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How to solve your tire problems forever

According to a 2014 People for Bikes survey, 48% of American adults don’t have access to an operational bicycle at home. Often, the problem is as simple as having flat tires.

It sounds like an easy problem to solve. Just put air in them! But inner tubes have gotten more complex over the years…

Presta vs. Schraeder

Once, life was simple. Everyone had the same type of valve stems, and all pumps–even the air hose at the gas station–fit everyone’s tires.

Then the fancy, lightweight Presta valves came in from France. They are slightly lighter, leading to less-frequent wheel truing, and they hold a pump better during inflation, which is more important at high pressures. They are also more fragile. So both camps have strong proponents, and we’re living in a world with both types of stems.

Valve confusion: Having a bike pump around isn’t useful if it’s for the wrong type of valve stem!

If your valves are Presta, it’s critical to understand how the valves work, because it requires a bit of extra effort.

When you remove the cap, you’ll see a nut that needs to be turned counterclockwise (anticlockwise if you’re in Australia) to activate the valve for inflation.

You can then inflate using a bike pump that supports Presta valves. Some pumps, like this pump below, can inflate both Presta and Schraeder innertubes and are highly recommended. Just select the side with the correct-size hole, and remember to pull the locking lever up before pumping.

How often should I inflate my tires?

Even if you have no holes in your innertube, you’ll constantly lose air due to permeation–gas slipping through the rubber molecules. Both high-pressure (typically Presta) and lower-pressure (typically Shraeder) innertubes lose gas at the same rate, but with thin high-pressure tires, there is less air to lose, so the loss is evident faster. It is not unusual to lose 10 PSI (pounds per square inch) per week.

A 120 PSI tire that has deflated to 80 PSI will have several adverse consequences:

  1. Less efficiency. Your bike will feel sluggish, requiring more energy on uphills and rolling less on downhills.
  2. More flats. “Pinch flats”happen when your innertube gets caught between your rim and the road and creates its own hole. No road debris needed!
  3. More rim dents. A rim that rides lower to the road has more chance of impact. And if you have rim bakes, a dented rim can also affect your ability to stop.

These are significant risks. It’s worth inflating your tires every week, and choosing a pump that makes it very easy.

Floor pump or bike-mounted pump?

Floor pumps may look big and clunky, but they offer convenience you can’t get from any bike-mounted pump. A big barrel moves more air, so you spend less time pumping. You’re pushing against the ground, so it’s easier on your muscles. And there’s room for a big display that shows exactly how much air is in your tire.

Good pumps even have a marker on a dial that you can adjust to the pressure needed. Just pump to the red triangle, and you’re done!

If you do most of your pumping before you get on the road, you’ll have less need to pump on the road–fewer “discovered” empty tires, and fewer pinch flats. This means that you can optimize your bike-mounted pump–if you get one–for tiny size, since you won’t be needing it much.

The pump we use in the Flatbike office is the Annihilator G200LE–which strangely enough has the exact same handles as the CHANGE 611 hybrid bike. Good match!

Follow these simple practices, and you’ll be free of most tire issues. But there’s a way to get rid of all your tire problems forever…

No air? No problem!

Britek has invented the next step beyond the tire, called the Energy Return Wheel (ERW). It can’t lose air, because it doesn’t have any.

Allegedly, the ERW increases drive train efficiency by 16-22%, is sold by the wheel set … and is available for the low, low price of just $2,599 from energyreturnwheel.com, which has as a stated goal, “to return profitability to the $300 billion tire industry.”

Exciting stuff. Just don’t ride it in mud. I think I’ll settle for pumping up my tires weekly with a super-convenient bike pump. How about you?

Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.





  1. David R. Odine says:

    I have a Ryobe drill sized tire inflator. About 3 lbs with battery. Since I ride a tricycle for pleasure the weight is not an issue. Nice to have an air compressor on board! Take alook at it.

    1. Bob Forgrave says:

      That’s another option I hadn’t considered, David. And it certainly beats 50 pumps with a tiny mobile tire pump.

      But a flat still is a low point on any excursion, especially if you’re riding with others. Unless you ride over glass, nails or thorns, all rides should be flat-free. And even in those cases, there are now ways to avoid flats entirely…

  2. Glenn Bergman says:

    Thanks for all of your information on tires. I need to know what to do when the core of the Presta valve just comes out or just the top part. Can I put in a new valve? If so, how?

    1. Bob Forgrave says:

      Sorry for the slow response on this, Glenn. (For some reason I was looking on YouTube for this comment).

      Yes, some Presta valves–the good ones–have a removable stem. While it can come out on its own, it can also be put back in with a valve stem wrench. Some valve caps even have a valve stem wrench built in. Expect to pay about a dollar.

      Why would valve stem cores come out? Some people use the valve stem to put anti-flat “slime” in their tires, and add more when it dries, which works for a while.

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