How to Reduce the Number of Flats You Get While Bikepacking: Six Tips From WTB
Nothing ruins a bikepacking trip quite like a puncture that won’t seal or a day spent endlessly pumping a tire up only to watch it deflate again as soon as you start riding. Sometimes, no matter what you do, a tire that fails in the middle of a race or a trip simply means the fun’s over and you have to head back to civilization. To help avoid a long walk home, there are a number of steps you can take to make sure your tires are ready for the challenge ahead. Here, our friends at WTB outline what you can do to reduce the number of flats you get when gravel biking or bikepacking over mixed terrain. Read on to discover WTB’s six top tips.
Check those tire pressures…. EVERY DAY!
As much as we all love buying new gear for our adventures, let’s kick it off with something that can be super effective without heading out and spending any money. This first point often gets overlooked but it’s something that we believe is crucial to achieving both a comfortable ride and a reliable setup. Let’s talk tire pressure…
It doesn’t matter whether you’re running tubeless or inner tubes, all tires will lose a little pressure over time. If you ride with your tire pressures too low, then you’re running the risk of bottoming your tire out on rougher terrain and either pinching your innertube or the tire itself. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as overinflating the tires to minimise top-up intervals though…
If you ride with your tire pressure too high, then your tire won’t be able to conform to imperfections in the trail and you’ll be in for a rough ride. Not only that, but tires that are inflated to the max will have a higher surface tension and that won’t help the tire’s defence against sharp object either.
Riding with tire pressures on the extreme ends of the scale could also make you slower too. Low pressures can sap your speed and momentum, while high pressures can turn every bump in the trail into a breaking edge and you’ll be bounced around all over.
The only real solution here is to keep an eye on your pressures and check them before every ride. Yep… Every single ride! Make sure to take a pump with you on your bikepacking trips so that you can check your tires each morning before you set off and give them a little top up as needed. They’re the only things in contact with the ground, so keeping them in top shape is certainly worth the effort.
This one is aimed at all those riders who haven’t made the switch to tubeless yet. Running a reliable tubeless system with plenty of fresh sealant will almost eliminate those annoying little punctures that you can pick up from small and pointy objects while riding. Is a puncture even a puncture if your tire doesn’t deflate!?
The truth is that when you’re running tubeless, most of the time you won’t even know your tire got spiked! I’ve removed many tires and found staples, thorns, and splinters wedged through the casing that made zero impact on my ride at all, and for that reason alone I’d ride tubeless in any possible situation.
There are many other benefits to running tubeless too, but the fact that you can ride with that confidence that only something pretty substantial is going to test your puncture repair skills is good worth shouting about.
Plenty of sealant – tubeless again sorry!
When I first started running tubeless, I would always put the bare minimum of sealant into my tires. I can’t remember whether I did this to save weight or maybe to save money, but it didn’t take long before I start being more and more generous with my sealant doses.
The problem with putting small amounts of sealant in your tires is that unless you change or top it up regularly, there will inevitably come a time when you forget to check, and your tires will run dry. Sealant doesn’t last forever and even if you have no punctures at all, it’ll still dry up slowly. When you add all those small punctures that you pick up and didn’t even know about into the mix, the sealant level in your tires will quickly drop and the remaining sealant will dry up even faster.
With generous servings of sealant sloshing around it will not only stay in good condition for longer, but it will have a better chance of sealing those larger holes too. Fit and forget, for the win.
Fit tires with protected casing
This one may seem a little obvious but it’s definitely worth mentioning. The thicker or more protected your tire casings are, the less likely it is that anything will get through it. If you don’t mind the extra weight, then a dual ply casing will offer the most protection.
If you’re looking for a happy medium, then a single ply tire with a protected insert such as WTB SG2 puncture protection tires would serve you well. In fact, our SG2 gravel tires are actually only a few grams heavier than their non-SG2 counterparts so they’re well worth looking at if you’re looking for great durability at a low weight.
Heavier treaded tire
This one is probably a little less obvious at first glance but it’s quite simple to explain. If you want to reduce the likelihood of sharp objects find their way through your tire carcass, then put some more rubber between the carcass and those objects.
A thorn will have a much more difficult time finding its way through a few millimetres of chunky tire tread than a surface that’s smooth or slick with less rubber. Combine this with the fact that the chunkier tread will effectively raise your tire carcass up off the ground a little more too, and you can see why a heavier tread can be a great ally when trying to avoid flats.
A chunkier tread doesn’t necessarily mean slow-rolling either. If you look for a tread pattern with a consistent centreline then you’ll find that the tire should roll nice and efficiently too, even on the tarmac! You can see this in effect on the WTB Nano, for example, one of our fastest all-round mountain and gravel treads.
Choose a tire width that gives a nice profile and protects your sidewalls
Finally let’s have a look at how choosing the right tire width and tread can help protect your sidewalls.
Not all punctures come from pointy things poking up from the ground. Some of the worst ones can come from the sides too. When you’re hauling down rocky singletrack or even ripping through the forest along a rooty trail, your tires will be skimming by rock after rock, and root after root. If you skim a little too close, then there’s a danger of something rough and immovable making contact with your sidewalls at high speed. The more exposed your sidewalls are, the higher the risk.
So how can you tell if you’ve got exposed sidewalls?
If you look straight down onto your tread and the widest visible part of the tire is the sidewall, then they’re more exposed.
If you look down and see that the widest visible part are the side knobs of the tread, then the sidewall will be more protected by the tread.
There’s no black or white answer here and it ultimately depends on tread designs and what other properties you’re looking for in a tire, but if we’re purely talking about puncture protection then I’d say the following is a good guide;
‘Wider rims with narrower tires will offer less sidewall protection, and narrower rims with wider tires will offer a bit of sidewall protection.’