A matter of inflation

9 01 2011

Recently I’ve been thinking about something universally disliked by Mountain Bikers – the dreaded puncture.  Now that the snow has gone it seems we’re back to the usual winter conditions for Southern England and it’s often at this time of year that puncture prevention becomes a topic of great interest. This is because:

1.    Having to stop and fix a puncture on top of a muddy windswept hill, in the rain, when the temperature is in single digits is possibly the most unpleasant activity in the world. Ever.

2.    Anecdotally I seem to get more punctures in the winter. I think this is because the excess water on the trails acts as a lubricant for those pesky thorns meaning that more make it though the tyre and end up wounding the inner tube. It seems also that South Downs farmers choose to trim their hawthorn hedges in the winter too, meaning there’s more thorns on the ground to contend with. Oh and I almost forgot the wonderful sticky nature of chalky mud, that glues the thorns to your tyres that would otherwise just fall away…

The standard 2:1 puncture fixing/watching ratio

So – what options do you have to reduce that unwelcome hiss from your tyres? I thought it be worth summarising the options that I’m aware of – it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list but hopefully some food for thought.

Do nothing.

Getting a flat gives you a break from riding and helps you stop and “smell the roses”. If you’re in a small group it gives everyone else a break too! There’s nothing wrong with just putting up with the occasional puncture, and depending on when and where you ride this might be just fine, especially if you predominantly ride on your own. If you’re riding in larger groups it can however disrupt the flow of the ride and extend the day dramatically. I remember one muddy@rse ride when we had 19 punctures after passing one nasty recently trimmed hedge. It was a little late when we got back to the cars that day… If you do come out on Muddy@rse monthly rides I’d strongly advise considering one the options below to save all those black looks from fellow Muddy@rsers!

Keep your rubber fresh

One good riding friend of mine hardly gets punctures and puts it down to regularly replacing his tyres. The science here is that the rubber compound does (I think) deteriorate with time (the action of sunlight particularly) and thus the tyre gets “softer” and more prone to thorns. Also there’s less rubber on an old tyre and hence less to stop thorns coming through. It isn’t the cheapest option, but worth thinking about (and you get the added grip from never having to struggle with partly worn tyres!).

Puncture resistant strips

These are strips of plastic that go in your tyres and improve their resistance to punctures. Unless you stick them in your tyre they can move around and become twisted if you’re not careful. Seem to work ok from reports we’ve had. I’m running these on my bike right now as a trail and I haven’t had any punctures (yet).

Slime tubes, Slime and sealant

These are inner tubes that come prefilled with a gloopy liquid. When you get a flat the liquid seals the whole and stops the air escaping. They work pretty well on lots of things, but get defeated by large cuts to the tyre from nasty vicious flints. Quite expensive (about 8 pounds per tube) and heavy (roughly twice the weight of a standard tube). You can get versions for a few quid more that have a lightweight tube so the all up weight is similar to a regular tube (although we’ve heard reports that these have less slime in them and thus could perhaps be less effective).

You can also add slime to your existing tubes with a bit of care and patience. Lots of info out there on the internet on how to do this and a cheaper option (if a bit of a faff and has the potential to be messy). We’ve also heard of people using a tubeless tyre sealant (see below) on regular tubed tyres  – this could work out cheaper still.

Slime tubes of some kind are well used by Muddy@rsers and are generally pretty well-liked. Other downsides I’ve noticed are that the liquid does dry out after a year or so – meaning their puncture reducing properties reduce greatly. Also the gunk can get into the valve meaning it can get stuck. Hopefully you won’t need to be pumping these up too often anyway…

Go Tubeless

Launched with a big hurrah a few years back the options to run without an inner tube at all are now many and varied.  Going tubeless has all kinds of benefits such the ability to run lower tyre pressures and thus get much improved traction, and almost eliminates pinch-flat punctures (like when you ride at a kerb at speed and forget to lift the bike). There’s a whole range of versions for a whole range of budgets. Here’s not an exhaustive list but the main types are

  • Tubeless specific rims and tyres
    Manufacturers now produce specialist rims and tyres that work as a tubeless setup without minimal faffing and carry the “UST” name. New tubeless tyres and rims ain’t going to be cheap!


  • Tubeless Conversion kits
    These allow to convert your existing wheels and tyres to a tubeless set up. Good examples are Stan’s (No Tubes) and Joe’s NO Flats. These consist of a rim tape (to stop air coming through the rim), special valves and sealant that goes in your tyre. Quite a faff to setup and some combinations of tyres and rims can be very problematic. Much cheaper than the specific products but there is a risk of it just not working…


  • “Ghetto” Tubeless
    This is a cheap version of Tubeless kits, where a strip of old innertube is used rather than a special rim tape. Cheap and may work but you’ll need to be patient

Plenty of Muddy@rsers run tubeless systems of some kind, so if you’re interested in learning more then do post a question on the forum. Tubeless systems, with sealant especially are very good at protecting against thorns. If you ride quite hard it is possible to break the seal between the rim and tyre and “burp” air out. Again this varies by setup and how you ride!

And last and pretty much least…

Solid Tyres

Now that you’ve stopped laughing – these do exist 🙂 Not really taken off for off road riding and better suited to urban commuting duties on the whole.

I hope that’s given you an overview of what’s out there. There’s loads of people on the forum with a lot of experience of preventing punctures. It’s worth posting there if you’re wondering…


Rich F

p.s. I couldn’t resist sharing a video of a puncture my friend Al got during a night ride a few years back. I think he was due a puncture regradless of what he’d done to his tyres…






2 responses

9 01 2011

Good article Rich,

My input on this subject is…

Currently running traditional tube/tyre combos and, as far as I can remember, have only had 4 punctures in 3 years or Muddy@rsing (And 2 of these only became apparent when I got home)
Sounds like I’ve been relatively lucky, as I can relate to the misery of fixing punctures in adverse conditions (A certain bomb-hole, in the dark, on my first night ride, on Halloween, under fire from bangers and rockets, comes to mind)

I’ve recently been lucky enough to win some tubeless rims and tyres, so hope to be able to ride these in the next couple of weeks and report back.

When I used to commute, I was forever getting flats – usually just as I started the journey home from the train station, in the dark and rain, so opted for some solid tyres. If I remember correctly they were called ‘Hedgehogs’ or something like that – and were effectively the same as running 80PSI (A fact that my @rse still remembers fondly, from the first time I rode off a kerb).
They were excellent though, as there were very fast, and I could just ride over broken glass with impunity.


2 02 2011


I ran my Bontrager Rythmn Comp rims with Mud X tyres, in a tubeless setup, on Sunday.
This was my first foray into the world of tubeless tyres and I have to say that I had no problems at all.
The Mud X tyres were really good in the few sloppy areas we encountersed, and didn’t clog up as much, on the sticky clay sections, as my Panaracer Fire Xc Pro tyres do.
I’ll be using them again, in Tilgate tonight – which is going to be much sloppier, so will be able to gauge their performance better.


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