On Flat Tires

A friend mentioned that he was getting more flat tires on his bicycle. This is a common problem, so let me address it here.

I usually recommend the Continental GatorSkin series of tires for urban riding and light touring. They are a good compromise on durability, weight, and ride quality. They come in almost any size anyone needs, and even have a kevlar bead and a tubular variant. If you need the ultimate in durability, at the complete expense of weight and ride quality, go for the Specialized Armadillo series tires. I also enjoy the Michelin Lithion for training on nice roads, and race on the Michelin Pro 3 Race or any of Continental's high end tubulars.

Of course, all clincher tires may get flats regardless of your tire choice. Remember that all flats happen for a reason!

  • What kinds of flats are you getting? If you are getting pinch flats (a.k.a. snakebite, with two holes), then your tire pressure is too low. Remember to inflate your tires daily to the highest pressure advised by your rims and tires (at least 115 PSI on a road bike). If you're getting punctures, read on.
  • Are the tires worn? Every tire will get thinner over time, and thinner tires are more susceptible to flats. Tires typically last about 1000 miles, and less in more urban areas. Feel your tire; if the center of the tread feels thin or flat, it's time for new tires.
  • You will get more flats if it is wet. Water acts as a cutting fluid for debris. Make sure to avoid puddles and wet patches on the road.
  • Glass will work its way through a tire in due time. Every so often, use a safety pin to pick out pieces of glass stuck in a tire.
  • Staples, wires, and small nails are not always visible. If you keep getting slow leaks in the same spot, there is a hidden piece of debris. This is why I always mount tires with the manufacturer's sticker at the valve stem: you know the tire's orientation with respect to the tube, which allows you to check the area of the tire that was near the leak.
  • If your tire has a sidewall or casing cut, use a tire boot between the tube and tire. I recommend energy bar wrappers, as they're free and work very well. Currency works less well, and is expensive!
Your choice of route may influence the number of flat tires you get. Larger roads will always have more debris, in the form of sand, gravel, grass, and the like. Consider making your route 10% longer and avoiding big roads whenever possible. You'll have a happier ride, and increase tire life.