Ask a Mechanic: Flat Tires and Dropping Weight

Welcome to our Ask a Mechanic column where our expert mechanic Daniel Slusser answers your bike maintenance questions. If you have a question for Daniel, please post it on our Facebook Wall or e-mail Daniel directly at daniel.slusser@artscyclery.com.

Question: I weigh about 230lbs and wanted to “ride some weight off.” On my very first time out – new tires and all, I had a flat and have since been shy about riding because I just don’t care to change a flat every trip. Aside from carrying a repair kit – which I did – is there a reliable preventative measure I could take in the future? From: Jim

AnswerGiven your weight, you have a high likelihood of incurring pinch-flats or snakebites. The term snakebite comes from the twin holes made in an innertube when it is pinched between the road and your rim.

If the source of your flats is from a foreign object puncturing the tire then the same armored tires that I recommended for you should help to ward off this type of problem as well.

There are two ways to avoid this type of flat. One is to use high air pressure. In your case 115-120 psi would be good. The other way to prevent this type of flat is to use an armored tire. While there are a plethora of armored tires on the market, the ones you need have an armored sidewall as well as an armored tread. Examples of this type of tire include, but are not limited to, Continental Gatorskin Hardshell tires and the Schwalbe Ultremo DD HD tire. The thicker sidewall found in these tires will cushion and protect your innertube when it is pinched. Downhill mountain bike tires have used this type of protection for over a decade to prevent the same problem.

The nuclear option for flat prevention is to switch to road tubeless. The beauty of road tubeless is that they can’t pinch flat unless you nail them hard enough to destroy your rim too. Even better when you get a puncture, the foreign object seals the hole until it is removed. When it is removed, there is sealant waiting to seal the tire so you can keep rolling. Lastly, tubeless road tires handle better than all of the armored tires offering more grip and a much smoother ride.

Whichever solution you choose, ride hard and watch out for those snakes!

Question: I want to shed some weight on my mountain bike but I don’t have a lot of money to do it. The other challenge is that I don’t want to give up reliability or performance. Any suggestions?  From: Bill

Answer: You sound like a hard guy to please Bill, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to. What can I say; sometimes a guy just wants everything. I know I do! Well, I have good news for you because your seemingly impossible desire is actually achievable. In fact, I think I can improve the performance of your bike with some of these relatively inexpensive suggestions.

Every weight weenie knows that taking weight off your wheels is the best way to improve a bike’s handling while making the climbs significantly easier (or, faster and just as hard if you are into that). This does not mean you need to drop two grand on a carbon wheelset to drop some weight, although to quote Ferris Beuller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

I bet I can actually drop a half-pound off of your bike for under $20. Just switching to ultra light tubes can take around 100g off of each wheel without any sacrifice in performance. Many old school riders will tell you that ultra light tubes are unreliable but I have experienced no degradation in reliability with them. Let’s be honest with ourselves here. If a thorn gets through a 0.5mm thick tube, it will get through 1.0mm thick tube also.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tubeless Ready Tire 2012

A lightweight tire like the Schwalbe Racing Ralph will shed grams without sacrificing grip.

If you already have tubeless rated tires and are using tubes, you can drop between 50-100g per wheel by converting to tubeless. This typically involves just adding some sealing tape to the rim and an aftermarket tubeless valve. Check out this blog I posted a while back for tubeless compatibility issues. This weight loss solution costs less than $30 and will dramatically improve both reliability and traction.

Another option is to switch to lighter tires whether they be tubeless or tubed tires. Schwalbe makes a number of light tires that have outstanding grip for their weight. A pair of tires will run you $130. This may sound like a lot but compared to the price of a new wheelset they are a steal. When you factor in the improved grip and the fact that you can save a comparable amount of weight by switching tires rather than switching wheels and using your old tires, the choice is a no-brainer.

So there is some food for thought that will hopefully satiate your hunger for a lighter steed. Keep the rubber side down and ride in peace my friend.

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Daniel Slusser is a professional bicycle mechanic with over ten years of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from HSU and a master’s degree in history from Cal Poly University. When he is not riding, wrenching, or writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.

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