Thursday, March 29, 2012

tech tip - reducing your risk of flat tires

Every year, as we start riding with the club again, flat tires become an issue. There are a few simple ways to reduce your risk of flat tires.

First, check your tire pressure. Feeling the tire to see if it's soft helps somewhat, but you'll want a bit more accuracy if you really want to protect your tires.

Having a floor pump with a built-in pressure gauge is ideal. If you don't have one, or the pressure gauge no longer works, a handheld gauge is useful. Make sure that whatever you buy fits the tires you use, whether you have Presta valves, Schrader valves, or some of each. This video has some very helpful tips about valves and pumps.

Do you know where to find the recommended tire pressure range for your tire? Take a look at the sidewall until you see something like the images below.  In the first example, there's a range of 46-100 psi.  In the second example, it simply gives a max inflation pressure of 120 psi.  Inflating your tires at or near the max pressure gives them the maximum resistance to flats and reduces rolling resistance for street riding, making your ride a little faster.  The ride will be less cushy than at lower pressure, but the higher pressure makes it easier for your tire's tread to repel broken glass.  (Note: If you're using a mountain bike for off-road riding, softer tires can give more grip on soft surfaces - a different world from on-street riding.) 

Have you inspected the condition of your tires recently? If not, it's worth a few minutes of your time. Does the sidewall of the tire show lots of fine cracks? If it does, and you've had the tire long enough that you're not sure how old it is, it may be time for a new tire. Inspect the other tire and see if it's in similar condition. Fine cracks all over are a sign of dry rot, which happens to aging rubber.

Next, look at the tread of each tire. Do you see lots of cuts and gouges? If your tire does not have Kevlar reinforcement built in, or a Kevlar liner strip between the tire and tube, it's effectiveness in protecting the tube from punctures may be compromised. 

If the tire tread is somewhat compromised but it doesn't show dry rot and you don't want to spend the extra $ for Kevlar belted tires, there's an intermediate option - tire liners.  You can fine a few helpful tips here on the pros and cons of liners.  I've used the Mr. Tuffy liners, which are available at many bike shops and are relatively inexpensive ($15-25 or so, depending on size).  They are VERY effective, but only if you are absolutely consistent about checking your tire pressure regularly (at least once a week).  If you let your tires get soft and ride across railroad tracks, potholes, steel plates at road construction sites, etc., you will get pinch flats.  I've ridden thousands of city miles using these (over all of the above hazards, plus lots of broken glass) and gotten only 2 flats - a pinch flat when I was too lazy to check my tires before a club ride, and a drywall screw that punctured the tire at the edge of the liner strip.  (This is not a specific endorsement of Mr. Tuffys, just an account of my experience with them.)  If you're not confident in changing tires, you may want to have your shop install the liners for you, to ensure correct placement and minimize the risk of pinch flats.

A Kevlar belted tire is more expensive ($50 or more) but more foolproof, because it does not have the same vulnerability to pinch flats as a tire liner.  It does add more weight, but greatly reduces your risk of a flat tire.  I ride regularly in areas with lots of broken glass, across railroad tracks, etc. and tend to go all year with no flats on the road.  I also learned my lesson years ago about keeping my tires pumped up at or near the max pressure specified on the tire.  If you have many flat tires in a year, and go through a lot of tubes (at $4-5 or more each), it may be less expensive to buy Kevlar tires.  I'm not trying to sell Kevlar.  I just really enjoy not having to change flats while I'm out riding.

Wishing you a riding season free of the hassle of changing flats on the road.

- Anne Alt

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