how to prevent a flat
At our bicycle shop, we fix flat tires constantly that could have been avoided with just a little maintenance. A flat bike tire is something that can definitely ruin your day if you don’t know how to fix it. Here are some steps to take in order to avoid at least some of those annoying flats.
- Check the air pressure. The recommended pressure is on the tire, usually in raised letters or printed on the label, expressed as “psi” for pounds per square inch. Use a tire gauge to check, not your fingers; a tire may feel rock hard but still be 20 pounds low. Most larger tires will need 40-65 psi, narrower tires 70-90 psi and very narrow ones require up to 120 psi.
Low air pressure alone can cause a flat in several ways. Riding on low pressure causes the inner tube to slip inside the tire, making the valve stem sit at an angle instead of straight up. The rim hole can wear or cut through the rubber of the valve stem. One of the most common flats caused by under-inflation is the dreaded “pinch flat” or “snake bite,” so called because of the two parallel holes as if a snake bit the inner tube. When a bike with a soft tire hits the edge of a pothole or a curb, the tire squashes down to the metal rim making the inner tube pop on each side, and could actually damage the rim.
Bicycle tires lose air naturally over time whether you ride the bike or not. Best practice is to check the pressure before each ride or at least once a week. The upside to adopting this good habit is that your tires will last longer and your bike will roll easier and faster, making it a joy to ride.
- Avoid sharp objects. Sounds like a no-brainer, but they are everywhere. Broken glass, nails, thorns, bits of metal, wire – all can be found on the pavement and sidewalks. Wet weather is particularly bad because water will lubricate a sharp object, making it more likely to puncture your tire’s casing to the inner tube.
- Buy good rubber. If your tires are worn-down and/or weather-cracked they are more vulnerable to flatting. Good quality tires offer protection in the form of newer materials to make them tougher, including ones that have KevlarTM belts under the tread. Thicker thorn-resistant inner tubes are also available.
- Buy good tools. Your local bike shop has an array of tools to make changing tires faster and easier. A patch kit or extra tube is always a good idea. Most importantly, get a floor pump with a built-in gauge. Invest in a good one, and it will serve you for a lifetime. Most bike shops are happy to hand out free advice on just about everything, including how to fix a flat. Youtube and other websites have videos that can teach you this skill.
Be safe out there. Be kind to one another, including the cars. Follow the rules of the road. But above all, keep rolling and have fun!
Robert LaBonte is owner and chief mechanic at Bicycle Doctor,
1037 N.5th St., Springfield. For more information call 670-0761 or visit