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Banish flat tyres with the right equipment and riding techniques

There's nothing much worse than a puncture to ruin a bike ride, whether it's commuting to work in the rain or a leisurely Sunday ride in the hills.

Puncture

Is it possible to avoid getting punctures? In truth, not really, but there are some things you can do to try and minimise the opportunity for a flat tyre to ruin a bike ride. Here are some tips from the road.cc staff. 

Puncture resistant tyres

Not all bicycle tyres are created equal. Some are designed to be light and fast, some are designed to resist punctures and be durable. Whether you’re riding a carbon race bike or a commuting bike, fitting a pair of tyres with some sort of puncture protection can be a really good step towards minimising your chances of getting a flat. 

- road.cc People's Choice: Your favourite cycling tyres revealed

Continental Grandprix 4000s II 28mm.jpg

Puncture resistant tyres are manufactured with materials designed to prevent the penetration of sharp objects, like glass or flint, from slicing through the tyre rubber and reaching the inner tyre. A layer of Kevlar or similar tough material is added to light road bike tyres, and when weight is less of a concern (such as for commuting and touring) an extra layer of rubber is added under the tread.

Puncture resistant tyres will carry a bit of a weight penalty, but if you want to avoid flats, it’s a small price to pay. 

Tubeless tyres

The reason you get a puncture is the inner tube being pierced by a sharp object cutting through the tyre, like a nail, thorn or piece of glass. Remove the inner tube and there’s nothing to puncture. Better still, replace the inner tube with dedicated sealant, which can plug smaller holes, and you can virtually eliminate flat tyres. Cars and most motorbikes use tubeless tyres (without sealant) and it's becoming more popular in the road bike world.

- Road tubeless: everything you need to know

Orange Seal Tubeless Sealant.jpg

Going tubeless can involve a bit more of an upfront investment. You need tubeless compatible rims and tyres, but increasingly new road bikes are coming with tubeless-ready rims, so you might just be a tyre upgrade away from going tubeless. With special valves and a bottle of sealant and a bit of know-how (read this guide) you can ditch the inner tubes for good.

We’re big fans of tubeless here at road.cc - numerous members of the team have done entire winters without any flats riding tubeless. 

- Guide: How to fit tubeless tyres

Change your inner tubes

Inner tubes can vary a lot, from super light latex inner tubes to chunky butyl inner tubes. Butyl tubes are more common, but they’re not all made the same. Regular ones commonly use 1mm thick rubber, but super light versions can reduce the rubber thickness down to 0.6mm, but along with the reduced weight comes an increased risk of puncturing.

- Buyer's guide to inner tubes — how to save weight, ride faster or prevent flats with new tubes

Some people claim that latex inner tubes can actually prevent punctures because the material can deform around a sharp object.

flat tyre 5.JPG

“The latex stretches and deforms around the body which is trying to penetrate the tube instead of it trying to resist the body and shortly after being punctured through,” says tyre manufacturer Challenge. “The highly elastic latex material is much more difficult to puncture.”

Latex tubes lose air pressure and need regular topping up, though, and while they are much lighter than butyl tubes, they're more expensive, and there’s no guarantee they’ll prevent a flat. For everyday riding, you probably don’t want fewer punctures to come at the expense of daily inflation.

Slime Pro Pre-filled Lite inner tube crop

Another option is to use inner tubes filled with sealant. The liquid contains small rubber particles that dries on exposure to air. It works a bit like a tubeless setup, but the inner tube is filled with the sealant, so easier to fit and less mess involved. There is a weight penalty though. There are some aftermarket products like Slime (tested here) but if you have inner tubes with removable inner cores, you can add sealant to regular tyres.

This solution does add weight to the entire wheel but if eliminating punctures is your key priority, it might be the right solution for you. It would be a good step for daily commuting and touring bikes, where weight isn’t such a high concern. Partner with puncture resistant tyres and you have a pretty good puncture prevention setup.

Solid tyres

What if you remove the air cavity in a conventional pneumatic tyre setup completely? Some companies have dabbled with solid tyres in the past, with varying levels of success, and so far they’ve not really offered a serious rival to the performance and cost of regular tyres and inner tubes.

Tannus is one company that is investing in the technology, and we have been impressed with its most recent tyre which offers a surprisingly good ride performance. Fitting is more complicated than regular tyres and makes tubeless look a doddle. But there’s no way of puncturing a solid tyre, so for a commuting bike, a solid tyre offers some advantages. 

