Friday, July 5, 2013

Are Puncture-Proof Tires a Joke?

Contrary to this blog post's title, I'm a big fan of puncture-resistant tires. When one struggles with numerous flats, it's inevitable to seek and find a solution that works best for your particular situation. Tires of this caliber are often heavier, but for a commuter or tourer, I find it's a worthwhile trade-off.

So I was disturbed to read in Adventure Cyclist, a magazine published by Adventure Cycling, whose mission supports "bicycle travel and recreational cycling", an article presenting tire minutiae in such a way as to leave the reader in confusion. Basically, it presented the pros and cons of fatter tires versus narrower ones, high pressure versus low, advocating hard to find tire savers, and supporting regular tires versus puncture-resistant rubber.

I regularly read this blog, but wonder if his article in Adventure Cyclist
 is misplaced. You can buy tire savers through his company.
Photo credit: Jan Heine, Off the Beaten Path

On the surface, the article is a good one. However, a deeper look reveals the author promoting tire savers, a looped wire gadget that flicks debris off the tire before it can embed in the tread, reducing the potential cause of a flat. They were popular in the 70s, but between the whine and road grit propelled upward onto the brakes and frame, their use fell out of favor. Even if you want to try tire savers, try locating them today.

In the 80s, puncture-resistant tires became a viable option. The article reveals inefficiencies with Kevlar-belted type tires (or any flat-proof tires for that matter): they roll 15% slower. This isn't earth shattering news. Puncture-proof tires have always been heavier because of extra protection between rubber and road.

I do not dispute the facts. However, I feel it's a disservice to present it in Adventure Cyclist under the Mechanical Advantage heading, like it's absolute truth. In reality, it's one person's opinion.

For beginners, for long distance bicycle travelers, for commuters—Adventure Cyclist's main readers—the best advice should be encouraging flat-free travel. Riding on adequately inflated tires, avoid riding road shoulders filled with debris—cause of punctures—and as added protection, using a Kevlar-belted tire should make any flat-phobic novice feel competent. Weight and minor inefficiencies shouldn't be a major factor.

But that's purely my opinion. If you read the article, what did you think? And what type of anti-flat measures do you subscribe to?


  1. My first thought is that folks who are reading Adventure Cycling are not likely to be novices, and would be quite capable of avoiding flats without the need for Kevlar tires.

    I use tubulars on all but one of my bikes, and rarely get flats because I brush the tires off with my fingers when I ride over anything suspect. On my touring bike, I use Gran Bois tires, which are supple and fairly light. I do have tire savers on that bike, but still brush off the tires when possible.

    I agree with Jan Heine that a flexible wide tire offers the most comfortable ride. And that 15% difference in rolling resistance would be very, very noticeable in practice.

    1. Thank you for your insight. 15% difference over a 200k ride would be very noticeable. 15% for daily commuting is not even worth mentioning. I suppose it boils down to what you personally want to spend on tires, tires savers, and what width of tire you prefer.

      I still think the article is too technical and too slanted towards Jan Heine's personal preference. It bothers me that if you Google "tire savers" only his company offers them.

  2. I'd agree with you that the puncture resistant tires could be a good choice for short commutes and other short trips, at least for some riders! I'm rather sensitive to rolling resistance though – I've learned over many years of riding that my knees do best if I have relatively light wheels and high quality tires. That's why I use tubulars (preferably 28mm for comfort) on my road bikes – they are easiest on my knees.

    On my touring bike I have constantly tried different tires to try to find one that comes closest to the ease of riding of a wide tubular tire. The Grand Bois tires are definitely the winner for me.

    As for Jan, I'd agree that his articles tend to be technical, but I'd also note that he does explain his recommendations through the articles. I've seen the tire savers for sale on other websites as well, for what that's worth.

    I'm not trying to boost Heine, by the way – I enjoy your site and cycling and just wanted to chime in!

  3. I've heard of Grand bois tires on other sites. I'll keep those in mind.

    Thank you for your comments and for reading my blog. What I love about riding and blogging is that we all have a lot to share.

    Pedal on.

  4. Ha! Annie, you'll probably laugh to hear that I got a flat today on my hoity-toity Grand Bois tires. The thing is though, I couldn't figure out why! As far as I could tell the tube was perfectly sound. I'll pump it up tomorrow and dunk it in water to see if I can figure out where the leak is. :-)

  5. I really like my puncture resistant tires. The roads here tend to get a fair bit of debris and my oldest holds the family record with three flats in one week. After that, we switched and (touch wood) haven't had any problems with the resistant tires. I did just get a flat on my new bike, but I just kind of saw it as a heads up to change over to a pair of Delta Cruisers


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