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Flat tires and punctures are a fact of cycling life. There are some things Iíve learned about preventing, or at least reducing, flat tires on a bike tour. A flat tire is extra complicated while bicycle touring since you have to remove all the panniers from the bike and dig around for all your tools before repairing the tire. When Iím fixing a flat, I must look like I am having a yard sale on the side of the road because all my camping gear is spread out around my bicycle.
One often-overlooked way to prevent flats is to maintain your tire pressure at the recommended level. It's written on the sidewall of the tire, usually measured in psi (pounds per square inch). All bike tires lose air little by little so they have to be pumped regularly. Keeping your touring tire up to pressure requires weekly pumping with a good quality high-pressure pump. If the tire gets soft and you hit a hole or rock, the inside of the tire will actually get pushed back onto the rim. This contact can cause the rim to make one or two little holes, or parallel slits, in the tube. The parallel slits look just like a snake has snacked on your tube, hence the name ďsnakebite.Ē After all these years on the road Iíve never seen anyone get bit by a snake but I have seen too many sad touring bike tubes with perfect little snake bites - when I help other touring cyclists with their road side flat tire repairs.
I have found that having a nice pump helps with the motivation to pump up the tires weekly. If I lived in a stationary house I would have a very high quality floor pump with a pressure gauge. On tour I am picky about my pump. Iíve only found one that I like: the Topeak Road Morph. Iíve never found a mini pump that inflates tires to an adequate pressure and they often break quickly.
Where to carry the pump? Attaching it to the bike frame or the outside of your luggage is fine if your bike lives safely indoors by night. But itís a tempting target when the bike is locked up at the campground or outside the grocery store. Even though that frame attachment is a cool design and the pump is long and bulky inside the pannier, itís much safer out of sight. Pumps carried inside of your pannier will also last much longer due to avoiding exposure to dust, dirt and weather.
The correct tire pressure is printed on the sidewall of your tire. Itís presented as a range. Usually I keep my tires pumped to the pressure at the top of the range, verified by the oft-neglected tire pressure gauge. The exception to that rule is if I am mountain bike touring. Generally I ride on paved (sealed) roads, but if I know that Iíll be coming up on some rough road, I stop pumping my tires one week prior and let them get softer. The same applies to riding in the snow.
I believe that buying good quality tires and properly inflating them can achieve the biggest reduction in flat tires. It is easy to understand the necessity of high quality touring tires. As with so many things in the bike shop, you get what you pay for. Choosing the best touring and commuting tires is a topic that has its own separate page: Bicycle Touring Tires.
A worn out tire is prone to puncture. When you start getting repeated flats, especially on a tire that youíve been using for a long time, itís time to replace it. On any bike, the rear tire bears more weight than the front and will wear out much more quickly. After two to six months on the road, you can switch the front and back tires to even out the rate of wear and tear.
(Tim's pick) Best Bicycle Touring
There are not many pumps that I like for bike touring. The usual mini pumps that mountain bikers use are meant for lower tire pressure and arenít any good at getting a 70psi+ tire up to pressure. A frame pump meant for a road bike is good because road tires require high-pressure 100psi+.
On tour I like a frame pump with a foot peg and gauge. It is a little bit bigger than most pumps but you can get leverage similar to a floor pump and can achieve enough pressure for touring and even road tires although 120 psi is a lot of work.
Shop for Topeak Road Morph Pump HERE
Although too big to be logically carried on a bike tour, anyone who regularly rides will benefit from owning a floor pump. Get one with a gauge and keep it right next to your bikes. Floor pumps are designed to be held on the ground with your feet and stood over for maximum leverage while pumping. A big, easy-to-read gauge means you donít have to stop pumping to squat down and peer at the tiny numbers on your gauge. A good floor pump has two nozzles that work on Presta and Schrader valves without changing any parts.
Shop for Topeak JoeBlow Pro Floor Pump HERE
A rim strip is basically a strip of cloth tape that covers the inside of the rim between the tube and rim and is vital for protecting the tube from the spokes. This is a very important, but hidden, part of your flat tire prevention strategy. Most new bikes come with cheap rubber rim strips that work okay at first but eventually stretch and move around, exposing the tube to the bare rim and hole-causing spoke ends. Before your next big tour make sure you have a cloth rim strip. Available in narrow (10mm), wide (19mm) or ATB (22mm)
Shop for Rim Tape HERE
On a bike tour I like a separate good quality tire pressure gauge. Usually when a frame pump has a built-in gauge it is not very accurate and breaks quickly. Having an accurate gauge and keeping your tire topped off is super important in reducing tire wear and flats, not to mention a noticeable difference in cycling efficiency.
"Shop for Planet Bike Dial Tire Gauge HERE
Slime is a well-known brand of bike tire sealant that is basically bright green goo that you pump into the tube. When a piece of glass or a thorn makes a hole the slime rushes over and forms a seal. It works amazingly well and if I know I am going through a thorny area - camping in the deserts of Northern Mexico - then I will add slime bicycle tire sealant to my touring tires. It does add some weight so I tend to not use it on a road tour where flats are more rare.
Shop for Slime Tire Sealant and Tubes HERE
Tire Liners are a protective plastic barrier inserted between the tube and tire. Theyíre similar to rim strips except that they protect the other side of the tube from thorns and glass poking through the tire.
Some people swear by tire liners but they always seem heavy when I add them to my tires. I can actually feel the difference when trying to accelerate quickly. When youíre trying to beat the light while zipping around traffic in Bangkok, a little bit of acceleration goes a long way.
Shop for Tire LinerHERE
CO2 Inflation and Compressed Air Cartridges
I have never been a fan of compressed air cartridges but they are very light and fast and I know a few touring cyclists who like them. The advantage is they are very easy - no pumping - but for a touring cyclist finding replacement cartridges while traveling abroad may be difficult or impossible. Those little cartridges donít seem very green to me either and I like knowing that I can repair a flat without fear of running out of air.
Shop for CO2 Inflation HERE
Equipment Pages Index
START HERE for Touring Bikes and Commuting Bicycles
Custom Touring Bicycles and Bike Upgrade Buyers Guide
Bicycle Touring Frames
The Steel Repair Myth
Steel and Aluminum Derailleur Hanger Repair
Bicycle Touring Wheels
Phil Wood: The Best Bicycle Hubs
Panniers / Bike Bags
Cargo Trailers Vs Panniers
Tires for Bike Tours
Bicycle Touring Saddles
Women's Specific Bike Touring Saddles
Brooks Leather Touring Bicycle Saddle Care and Conditioning
Touring Handlebars, Bar Ends, Adjustable Stems, and Padded Grips
Sealed Cartridge Headsets
How to prevent flat tires
Bike Route Trails and Maps
Buying Camping Equipment
Tent and Ground Cloth
Pots and Pans
First Aide Kits
Bike Touring Shorts
Bicycle Touring Lighting Systems
Solar Power for Camp
Pictures of Equipment Failures
Tips & Advice
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?
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