Pump up your tyres

It’s worth checking the pressure in your tyres. Are you running your tyres too soft? A very soft tyre is more likely to puncture when riding over a rough road and it’s possible to pinch the inner tube between the tyre and rim if you hit a pothole with sufficient force. In mountain biking, this is called a “snake bite” because inspection of the inner tube will reveal two neat holes either side of the inner tube.

Flat

The maximum* tyre pressure will be printed on the side wall of the tyre - if you pump them up to that you'll at least know they are not too soft. Having a pump with a pressure gauge is any easy way to ensure the tyres are suitably inflated. Pressure gauges are pretty cheap and a good investment if you do a lot of riding, and removes the guesswork. 
(*Not to be confused with the optimum or recommended tyre pressure - sometimes the max tyre pressure and the recommended pressure - the pressure at which the tyre performs best - are the same thing, but often they're not. In terms of a road tyre you won't go far wrong if you pump them up to 100psi and you can easily go 10psi less with a tubeless tyre… That's the potted version, in truth the subject of optimum tyre pressures is a whole other feature.)

If you don’t have a pressure gauge, press the tyre firmly with two thumbs.You can tell pretty easily if it feels too soft by how much you’re able to deform the tyre.

Check for worn tyres

When’s the last time you checked your tyres? A worn tyre is more likely to puncture because there’s less rubber tread on the tyre. Some tyres have wear indicators (small holes) so check these regularly, especially if you do a lot of miles every week, to ensure you’re not riding with worn out tyres. 

flat tyre 3.JPG

It’s also worth checking regularly for flint and glass embedded in the tyre. There are two schools of thought on whether you should leave or remove any objects in the tyre. Some say once an object its embedded in the tyre, it’s unlikely to puncture the tube, but some people say you’re just playing the waiting game until it bites the inner tube.

We prefer to remove any we find. Use a pair of tweezers to remove any objects embedded in the tyre and discard in the bin. If any big holes are left vacant, get some superglue and carefully fill the hole.

Pick your line

Avoid riding over gravel or other debris on the road and definitely avoid riding over broken glass. Also, avoid riding through puddles where possible in case they hide potholes. Don’t ride in the gutter of the road as this is where much of the debris lurks that could puncture a tyre as passing cars tend to push all the gravel, grit, flint and thorns out to the edge of the road.

SDW CX - Cavs Puncture

Don’t ride in the rain

You might notice you get more flats in the rain. This is because rain acts as a lubricant and helps flint and glass to slice through the rubber of a tyre. You also tend to find that debris from the gutter of the road and the hedgerows gets washed out into the bit of the road you tend to cycle along. 

It's that combination of rain and debris in the road that is the reason you tend to get more punctures in the winter.

- Buyers guide: The best tyres to keep you cycling through winter

Don’t leave the house

We’re joking. Well, half-joking.  I know somebody who managed to get a puncture on the turbo trainer (no idea how) so even in the safety of your own living room, you’re never far from a puncture. 

Never mention the P word

Never ever mention the word puncture if you’re about to set off on a ride, or during a ride. Don’t joke about how you’ve not had a puncture in months because next thing you know you’ll be stood by the side of the road fixing a flat. Best just to avoid all talk of punctures and instead talk about the weather or something. 

Be prepared for a puncture

BTwin puncture repair kit - contents

While you can take some prevention against a flat tyre, it pays to be prepared and always take one or two spare inner tubes and a decent pump with you on a ride. You might want to consider a couple of inner tube patches as well, especially for longer rides in bad weather. A small saddle bag can easily be stuffed with enough spares to get you out of a spot of bother and not add much weight to the bike. 

Got any good tips you use to avoid punctures?

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

64 comments

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CyclingLegend [4 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

For commuting, use Schwalbe Marathon Plus and check tyre pressure regularly.  I have never had a puncture with these tyres.  The heaviness of the tyre means you regular commuter ride will be a better workout.

For non-commuting, go tubeless.  You won't regret it Schwalbe One or Pro One is the way to go.

Conti GP4000 are lovely tyres but you will get punctures, 4 season not much better in that regard.

If you are running clinchers with tubes and have to fit a new tube roadside, the advice about refitting at home in clean environment is very good advice.

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Dropped [128 posts] 3 years ago
3 likes

100% guaranteed only way to avoid punctures - don't ride a bike. But riding a bike and fixing punctures is still better. All day long.

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Initialised [334 posts] 3 years ago
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BBB wrote:

Want fewer punctures with no loss of speed? Go tubeless and/or use wider tires at lower pressure.

