02.1.2006 | 12:52 am

The mountain bike is a rolling irony. It is built to be strong and durable, able to handle your weight, jumps, crashes, and tough obstacles like rocks, roots, and ledges. And yet, the part of the bike that actually touches the mountain — the business end of your bike — is invariably a thin, soft, and permeable slice of rubber.

At least, I think it’s ironic. Maybe it’s just unfortunate. That Alanis Morisette song screwed up my understanding of irony for pretty much ever, by going through a list of things that were clearly merely unfortunate and calling each of them ironic. Now I second-guess myself any time I call something ironic, for fear of pulling a “Morissette.”

No, I’m pretty sure I was right. A bike built to handle anything a mountain can dish out that ultimately relies on air and a flimsy patch of rubber is a reasonable example of irony.

OK, let’s move on.

Today, I have several random things to say about flat tires.


How to Make People Think You Are MacGyver’s Dumb Cousin

One of the first times I ever went mountain biking, Dug and I encountered a guy who was stuffing tall grass into one of his bike tires. “I read in a magazine that you can do this as a way to get your bike home,” the guy said. Dug and I agreed with him that this was a very clever way for him to repair his bike.

Then, as we rode away, leaving the young man to stuff his bike tire full of grass in peace, Dug looked me in the eye and said in a very serious voice: “Don’t ever do that.”

“Why, doesn’t it work?” I asked.

“I have no idea whether it works,” said Dug. “It doesn’t matter. It looks completely retarded.”

True enough.


I Take Steps Toward Avoiding Flats

For years, I used one particular technique to avoid flats: I ran my tires at high pressure. While this didn’t do much for avoiding punctures, it did reduce the number of pinch flats I got (a pinch flat is when you hit something hard enough that your tube is pinched between your tire and rim, puncturing the tube with what looks like a snakebite).

Then I discovered Stan’s Notubes. Basically, this setup lets you convert a traditional wheel and tire into a tubeless wheel. A special rimstrip seals to your tire, and a small amount of liquid latex seals off punctures before the tire even goes flat. In theory, you’re protected from both pinch and puncture flats.

I remember the first time I got a puncture with my Stan’s setup. There was a brief “fizzt” as air escaped, a little liquid latex squirted onto my legs, and that was the end of it. The puncture was defeated. I never even had to get off my bike.

I was in love.

Or rather, I was in love until I raced the Tour of Canyonlands that year. On the first downhill, I hit a square rock, good and hard. The seal broke and all the air instantly burst out. I tried getting the latex to seal up again, but no luck. I had to remove the rimstrip, drain out the latex, and put in a new tube before I could continue.

By the time I was ready to ride, I was both in dead last place, and covered in liquid latex goop.


I Am a Slow Learner

Of course, a freak accident like this can happen once to anyone, right? So of course, I didn’t abandon the Stan’s setup.

Or rather, I didn’t abandon it until the exact same thing happened to me when I was racing the Brian Head Epic 100 later that summer. I’m not sure why Stan’s always chose to fail on me during races, but it did.

Stan and I are no longer on speaking terms.


Additional Observations on Getting Flats While Racing

I have never timed myself, but I’d guess that on an average day, I change a mountain bike tube in about seven minutes. I’m not particularly fast.

When I get a flat while racing, however, I work much faster, and therefore take approximately twice as long to fix the flat. My fingers shake with anger and adrenaline as I try to undo the zipper to the seatbag. I fumble trying to pull the tire off the rim. I forget to check the tire for thorns. I put the wrong tube — the one that I just pulled out — back on the rim. I put the wheel back on the bike backwards.

All while telling myself (out loud), “Be cool. Calm down. Take it easy. Clumsy oaf.”

As hard as I am on myself, though, I’m much harder on others. About 90 miles into the Leadville 100 one year, I came across a guy with his wheel off his bike, working on a flat. “Everything OK?” I called out, assuming it was.

“No, I need help,” he replied.


