Preventing and Repairing Bike Tire Damage

bicycle tire

Photo by missionbicycle

Without fully functioning tires, a bike won't get very far. Carrying a good repair kit during travel is invaluable, because most damage occurs when out riding. Flat tires aren't always avoidable but there are certainly ways to minimize the chance of damage. Keeping tires in good repair is key. By ensuring that they are inflated properly, it not only means that the bike will run more smoothly and require less pedal power, it also means less wear and tear on the tire and the frame.

Flats and Prevention

flat tire

Photo by sfllaw

When a tire is under-inflated it can cause a "pinch-flat" which can present with two holes like a snake bite. It happens when a bike bounces or bumps, causing the tire to compress right down to the rim. Each tire has a preferred pressure range which can usually be found on the side, measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI. The common ranges are: 100-140 PSI for road tires, 30-50 for mountain bikes, and 60-80 for casual city or urban use. This is a guide only and it's best to check each individual tire to be sure. Over inflation won't damage a tire unless it is inflated to the point that it will blow out the tube. Good tire pumps will display the PSI as they inflate, so having one handy will provide less room for error. A well cared for or new tire will be less likely to need repair. Brittle, cracked tires or those with very worn tread will likely accrue some damage sooner rather than later so in this case it might be wise to replace them altogether.

Choosing the path of least resistance is simple. Rather than riding where debris has collected on the road, try and choose a smooth surface. Often there are glass shards, bits of metal, sharp rocks and so-on, that have built up in certain places, usually pushed aside by other vehicles. Bits of debris can instantly puncture a tire or even stick to the rubber, slowly worming their way in to form a slow loss of air. If time permits, after passing through a rough area, hop off and check to make sure there is nothing stuck to the tire that could cause a problem down the road. You can do this by slowly spinning the tire and carefully running a gloved hand over it.

Before You Go Out

Doing a thorough check at home is advisable. Position the bike under good lighting and take the time to do a proper scan. It may seem overly cautious but will definitely save time and effort later should there be something that was lodged undetected. In the event that there is some debris that can be picked out (but has left a small hole), a sealant or even appropriate glue can provide a quick-fix.

Sealants and Tire Liners

Different sealants will have slightly different instructions, however the idea behind them is the same. Squeeze a small amount into the valve system to coat the inside of the tube. If there is a puncture, small cut or tear, then the sealant will run into the crack where it will solidify, forming an air tight plug that could last the life of the tire. If there is no readily available sealant, then super glue or even shoe glue might do the trick. To use this type of glue you will have to be more accurate with your application and there are less guarantees but it could well provide a quick fix.

Another way to repair a damaged tire is to purchase tire liners. These are strips of extruded polyuerethane plastic that fits between the tire and the tube to provide extra protection against puncture. If there are no available liners, there is a way to make some by using thin pieces of old racing bike, inserted in the same way as a liner, between the tire and tube. Just cut away the bead, the sides that fit into the rim, and use the part that actually hits the road to sit snugly inside the tire being repaired. Old tires for cutting up can often be sourced for free from a local bike shop for free.

Check for Air Leaks

tire repair

Photo by chop

Once a repair has been made, it is advisable to check if the repair has been a success. This will mean pumping up the tire and checking for air-loss. Sometimes a slow leak isn't immediately evident, but try giving the tire a squeeze or even taking it for a spin around the block. If the tire is still plump and no air can be detected by lightly running a hand around the rim, it should be good to go.

What to do If You Can't Repair a Tire

Occasionally, despite best efforts, a tire can be damaged beyond repair--leaving nothing to do but purchase new ones. Perhaps now is the time to spend a little more and invest in a quality product which will go the distance. Some makes of tire offer flat-resistant technology. Often these tires are not built for speed as they are slightly heavier but for the average commuter or leisure cyclist, they can prove very handy. The key to their durability is either in an increase to tread thickness which creates extra padding between bike and road. Other varieties employ a durable belt of aramid fibers which provide strength and stability against a rough surface. Another puncture proof tire is one which does not contain any air at all, instead it is made with a compound called polymer. Companies like Tannus have created new technologies, defying the stereotype of heavy air-less tires with featherlight technology.

Ride Safely and Smartly

The wisest thing to do to prevent and minimize damage is to be cautious and aware of the environment in which the bike will be travelling. If there is a way with better roads or a route more sheltered from the weather, then it might pay to choose that way. Carrying a repair kit or at least being on alert for a different feeing when riding may mean a problem is detected before it becomes irreparable.

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