Beginner's guide: how to avoid punctures on your road bike
Punctures are a fact of life for cyclists, but there are things you can do to try and stay flat-free
Suffering a puncture when out on the bike can suck the enjoyment out of any ride.
While in most cases fixing a flat is a relatively easy task, it does nothing to help your mood as you hear the telltale hiss of air escaping and know that you’re destined for a chunk of time at the side of the road replacing or fixing the tube.
Unfortunately, punctures are a fact of life for cyclists, but there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk of a flat. How can you best ensure that you don’t spend time by the side of the road when you should be riding on it? Here are eight tips to help you stay flat-free.
Choose your tyres carefully
Naturally, we all want the fastest, lightest and grippiest tyres available, but those lightweight rubber compounds tend to be more malleable than thicker, more hardwearing tyres. That means flints, glass and other objects can more easily get lodged into the tyre, risking a puncture.
Durable tyres, such as the Continental Gatorskin or Schwalbe Durano DD, have a dense puncture-resistant layer which helps stop sharp objects penetrating the canvas and through to the tube.
This comes at the cost of extra weight, and in some cases a lack of ultimate grip, but if you’re not intending on racing and durability is top of the agenda then these are a serious option to consider.
The key is finding the right tyre for the job in hand. For training and sportives, we reckon that means a tyre which offers an all-round combination of speed, weight, grip and puncture protection, without sacrificing too much in any one area. The Michelin Power Endurance and Continental Grand Prix 4-Season tyres are among our favourites.
Pump your tyres up
Tyre pressure is key to avoiding pinch flats. Pinch flats occur when the inner tube is pressed hard against the rim of the wheel and this usually happens under a sudden impact like hitting a pothole or the edge of a curb.
To reduce the chances of this occurring, ensure your tyres are properly inflated before each ride, especially if, like most riders in the UK, you know the road surface is likely to be less than perfect. The pressure means there is less chance of the tube deforming and coming into contact with the rim.
Again, there's a balancing act when it comes to tyre pressure. Everyone has there own preference, and a lower tyre pressure can improve comfort and grip, but by ensuring your tyres are regularly topped up t your desired level, you can help stave off flats.
Also, bear in mind that the pressure requirements change depending on the width of your tyres – the greater the width, the less pressure is required to disperse the force of an impact, so less pressure is required in the inner tube.
Check your tyres regularly
This is a simple tip, but easily forgotten in the rush to meet your mates for that 9am start, or to ignore because you think ‘I’ll be alright this time’.
Just because you didn’t have a puncture the last time you rode your bike, that doesn’t mean sharp objects like flint and glass haven’t lodged their way into the tyre, waiting to be pushed through to the inner tube by the rolling pressure of you riding your bike.
A simple check is sufficient, taking a look to see if there's anything lodged in the tyre, or running your fingers lightly over the rubber, ensuring you remove any objects that are lodged in. Try doing this immediately after you finish a ride so that you know you’ve checked before you start your next ride and aren't rushed for time.
If you do have to remove anything and the resulting hole reaches down to the canvas of the tyre, you should look to change it as soon as is reasonable.
Don't ride in the gutter
You can also think about where you ride on the road, too. A lot of the flint and glass that will puncture your tyre is likely to be lurking in the gutter on the edge of the road, or sometimes gathered in the centre if you’re riding on a single-track road.
It makes sense, therefore, to avoid these areas. Look out for the clearest paths set by cars. As an added benefit, the tarmac may be slightly more compressed in the area as the repeated weight of car tyres pushes down into the road, offering a smoother and faster ride. Win-win!
As well as keeping clear of the gutter, spotting hazards like potholes, broken glass and freshly cut hedge trimmings well in advance also helps in avoiding punctures. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you, instead of focusing just in front of your wheel, to give yourself the chance to react.
Likewise, if you’re riding as part of a group, you should also call out hazards as they approach. Not only will it help keep the group safer, but remember that even if it's one of your friends that suffers a puncture, you’ll still have to spend the time by the side of the road waiting (or helping) for the puncture to be fixed.
Keep it light
In the event that you can't avoid coming into contact with a hazard which may cause a puncture, release your grip on the bars as much as you can safely and aim to ‘glide’ over the top of the obstacle. Leaning down on the bars as you tense up increases the force through the front tyre upon impact, potentially increasing the likelihood of a flat.
You can also employ your bike handling skills to get you out of a hole, literally. If you’re confident in your ability, try bunny-hopping over potholes to avoid an impact - this is only really advisable if you're not in a group, nor is it a cue to constantly show off your amazing bike handling skills!
Refit tubes and tyres carefully
If the worst happens and you have to replace your tube, take extra care when fitting a new inner tube and putting tyre back on.
Firstly, run your finger around the inside the tyre to make sure you’ve gotten rid of the offending article. It's easy to assume that just because you've changed the tube, you've fixed the puncture, but if there's a small bit of glass (and it only has to be tiny) still stuck in the tyre, you may quickly find yourself with another flat to fix.
Then, add a little air to the tube before fitting it to help avoid getting the tube caught between the rim and edge of the tyre. Keep checking as you fit the tyre (and avoid using tyre levers, if possible) until you’re sure that the tube is fitted properly in the rim bed, before inflating fully. Finally, check for bulges and lumps by giving the wheel a spin before setting off.
Consider going tubeless
Tubeless technology has been around for years, especially on the mountain bike scene, and one of the potential benefits of going tubeless is a greater resistance to punctures. This is firstly because of the absence of an inner tube, meaning pinch flats are impossible.
Secondly, tubeless tyres are used with a sealant inside which, in the event of a small cut in the tyre, will work to block the hole before significant air is lost. However, tubeless does have it downsides, including a more limited choice of wheels and tyres.