They are a fact of life for anyone who rides a bike. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to minimise your risk. These tips have helped me keep punctures down to once or twice a year – even with 8000km on the odometer.
Quality Tires are a Must
Whether you ride for leisure or do sport cycling, choose your tires wisely. Cyclists often prefer top-of-the-range tires, like those made for racing. While these tires are ultra lightweight for good results, the trade-off is that they’re less puncture-resistant.
For example, Michelin’s Pro4 Service Course is specially made for racing, but has less puncture reinforcement than the Pro4 Endurance.
Purists will notice that the racing model weighs 200g versus 225g for the Endurance model, but at the end of the day, that adds up to just 50g for both tires together. Does the potential to shave off a few seconds make up for the time lost with a puncture?
Unfortunately, many cyclists will choose the Pro4 Service Course over the Endurance.
But regardless of the tires you choose, they won’t ever be completely puncture proof.
Inflate to the right pressure
Punctures are often caused by a pinched inner tube. When tires are underinflated, your ride may be smoother but you’ll increase your risk of pinching.
Typically, tires should be inflated to 10% of your weight. This means, for instance, that a cyclist weighing 70kg should inflate his tires to about 7 bars. However, you should generally not go over 8 bars, even for cyclists weighing 90kg.
These pressures are valid for 23mm tires. For 25mm tires, it’s best to inflate about 0.5 bar less than that.
But these are just guidelines. At 71kg, I inflate my front tire to 6 bars and the back to 6.5 bars – and limit punctures to just once or twice a year. The last time I got a puncture was from a huge thorn that even 8 bars wouldn’t have prevented.
Check your tires regularly
You should check your tire pressure at least once a week. Inner tubes are not completely airtight and will gradually lose pressure. Bike tires do not hold air like that of CMV tires.
A quick visual inspection – especially after riding in the rain – will give you a chance to remove small rocks that stick in your tyres. If you don’t remove them, they can work their way into the tyre until they reach the inner tube, causing a slow leak.
This will also let you check the general condition of your tyres (cuts due to rocks or holes, wear from poorly adjusted brake pads or just racking up the kilometres). Severely worn tyres should be replaced, because the greater the wear, the greater your chances of getting a puncture. Some tyres feature wear indicators. Keep an eye on them – otherwise, you may find yourself fixing punctures more often than you need to.
Shipshape rim strips
Rim strips are often forgotten during wheel, tyre and inner tube maintenance. Although wheels are increasingly made without rim strips, many often still have them.
And rim strips can wear out. Their job is to protect the inner tube from the spoke ends. They are under 7 bars of pressure or more and can wear fairly quickly. Whenever you change your inner tube, you should check the rim strip carefully. If it’s cracked or has a hole in it, change it.
Just as you would for turns and other obstacles, keeping your eyes open for anything that can cause a puncture is critical. Glass shards, potholes, rocks, grates, freshly cut grass and tree trimmings are all things you should avoid.
Never wait until the last second to adjust – you have to make sure that no one is trying to pass you, and if you’re riding in a group, you should warn the others about upcoming obstacles in the road.
You should also be careful when riding on roads that are being resurfaced. When the asphalt is laid, there may be a ridge of up to 3 to 4 cm. The risk is the greatest as you hit the ridge, rather than coming off it. If you hit the ridge very quickly, you could pinch your inner tube.
You should raise your wheel up by pulling on the handlebars and the back wheel by pulling up on the pedals.
One of the most effective ways to prevent punctures is to choose tubeless tires, especially when they are combined with a liquid protective sealant. But to use tubeless tires, you’ll have to have special rims.
Since they’re designed without an inner tube, you’ll never have a puncture from pinching. Even when your tires are inflated to just 3 or 4 bars, you can ride without a second thought.
If you add a protective sealant, most slow punctures caused by thorns, rocks and other sharp objects can be repaired without you even knowing there was a problem. This sealant fills in holes automatically. Worst case scenario: you lose a bar of pressure, but you won’t have to stop to fix a puncture.
Of course, while these tips will help you limit punctures, they won’t completely prevent them. There’s no such thing as zero risk, so be sure to always carry a pump, replacement inner tube, tire lever and patches.
Even when you’re very careful, you never know when a nail or thorn may get you.