While we love our customers and like to think of them more as members of the tribe than simply the other end of a services exchange there are a few rare moments when we really wish we didn’t see them. Firstly, we hear them coming long before we see them, that strange sound which is a cross between a squeel and a squelch; and then there’s the walk characterised largely by a posture of slumping desperation. And then the look of longing. We are of course a wholly professional outfit and thus simply enquire, ‘can we help?’ And then comes the all too predictable response, preceded only by a sigh of utter desperation, “I hope so, I’m on my fourth puncture in a week!”
So here’s our top five tips on avoiding the walk of shame.
Remove the enemy
When repairing any puncture take time to thoroughly examine the surrounding tyre checking for any evidence of a sharp culprit embedded in the tyre. This task shouldn’t be rushed. Start with a visual examination on both sides of the tyre followed by running your hand slowly along the inner wall of the tyre. If you feel anything other than smooth tyre remove it from the same direction at which it entered the tyre. Pull the culprit through the inner wall and you not only risk damaging your tyre but are highly likely to leave the aforementioned offender even further embedded in your tyre.
Remember: mirrors beat sponges every time
If your running your tyres at anything other than maximum pressure then to some degree they’ll be acting like a sponge absorbing anything and everything they pass. It is critical to run your tyres at sufficient pressure to represent a hard wall capable of simply snapping and leaving for dead any debris you might cross. To achieve this you’ll need a good pump and preferably a track pump. Cheap and nasty pumps contain valves which run at a lower pressure than your inner tube meaning that you are quite literally loosing air faster than you can get it in.
Remember to check your tyre pressure on a weekly basis regardless of whether or not the bike has been ridden. A bike stood still for a long duration of time will invariably deflate resulting in the tyre wall cracking, more of that below.
Inspect your rim tape
The tape surrounding the inner rim of your wheel creates a protective layer between your spoke nipples and your inner tube it thus needs to be in good order and correctly positioned. If you've a recurrent puncture problem check out the condition of your rim tape. Can't get your hands on any rim tape? Electrical tape does a good temporary the job!
Snake bites (pinch flats)
You’ve checked the tyre, you’ve addressed any problems, you’ve refitted the tyre and still they deflate. Grrrrrrrr. You are now close to killing someone. Breathe deep and calm down. Our guess, educated only by hard experience, is that when you remove the inner tube you will find two very small lines breaking the inner tube and running parallel to each other. These lines are commonly known as a snake bite and occur when the inner tube is either trapped under the wall of the tyre or is in fact nipped by levers used to refit the tyre. This particular problem is far more common on road tyres with a considerably tighter fit and is a monumental pain up the ass! It can occur from either poor fitting or from bottoming out tyres on curbs, pot holes etc which then traps the inner tube between tyre and wheel rim.
Replace the tube and this time refit with extreme care and patience. Take time to check the inner tube is not becoming snagged by the tyre. use your pinky to keep pushing the iner tube into the tyre as you go along. Avoid use of levers. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the wheel (vegetable oil will do) allowing the tyre to slide in more easily. Be sure to thoroughly wipe away all signs of lubricant once the repair is completed. Pump them up rock hard!
Check your tyre for cracks and tiny holes
Remember that any tyre is, in its simplest form, little more than a layer of cotton wrapped in rubber. Once inflated, tyres function effectively but if left to go flat there is a significant risk that tyre walls will crack representing a weakening of the entire tyre structure. Old tyres are particularly prone to this problem. Similarly if you’ve had the misfortune of riding over sharp or serrated edges (including broken curb stones) you may have damaged the tyre’s basic structure exposing the inner tube to the road surface in a battle the inner tube alone can never win. If your tyres are damaged stop risking it and replace them with a better option.
Give in and upgrade
We’re huge fans of Shwalbe’s Marathon and Durano Plus tyres and so should you be. The ‘Plus’ bit in the name indicates 6 layers of kevlar coating offering you just about the best puncture resistance you can get. At roughy £40 each they’re not cheap but represent a sound investment and an end to the hassle of endless punctures.
The down side or trade off is that they’re a little heavier than your average tyre but for the vast majority of us that’s purely academic, oh and they’re not the easiest to fit but hey, you should only have to do it once.
'Why no mention of puncture resistant inner tubes?' I hear you ask. Put simply we’re not the biggest of fans. The valves on these tubes are notoriously problematic and they often risk hiding a problem which actually requires some attention, add to that the absolute mess they make if you suffer a more serious puncture, and the added weight and it’s just never made sense to us. That said we’re aware some people swear by them. Just not us.