Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Flat Tire Protection: Test Results from Homemade and Retail Options

Keeping bicycle tires from getting punctures can be a challenge. For the most part, I've given up on having pretty, soft (comfortable) tires because I have found that they aren't low maintenance when it comes to dealing with road debris. When making a run to the grocery store or taking care of a quick errand, it can be a nuisance to have to stop to fix a flat.

There are a variety of options available for sale. Everything from putting goop in tires to thicker tubes, but last fall, I decided I wanted to try out a couple of options that I'd been curious about, and I thought I'd share what's happened to date.

Over the last several months, I have been testing a couple of fairly inexpensive flat protection possibilities. One is a homemade option, while the other is store bought. I wanted to see if either (or both) would actually provide protection from glass and other potentially poke-through-the-tire debris found commonly on roads and paths. I will say from the get-go, I have been pretty impressed thus far with both options.
Stop Flats 2 comes with a set of two liners, one for each tire.
When I picked up another bike early this year, I wanted to put cream tires on it, but the two tire options I enjoy riding have both left me wanting when it comes to flat protection. I decided to try StopFlats as liners in the tires to see if would provide the protection I need.

These liners are not new to the market, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to test them. I have had the opportunity to see and hold them close up and thought that they seemed a viable option to actually help prevent flats, but the only way to know for sure would be to put them on and get to riding.

The first challenge was deciding which size to buy. There seems to be a plethora of size options and it's supposed to be made easier by the color coded liners, but I still found it to be a bit challenging. There seems to be some overlap in sizing in a few instances and some sizes that are still missing from the line up too.
A few samples from the size line up of StopFlats
Ultimately, I settled on a size to try for my 650bx38 tires and went about installing them. The installation is pretty simple and wraps around the interior of the tire before the tube is inserted. I had installed these once before on a customer's bike while filling in at a local bike shop, but the process seemed a bit more challenging with my tires. It could be that they are simply a softer tire so keeping the liners in place while adding the tube presented a bit of a challenge, but nothing that was unmanageable.

My tests with this liner are still fairly limited as they have been in place for only a couple of months (and certainly not the most thorn-centric months), but thus far, they have not disappointed. I have ridden through glass shards, dirt paths with goatheads and other stickers, and rolled over metal and other road debris without experiencing a flat tire. To date, these liners have lived up to expectations, but I look forward to testing them over the longer term to see how they withstand longer use over roads and paths with debris.

The second liner I've been experimenting with is a homemade option. Several years ago, I read a comment on a forum about someone who was going to try lining his tires with tyvek to see if it would help prevent flats. There was never any follow up to this statement, so I always wondered if it was something that could really work. In theory, it seemed reasonable because those mailing envelopes are pretty strong and durable, but I wasn't sure if it would work in real-world use.
It has been suggested that USPS mailing envelopes can be had free of charge,which is true, but I would point out that it is illegal to use USPS envelopes for anything other than mailing a package via the post office... and I don't want to feel responsible for someone breaking the law.  
The first step was to get some tyvek mailing envelopes. These can be obtained at just about any office supply store, Amazon, or many other big box retail/discount establishments, if they aren't already somewhere in your home or office.

I decided to test this liner on my fat tire bike because it's more challenging to find flat liners for this size bike tire. To make the liner, I took a mailing envelope and folded it width-wise so that it would be narrow and long. Depending on the width of the tire and the envelope in question, the envelope may need to be cut down a bit so that it isn't too wide.
Then, I repeated the folding step with the next envelope and used packing tape to attach one end of the first folded piece to one end of the second envelope. This process continues until there is enough of the envelope length to make a circle to fit inside the tire.

The worst part about this homemade creation is fitting the "liner" into the tire. I may have left a bit too much on the width, creating a bigger headache than it needed to be. The secret seems to be getting the envelopes to lay flat against the tire. Once that happens, it's much easier to get the tube in place.

I have had these tyvek liners in the bike tires for about seven months now and I have not had to deal with a flat tire. While I have ridden through the same types of debris as on the other bike with its liners, I have not yet had a goathead or any debris physically stick and stay in the tires, so I don't know if I've just been fortunate enough to not run directly over any goatheads (unlikely, but possible), or if they have simply been pushed out prior to my seeing them. The same is true for glass. I have definitely run over pieces, but nothing has stayed long enough for me to inspect at the end of a ride.

Both of these options add a small amount of weight to the bike, but both are fairly light and for the bikes in question, the added weight is not significant enough to cause issues. They are both bikes that are heavier than a race bike and are used for transportation and/or dirt riding, so a few extra ounces is not noticeable when pedaling. The ease of knowing I won't get a flat (or at least, am far less likely to get one) is worth it, certainly, to me.

I'll be continuing to test these options and look forward to updating after more long-term use is had, but in the meantime, I thought perhaps one of these might be an option for anyone looking for flat protection.