This is working so far, Roubaix Tubeless. I'll probably be walking home covered in latex for posting that!

I also have a pair of Schwalbe Snow Studs that have never punctured despite plenty of off road abuse and riding them in filthy conditions, I'm tempted to set them up ghetto tubeless for the coming winter.

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Paul_C [583 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
Quote:

The reason you get a puncture is the inner tube being pierced by a sharp object cutting through the tyre, like a nail, thorn or piece of glass. Remove the inner tube and there’s nothing to puncture.

WTF? totally wrong...

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. . [193 posts] 3 years ago
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The  Guide: How to fit tubeless tyres link doesn't work ("Sorry we can't let you access that page")

Or is it just me?

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vorsprung [291 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

When I'm doing a long ride ( see my blog for what I mean by this) I examine the tyres for small nicks.  Not embedded flints but the tiny holes that they leave behind

Those nicks are weak points

If the tyre has more than 4 or 5 ( for a tyre like a Michelin Endurance) or 10 ( for a Marathon Supreme)  I will change the tyre.  Out of the dozens of long events I've done only had a situation once where a new, uncut tyre had a flat.  Actually it was two, front and back - I guess I went over something nasty in the dark

The count of nicks isn't the same as the tyre being "worn out"

Tubeless are great but it is possible to hit a sharp too big to seal or to forget to top up the sealant every few months

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kevvjj [464 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
CyclingLegend wrote:

For commuting, use Schwalbe Marathon Plus and check tyre pressure regularly.  I have never had a puncture with these tyres.  The heaviness of the tyre means you regular commuter ride will be a better workout.

For non-commuting, go tubeless.  You won't regret it Schwalbe One or Pro One is the way to go.

Conti GP4000 are lovely tyres but you will get punctures, 4 season not much better in that regard.

If you are running clinchers with tubes and have to fit a new tube roadside, the advice about refitting at home in clean environment is very good advice.

On the other hand, I've never had a puncture using Conti GP 4 season - why would I change? All other things being equal it's purely a lottery when it comes to punctures I'm afraid.

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keirik [185 posts] 1 year ago
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tubeless may work for some but Ive just gone back to tubes after 5 different punctures in 2 miles on a schwalbe pro one.

Since then no punctures (150+ miles)

just be prepared and a puncture can be a nice break!

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srchar [1397 posts] 1 year ago
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cyclisto wrote:

my bontrager race lite hardcase

Tough as nails but about as sticky as them too unfortunately.

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Rapha Nadal [1092 posts] 1 year ago
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keirik wrote:

tubeless may work for some but Ive just gone back to tubes after 5 different punctures in 2 miles on a schwalbe pro one.


Since then no punctures (150+ miles)

just be prepared and a puncture can be a nice break!

Some friends run Pro One tyres on tubeless set ups and have nothing but issues.  Dogshit tyres.  The non tubeless ones aren't much better - had to scrap one after a single ride to it cutting open.

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CXR94Di2 [2625 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Tubeless is probably the best way to avoid punctures. But like anything, if you don't set them up properly you will experience issues. Use decent rim tape on a clean and degreased rim. Use the correct amount of sealant. I use 60mil minimum for 28mm tyres. Once you've got them set up tubeless are fantastic for rolling resistance and stopping thorn, small glass shard punctures. Big tears will require an inner tube or tyre replacement like with a conventional tyre/inner tube setup.

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DaveE128 [1010 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Rapha Nadal wrote:

. . wrote:

I can't add any advice on avoiding punctures, but if you're going to have one, do it on a lovely sunny day when you are right outside Starbucks, like I did this morning.  It was quite a pleasure to fix, sat in the sun, coffee in hand.

And following on from another recent thread, a nice lady car driver asked me if I had everything I needed.  Thank you again, in the unlikely event that you're reading this.

I had one oppoosite the cafe on Box Hill on Sunday.  Sun was out, cake in hand!

Anyone would think the cafe owners were spreading tacks or something!  3

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DaveE128 [1010 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Paul_C wrote:
Quote:

The reason you get a puncture is the inner tube being pierced by a sharp object cutting through the tyre, like a nail, thorn or piece of glass. Remove the inner tube and there’s nothing to puncture.

WTF? totally wrong...

Yeah, I was going to point out the "Remove the inner tube and there’s nothing to puncture" line. If there was nothing to puncture, what holds the air in!

With inner tubes, small-ish holes in tyres dont' matter. With tubeless they most definitely do!

