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I picked up riding over the summer as a way to save on gas and get into shape. The trouble is that I live in a somewhat rural area with woefully maintained roads/sidewalks and everywhere is lousy with thorns. I've had to throw away almost a dozen rear innertubes in six months, and even self-sealing or extra-thick ones. I'm somewhat heavier even after losing 30 lbs this summer, would a tubeless or even solid rear tire be worth it? Or should I just get used to patching punctures?


My brother-in-law used to ride a bunch and he told me to inflate barely to the recommended range but after I lost two tubes quickly when I first got the bike, then I started inflating them to just below the maximum recommended pressure. (61-62psi on 40-65 rated tire.)

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    Thorns are terrible. You mention extra-thick tubes. However, did you try to ride a puncture proof tyre? sometimes the upgrade looks like a miracle. Look for the ones having some kind of rigid protection (usually they mention kevlar). They are more rigid, sometimes less comfortable (so you have to buy a wider one) but usually they are well worth the investment. For an overview of other unconventional solutions, have a look mid-page here: nsmb.com/articles/could-michelin-uptis-airless-tire-work-mtb
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 9:24
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    What tyres are you using? A highly puncture resistant tyre like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus or Conti Contact Plus should be almost puncture proof in most environments.
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 10:57
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    Do you know how to patch a tube? If not, strongly recommended. I have one tube with 15 different patches and it still holds air fine. 15 tubes at $5 each adds up quick, vs $2 for a sheet of patches and $4 for a tube of solvent-glue.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 11:00
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    Oh, and since you mention being heavy: Are you sure all of those punctures were caused by thorns or other sharp objects? If you ride with insufficient tyre pressure you can get pinch flats (aka snake bites). If you are heavy the maximum rated tyre pressure would be a good place to start.
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 11:01
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    @arne the point is that a light rider+bike on a too-hard tyre will be bounced all over the place and lose efficiency, as well as suffering an unduly harsh ride. I'm not light and neither is my bike, so pump the back up to the limit and the front a little under - my wrists don't like the jarring with the front too hard - but from that I can tolerate a bit of pressure drop
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 21:47

7 Answers 7

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Both approaches would help, but are very different. A solid tyre is unpunctureable, but the riding properties are much worse. Not only it is slower, but also the adhesion and the feel over uneven surface or terrain are affected. It is virtually maintenance-free.

Tubeless requires regular maintenance even if you don't puncture. That maintenance is harder than changing a tube and is not for everyone. But the riding properties and sometimes even the speed are improved even relative to using an inner tube. With a good tyre and a good sealant it should withstand puncturing by a thorn. But the sealant has to be added regularly. Some sealants do claim to remain there for the life of the tyre (Finishline Fiberlink), but I have no experience with them and I fear they could be harmful for the environment.

Which one is worth it for you? That is a very subjective question and you must find out yourself.

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I suggest you buy a box of half a dozen normal tubes, carry a couple of spares, and when you've got 3 or 4 with punctures, you patch a batch in the warm and dry. It takes almost the same amount of time to patch several tubes as to patch one, because the time is dominated by waiting for glue to go tacky, and getting stuff out/putting it away. Any that are completely ruined can be used as tyre liners (cut the valve off and place between tube and tyre), but all that really does is add some thickness - the thorns can still work their way in, just more slowly.

In addition

Anti-puncture tyres are good. Marathon Plus are one popular choice for commuting. They also last a long time, which offsets the extra cost.

A cheaper option is to line your existing tyres. One brand of liner is Mr Tuffy, but I've used cheap ones successfully against urban debris and thorns. It's worth taping over the join with duct tape or similar, both to hold them in place and because eventually the edge can abrade the tube

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    Just a note to be careful when using duct tape inside your tyre; I had a tube tear because the tape (that I was using as an emergency tyre boot) shifted slightly, the tube stuck to the exposed adhesive and the flexing of the tyre sidewall ripped a hole in the tube. (It's possible that I partially dislodged the tape remounting the tyre, which would make it user error, but still the lesson to be careful applies.)
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 13:23
  • @DavidW it doesn't stick well to tyre rubber, and does stick quite well to liners, but your note of caution is good
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 13:32
  • Definitely Marathon Plus on a trecking or city bike. Hell, I even had the 32mm variant on a race bike I used for commuting. If OP has a racer, I'd recommend Conti Grand Prix 3000 and descendants. I never had a puncture flat from thorns or small glass shards in several years of daily commutes.
    – arne
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:04
  • @arne marathon supreme are nice for touring but expensive. They have supple sidewalls which are fragile compared to marathon plus but roll well and handle well. I've got Gator hardshells on my tourer at the moment - disappointing for punctures.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:10
  • @ChrisH I never tried the Supreme because they were way too expensive back when and I figured I wouldn't really gain from the better rolling resistance due to my commute being in a rather densely populated city with lots of "traffic light sprints" rather than long stretches of rolling.
    – arne
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:26
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Solid tires are awful. They're slow, heavy, take away a very important rider-tuned variable (pressure), make the bike feel dead, and don't absorb shock well.

