It’s overcast outside, but your brand-new bike is calling, so you go for a quick ride. However, five miles out, your tire pops just as it starts to rain, and you’re on a deserted side road. Now, what should you do?
Do road bikes get more flats? They get frequent flats because of a multitude of reasons, including:
- Weakened or worn tires and inner tubes
- Misaligned and damaged rims
- Road hazards
- Lack of maintenance
- Poor air pressure
- Damaged valve stems
- Incorrect tires
- Wrong tube size
- Pinch flats
- Damaged tire liner
It’s frustrating, but there are some key things to know and look out for when trying to prevent more flats, starting with understanding what causes them in the first place and how to fix them or avoid it altogether.
Do Road Bike Tires Go Flat Easily?
Even if you checked your tires before you go riding, as you can see, there are many other ways your tires can pop. Some are unavoidable, but some are preventable, so let’s dive into the top common issues.
Why Road Bike Tires Pop
Road bikes get flats easily because it’s a small piece of rubber tube around a sharp rim, with weight on it as it makes constant contact with the road – sometimes at high speeds and over diverse terrain. Rubber inflated with air also means sharp objects can puncture it and cause damage, which results in leaks.
Depending on the severity, your tire will lose pressure slowly or all at once, and the damage can cause you hundreds of dollars in repairs or replace it.
Five areas that can cause a flat tire are:
- Debris and road hazards
- Poor installation
- Tire quality
- Damaged parts
- Air pressure
17 Ways to Get a Road Bike Flat Tire and What to Do About It
So why do you keep getting flats? If you have slow leaks more than once or twice a month, there are several things you should know to avoid further frustration and confusion.
Debris and Road Hazards for Road Bikes
1. Glass and sharp objects: If its shattered, glass is sometimes hard to see until it’s too late. Look for any indicative signs of glitter or sparkles up ahead so you can ride around it. If you can stop, it’s best to carry your bike over it as soon as you realize that it is glass.
2. Vegetation: Shrubs and thorns are common, as are wild goatheads or caltrops, which are found on trails and dirt paths (they do travel, too). They are thorn-like looking little clusters that are not always easy to see. If you do run over them: leave it. Don’t pull it out and get back on your bike (it will deflate before you get home).
3. Dead leaves and puddles: Avoid riding through these as you may not know what lies at the bottom of each. Anything lying in your path can be a danger, so always ride defensively.
4. Curb junk: Don’t cycle too near the curb as debris tends to be piled up there. Use the bike lane or paved sidewalks instead. You’ll still have to beware of sharp rocks and nails along any cycling path, however.
5. Swapping out: Swapping out old tires can lead to more tire flats than replacing it with a new one. Whether you’re putting on a spare or new tire, take your time to ensure its pinch-free, and be careful with the levers (hard plastic and soft latex don’t mix).
6. Pinch flats: This is small punctures on the tires that look like a snake bite (hence the nickname snakebites). It happens when your tube is pinched between the road and the rim as you’re cycling. Pinch flats usually occur due to underinflated tires.
7. Tube pinched: As you put in a new tube (before you inflate it), make sure it’s entirely inside the tire and that the tire isn’t pinching any part of the tube.
8. Worn or old tires: Excessive wear means there is less rubber to protect the inner tube, and low tread or weathered tires leads to frequent punctures. Regularly inspect your tires for signs of wear by looking for thinning and bald spots, cracking of the sidewalls, or any sharp objects embedded in the tires.
9. Patched tires: Before patching tubes, be sure to look for all the holes in the tube and on the tire (doing so can help you find what caused the puncture), and you can remove it. To find foreign or embedded pieces, run your hand along the inside of the tire. Then, wipe or wash out any debris you find to prevent future leaks.
Damaged, Missing or Misaligned Parts
10. Broken Valve stem: There are typically two types of stems found on road bikes: Presta and Schrader. Most road bikes have Presta valves, which can break away from the tube. It can also be faulty, and both mean the inner tube isn’t holding air. It’s best just to replace it.
11. Sidewall damage: Check to see if rim brake pads are rubbing on the sidewall because it will create a thin spot in the tire that can cause a blowout. To avoid this, when adjusting rim brake pads, check that it’s not rubbing on the sidewall.
Also, if sidewalls start bubbling out (tumoring), this can cause pinching. Occasionally check them for wear, damage, dryness, and cracking as these signs can lead to a higher risk of flats.
12. Rim strip condition: When the strip is torn or frayed, as you ride, the pressure can wear down and puncture your tube. Check the tube to be sure the fabric tape protecting it (from the spoke hole in the rim), is intact.
13. Wrong tires: Check for the correct tires for your activity and the terrain (racing, cross, or road tires). If you’re not sure about which tires to use, consult a bike store because some lightweight tires are prone to piercing from glass or metal.
14. Tube size: The size of the tube should match the tire size. Too big a tube can lead to friction and folded tubes. If it’s too small, the tube will shift and cause a broken valve stem or pinch flats.
15. Tube wear: Don’t leave your tubes in for too long. Also, if it’s been exposed to weather extremes, over time, it will become more disposed to punctures (e.g., intense heat causes the rubber to expand and leads to deterioration).
Air Pressure and PSI
16. Too low pressure: When the pressure is too low, it can cause pinch flats in the tube, or the tire can roll off the rim (which causes brake control problems and poor rideability). Low pressure can also cause snake bites and rim strikes in your tubes.
Also, if you hit a bump, for example, the rim is the first sharp thing between your bike and the road. It’s best to check PSI before riding to ensure it’s ready for the road.
17. Too high pressure: On the other hand, if PSI is too high, it will cause a blowout or puncture. To avoid this, when inflating your tube, make sure the pressure is correct.
The tire pressure label can be found on the side, and its best to check that first because some experts can’t agree on the safe range. For example, the guidelines vary as follows:
- Road bike 80-120 PSI (or 100-140 PSI)
- City bike 60-80 PSI (or 50-80 PSI)
- Mountain bike 30-65 PSI (or 30-50 PSI)
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