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Initialised [334 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

New tech is great but earlier this year I had an unrepairable puncture in a tubeless tyre and a seized valve so couldn't fit a tube. This happened on the first ride home at a new job 40 miles away!

Whatever you do you cannot avoid punctures, I don't get any fewer punctures now I ride tubeless but, they either seal up or are easier to fix with a noodle than the hassle of replacing a tube. but every now and then, when you get a puncture on a tubeless set up it's a total show stopper, unless you carry a needle and some fishing line!

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CXR94Di2 [2625 posts] 1 year ago
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Initialised wrote:

New tech is great but earlier this year I had an unrepairable puncture in a tubeless tyre and a seized valve so couldn't fit a tube. This happened on the first ride home at a new job 40 miles away!

Whatever you do you cannot avoid punctures, I don't get any fewer punctures now I ride tubeless but, they either seal up or are easier to fix with a noodle than the hassle of replacing a tube. but every now and then, when you get a puncture on a tubeless set up it's a total show stopper, unless you carry a needle and some fishing line!

 

Its down to tools/spares you carry.  I agree a bad puncture on any version of tyre setup will stop you, unless you're carrying a new tyre and/or inner tube, sealant.

 

 Its down to percentages, real life has shown me I get far less puntures with tubeless than with inner tubes.

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Initialised [334 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
CXR94Di2 wrote:
Initialised wrote:

New tech is great but earlier this year I had an unrepairable puncture in a tubeless tyre and a seized valve so couldn't fit a tube. This happened on the first ride home at a new job 40 miles away!

Whatever you do you cannot avoid punctures, I don't get any fewer punctures now I ride tubeless but, they either seal up or are easier to fix with a noodle than the hassle of replacing a tube. but every now and then, when you get a puncture on a tubeless set up it's a total show stopper, unless you carry a needle and some fishing line!

 

Its down to tools/spares you carry.  I agree a bad puncture on any version of tyre setup will stop you, unless you're carrying a new tyre and/or inner tube, sealant.

 

 Its down to percentages, real life has shown me I get far less puntures with tubeless than with inner tubes.

I get the same ammount of punctures, point is that a puncture that would burst a tube like a bit of glass, thorn or piece of wire has no effect on your ride when you run tubeless, it just deals with it and all you see is a little wet patch on the tyre carcass.

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dottigirl [864 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Charles_Hunter wrote:

Whenever I'm out with the club and someone gets a puncture I check my tyres over for anything lodged in the rubber. 

When I get my bike ready the night before for a ride the next day I do the same, check the tyres for stuff stuck in them. 

This. 

Also, if you're aware of going over glass, to call a stop once clear of it for everyone to do a quick tyre check. Did this last week and found a piece just in time.

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madcarew [1002 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
BBB wrote:
cyclisto wrote:

Its all about good pumping and proper installation and you can go even on gravel with road tires

Not really, it's not. Higher pressure only prevents pinch flats but at the same time makes it easier for foreign object to penetrate the tyre.

Your road tyres would be massacred on New Forest paths in winter, within several minutes...

It sounds like you're making quite the assumption there. I ride my Supersix with GP4000 tyres over stuff that looks a lot like the picture of the guy on the gravel path in this article. 10 miles each way over and down a 1000' hill each way. Those tyres have lasted a couple thousand km with several trips up that road. Nope, your road tyres likely won't be massacred in minutes on a New Forest path.

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velo-nh [162 posts] 1 year ago
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Cars never get flats because their tires don't have inner tubes.  </s>

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antonio [1168 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
velo-nh wrote:

Cars never get flats because their tires don't have inner tubes.  </s>

Odd observation, apart from my own experiences, my mate has just forked out £120 quid (11.8.17.) for two car tyre punctures.

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Gizzard [43 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Quite a fan of slime tubes on my clinchers. I was commuting over an industrial estate and the roads were covered with a large number of pieces of metal debris. The roads around here aren't the smoothest, either. The joy of weekly punctures. Fit slime tubes and the problem clears right up. Could also be that those little green caps deter malevolent co-workers from interfering with your unattended bike, as well.  1

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Crampy [154 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

My tips; 

1. Pre ride check your tyres; you would be amazed the number of flints, glass splinters and small stones that get worked into your tyres. Even if nothing but a small cut is visible at the surface, take something pointy and have a little feel in the cut. 

