Bike

Ask A Gear Guru: Why Do I Keep Getting A Flat?

Do you keep getting flat tire after flat tire and can’t figure out why? Odds are it isn't just bad luck.

We’ve all been there before: It’s over halfway through your long ride, you’re out of cell service, and you get a flat. It’s raining (it’s always raining when you get a flat, right?), you get your kit and hands filthy, but you use your spare to finally get rolling again. A minute later, it feels like you’re hitting a wall as your speed crawls lower, and you suddenly feel like you’ve got front or rear suspension on your often-too-stiff road bike. It’s another flat, it’s on the same wheel you just finished fixing, and you’re out of spare tubes. Yup, your tire keeps going flat. You could hitchhike and end up in a scary movie plotline, but hopefully the story goes another way.

There’s nothing more frustrating than multiple flats on a ride, and nothing more horrifying (hopefully not literally) than finding yourself stuck without any recourse but to walk or ride our your rim. Fortunately, there are ways you can help prevent that dreaded second (or third or fourth) flat. We can help with advice and a few products you should always have:

Tire Keeps Going Flat: Something sharp is stuck in the tire.

The problem:

If you don’t remove the object that poked the hole in your first tube, it will probably poke through the replacement tube as well.

The fix:

After getting a flat, inspect the outside of the tire for the offending object. Pull out any shards of glass or other sharp things that are stuck in the tire. Next, run your hand along the inside of the tire to check for small items that are poking through. The tire is ready for a new tube once you have removed all the sharp things from it. Check out below for a few products that can help.

Tire Keeps Going Flat: Your tire is worn out.

The problem:

If the tire rubber is extremely overused, the threads—fibers that make the backbone of the tire—can be exposed. When that happens, the tire is much more susceptible to tearing and puncture. If the casing does tear, flat protection is reduced and the tube can stretch beyond its usual dimensions. Both of these cases can lead to flats.

The fix:

A tire is dead once the threads are exposed. Switch it. You will be better off changing the tire well before it gets to that point. Swap your tires when the rubber at the crest starts to crown and loses its round shape. Your rear tire will always wear faster than the front, but swapping them both at the same time is the best practice. Scroll down for some advice on new tires and our favorite pick.

Tire Keeps Going Flat: The tube is getting pinched while it is being changed.

The problem:

If the tire gets poked with the lever or caught between the tire and the brake track, it can puncture before it is even inflated.

The fix:

Inflate the new tube a tiny bit so it holds its round shape before you put it on the wheel. Pass the valve through the valve hole and then press the tube in between the brake track walls so it sits in the wheel. Do not allow any part of the tube to rest outside the brake track while reinstalling the tire. Once the tube is seated in the wheel, use your hands, not a lever, to snap the tire back on the wheel. If you use a lever to lift the tire onto the wheel, the lever itself can swing around and poke a hole in the tube by pinching it against the metal sidewall. Reseating the tire with your hands eliminates that possibility. If you can’t reseat the tire with your hands, scroll down for a cool tool solution.

Tire Keeps Going Flat: Riding with low tire pressure or hitting an object in the road.

The problem:

Pinch flats. If your tire is under-inflated and you slam into a pothole or other object in the road, the tire will bottom out against the rim and puncture from the impact between the wheel and the road.

The fix:

Inflate your tires regularly. Wide wheels and broad tires can run a lower pressure–down to 80PSI or so depending on rider weight–but standard narrow wheels with 23c tires (check the label) need to be inflated  higher, typically 100PSI or more. And keep an eye on the road. Avoiding potholes and other obstacles is the best way to prevent pinch flats. If an object is unavoidable, lift the front wheel off the road slightly to hop over the object or stand on the pedals and lift your weight off the saddle to use your joints as suspension to absorb the blow. Still want to run low pressure? Scroll down for more on a tubeless solution.

Tire Keeps Going Flat: Rim tape isn’t covering the spoke holes.

The problem:

The spoke holes’ sharp metal corners jab against the tube and can cause a puncture if they aren’t completely covered with rim tape. Old rim tape can depress into the spoke holes even if they are completely covered, again creating a sharp edge that can puncture the tube.

The fix:

Get two new rolls that are wide enough to stretch across the entire tire bed. Lay it flat in the wheel and make sure it covers the spoke holes entirely. Check out our pick below.

Tire Keeps Going Flat: Products to Help Reduce Your Chances

To help reduce the potential for that first flat and to help you if it does happen, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite flat-solution products:

Orange Seal Road Tube Kit

Starting at $35, orangeseal.com

Bike tire keeps going flat? This product will help.

If you don’t have tubeless-ready wheels or aren’t ready yourself to go tubeless, you can still get the peace-of-mind that liquid sealant provides without the tubeless commitment. Orange Seal’s kit provides you with everything you need to basically bombproof your tire setup. While you’ll still need to be wary of pinch flats, small punctures and cuts won’t be an issue anymore.

Continental Grand Prix 5000

$50, rei.com

Bike tire keeps going flat? This product will help.

Replacing a worn-out tire (or tires) can be nerve-wracking. Do you go with what you’re used to? Follow the car paradigm and make sure they match? In cycling, matching tires is much more of an aesthetic choice, and you don’t necessarily need to replace both tires if only one  is worn out (usually the rear, especially if you use a wheel-on trainer often). But for sure it’s a good idea to buy the newest model of tire you can, as tire tech actually changes at a pretty quick pace. Unlike running shoes where you might want to stick with an old legacy favorite, simply go with the newest and latest/greatest. Better yet, just go with Conti’s GP 5000s if you want something that hits the sweet spot of puncture protection, rolling resistance, and grip.

CrankBrothers Speedier Tire Levers

$6, rei.com

Bike tire keeps going flat? This product will help.

For those who think tire levers are tire levers, they’ve never seen anything like this set. With a unique shape that not only protects your hands when removing stubborn tires, but also prevents pinch flats, the Speedier tire levers even have written-on instructions on which side to use for removal or installation. Ensure you don’t pinch your last spare tube when out on the road with this unique tool.

Muc-Off Ultimate Tubeless Setup Kit

$60, amazon.com

If you really really really want to make sure you don’t get a flat the first (or second) time, then use this kit to convert to a tubeless setup that will use liquid inside the tire to seal up small cuts and punctures—and it’ll allow you to run a lower pressure and completely eliminate the possibility of pinch flats. Check out this story to see if a tubeless setup is right for you, and then say goodbye to flats pretty much forever. You’ll also need tubeless tires alongside this kit, and check to be sure your wheels are tubeless ready.

Velox Rim Tape

$6, amazon.com

A tried-and-true rim tape that’s been around for nearly a century, Velox’s cloth rim tape is a standard for most shops who want to ensure that their customers don’t get flats. With an adhesive backing and a fairly thick cloth surface, this rim tape isn’t quite as light as some other options, but it’s impressive when it comes to puncture protection.

Portions of this article are by Aaron Hersh, who wrote on this topic back in 2014.