Prevent Or Stop Bicycle Flat Tires
Having Bicycle Flat Tires Isn't Fun
A couple of years ago two of my grandchildren received bicycles for their birthdays, but it didn't turn out very well. The area we live in is known for large numbers of "goatheads", a plant producing large quantities of sharp, thorny seeds and those seeds are everywhere.
Dad isn't much of a mechanic, so patching flat tires didn't happen very often - usually just when Grandpa visited. The result was that the kids never had a bike to ride; one short trip down the street was all it took to get several goatheads through the tube.
Since then we have worked to find a solution to this, and have come up with several possibilities, some of which have worked very well. Those solutions that have worked, as well as one that did not, are given below; look them over and choose the one that seems best for you.
Using "Slime" in bicycle tires
We started out using "slime tubes". These are inner tubes that contain a slimy solution that is advertised to immediately seal holes up to 1/8" in diameter. They are easy to install (just like putting in any other tube) and the slime is inside the tube, not on the outside.
Unfortunately, it did not work for the kids even though the thorns on the goatheads are quite small. It may be because the thorns remain in the tire, working constantly as the bike is ridden, but for whatever reason the bikes still had a constant flat tire to fix.
I have provided a link to these tubes if you wish to try them - some people have had good results and they are an inexpensive fix - but cannot recommend them simply because they did not work for us.
Solid Rubber Inner Tubes
Our next effort was to install solid rubber inner tubes. There has been some controversy over the years in these tubes, some of which are certainly true and some of which are questionable.
Solid tubes are certainly heavier than ordinary air filled inner tubes, and will add weight to the bike. Because they are solid, a good deal of the shock absorbing capability of normal tubes is lost, and the ride becomes considerably rougher. Unless they are a perfect fit they will either be difficult to impossible to install or feel as if they are flat. These things are certainly true and if they are of concern to you, solid tubes should probably not be chosen.
The other controversy concerns the wheels, not the tires. Claims have been made that the lack of shock absorbancy can cause the wheels themselves to break, or to allow the the spokes to loosen from increased vibration. Indeed, this was what one high class bike shop told me; that solid tubes would break the wheels. The companies that make the tubes, on the other hand, deny these claims and maintain that their product will cause no harm to the bicycle. You will have to make your own choice.
As the solid tubes were to go on smaller bikes and were to be used by lightweight children rather than adults, none of these concerned us too much and we purchased two solid tubes for each bicycle. These tubes have, of course, completely solved the problem of excessive flat tires as there is nothing to go flat. They are rather expensive when compared to ordinary tubes, but absolutely did allow the children to use their bicycles.
Thorn Resistant Tubes
The next possibility is a thorn resistant tube rather than a solid tube. These bike tubes are similar to ordinary tubes in that they need air and can go flat, but they are constructed of much thicker rubber that is also thicker directly over the tire and thins on the sides and inside of the tube to conserve weight.
We did not try these tubes, and cannot therefore recommend them. The idea sounds reasonable, but only to a point - while they may well stop a goathead from puncturing a tire and causing it to go flat, longer thorns, glass, nails or screws will likely go right through it.
Bicycle Tire Liners
The last option is to purchase a strong tire liner and install it. These are fairly thick pieces of rubber that cover the inside of the tire, providing additional puncture resistance. Like the thorn proof tubes they are not a failsafe; thorns or other sharp objects can still puncture the sides of the tires, and longer objects can still go completely through the tire, liner and tube.
Nevertheless, they have produced a solution for our most recent grandchild to face the goathead problem. This time a small 16" bike was the recipient and solid tubes are not available, so another option had to be found. We considered the thorn resistant tubes, but purchased the liners instead under the theory that if they helped but did not solve the problem then the thorn resistant tubes could also be used at the same time and probably would stop the goatheads. To date there have been no flat tires, and the liners have done a very good job for the youngest addition to the bicycle brigade.
We were unable to find liners for a 16" tire, but the bike shop told us we could simply overlap it inside the tire; do not cut them as it leaves a sharp edge that could puncture the tube itself. It has worked well.
It may be that this child, at under 50 pounds, is simply too light to drive a thorn completely through the tire, liner and tube, but whatever the reason they have worked well for us and I would recommend them.