2. Tyre pressure; I actually found out that if you run too high pressure it can make it easier for flints and splinters to cut throught (ths was on a set of Challenge Strade Bianchas). Apparently running a lower pressure lets the tyre deform rather than separating. YMMV.

3. After riding over a sketchy bit of road, run your glove / finger tips over the tread of your tyres. This brushes off the sharp stuff before it can get embedded.

4. Forget all of the above and run Anti-Platt (some random German brand - check Bike24.com) puncture resistant strips. Ive done this all year ( a little over 2000km) and no p@&*tures yet (touch wood).

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P3t3 [429 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Crampy wrote:

My tips; 

2. Tyre pressure; I actually found out that if you run too high pressure it can make it easier for flints and splinters to cut throught (ths was on a set of Challenge Strade Bianchas). Apparently running a lower pressure lets the tyre deform rather than separating. YMMV.

3. After riding over a sketchy bit of road, run your glove / finger tips over the tread of your tyres. This brushes off the sharp stuff before it can get embedded.

 

Fully agree with point 2, pumping up to the max inflation pressure is bonkers.  Ground pressure is force/area so decrease ground ressure and those flints aren't forced in as hard.  Plus you will go faster and be more comfortable (will feel slower though).  

Re: point 2, there is a company out there that sells "tyre wipers", a little wire that attaches to the front of the mudguard and is adjusted to be just clear of the tyre.  

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logomomo [8 posts] 1 year ago
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Tubeless all the way.

As a case in point, I started out on a solo century ride to Hertfordshire on Sunday and less than 1km in I felt some sealant on the back of my leg after riding over what looked like gutter dwelling broken glass. The puncture sealed within a few rotations and I completed the remaining 99kms without any worries - I dont reckon i lost more than a few psi.

The confidence i have running tubeless and knowing that a small puncture wont cause any real issues is fantastic, I'd probably have returned home and had a day on the sofa if i'd punctured 1km from home on tubes.

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matthewn5 [1357 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
Bristol Bullet wrote:

I repaired cuts in my tyres with superglue for a while until I started getting regular punctures, it turned out that on one superglue repair,  the glue had formed a hard edge inside the tyre which rubbed against the inner tube, quickly piercing it. I don't use superglue anymore, I take my chances with the cuts in the tyres. 

Use neoprene wetsuit glue, takes 30 hours to set but remains flexible and really fixes the hole. I got that tip here so very happy to pass it on.

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matthewn5 [1357 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
P3t3 wrote:

Re: point 2, there is a company out there that sells "tyre wipers", a little wire that attaches to the front of the mudguard and is adjusted to be just clear of the tyre.  

We used to make those ourselves back in the dark days before decent tyres. They're brilliant, they flip debris out after half a rotation, before it gets driven through the tyre by subsequent rotations.

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risoto [105 posts] 1 year ago
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Just a bit of observations.

I find that so-called puncture resistent tyres are not worth the price.  Conti 4000 Sii punctured very often, replaced with Durano plus after 200 miles: two punctures on the same ride within a week of buying them, replaced with Specialized Armadillo Elite after 400 miles- better but got 3 punctures last year. I would say that on average my cheap Vittoria Zaffiro has the same number of punctures. So I'm done with the hyper expensive winter tyres. On my racer my Zaffiro Slicks haven't had one single puncture after more than 3,000 miles. So I will replace the Armadillos with Zaffiro when they're done. 

Beware of cycleways and round-abouts. Most of my punctures, if not all, have happened in those places. Grit and flints are probably thrown on the cycleways by cars.

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OldRidgeback [3171 posts] 1 year ago
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It's worth remembering that those fatter MTB and BMX tyres are a lot easier to remove from a rim too. This can save a lot of Anglo Saxon language use if you've forgotten your tyre levers.

 1

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Chris Hayes [427 posts] 1 year ago
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Don't ride Italian tyres on loose chipped surfaces.... 3 punctures in the last two rides.  Vittoria tyres are now where they belong - in the bin - and I'm back on Contis...

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jconcah [1 post] 9 months ago
1 like
FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

I found the best way to stop getting punctures was to stock up on a huge stash of spare inner tubes (the pound shop had them in stock so I bought the lot, as I was at the time getting punctures very frequently and inner tubes from Halfords etc are relatively costly).

It turns out that as soon as you have a large enough number of them you immediately stop getting any punctures, so they just sit there in the cupboard forever.

Agreed - suffered 3 punctures in 4 days a few weeks ago (pinch flat, faulty valve, shard of glass), since stocking up on inner tubes I've had no issues!

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