It's possible to imagine a scenario where they're a reasonable choice. This would be something along the lines of a pure short-distance utilitarian cyclist who simply will not be able to deal with a flat. Ideally they would be possessed of sufficiently limited abstract reasoning and observation abilities to not remember or care about how much nicer it feels to ride on an air-filled tire.

Liners such as Mr. Tuffy tend to mostly eliminate small thorn flats at much less cost in comfort and performance, plus they're re-usable and relatively easy to install. Simply putting a sealant inside your tubes is also a reasonable way of dealing with chronic thorn flats, at the expense of some weight and increased maintenance (just as with tubeless, you will need to replenish the sealant, because the tube will have a bunch of holes in it). Both of these are not without downsides, but are effective and a lot of people who otherwise would get a lot of flats from thorns, cactus, goatheads, etc use them successfully and still enjoy relatively normal lives as cyclists.

Tubeless is very effective against chronic thorn flats and is really pretty easy to live with for someone riding one bike often, and has other benefits as well. Compared to running sealant inside a tube, the two are about on par with puncture sealing, but tubeless has the advantage that the sealant replaces rather than adds to the weight of the tube, making it the higher performance option.

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I spent a few years living on a tropical island where there were all sorts of little spines and thorns in the mix of sand, dirt, twigs and wotnot off-road, I had constant problems with punctures if I strayed off the commonly used dusty paths.

I tried tubeless and with inner tubes but both were very prone to flats.

The best solution I came up with was with inner tubes and recycling old tubes by cutting out the valve, slitting down the side and flattening them out and trimming to width to line the inside of the tyres between the inflated inner and tread with 2 layers and a bit of overhang on each side. I had to add a patch or two where the cut inner was too short to make it all the way around, making sure the patched portions weren't on top of each other.

I stuck them in place and together with the sealant/fixative intended for low pressure water pipes and the like, so not glue as such but it held the rubber strips in place pretty well during assembly.

Low-tech but it gave a couple of extra mm of rubber buffer between the outside world and the inflated tube to protect against spines which would have otherwise poked up to a couple of mm into the inflated inner tube.

The water pipe fixative probably wasn't necessary to keep the buffer rubber in place when the arrangement was inflated but I didn't come up with a way to keep it in place during assembly, which was fiddly enough as it was, getting the tyre on with a partly inflated inner without dislodging the lightly stuck rubber between the two was a bit of a faff, but doable.

Thankfully it worked reasonably well, the ride was still fine and I had far fewer punctures so I didn't have to rebuild them often.

If I'd had access to some kevlar strips or something hardier than inner tube rubber but still flexible, that would have been well worth a try. Now I think of it, the sort of tough woven canvas that you get durable luggage straps made from might be an idea.

I did start to make a point of checking the tyres often and removing any spines that I could find, so they wouldn't be driven further and further in but hard to spot unless they're actually dangling out. I wasn't doing this before the rubber buffer upgrade so it might have helped but hard to judge whether I was getting punctures immediately on running over a spine or because spines I picked up were gradually being punched further in.

(I should stress I was a 2 day round trip away from a half decent bike shop, but still one in a fairly backward place, so jerry-rigging was very much the order of the day !)

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I'd recommend solid tires if you're after trouble-free riding. I've been happily using Huthchinson Serenity series for years (it has foam inserts and outer tires around them). The amount of peace against punctures it buys you is really priceless, if you really care about that. Few things to note though:

  • It will be somewhat bumpier than an pneumatic tire. To me, it feels like a pneumatic pumped at about 5 bar. So you might want some suspensions either in bicycle frame, and/or parallelogram suspension seatpost if it feels too bumpy without it.

  • It will add rotational mass to your wheel, which means that it will be slightly more effort to start (but also gain slightly more inertia when cruising). It is only a bummer if you're thinking about winning medals in the race with lots of breaking/speeding up with them, but as you mention that your primary purpose is extra workout, it can only do you good! The difference is minimal though, and not at all noticeable unless every fraction of the second counts for you. Still I though I'd mention it for others...