What do you use as flat protection, if anything? Have you tried retail or homemade options that worked well? I would certainly be interested in hearing about other experiences with preventing flat tires.

8 comments:

  1. I've tried a similar tire liner product in the past and found they do seem to reduce flats. Like you say, they don't add a lot of weight to the bike. The club racers would point out the liners add the weight in an inopportune place - making the tire heavier, which slows acceleration. (To get going faster, you have to spin up a wheel that weighs more.) That is true, but you have to remember that flats really slow you down too.

    Not sure if the tire liner would stand up to the goat head thorns, which are about as bad a hazard as you might encounter. We do have goat heads here in Tucson, luckily, we've not encountered them recently.

    In years past, "Slime" was suggested as a solution, which was applied outside the tube, inside the tire. However, the mess made by Slime always deterred me from using it. When you did change a tube or tire, you had the Slime to contend with.

    Today, at the recommendation of our LBS, we are using tube sealants like "Stans" or "Orange". We also ride Schwalbe touring tires (Mondails and Almotion) with internal tire protection. Between the two, we have not had any flats for quite a while - that will jinx us for sure! The tube sealant is not too bad to install - certainly easier than a tire liner. Supposedly, it will seal up slow leaks. When you do need to fix a flat - like the one time when I damaged a tube installing a new tire with a super tight bead, the sealant was mostly contained in the damaged tube.

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    1. I think most people who are looking for flat protection (or at least, I assume) aren't necessarily concerned with a little extra weight, but yes, I'm sure racers would object to the location of the small amount of added weight.

      Slime just seems like such a mess to deal with... particularly when it does come time to have to change a tube. I have no doubt it would be effective for slowing down a leak though, allowing time to get air back where it is needed. There are people that swear by slime though, so I'm certainly not going to suggest anyone should stop using it who has found it useful/effective! :) Most people I've chatted with don't have as many leaks as often with the Stan's product that you talked about, so perhaps if one is using a sealant, that is one of the better ways to go.

      Most of my bikes have super thorn resistant tires (Schwalbe), but sometimes it's nice to be able to choose a plusher tire for a softer ride, so I'm hopeful that some form of flat protection will be effective.

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  2. GE, I find this rather fascinating, and a subject I know nothing about! I regularly ride on Panaracer Paselas, mostly because the tires are very supple, but they are not without without their problems flat-wise. The tread pattern seems to retain debris and I often wonder why I don't get MORE flats than I usually do. I have not tried their Tourguard/flat protection version, mostly due to added cost. But to add Tyvek is an interesting idea and sounds lighter weight than a liner. I might consider trying this on the rear wheel, where I encounter 90% of my flats. I look forward to your longer term assessment of both methods.

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    1. I miss my softer/more supple tires, so I'm hoping to discover one of these (or both) to be effective over the long term. I just got tired of dealing with flats when out on even a short ride, so I figured I'll never know if I don't try. Even if it helps reduce the punctures, I'd be very happy with those results.

      I am also curious to see if the homemade liner will work over the long term. If you do give it a try in your tire(s), I'd be interested to hear how it goes for you.

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  3. Tube sealants do work, although I've never heard of putting sealant outside of a tube? I tried using a thick heavy duty tube once, I rode it around the neighborhood and immediately came home and removed it. To me it negatively impacted the ride. For the most part I only ride supple tires like Paselas, Grand Bois and Compass. Here is a link to my experience with sealant in my tire's tubes. http://actcyclist.blogspot.com/2016/04/i-had-one-day-off-before-having-to-work.html

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    1. I missed that part or must've glossed over it, but I agree, I hadn't heard of using sealant in the tire rather than the tube either.

      Those extra thick tubes are crazy heavy, so I can understand wanting to remove it posthaste.

      Thanks for sharing the link to your experiences too... that is always helpful!

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  4. For me it is all about the tire, properly inflated. I've used Vittoria Randoenneur Pros on awful city streets with great success. The first set lasted 3100 miles without a single flat. The current set is at about 1500. No flats. I switched briefly to Vittoria Voyager Hypers and loved how FAST they were. But after five (or was it six?) flats in 1600 miles, I gave up on them. They weren't even worn out, but I just couldn't stop for another flat!

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    1. I've had some tires that just seem to collect debris, and with that, flats with very little effort. Usually, they are the tires I find to be more supple, or comfortable. I've had excellent luck with Schwalbe Marathon tires. The only time I've had flats with them was when they got so old that they started to degrade. One set went (I have assumed) because the location of storage for the bicycle flexed in temperature so much from extreme hot to extreme cold. After 5 years, the tires simply didn't offer the same reliability, but I figured I was okay replacing them every 5 years if necessary. :) I believe your Vittoria Randonneur tires are similar in puncture protection, so it makes sense that you've had good luck with them, I'd think.

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