I stopped, asking him what was up. He had a flat and his pump was broken. I loaned him mine, then anxiously fidgeted for what was probably 15 seconds while he pumped. Then I jumped on my bike and said impatiently, “The pump’s a gift. I’ve got to finish this race,” and took off.

I can be a real jerk.


Road Flats: Not an Issue

I used to get flats on my road bike all the time. Since I’ve started riding on Specialized Armadillos, I have not had any more flats. At all (the flats I got on my fixie were with the tires it came with; the fixie now has Armadillos).

That said, Armadillos do have their problems: They’re heavy, they have poor road feel, and they’re difficult to get on and off the rim. I happily live with all those flaws, though, because I can confidently ride through broken glass, in fields of molten lava, and over tire shredders.


The Perfect MTB Tire Setup?

As Racer set me up with a loaner bike for the Leadville 100 last year, he told me he was extremely confident that I would not flat. The sweet spot setup, he said, is a tubeless rim and wheel (ie, a rim and wheel that are designed to be tubeless, not an aftermarket tubeless add-on), with a little Stan’s Notube goop rolling around inside, just to catch little punctures. And sure enough, I didn’t get a flat.

Which means, of course, absolutely nothing.

I would be willing, though, to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on an MTB wheel/tire combo that was light, had great traction, and practically never flatted. If such a thing exists.


  1. Comment by James | 02.1.2006 | 2:28 am

    I’m not sure why Stan’s always chose to fail on me during races, but it did.
    This is like Don Garlits saying, "I’m not sure why my engine always chose to fail on me during drag races, but it did."

  2. Comment by James | 02.1.2006 | 2:28 am

    I’m not sure why Stan’s always chose to fail on me during races, but it did.
    This is like Don Garlits saying, "I’m not sure why my engine always chose to fail on me during drag races, but it did."

  3. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 2:29 am

    If not ironic, I think it’s at least tragic… but, then, I never have completely understood the meaning of irony and neither have the bazillion different sources that define it, each one different from the last. I’m swimming in the deep end of the dumb pool as to irony.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 2:30 am

    If not ironic, I think it’s at least tragic… but, then, I never have completely understood the meaning of irony and neither have the bazillion different sources that define it, each one different from the last. I’m swimming in the deep end of the dumb pool as to irony.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 3:03 am

    Well hey, at least you’re racing. I’m still too skurred to try it.
    I’ve had good luck, flat-wise, with the Conti GP4Seasons (700×25)  on my road bike. Then again, I’m 15 pounds lighter than when I ran Vittoria Diamantes, so that might have something to do with it. It’s what I tell myself, anyways.

  6. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 3:18 am

    Fatty, on the road bike, try the Serfas Seca.  It’s cheep, about $15, and it seems really durable.  If you are really lucky you might find the ones with the reflective sidewalls, which look cool in the dark.  I normally shred tires at about 500 miles.  I’ve had these on my fixie for nearly 500 miles so far, that includes 4 miles on each commute on a gravel fire road type path.  So far, no visible wear, no nicks and no splits.  They aren’t as nice feeling on the road as pure race tires, but they feel better than the Armadillos on my geared bike.  Better yet, they seem to hold the road nicely in cold weather, whereas my Armadillos… well, you know about the little letdown I had the other week.  I can’t say for sure it was the tires, but the other guys got through the corner on the same line without incident. 
    As for flat sealers… I blew the rear tire repeatedly on an epic climbing day a few months back during the Tour de Al, the Continentals were just too worn out for the stress and they were getting splits across the contact surface.  The first tube was a Slime tube.  When it went, it sprayed green goo in a fan pattern up my back, the wedge, the frame, and everything else.  This wasn’t a terrible thing though.  Two tubes, two patches and one boot later, I found myself back in the town, and asking a kind of snotty baristo who didn’t like my looks if he knew about any bike shops nearby.  He said he didn’t.  When I turned to walk out, he apparently saw the bright green fan pattern on my bike, and said, "hey wait dude.  I’m a rider.  There’s this bike shop up the Columbia road…"  Apparently, the Slime-y disaster caused him to take pity on me and tell me about a gem of an LBS where I got some new tires before returning to my ride.  This was significant, since I was headed home otherwise.  So even though it took major work to scrub the Slime off me and the bike, the overall experience with the Slime was a break-even deal and in fact probably saved my day’s ride.   

