Whatever tyres you have, you should ensure that you have them pumped to the correct pressure. You do not need to pump them up to the maximum although the higher the pressure the lower the rolling resistance (lost effort to friction) and the better the puncture resistance – both because there is less tyre in contact with the road. However, a lower pressure will give a more comfortable ride. Going too low can affect handling though and can, in the long term, reduce the life of the tyre.
The best pressure will depend on a number of factors including weight (you, the bike and any luggage – the greater the combined weight the higher the pressure), road surface (rougher road, lower pressure) conditions (wetter roads, lower pressure) and personal comfort preferences (more comfort, lower pressure). So if you are light and are riding on a dry, well surfaced road and like to feel cushioned, then you should have a low pressure. But it should still be within the range shown on the tyre wall to remain safe and to preserve the life of the tyre.
Tyre choice is very personal and is affected by the type of cycling you are doing. Some of the factors to consider when selecting a tyre are discussed here.
Fixing a flat
One thing that is universal amongst cyclists is a dislike for the dreaded (but inevitable) puncture. So invest in good quality tyres with a puncture protection layer. However, no matter how good your tyres are, you will get punctures. They may be infrequent but they will happen. So you need to learn how to fix them.
The easiest and quickest way to fix a flat is to replace the punctured inner tube with a new one:
- Remove the offending wheel from the frame. If it is a rear flat, change gear to your smallest cog (disc with teeth also known as a sprocket) at the rear before removing the wheel. This will make removing the wheel much easier. Most modern bikes have quick release wheels. Simply flip the lever over and the wheel should be released. For the front wheel you will probably have to turn the bolt a few times to allow the wheel to slip over the raised ends of the forks (which are there to prevent the wheel coming off should the bolts not be fasten properly – in the USA these are known as lawyers lips, presumably because they prevent accidents and the subsequent injury claims).
- Tyres are normally completely flat but if not, remove as much air as possible then remove the tyre using tyre levers.
- Inspect the tyre carefully to make sure that there is nothing embedded in it. Most punctures are caused by tiny splinters of glass, metal or stone penetrating through the tyre. More often than not they are still in the tyre and will cause a second flat if not removed. Once located remove it carefully by flicking it out with screwdriver head, key, coin or similar. Failing that try a fingernail but remember that the offending object is sharp.
- Slightly inflate the new inner tube to give it some shape then position it on the wheel with the valve through the hole in the wheel rim at a 90 degree angle.
- Now resit the tyre. If the tyre has a direction of rotation marked on the side wall, make sure to re-sit it the correct way round. Resit the tyre bead into the rim, one side at a time, starting at the valve and working equally each side. Invert the wheel half way and continue easing in equally left and right until the last section snaps in opposite the valve. The second side invariably takes more force than the first.
If possible resit the tyre without using tyre levers to avoid the possibility of pinching the new inner tube against the rim and puncturing it. Some tyres are easier to sit than other and, despite what people say, it is not always possible to fit a tyre without levers. Invest in good quality plastic levers. These are less likely to cause a pinch puncture than metal ones. But poor quality plastic levers will just bend.
- By pushing the tyre away from the rim inspect all the way around the wheel, on both sides, to make sure the inner tube is not trapped between the tyre and the wheel rim. If it is wriggle it inside the tyre. If this is not possible you may have to take the tyre off and resit it.
- Inflate the tyre halfway and replace the wheel in the frame before inflating it fully:
- To get the right tension when closing a quick release lever first tighten the nut on the opposite side of the skewer until it is just firm. Now ease the lever over. There should be resistance but you should not have to force the lever closed. If you cannot close the lever slacken the nut a little at a time until you can.
- Make sure to replace the wheel the correct way round. This will be obvious for the rear because of the cassette for the gear. The quick release lever on the front (and the rear) should be on the side of the bike that does not have the chain and gears (also, if there is writing on the wheel hub it should read from left to right when you are sat in the saddle).
- To avoid damaging the valve inflate with the valve pointing down, between 10 and 12 o’clock.
- If using a floor pump use both hands.
- Spin the wheel to make sure it is not rubbing the brake pads. If it is, release the wheel, realign it and retighten. Repeat the check until there is no rub.
You can repair punctures with a patch. These do not work well with high pressure tyres though. The secret is to make sure the glue is thinly but evenly spread on both the tyre and the patch and to wait long enough for the glue to turn really tacky but not so long that it dries out (it should go from clear to cloudy) before sticking the two together. For high pressure tyres inflate to about 80-90% of your normal pressure to get you home, where it would be best to put in a new tube rather than risk the patch failing on a subsequent ride (but that might just be me).
If you suffer two flats in a short period of time without an obvious reason (e.g. hedge trimming or broken glass) then it is a good indication that your tyres are worn and you need to think about replacing them. A new tyre might seem expensive but you will soon rack up the cost in replacement inner tubes if you ignore it (and you will still have to buy a new tyre).
Whilst it might seem obvious, you can reduce the chances of getting a puncture by not riding through crap on the road. Of course, most of the things that cause punctures are tiny and cannot be spotted from a moving bike. These tend to gather at the sides of the road, deposited there by water runoff from the cambered road profile. The closer to the edge the more concentrated the deposits because car tyres do not clear them away. So, to reduce the risk of punctures don’t ride in the gutter if you can avoid it. The best place to ride (to avoid punctures) is in the track of the car tyres.
It is also worth inspecting your tyres regularly and removing any tiny chips of glass, metal and stone embedded in them. Use a small screwdriver head to lever them out. Left in they are likely to be slowly driven through the tyre into the inner tube.
Kickstart your Lands End to John O’Groats planning
Everything you need to know to get you started on your Lands End to John O Groats adventure is contained within these three books: a How To, a detailed account of riding the Google Map route for LEJOG and a ‘safe’ Route Book using GPX files.
Where to next?
The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, including training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, how to look after your bike, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O’Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.