  • Count your traveled distances and/or check your tire when it nears the end of life. You want to replace it before outer tires are totally used up (it depends on your rides; it lasted ~5 years for me, but I'm not heavy rider). There are two reasons for that:

    • if you cut and burst your worn outer tire, you might damage the inset by the time you get home, and it is cheaper if you need to replace just outer tire instead of both the tire and inset. (inset can easily last you 3-4 outer tires)
    • you probably want a bike service to replace it before its completely gone, at it requires separate tools just for that purpose, and is pretty physically hard to do. Definitely not something you'd do in the field! (you can pack a small roll of powertape to patch it up, but really it is better if you replace the tire when it nears its end-of-life). Also as they are less popular, your shop might not have them on stock, but may need to order them, which might take some time, so it is better if you don't wait until the last second.

As others mentioned, there are pneumatic tires which are more resistant to puncturing (I like Marathon Plus Tour series on my other bike), but they will still puncture, just more rarely. Which means that with that alternative you still will always need to carry with you tools, spares, patches, pump etc., and you still will end up needing to patch tires in the rain or snow or whatever conditions you ride on, and you'd still have to account that you will sometimes not make it in time due to puncture (or each day go earlier than needed to prepare for possible puncture). Punctures will still happen, just more rarely, but they would still be just as annoying when they happen (or, in my experience, even more annoying - it seems if something bad happens often enough, I get used to it). Thus my starting note about peace it buys you - you don't carry pump/tools/spares at all will solid tire / insets.

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The answer kind of depends on what compromises you are willing to make.

Solid tires have a distinctively different ‘feel’ compared to traditional tires (more specifically, they generally have a different impact absorption behavior than pneumatic tires, which depending on the terrain may mean you need shock absorbers to not rattle around on the bike), eliminate the option to tune tire pressure based on riding conditions (sounds like a stupid thing to worry about to some people, but this matters a lot in some cases), and also have higher rotational mass (slower acceleration/braking, but they maintain speed better), but they are truly zero maintenance until the material they are made of falls apart. Speaking from some limited experience, they’re nice if you truly cannot deal with a flat and ride primarily on well maintained roads, but I would not recommend them for rougher terrain (even with shocks).

Tubeless tires have very high maintenance (you need to replace or replenish sealant at least once a year, usually twice or more, and have other aspects you need to worry about) and the maintenance is generally a pain in the arse, but are mostly puncture proof compared to traditional tubes. They also have higher rotational mass, but not as high as solid tires.

There are also two other options you might consider, tire liners and self-sealing/puncture-resistant tubes.

Tire liners are a kind of compromise between solid tires and traditional tires. The cheap ones only really protect you against direct punctures (they’ll do nothing against torn sidewalls, and actually may increase likelihood of pinch flats), but are very lightweight and not difficult to install. The really nice ones are truly a half-way point between traditional tubes and solid tires, involving a foam insert and a small tube. The foam provides most of the benefits of a solid tire, while the small tube still gives you some of the shock absorption of traditional tires and helps keep the increase in rotational mass to a lesser amount. I’ve personally used Tannus Armour inserts before and can attest that they are nicer to ride on than a true solid wheel and that their ‘no flat’ marketing is generally accurate (they also claim you can safely run with a flat tube at low speeds for short distances as well, though I can’t comment on the veracity of that claim).

Self-sealing tubes are similarly a kind of halfway between tubeless tires and traditional tubes. They’re ‘normal’ tubes, but either come with tubeless sealant inside, or are designed to allow you to add tubeless sealant yourself. They get you most of the benefits of tubeless tires with somewhat less maintenance overhead (you still have to refill the sealant with some regularity, but it’s much less of a hassle to do than with a true tubeless tire). at the cost of dealing with more rotational mass than you would with true tubeless tires. I’ve never tried them myself, but I do have a couple of friends who use them regularly on their MTBs and swear by them.

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  • I was going to suggest the Tannus Armour inserts as an option as well. I switched to Tannus solid tires last summer and am happy with them, but the inserts might make more sense if someone wants a middle-ground solution or is unsure about solid tires
    – anjama
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:34
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It's been a long time since I've had a place I've felt comfortable biking but I grew up around thorns and found some liners that go in the tire outside the tube and were nearly perfect defense against thorns.

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  • Welcome to the site!
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 0:56

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