  7. Comment by Sue | 02.1.2006 | 4:07 am

    I think paradoxic is the word you’re looking for.
    Tubless wheels and tires is the way to go, but only if you have the right tire, otherwise it’s hiking with a mountain bike, wearing bike shoes.  I’n not a big fan of that particular sport, although thanks to Continental I was fairly heavily enganged in it last year.
    P.S.  I’ll bet stripping off all of your clothes and stuffing them in your tire would "get you home" too, but as dug appropriately identified, there are some lines you just don’t cross.

  8. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 02.1.2006 | 4:22 am

    I get Alanis Morrisette and Sheryl Crowe mixed up, what chance to I have telling the difference between unfortunate and ironic.
    I haven’t had a puncture in over 2 years.  Of course, now that I’m riding again that will probably change.
    The best thing if you run out of tubes is not stuffing with grass but cutting the tube at the puncture and tying a knot in both ends then you only have to stuff grass in the 4 or 5 inches where there’s no tube.  But newspaper or the other tube you punctured 5 miles earlier both work better than grass.
    I raced triathlons in summer back in "the days".  In an Olympic distance race (1.5k swim, 40k ride, 10k run)  I came out of the water about 100th from 500 starters.  I got a puncture about 5km into the ride.  As I was changing the tube some mongrel with his hairy knees about 2 feet apart laughed like a hyena as he ground past (52×13 into the wind – idiot).  I changed the tube while occupying my zen space and hyper-ventilating to get ready for the needed oxygen surge when I started pedalling again.  I caught the hyena about 7km up the road and coincidentaly half way up a short 600 metre 15% climb.  He was making all sorts of funny noises and I wasn’t sure if they were coming from his arse, his mouth or his knees.  But I was still angry and adrenalin pumped from the flat as I climbed on the big ring at about 35kph (22mph).  I swooped past him real close laughing just like his hyena.

  9. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 4:24 am

    Whilst working in a remote community in central Australia I regularly saw
    people stuffing spinifex grass into their flat 4WD tyres. It worked for them
    and they drove hundreds of k’s in large 4WD usually overloaded. It may
    look retarded but it is much much better than walking.
    Cheers Matt

  10. Comment by TIMOTHY | 02.1.2006 | 4:46 am

    I’ve been reduced to the "tying-the-tube-in-a-knot" method.  BIG Mike, it works better if you just tie the two ends together – that way you still don’t have to stuff grass in.  If you’re on a road bikd the challenge becomes getting your tire to seat in the rim again.  That small knot in the tube takes up a lot of room in those skinny tires.  It’s wasn’t a pretty ride home (every time that knot comes around to the road you feel it!).  I’ve never had to resort to this on my mountain bike, but I imagine that it’s not quite as bad – a bigger tire would leave more room for that knot.

  11. Comment by Tyler | 02.1.2006 | 5:47 am

    Bigmike -

    To climb a 15% slope at 35 km/h, you’d need roughly 1250 watts of power, according to analyticcycling.com.


    (fwiw, default rider+bike weight is 75kg)

  12. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 7:14 am

    one week after fallmoab’05, i went to sedona, az to ride.  the first day i had six flats in a stretch of only about two miles. i had stan’s in my tires, which was of little help.  i also had tubeless tires on tubeless crossmax wheels.  fortunately, i have some very generous friends where tube-sharing is concerned. 
    sometimes it just is not meant to be.  i had not had a flat in over a year. 

