Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tips to Avoid Flats

Psshhhhtttttttt... That all-too-familiar, hated sound, the last thing you want to hear on race day. The resulting wave of emotion comes in three stages: surprise, followed by denial, and then the inevitable, defeated acceptance as you slow to a stop and everyone else rides on without you.

While you'll never succeed in completely avoiding flats, you can stretch your luck out a little longer by following these tips:
  1. Check the tire for excessive cuts, holes, and wear. A tire that has worn thin, or has too many cuts and holes in it will flat again and can be unsafe. Replace it, or at least put a patch on the inside of the tire.
  2. Check for debris in the tire or the rim.  If you're changing a flat during a ride, take the time to do a quick feel with your finger and a visual inspection. It's very common to flat immediately after replacing a tube because the object that caused the flat is still in the tire. At home, especially if you've had a run of mystery flats, periodically take the tire off and pinch open any tiny cuts in the tire. Look inside carefully for debris and remove anything you find. Sometimes tiny shards of rock will be embedded inside and can wear a hole in a tube over a few days.
  3. Check your rim tape. Rim tape should completely cover any spoke holes on the inside of the rim. Any tiny gaps exposing the edge of a spoke hole will eventually wear a hole in a tube. Make sure the rim tape itself is smooth; any ridges or sharp edges can cause flats.
    Tiny exposed spoke hole edge, will cause a flat eventually
  4. Check for tube pinch. If you're not careful when installing a new tube, tubes will sometimes get stuck between the bead of the tire and the rim. This may work for a few days or only a few seconds, but eventually an explosive flat will occur. To ensure that the tube lies completely within the tire, pump a very small amount of air into the tire, and then pull the tire back along the entire perimeter of the wheel on both sides; look for any tube peeking out, and work it back into the tire with your thumbs. Gently press up on the tire's valve to be sure that area of the tube is pressed up into the tire as well.
    Latex tube peeking out ,this will cause a flat eventually.
  5. Put the tire label where the valve is. Besides being a cosmetically "pro" thing to do, this has the added benefit of giving you an easy reference point to figure out where a flat is occurring, because the tire is always installed the same way. Got two flats in a week, in the same place? Check for a cut in the tire or a rim-tape problem where the tubes are failing.
  6. Use proper pressures. Too low of a pressure can cause the tire to "pinch flat," cutting the tube on the edge of the rim when it compresses too much on a nasty bump in the road. Optimum pressures vary based on tire size, rider weight, and road surface. This chart by Michelin is a handy guideline for most road tires.
  7. Watch where you are going. This tip is simple and effective. Pay attention and don't run over things. If you can't avoid a patch of glass or debris, take your weight off the saddle and stay loose so that less force is put on the tires. Practice bunny hopping so you can hop over large debris that might cause pinch flats or a crash.
  8. Use appropriate tires.  If you follow the tips above, you can actually use nice, fast tires and get very few flats in most areas. If you live somewhere with excessive debris or lots of rain, consider a durable but slow tire for training like the Continental Gatorskin. If you are a larger, heavier person, consider using a larger 25c tire instead of 23c.


  1. Agree with #2. I was getting flats while on a turbo trainer(!) because of embedded shard.

  2. Do you recommend using tire liners, like Tuffy or Stop Flats2?

    1. Usually it is less hassle to just use a durable tire to start with, like a Continental Gatorskin, than to add a tire liner, which makes installing tubes a bit trickier. Whether you use a tire liner or a Gatorskin type tire, it will make for a much slower setup, so save those for training rather than racing.