Commuting 101: Flat Resistance

Most of use who regularly commute by bike have put up with flat tires. To avoid flats, a number of aftermarket products are available that promise to reduce or eliminate flats. They add weight to the outside of the rotating tire, but any time and energy lost while cycling is more than made up for in the time and effort expended in repairing a flat tire for those products that work well. I’ve tried most of these products and give my capsule notes below. Please feel free to comment with your own experiences with these and other similar products!

  • Solid or airless tires: This is the only puncture-prevention solution I have not tried. They’re often pooh-poohed by “real” cyclists. Among the few people I’ve know who’ve tried these type of tires, about half hate them, the other half love them. One of the solid tire loves is a friend who tours on Greenspeed recumbent trikes with solid tires! These generally are closed-cell foam in the shape of a bicycle tire. Sheldon says “stay away.” I trust Sheldon’s judgment, but like I wrote I’ve never tried but I’ve heard different things.
  • Plastic tire liners: “Mr Tuffy” is the brand name — I don’t even know if other vendors exist. These are plastic strips that you insert into your tire. It can make tire removal and insertion a little difficult, especially if your tires are already tight, but they work very well. I think the only flat I’ve had with a Mr Tuffy tire liner was when a nail went through the sidewall of my tire. Added weight is nominal.
  • Puncture-resistant tires: These are tires that are either lined with a puncture resistant material (such as Kevlar) or have extra thick rubber. The Kevlar-lined tires are comparable in weight to moderate-weight “training” tires, while those tires with extra material feel like I’m dragging a boat anchor around. Nonetheless, they do the job fairly well. I can’t run over bottle glass and nails with impunity, but they are able to brush aside punctures from the more common threats such as goat heads and automotive glass. I’m a big fan especially of the lined tires such as Specialized “Armadillo” line of tires.
  • Thorn-resistant tubes: These are inner tubes that are extra thick on the surface that’s against the rolling, outside edge of the tire. This is probably the easiest puncture resistance to add, and for many conditions these tubes are an inexpensive and effective remedy.
  • Liquid sealants: This is the gooey stuff you squeeze into your tube. You can also buy the tubes pre-filled with this stuff. I’ve only tried the “Slime” brand, though I know of at least one other brand. Some people swear by the stuff, but in my experience it’s absolutely worthless. It does nothing to prevent flats, and not only that when you do flat you have a gooey mess to clean off of your tube if you want the patch to stick.
  • Spray foam insulation: If you’re ever tempted to pump spray foam insulation from the home improvement store into your tube like I was once, DON’T!. It makes a big mess, damages everything it touches, and it doesn’t work anyway.

These days, I use puncture-resistant tires for my bikes, while my wife and kids have Mr Tuffy liners. They pretty much never get flats, while I still occasionally do. When they happen, my flats tend to be pinch flats because I neglected to keep the tire fully inflated. Where I ride, there are thorny vines, goatheads, and broken glass.

What puncture-resistance products have you tried and what do you like? Please share your experiences either in the comments or in a blog post of your own.

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