Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Thorpy's Guide to Puncture Prevention

Thorpy's Guide to Puncture Prevention

It is quite annoying to have one's plans muddled by a puncture. Either you plan to ride, but can't because of puncture, or a ride is cut short by a puncture. Either way there is no sure fire way to prevent a puncture that will not impede slightly (or massively) on your riding pleasure. I should state that:

  • I am a fan of Shwalbe tires and most of the below relates to that brand. 
  • I have not covered tubeless systems. I know nothing about them.
  • My cycling is not sport based it is commuting, utility based cycling with a rural escapade thrown in on a regular basis.  
In conclusion if you are not fussy and just want to reduce puncture risk to minimum then use a sealant inside your inner tube. If you are fussy and want the best options then use a V-Guard tire with a quality tube.  

Both will require some attention now and again, but it will be very infrequent, and will not spoil the enjoyment of your ride too much.

Puncture Prevention - Tire Liners - NEVER

Awful (In my experience). 

The idea is that they provide a tough layer between the tire and the tube. They are normally made from a tough plastic. The problem is that they are fiddly to mount, often cause punctures and often do not stay in place whilst inside the tire.

Perhaps the worst of the above problems is the ability of the sharp edges of these plastic strip to cut in to the inner tube. So badly in fact that you will have to throw the tube away! I have only tried one brand (Zefal) and these should be avoided.

Puncture Prevention  - Extra Thick Tubes - SOMETIMES

For down hill racers, or very heavy riders riding low pressure tires over bumpy ground. 

Most inner tubes are made so as to keep air inside of them at pressure. Some tubes such as "thorn resistant" tubes or "down hill" tubes are made thicker than normal so as to give better puncture protection.

This may work against pinch flats (smashing in to a hard object causing a pinch between the rim and hard object) but I have found them to be little good against my main enemy, thorns. I still get plenty of punctures from thorns even with thick tubes.

Puncture Prevention - Puncture Proof Tires - OFTEN

These are often the perfect choice. A balance between puncture protection and performance. 

Now there are many options here, and I will deal with the best. Schwalbe offer some of their tires with V-Guard, this is a thin tough layer in the tire that does not alter the feel of the tire yet provides excellent puncture protection. These tire are very expensive, and there is limited choice, in terms of tread patterns etc.

A more common puncture protection choice is smart guard or kevlar guard, in both these case we see a squashy layer of rubber built in to the tire. A thorn (hawthorn / blackthorn) will go straight through a Kevlar guard tire. However, I have yet to see a thorn go through a smart guard (or green guard) tire which use 3mm - 5mm of rubber to protect the tube.

Edit 20/11/2019 - Yep a thorn will go through a green guard tire: Straight through the thickest part of a brand new schwalbe super moto x.

V Guard or Double Defense (DD) is the Best Option in my Experience

The problem with these green guard and smart guard tires is that they do affect the feel of the ride. Whilst riding green guard tires I notice a deadening of the ride which I do not like. The bike is noticeably harder to pedal .

Apart from "V-Guard" the best option for me in terms of choice and also cost is "Race Guard" this will not stop thorns, but is does stop all sorts of other sharps spiky things such as flints and stones. After 3 years my rear tire (Schwalbe Big Apple) is laced with cuts and "wounds" but examining the inside of tire shows no cuts reaching the inside of the tire.

Puncture Prevention - Sealant - OFTEN

A reasonably reliable choice for many, good for kids bikes, inexpensive and quick to implement. 

Sealants such as tire slime and OKO do work. They do seal holes made by thorns. However, they do not seal well when the thorn remains stuck in the tire, and can also clog the inner tube valve.

If a thorn remains stuck through the tire, the sealant will make a poor seal. The tire may take a few days to deflate, and will hold pressure if pumped up again long enough for most rides. But you will need to remove the thorn to get a good seal again. The easiest way to do this is to examine the outside of the tire until you find the "stub" of the thorn sticking out, then use pliers to pull it out.

I have ridden a bike for over year without having to remove the tube and tire. However I have had to extract thorns on 3 or 4 occasions. This can take almost as long as fixing a puncture if they are hard to find.

Puncture Prevention - Solid Tires & Solid Tubes - RARELY

Unlikely to be acceptable unless you performance requirements are low. 

I tried these many years ago and they were a disaster. They slip on the rim, have a terrible feel, and whilst these they will not get a puncture they will suck 30% of the enjoyment out of a ride. I guess they have there place in a zero maintenance, bike hire situation but if you own your bike, and enjoy riding it they have no real worth.

I slight deviation on these  is a solid inner tube, which is a ring of foam that you squash in to you tire. I have not used these but one would think they suffer similar characteristics to the solid tires, with the added complications of mounting them. Most also restrict the width of tires that you are able to use.

Puncture Prevention - Conclusions

Please find below recommendations:

Small Budget and Moderate Performance Requirements 

A large bottle of tire sealant can be had for £15 that will treat a whole families worth of bicycle tires. I would suggest OKO ATV Tire Sealant , as it comes with a steel valve removal tool (as apposed to flimsy plastic), is much cheaper than bike specific sealants and does the job. 

I use this in all my kid's bikes, and my wife's bike, as they don't even notice it is there, and means when we set out for a ride, even if a tire is deflated, I can inflate it again and it will stay inflated for any length of ride. 

Higher Budget and Higher Performance Requirements 

"Race Guard" Tire with quality tube can be set up for around £25 a wheel. A "V-Guard Tire" with a quality tube can be set up for £40 - £50 a wheel. 

The later is a better choice, but you may not find a tire to suite, and the price is a little eye-watering.

A Word on Hawthorn and Blackthorn

Perhaps the toughest enemy of any tire in the UK, it the hawthorn or blackthorn. They are the cause of 100% of my punctures on an annual basis (rural riding).

Harbinger of Death (For Tyres) - Blackthorn (or Hawthorn)

With the exception of V-Guard I have found nothing to stop a hawthorn or blackthorn causing punctures. Sealant slow a leak long enough for you to get home, but the thorn will "win" in the end.

Blackthorn or Hawthorn  - 1 . . . Green Guard - Nil

I have heard similar things about "goat's head" thorns in the USA. So with nature out to beat you, one certainty is that you will have to learn to live with a few punctures, regardless of the system you choose.

Flood Risk Assessment London 

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