  13. Comment by allan | 02.1.2006 | 10:51 am

    Hi there.
    I use Hutchinson Pythons tubless tires with Mavic tubless rims. I literally have had half the flats I used to since I switched to this. I also squirt a little Stans in for insurance. For extra peace of mind I carry a few canisters of Penzoil Fix-A-Flat for bikes. Available at K-mart for about 5 bucks and will fill a mountainbike tire to about 50 psi plus injects a sealant. Works like a charm.

  14. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 12:02 pm

    Me at the top of a rocky descent: "I love these tyres, I can run them at low pressure and still not get pinch punctures"
    Me at bottom of descent: "Anyone got some really big patches, or a spare tube?"

  15. Comment by craig | 02.1.2006 | 12:21 pm

    yeah, UST rims and tires and Stans or Slime. 
    Definately the way to go.  Now that I have a 29er though, I no longer have that choice.  Some day, I hope…………

  16. Comment by Loes | 02.1.2006 | 2:00 pm

    So far, I’ve only had 2 punctures on my road bike and the first time I didn’t have any tyre levers and pump (hey! I never get a flat tyre! Other people do and I don’t. And if it would ever happen to me, there’s probably going to be someone else who has a pump and tyre levers for me!), and not bringing a phone with me was also not very smart…

  17. Comment by uncadan8 | 02.1.2006 | 2:29 pm

    I make a practice of not talking about the lack of interference by foreign objects on my riding support system in an effort to extend my obstruction-free pedalling history. I hope this was tricky enough to fool the little gremlins!

  18. Comment by Stephen | 02.1.2006 | 3:49 pm

    I used to use Specialized Armadillos, but I got really sick of them. I’ve moved to Michelin Carbons and they are considerably lighter and I get the same amount of flats. I commute 20 miles a day, and ride regularly at lunch and these babies rock. Not cheap, but worth trying.
    - S

  19. Comment by Azriel | 02.1.2006 | 3:52 pm

    Ahh… fatyy, for that we have in Israel a guy named Joe (realy, he came from the US). He has his own goop. Disgusting slimy goop that never fails. Heck, downhillers use it. Regular rims. We even have the "home made" tubless kit. You buy a bottle of Joe’s sealant, buy a 24" tube, cut, fit it to the rim, fit the tyre, fill in with the goop, cut the extras of the tube (that stick around the tyre). Inflate to 50 PSI, take out the extra air. Mind you, you will get splashed with goop until the tyre sets in.But then – ohhhhh those desert rides with spikes and drops and everything…. and viola! NOT A PUNCTURE. It’s been years since the last one..Other than that… Have a good week fatty… I’ve been speading your blog in Isreal. I think you will be getting a larger audience as time rolls. Sorry for the seriouse comment.Azriel

  20. Comment by Zed | 02.1.2006 | 5:21 pm

    If today were Banjo Brothers bag day, BigMike would have my vote.
    In the version of the myth of the natural tire patch I heard, the patch is actually a bunch of leaves. I actually read an editorial calling this notion completely idiotic, etc. etc. I just carry a single spare tube and patch kit with me and hope for the best.
    Thorn-resistant tubes are fine if you’re riding with a whole bunch of people who are slower than you are, but you’d be nuts to race ‘em.
    Al-I might steal your tire recommendation.

  21. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 6:07 pm

    did you say "There was a brief “fizzt” as air escaped, a little liquid latex squirted onto my legs, and that was the end of it?" i think you did.
    so you gave your pump to that guy at leadville. that explains why you didn’t have it for the crop circle trail with bob this week.

  22. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 7:26 pm

    Argentius, have you seen BIG Mike’s legs?  I’ll bet that guy can squat 800 lbs.
    I think that fond remembrances of past victories are allowed a little license for at least three reasons: 1) they are remembrances of events long past, so some of the exact details might be a little fuzzy.  2) Using a bunch of qualifiers ruins a good story.  3) Oprah (whom I consider the final authority on all subjects) recently taught us that the line between memoir and fiction is blurry, and that’s OK.

