they lasted more than twice as long.

If you’re a serious cyclist who rides a lot, you probably won’t avoid flats forever. But, if you keep these tips in mind, you’ll have to deal with very few of them in your cycling career. Simply knowing how to prevent flat tires on bike rides is a great precautionary measure. Always have a spare tube handy — but make it your goal never to use it.

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

Image by Here and now, unfortunately, ends my journey on Pixabay from Pixabay