Best Inner Tubes For Road Bikes
Plus, The Best Ways To Avoid A Flat On A Road Bike
Flats. I hate them. There's nothing that can throw a "wrench" in a good road ride than an unexpected flat.
Thankfully there are a lot of ways to help prevent flats. Tubes are probably the smallest part of that. There's not really one brand of tube that is better than the other (more on that below) , but there are some specialty tubes that may be more flat-resistant.
Let's start with choosing your tubes.
Since all road bike inner tubes are virtually the same...
Save yourself some time and buy these. They are like half price on amazon, compared to what the local bike shop charges for them.
Just be sure to get the right valve type (Presta or Schrader, more on that below)
What do Tube Numbers mean?
The first number is the diameter and the second number it the width.
700 - diameter
23 - width
Don't forget to read the "Did You Know?" Blackbox below to save money when buying tubes.
Choosing the Right Road Bike Tube
Your road bike will mostly likely used a presta valve for its tire, but some road bikes do actually use schrader valves.
Also, you will need a 700c or 27inch tube. Frankly, 700c tubes will work in both sizes with no problems.
Then you need to determine the width. Most commonly you will use the 23c width so the tire will say something like 700x23c or 700x25c. Frankly, since tubes expand, the width does not have to be perfect.
Basically, a schrader valve is the same type of valve as what your car uses. A presta is thinner and will look quite strange to you the first time you see it.
Bikes that use Schrader valves have a larger hole drilled in the rim to accommodate their thickness. Presta bikes have a much smaller hole in their rims.
Although a Schrader valve is too large to go into the rim of a presta wheel, you can accidentally insert the presta valve into a schrader rim. In most cases, a little bit of the tube will try to fit through as well, and will get cut on the rim.
So make sure you get the right one. (The picture on the right references a schrader-type and presta-type valve)
The presta valve may actually prevent as much leakage throughout the week since you can screw it tight. However, both types of tubes will leak some and need to be inflated at least once a week.
Also, you can buy an adapter that will convert the tip of a presta stem into a schrader to work with other air pumps.
Did You Know?
A 700c Tube will Fit a 27" Tire?
The inner tubes are highly flexible. So, for example, you could easily use a 700x23c Inner tube with a 700x 25c Tire, or a 27 x 1 1/2" Tire.
The same goes for mountain bikes. You can easily get away with a 26x 1.75" tube inside a 26 x 2.25 tire. However, I wouldn't go the other way -- if you get too much extra tube, sometimes its gets wrinkled back on itself and it will pinch flat when inflating.
That said, I have done it before. Just be careful.
Choosing the Best Brand of Road Bike Tube
Newsflash: They're all the same.
Okay, maybe not quite all. After all if you buy a really cheap raod bike tube from Walmart and air it up, you will see some bulges where certain areas of the tire are weaker.
However, most bike shops will carry one of the major brands of bike tubes. They all cost the same, and, frankly, I really think that they are probably made at the same factory (maybe Kenda?) -- and then different labels are stuck on them.
My Tires Keep Going Flat Overnight
Ok, so maybe not overnight, but they are losing air faster than they should.
This could be from a variety of causes. It is possible to get a faulty tube -- one that has pin holes in it from the factory (Typically this hole is near the valve stem) or has a faulty valve.
There could also be something really small stuck in your tire. Search both the inside and outside of the tire for any tiny sharp objects.
And, of course, make sure the rim tape is good and hasn't slipped.
Flat Resistant or Thorn Resistant Road Tires
Make sure to get the REALLY thick ones!
If you are not worried about the added weight, you can buy thicker, thorn-resistant road tubes. Now, granted, if something gets through the tire, you'll probably get a flat. However, I have seen these thicker tires prevent some flats.
Now ,there's no official system, but from working in the industry, I can say that there are tubes that are thorn resistant and then there are TUBES THAT ARE THORN RESISTANT. The latter is such a thick tube that it cannot fold up properly and requires a larger (longer) box than other tubes. (compare this photo to the right with the photo of the pink latex tube at the very top of this page)
If you get a truly Thorn Resistant tube you are going to see some real benefits in their abilities to avoid flats. Especially if you use my special tips listed below.
Road Tubes With Sealant
Tubes That Can Heal Themselves
You might see some Slime tubes out there. However, its important to realize that slime is only good for tubes that have less than 65 PSI. So you'll need to go with a more aggressive stop leak if you are going to choose a sealant filled road tube.
Most road bike tires your find that have sealant in them are going to be schrader valves. And, they often use the green Slime tubes which have a more limited amount of sealing power.
I recommend Stan's sealant which can be put into both Schrader and Presta valved tires. (Slime can as well)
Now, these sealants are very sticky, and take awhile to install. Frankly, I'd rather change a flat than deal with them. But, if you insist...
Kevlar can do more than stop bullets! They make a "light weight" (not by racing standards, but most of us won't mind the trade-off) kevlar belt that you lay inside the road tire between the tire and the inner tube. This helps stop items before they get to the tire. And, I've seen them make a difference on more than one occaision.
Kevlar Tire Liners are starting to be replaced by plastic ones. The plastic ones work just as well but are quite a bit heavier.
Buy a Kevlar Belted or Flat-resistant Tire
Probably the best recommendation to avoid flats is to purchase a flat-resistant tire. You can buy them with thicker rubber down the middle, extra plastic in the center or kevlar belting. All of them are effective at presenting flats.
What I personally like that this tire still is quite lightweight, and has some flexibility in the sidewalls. It also has made from a really grippy rubber compound so you feel in control even in wet weather. Its the perfect all-around, durable tire.
I normally road the same brand, just in their racing model, the Pro 3 race. Even with the lighter tires that I road, I would typically only flat once every 3,000 miles.
Bike Shop Secrets To Avoid Flats
Check Your Tires Weekly
One of the biggest reason for flat tires is under-inflation. When you do not inflate your tires sufficiently, they "mush". If you go over a bump, they can mush enough to get caught between the rim and the bump -- and be cut by the rim.
Inflate your tires every week to the maximum recommended air pressure.
I would actually deflate my tubes once a week. Then I would rotate the tire slowly, squeezing it and looking for any particles or rocks that might be lodge in the tire. Often you can find things lodged in the tire that has not yet punctured the tube.
Then, I would reinflate the tires and fill in any cracks with superglue.
Made it to 3,000 miles with no flats that way once. Finally had to change the tires because I had worn them out.