  23. Comment by Unknown | 02.1.2006 | 7:32 pm

    Good luck, Caloi.  The Serfas work really well for me, but I’m not sure they’ll hold up as well for skinny guys who are light on their feet, like you. 
    Ps.  I’m not buying Contis ever again.  Mine cracked like overcooked sausage. 

  24. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 02.1.2006 | 8:44 pm

    Argentius – I was very fit and very angry and at that speed the hill was behind me in about 60 seconds.

  25. Comment by UltraRob | 02.1.2006 | 11:58 pm

    In 2002 a flat tire cost me a sub 9 hour finish at the Leadville 100.  I weighed in at 190 lbs that year so it was going to be a stretch to go sub 9.  20 miles into the race my rear shock quit holding air.  My back was killing me from the weird position it put me in.  I pumped it up before the Columbine climb and made it part way up before it was totally sagged down again.  Coming down was scaring me with the rear bouncing all over.  At the dam I pumped it up but didn’t even make it up the little pavement climb before the air was gone.  Near the top of St. Kevins I thought if I really pushed I might still make it under 9.  Then on not that bad of a section, I pinch flatted on the rear because the back end was all over.  It took me 4 minutes to change to flat.  I’m normally faster but that late in the race I was a bit tired.  My finishing time: 9:02:22.  Ok, was it the flat or the shock that caused me to miss sub 9.

  26. Comment by Donald | 02.2.2006 | 2:59 am

    I was riding over a small patch of dirt about 6 feet long and picked up close to 30 thorns. luckily i was in a city and only a mile or so from a bike shop.  did i mention i had so called thorn proof tubes. I wound up get new tubes and tires due to broken thorns i couldnt pull out. now i carry 2 tubes plus patches and havent flatted since but i am scarred to leave em behind

  27. Comment by rich | 02.2.2006 | 3:05 pm

    Rocky – "i had not had a flat in over a year"  Except for the one at FallMoab05.

  28. Comment by GravityGifted | 02.2.2006 | 6:33 pm

    i thought this year i would avoid flatting problem i had during the winter and early spring last year by using slime tubes on my road bike…bad move, the slime kept sealing up my presta valves and it was a pain to just inflate my tires each day. After about 4 rides, the back pinch-flatted and before the slime worked, the air pressue was so low that i was riding on rim. to be fair, a contibuting factor in this is probably the 240 pound fat ass riding the bike (me). When i began changing the tire, i had to unscrew the top part of the valve and drain the slime just to get enough air out to get the tire off the rim. It was not a pleasant ending to otherwise nice 2.5 hour ride…any, no more slime for me…

  29. Comment by GravityGifted | 02.3.2006 | 6:34 pm

    I had two revelations while riding down a big hill with 3 other cyclists. I realized that (1) I was gravity Gifted and (2) I must be absolutely crazy…This was in 1995 and i was riding a Cannondale R500 with a recently purchased computer (my first) to allow me to know how slow i was going. I lagged back on the uphill side (moreso than the natural pull of gravity demanded) and kicked hard as i came across the crest of the hill. I gave all until i spun out my biggest gear. Before your disbelief sets in, the R500 had an early road triple crank that was 26-36-46 so spinning it out was no great feat.I flew past the other 3 skinny guys as my bike started moving side to side. I clamped my knees to the top tube and checked out my odometer..54…57..about then i had an epiphany, I am Gravity Gifted..as i was still gaining speed i thought to myself "if i go down, i will probably die.." I then tucked as low as my stiff back and ponderous jelly-belly would allow…59..62..about then a second epiphany , I must be crazyas hell!..64mph…
    Well Fatty, there are my epiphanies from a big downhill. Also you have inspired me to blog..at GravityGifted..one entry will post today with a more complete version of this story with a proper tribute to THE FAT CYCLIST..ttfn john

  30. Comment by Unknown | 03.7.2006 | 9:22 am

    adverting advice aircraft autos biography business careers communication computers ebooks ecommerce education entertainment environment family financal issues finance fitness health healthcare history goverment insurance jewelry jobs money religion science services products travel web hosting


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.