Monday 20 January 2014

Puncture-proof tyres are the key to reliable transport

Summary: The tyres most bikes come with have very poor puncture protection. Investing in puncture-proof tyres allows utility cyclists to avoid the incovenience of regular punctures. By eliminating punctures you can have completely reliable transport and this dependability will induce you to use a bike for many more trips around town.

I use and recommend Schwalbe Durano Plus (for 23-28mm width) or Marathon Plus (25-47mm width) tyres. Apart from choosing based on the width availability, Durano Plus is better for mostly on-road riding, longer distances, speed and comfort. Marathon Plus is heavier and slower but is the most puncture-proof, will take more wear, and has a bit better grip off-road than Durano Plus. However, for proper touring that includes various non-asphalt surfaces the Marathon Plus Tour is recommended.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Phil and Pam Gradwell (to be)

Related Posts:
The best value-for-money bike parts, equipment and consumables and where to buy them
(All of the various recommended Schwalbe tyres are covered here with links for suitability details and where to buy them)

1. New bikes typically have tyres with poor puncture protection
- Most new bicycles save money on the tyres (or prioritise speed and weight) so they tend to have very poor puncture protection. This is because few consumers ask about or prioritise puncture-resistant tyres when buying a bike. Unless buying a high-quality, utility bike it's unlikely the tyres will have any worthwhile puncture-resistance. To optimise puncture-resistance you have to specifically identify suitable tyres.

Note: Stock mountain bike tyres and those with larger tread profiles are less susceptible to punctures only where the extra depth of the tread profile is involved. The puncture-resistance of cheap, stock mountain bike tyres is still not high so if you are using mountain bike or high-profile tyres for utility cycling you should still look for ones with the highest puncture resistance.

2. Punctures are unavoidable without protection
- Punctures are common in urban cycling due to very small shards of glass and other debris (e.g. stone flints) on the road that works its way through the tyre and eventually punctures the tube. These tiny fragments often can't be seen while riding. Consequently, if riding frequently around cities, you can't prevent punctures just by staying on-road and trying to avoid riding over glass or debris.

3. Puncture-resistant tyres are the only reliable, efficient protection method
- Fixing puncture and replacing tubes is incredibly inconvenient (imagine doing so at night in the rain) and a waste of time and money. Tyre liners, self-sealing gels and other indirect measures are all a waste of money and time compared to puncture-resistant tyres. These indirect methods are all far less reliable and much more hassle than simply using puncture-resistant tyres.

4. Carefully choose only proven, puncture-resistant tyres
- Schwalbe are the standout brand and Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are virtually puncture-proof. I have ridden over 8,000km on varied surfaces without a puncture and this is expected not exceptional (see reviews below in Further Info). Also, check out YouTube for videos of Schwalbe tyre protection like this or this. If you want the best puncture protection, only choose the Schwalbe tyres with "Plus" in their names as this indicates they have the SmartGuard protection belt inside which is the key to their puncture resistance.

- Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are available for various wheel sizes and tyre widths (25mm-47mm width). See: Schwalbe UK: Marathon Plus Size Chart.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus - showing SmartGuard layer

Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres have a slightly thinner inner protection belt and are better suited when you wish to trade off a little puncture protection for more comfort, speed and grip on smoother roads. Durano Plus tyres are offered in widths of 23-28mm. I use these tyres on bikes that don't have frame clearance for tyre widths above 28mm and recommend them as the best choice for those with narrower tyres who mostly ride on-road, especially longer distances. I have cycled over 7,000km without a puncture on these tyres.

- Schwalbe makes a range of tyres that offer varying levels of puncture-resistance for different needs (speed, grip, load, touring, comfort). For maximum puncture protection, I recommend only selecting the types with the SmartGuard belt - these have "Plus" in the name and the image will show a blue belt. See: Schwalbe website.

- When comparing the different Plus-type tyres you can review the suitability to best meet your needs: Rolling Resistance, Road Grip, Off-Road Grip, Protection and Durability. For example, below is the profile for the Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres:
- Continental Gatorskins, Specialized Armadillos and Maxxis Re-Fuse are other commonly recommended puncture-resistant brands, but user reviews of their actual protection are not as outstanding. Alternatives to the Schwalbe "Plus" tyres may be lighter and have a preferable ride "feel" or responsiveness. However, unless utility cyclists have good reasons to choose otherwise (e.g. grip or comfort), their default option should typically be a Schwalbe "Plus" tyre that suits their bike.

