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  • stevecowles

Puncture Protection Options

My first ride of 2021 and my first puncture of 2021. My calculations tell me that, on average across all of my bikes, I get a puncture every 210 miles. Frankly, my patience is wearing thin quicker than my tyres are. It is time to look at doing something about it.

My tyre pressures vary depending on the type of tyre and type of ride (harder on tarmac) and 100% of my punctures have been on the treaded area rather than the sidewall and in all cases, the cause has been visible (for example, a thorn) so I'm confident that it is caused by where I choose to ride rather than how I fit the tyres. It looks like I need to start thinking about upgrades, starting on the bikes I use on the trips furthest from home.

There appear to be a number of different options at a range of different costs and each being best suited to different circumstances. As far as I can tell, the list is as follows.

  • No Tyres: Well OK, this is not really an option.

  • Solid Tyres: Apart from lack of availability, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages as the excess vibration would destroy both me and the bike. I realise that these are fitted to many scooters but, in that scenario, the rider's joints are acting as the shock absorber. This is something I'm not overly keen on subjecting my nether regions to.

  • Tyre Liners: These sit between the inner tube and the tread of the tyre and look like a fiddle to fit. Basically, they are a strip of tough finely woven material with resistance to penetration. With a cost of £5 to £10 per wheel, they are relatively cheap and have the advantage of fitting any combination of wheel and tyre.

  • Better Tubes: I tend to buy tubes in bulk when they are on offer. 'Out of sight, out of mind' applies and I pay zero attention to quality. This is probably unwise.

  • Tyre Inserts: These include 'Tannus Armour', I have disregarded these as they cost in the region of £30 per tyre and I feel that there are better options open to me. If I was suffering from sidewall punctures I would reconsider this. This is the real option for anyone running low off-road pressures or suffering from sidewall punctures.

  • Puncture Resistant Tyres: These tyres have a protective layer built into them under the tread with the best known probably being the Schwalbe Marathon. Their key advantage is that you just 'fit and forget' with punctures becoming a much rarer thing. The two key disadvantages are additional weight (where it has the most impact) and a restricted range of tread and compound choices. The Schwalbe Marathon in particular is a hard tyre with less grip as a consequence but they have a wide and excellent reputation for durability and high mileage.

  • Slime: This is a brand name and there are other options available too, basically it is injected into the inner tube by removing the valve core and acts as a sealant if there is a leak. It is worth noting that is not a permanent fix and a punctured inner tube is mended with special 'scabs' when you get home. In principle, I like the idea but it is worth noting that you cannot use it with a CO2 'pump' as the slime may freeze. This would be a disadvantage for me. Slime will work with any tyre outer so maybe a good solution for someone who wants a specific tread pattern or compound which cannot be purchased in 'puncture-resistant' form. The effectiveness of slime is time-limited.

  • Tubeless: as with cars, new bikes are often tubeless these days. The wheel rims are sealed around the spoke holes to be airtight and a sealant is put into the tyre before it is fitted at high pressure until the tyre bead seals onto the rim after which the pressure can be reduced. This appears to be the best solution and you can still carry a tube to fit in emergencies. Alas, it needs tubeless tyres (and ideally rims) in order to be effective so is not a good retrofit option for an older bike. Undoubtedly this is the future but it is only really a potential option on one of my bikes and expensive even in that case.

In Conclusion: There does not appear to be a single solution which would suit all of my bikes so I'm going to follow the steps below.

  1. Quality inner tubes. With immediate effect, I will stop buying the cheap ones. I do believe that the impact of this will be minimal but it can only help. I do have a stock of inner tubes of some sizes so it may be a while before this takes effect.

  2. Fit tyre inserts next time I have to remove the tyres on each of my bikes. This is a cheap interim option and even if it is only partly effective it would be a move forwards.

  3. Puncture Resistant Tyres. Whenever possible, I will be buying Schwalbe Marathon (or even Marathon Plus) when replacing tyres from now on. Where this is not possible I will select other puncture-resistant tyres. As I am not a racer I am not particularly impacted by the slight reduction in grip or the additional weight.

The odd puncture is an inevitable fact of cycling but if the steps above don't reduce it to an acceptable level I will bite the bullet and invest in tubeless on at least my MCN Moscow eMTB as this is the bike I use most in the areas where punctures are the highest risk. This would be a fairly expensive option as it would require replacing the tyres and (ideally) the wheels. For my other bikes, I see slime as a potential backstop option.

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