by Jess Leong, HaveFunBiking.com
You’re all bundled up against the winter chill, and everything seems to be going well. Then suddenly something feels off. You look down and find you’re riding on a flat bike tire. It’s the last thing you want to deal with in the cold, but you always need to be prepared for it.
Why Are There Flats That Happen in Winter?
Flats happen for a variety of reasons. In general, there are three different types of flats. These are:
- Punctures – Any time an object passes through the tread of the tire, it is considered a puncture. Usually the hole left in the tire is small enough where you can just replace the tube.
- Slashes – This is when an object cuts the sidewall of the tire. Usually, if a tire is slashed it needs to be repaired or booted (a temporary patch on the tire itself) before a new inner tube can be installed.
- Pinch flats (also known as a snake bite) – This happens when the tire hits a square edged object (curb, pothole, etc.) and the object “pinches” the inner tube between itself and the metal rim of the bicycle. This usually leaves two small holes in the inner tube (hence, snake bite)
No matter what season it is, these flats are common. A few reasons why flats happen to a large degree in winter:
- Air pressure – Air pressure in your tire gets lower as the temperature drops. This means that a tire inflated at room temperature will have a much lower pressure when ridden near freezing. Lower pressures increase the possibility of pinch flats.
- Hidden sharps – Running over sharp objects such as glass, nails, or metal that is hidden in the snow. Snow can buffer some of these objects from getting to your tires, but it can also hide these materials.
- Tire flexibility – As the temperature drops, the rubber in tires typically become stiffer. A tire is built to deform over objects and absorb the impact. But when the rubber becomes stiff, the tire cannot deform as easily. This can make the tire easier to puncture.
Consider Other Tire Options for Winter
Many tire companies produce puncture resistant tires. Typically these tires will have a thicker rubber tread or use a belt under the tread designed to stop sharp objects. They also incorporate a reinforced sidewall to resist against slashes. Puncture resistance does come at a cost both financially and in the form of ride quality. Many riders will purchase these tires specifically for winter use and switch back to something lighter and better riding in the spring.
Another option is to use studded tires. Studded tires are usually built out to be puncture resistant as well as being the only option for traction on ice.
Know How to Change a Flat in Regular Conditions
First and foremost, you need to know how to change a bike flat. If you don’t know how to change a tire in the best of conditions, you probably won’t be able to do it out in the cold. Before taking the bike for a spin, take a few minutes to refresh your memory on how to change a flat if it ever happens to you.
Also, check out our article for six items to have along for your ride. These items are great to keep with you year-round.
Carry Gear to Change Your Flat Quickly
Working on your bike in the winter is a game of time – the longer it takes, the colder you get. With this in mind, pack tools and products that help you move quickly. A dedicated tire lever (rather than one that is part of a multitool or patch kit) offers a better grip and more leverage. A CO2 inflator will get you up to pressure and back riding in seconds while a pump could take minutes. Carrying a 4″ section of old tire with the beads cut off (a bead is the thick rubber portion of the tire that makes contact with the rim) can act as a quick tire boot in case you slash the tire. Most importantly, check the tire thoroughly for objects before putting the new tube in. Run your fingers on the inside of the tire, feeling for sharp objects, while visually inspecting the outside of the tire a few inches in front of your fingers.
Gloves with Good Movement, But Still Warm
This certainly sounds like a tall order! However, if you can, try to find good winter gloves that are able to keep your fingers nice and warm but also allows some dexterity. Numb fingers don’t help when changing a tire and can even hinder your ability to adequately fix your flat.
If all else fails, wear warm gloves, and if a flat occurs you can change your riding gloves for another pair that allows for more movement of your fingers.
Inspecting your Tires
Before heading out, check your bike’s tires. Inspect them carefully to ensure they are still properly inflated. Look to see if they have any nails, glass, or other debris that could puncture the tube. Check the condition of the tire by looking for cracks in the rubber, threads coming free of the sidewall, or tread that is worn.
Carry Good Walking Shoes
In case all else fails, make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes. Whether you’re already wearing them or they’re in your pack, it’s handy. Sometimes the only option you have is your own two feet. If you’re not too far away or you have to walk back to an area, good shoes are a must so you can walk the rest of the way!
Remember Your Phone
If something happens, you want to always have your phone handy. It’s cold out, and you never know when you might need to call for backup or to let a worried friend or family member know why you’re running late.
Sadly, flats are inevitable and can happen to anyone, anywhere. Even if you take all the right precautions and get puncture resistant tires, you can still find yourself sitting on the side of the road staring at a deflated tire.
Know how to repair a flat, and practice it at least twice. You will find the first time to be daunting, but the second to go quite quickly. Keep aware of your surroundings, know your route, and always be prepared.
Be safe, and have fun!
Jess Leong is a writer for HaveFunBiking.com.