5. The most puncture-resistant tyres are heavier, stiffer and a little slower
- The most puncture-proof tyres (like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus) are significantly heavier and stiffer than normal tyres. So they will mean your starts and cruising speed are a bit slower and the ride can be firmer too. For most utility cyclists, minor speed and comfort deficits are tolerable given the benefits of not wasting time and hassles fixing punctures. If you may be an exception, first try a bike with the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres to see what degree of trade-off you can live with.

- The most puncture-proof tyres also often have harder rubber compounds in addition to their greater stiffness. At higher tyre pressures, this means the tyres will bounce more (rather than deform) and thus have less grip. For most utility cyclists not using tyre pressures at the top end, the grip should be sufficient, but if you prefer high tyre pressures, keep this in mind. See: Bicycle Tyres (William Benedict)

- Personally, I bought 28mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres for my single speed bike (I wanted bulletproof ones) but subsequently decided to try 28mm Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres for my girlfriend's bike. Having compared both, I now recommend the Durano Plus tyres over the Marathon Plus if you are riding 28mm width or lower. The Durano Plus tyres are considerably softer (less stiff), have a more comfortable ride and have more grip on smoother surfaces.

6. The best puncture-resistant tyres are much cheaper online
- The best puncture-resistant tyres (e.g. Schwalbe Marathon Plus, Schwalbe Durano Plus) are usually expensive in bike shops and are significantly cheaper online (e.g. Chain Reaction, Wiggle, Amazon). So you are often best off buying them yourself rather then trying to get your bike's tyres upgraded when buying a new bike in store. However, you can try to use the online price to get a best offer in-store.
> Wiggle: Schwalbe Durano Plus
> Bike Exchange: Search for "Schwalbe Durano Plus"

7. Fitting a Schwalbe Marathon Plus the first time is tricky; Watch the videos
- Initially fitting the toughest tyres (like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus) can be difficult as they are stiff and are difficult to keep on the rim while putting them on. Check YouTube for tips like this (e.g. pushing the tyre into the well of the rim which is lower than the edge). I used straps to temporarily tie the tyre in place as I moved around the rim; this made it a lot easier as otherwise the tyre kept springing back off. Fitting the Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres is much easier.

- After you've fitted them the first time and had them on the bike for a couple of weeks the tyres will be much less stiff and shaped more closely to the rim's width. Hence, the tyres are quite easy to take off and put back on for the rest of their lifetime.

8. If buying puncture-resistant tyres also consider quality, long-lasting tubes
- If using a tyre like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus then you won't need to replace the tubes very often. You may end up being able to do several thousand km on the tyre without needing to take it off. Consequently, it makes sense not to use low quality tubes that may wear out earlier; it's worth spending a few extra dollars to get two high quality tubes that will last at least several thousand km. Schwalbe sells thicker, high quality tubes that have long lifespans. See: Schwalbe Road Tubes.

9. Other puncture-related tyre choice and use considerations
- A deeper tread offers somewhat enhanced protection to slick, thin treads. However, the key to the most puncture-resistant tyres are an extra protective layer under the rubber tread.

- For puncture-proof tyres, like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus, there is no need to frequently pick small pieces of glass or debris out of the them. These shouldn't work their way through the tyre any longer. However, you may occasionally wish to remove glass or debris (especially bigger pieces) in order to reduce the wear on your tyres. My personal experience with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres is that embedded fragments are very rare so I rarely check them. Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres are a bit stickier and so are worth checking regularly to maximise lifetime.

- Puncture-proof tyres, like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus, tend to have very long lifespans and take a lot of wear. They should last much longer than low quality or thin tyres and don't need replacing till they have worn out. There is certainly no need to replace the tyres regularly due to puncture resistance significantly decreasing with tread wear (unlike with tyres that aren't puncture-resistance and lack a protection belt).

- Tyre liners (e.g. Mr Tuffy) are hard to keep in the correct place and are entirely redundant if you use puncture-proof tyres. Given their cost, the money is better spent on the tyres directly.

- Slime or self-sealing tubes are unreliable and annoying and have no advantages over puncture-proof tyres.

- Low tyre pressure can cause pinch flat (aka snake bite) punctures if the rim contacts the tube. Use a tyre pressure within the recommended range (printed on the tyre sidewall) that balances your priorities for grip, comfort and rolling resistance.

- It's rarely a major factor, but the type of tyre tread and compound can determine how readily glass and stone fragments embed in the tyre. Try changing types if your tyres are picking up fragments regularly and you aren't using a puncture-proof tyre.

Further Info: review of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre

Bike Radar review of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre

Pushys review of Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres (video)

wikiHow: How to Avoid Bike Tire Punctures

Wiggle: Commuter tyres guide

Bike Exchange: Schwalbe bike tyres in Victoria (places to buy)

Bicycle Tyres (William Benedict)