Tire Liners and other flat prevention methods

An addendum to my previous post about Slime and other tire sealants.

As I mentioned in my previous post, tire sealant solutions like Slime can be a huge hassle. They’re messy, expensive and have questionable reliability. In my case, one of my tubes was ruined because the Slime sealant kept clogging the valve core and stem, which would not allow you to add or remove air from the tube.

There are other things, though, one can do to prevent punctures. Since the Slime didn’t work, I employed a different technique on the Sedona: tire liners.

Tire Liners

Tire liners are essentially a thick piece of flexible plastic (or other material) that lies in between the tube and the tread-side of the tire casing. (It is not to be confused with the rim strip, which goes between the tube and rim and prevents the tube from being damaged by the spoke nipples or imperfections in the rim itself.)

The most common brand of tire liners is “Mr. Tuffy,” although others exist. For the Sedona I went to my local Walmart and picked up a Slime-brand tire liner.

The Slime-brand “Flat Protector” tire liner

Installation of tire liners is fairly quick and easy. It’s recommend to move the entire tire from the rim. After removing the tube, you essentially uncoil the tire liner and line it inside the bottom of the tire, making sure it is center.

Instructions for installing the tire liner. The Slime-brand liner is a “one size fits most” design.

Since some tire liners (like the one I purchased) are “one size-fits most,” you may have to overlap the tire liner. That’s okay, and makes sure the entire tire is protected.

Installing the tire liner is simple – just remove the tube and install the tire liner in the bottom of the tire casing, making sure it is centered

In my case, there was a part near where the tire liner overlapped where it was bent and didn’t want to stay flat because of how it was packaged. When the tube is installed and inflated, this was taken care of.

The tire liner is installed between the tube and the tread-side of the tire casing. It’s held in place by the inflated tube.

After making sure the liner is centered all the way around, you reinstall the tube. I like to inflate the tube after getting it in to set everything.

Obviously, don’t put too much air in the tube if you decide to do this.

After deflating the tube, I install everything on the rim as normal. Then I inflate to the desired pressure as normal.

If you have to remove the tube later to patch it or replace the tube or tire casing, I found the tire liner may stick to the tube. The tire liner will also form its shape and the overlapping portion will stick to each other. (At least in the case of the Slime-brand tire liner.)

There is one big drawback to using tire liners: They only protect punctures from the tread-side of the tire. The sidewall is still vulnerable to punctures. If you live in an area with thorns and other things that regularly cause sidewall punctures, a tire liner will not help you very much. But Slime and other sealants claim to only work on the tread-side, so neither would help you in such a situation.

But since most people experience punctures on the tread-side (e.g. glass, nails, thumbtacks, etc.) then the tire liner should be satisfactory for most people.

For most people, tire liners are an excellent option in preventing punctures. While the liners cost a little more than a bottle of sealant (I paid my local Walmart $12 for the two-pack of the Slime-brand liners and the official Mr. Tuffy liners cost ~$20,) it’s worth the difference. The tire liners are easy to install and produce no mess. The tire liners don’t affect the operation of the valve or the tube itself, and the tire liner can be passed on from tube to tube and tire casing to tire casing, as long as it properly fits and isn’t damaged.

You can also still patch your tubes if they have been punctured. Which you can’t do with tubes that have had sealants installed.

I used to use Mr. Tuffy liners on the Pinnacle way back before it was decommissioned for the first time. I don’t recall ever having a flat caused by a tread-side puncture on that bike – although (and I’ll bring this back up at the end of this post) it didn’t prevent flats caused by low pressures and harsh riding.

Other Methods

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many other methods for preventing flats. Some are inexpensive, others are expensive and require extensive modification.

Upgrading your tires

It may come as no surprise that tires come in different thicknesses and constructions. Some are more puncture resistant than others.

If you regularly flat or get tread-side punctures, there is one alternative to tire liners: upgrading to a thicker tire.

They now make tires that feature a Kevlar strip in the tire under the tread to prevent objects from entering the tire and puncturing the tube. You can still install a tire liner to double the protection, and they also make tubeless Kevlar tires. (I’ll talk about tubeless a little bit later.)

Upgrading tubes

In conjunction with installing new tires, you can also move to beefier tubes that are thicker and more puncture resistant. While a thicker tube won’t be 100% puncture-resistant, it will reduce the chance that something will penetrate all the way into the tube.

There’s another option here: If you have an old tube laying around, you can cut the old tube open and wrap it around the tube being used, to have another layer.

Going tubeless

In the world of automobiles, tubeless tires are ubiquitous. The automotive industry moved away from tubes in the 1950s and haven’t really looked back.

Many bicyclists are following that trend, especially mountain bikers.

Tubeless tires have superior puncture resistance, mostly because tubeless bicycle tires have sealant installed in them. (The sealant is installed to help the tire seal to the rim, but can also be used to seal punctures. Exactly like Slime and tube sealants.) Tubeless tires are also typically more robust.

Here is a good video (also shared in my previous post) of someone testing the puncture resistance and sealing power of tubeless tires.

But before you go shying away from tubes, there are a lot of things to consider – and there are a lot of drawbacks to running tubeless tires.

  1. Tubeless tires are much more expensive than typical clincher tires that require tubes.
  2. Tubeless tires require special mounting techniques that are more complicated. (Adding sealant and can’t be mounted using a bicycle pump – an air compressor or specialized pump is required for mounting the tire.)
  3. With that said, tubeless tires require special rims, special tires, sealant, special rim strip, and the list goes on. It’s a very expensive modification to make and requires a lot of different components that have to be installed properly.
  4. Tubeless tires are very picky on tire pressure. There is a definitive maximum, like on clincher/tube-type tires. But there is also a minimum. While tube-type tires can have issues when under inflated (snake-bite punctures, pinch flats and rolled beads,) tubeless tires are much more susceptible to lower-pressure problems, mainly “burping” caused by harsh cornering causing the bead to momentarily loose its seal with the rim, letting air escape.
  5. Tubeless tires require more maintenance. The sealant in tubeless tires may dry up (especially after storing the bike for winter,) requiring you to reinstall the tire with fresh sealant.
  6. Typically, a tube must be toted around as a spare. If the tubeless tire is damaged, the tube is required. Long-gashes or larger punctures in a tubeless tire will turn it into a tube-type temporary tire.
  7. There is a limited selection of tires.
  8. Tubeless tire applications are extremely limited, at least for now. Typically, only mountain bikers run tubeless setups. Cyclists in other fields have tested tubeless on road bikes and BMX bikes with mixed results, and running tubeless on those bikes is typically discouraged.

That is a long list of cons against tubeless bicycle tires. However, the technology is improving and it may just be a matter of time before tubeless tires spread to other types of bikes and becomes as mainstream as tubeless tires on cars, trucks and motorcycles.

While tubeless requires a lot of specialized parts (special rims, tires, rim strips, etc.,) some have had success with the “Ghetto Tubeless” technique. In the Ghetto Tubeless technique, a cut inner tube serves as the rim strip, seals the rim and provides the valve. Then a tubeless-ready tire is installed with sealant and inflated.

Other types of flats

Flats caused by punctures are the most common. A nail or piece of glass punctures the tube, the air is going to escape and eventually the tire is going to completely deflate.

But there are lots of other types of flats, caused by different things.

For more information about flat tires and the types of flats, read this article on Sheldon Brown’s website.

In summary, flat tires are a common thing. If you cycle a lot, there is likely going to be a moment where you experience a flat. Sometimes that moment happens at a bad time – when you’re 40 miles from the nearest town and have absolutely no bars of cell phone reception.

It’s important to know how to correctly mend a punctured tube and change a tube/tire. It’s important how to know how to do it properly – as improper techniques can result in additional unnecessary flats that can really ruin your day, especially if you only had one spare tube or tire. It’s also important to be prepared: on longer trips, always carry a spare tube, hand/frame pump (or CO2 cartridge), and a patch kit. For longer rides or rides where you may be out in the middle of nowhere, carry more stuff: a spare tire or tire boot kit, food and water and tools. Always carry money in case you need to make an emergency repair.

Flat tires can be prevented – but they can’t be completely eliminated. Even with the thickest Kevlar tire, tire liner, thickest tubes with sealant installed and proper pressures, a nail or thorn may still find it’s way through. You should always prepared and not let a simple flat ruin your day.