The Most Important Thing: Steve Martin

Steve Martin


Bike Noob is happy to feature the first in our series of guest posts, “The Most Important Thing.” Our first author is Steve Martin, a relatively new biker from northern Virginia. Steve, a retired military officer and current civil servant, also writes his own blog, There and Back Again.

Last Spring, I returned to the cycling hobby I dabbled in over 15 years ago. Needless to say, there were a great many things I have learned in the past year. If Mr. Niekamp is “The Bike Noob,” then I must be something on the order of “The Bike Incompetent.” Fortunately, I get to pick the name of my own blog and I have taken it in a different direction.

While I am nowhere near an expert on most bicycling subjects, there is one particular area I feel qualified to speak on: flat tires. Many people go months at a time without flatting. Some lucky souls go years at a time. I have managed to get NINE flats in my first 12 months of cycling, seven of those flats in the hell that was June to August, 2010. Each flat was a different lesson.

So I’ve learned a few things about flat tires in the past year, mostly through a series of unfortunate mistakes on my part. I humbly offer these tire-related tips in the hope that others may not need to learn these lessons like I did – the hard way.

1. Don’t skimp on tires. In my view, they’re the most important and potentially the most-easily damaged piece of gear on your bike. A good set of tires will not only help you avoid learning how to change a flat on a hot dusty road, but they will let you ride faster. Spend some extra money on puncture resistant tires and you’ll more than make up the difference in the money saved on spare tubes, repair kits, and the dramatic decrease in frustration.

2. Pump your tires before every ride. I check my car’s tire pressure once every Blue Moon. Do that with your bike and you will suffer. It’s a small thing, but make sure your tires are properly inflated before every ride.

3. Inspect your tires before every ride. Run your hand along their entire length and visually inspect them for bits of glass, nails, staples, etc… that are slowly working their way toward your beloved inner tube. Remove as necessary.

4. Don’t underinflate your tires. Especially if you’re a Clydesdale like Yours Truly. Low pressure invites a “pinch flat,” which is a nasty event because pinch flats almost always immediately lose pressure. There is no “limping home” with a pinch flat, which occurs when the tube is pinched against the rims, usually during a jarring bump, and two holes result.

5. Don’t overinflate your tires.

Remnants of an overinflated innertube explosion

In an effort to avoid a pinch flat and improve rolling resistance, you may be tempted to do this. Don’t. Your tube will explode and the resulting noise will sound very similar to a shotgun blast. When this echoes down the street, concerned neighbors will rush to their fences to see what happened and you will be considerably embarrassed. Trust me on this.

6. Always carry a spare tube and a pump. This almost goes without saying, except I must say that I have violated this rule more than once and flatted while doing so on two occasions. I believe the odds of getting a flat dramatically when you don’t have one or both of these items. Why this occurs is one of Life’s mysteries, but if my experiences are normal then it is an undeniable Truth.

Twisted tire due to turning inside-out

7. Don’t flip your tire inside out. When changing a flat, you may be tempted to flip your tire inside out (and can’t think of a good reason for this right now, but when I was fighting with my tire in 90 degree heat, it seemed like a good idea at the time). Many tires have kevlar beads that hold them in place. If you turn your tire inside out, you will find that the bead twists and cannot easily be returned to its original state. This will cause your tire to be hopelessly askew after you mount it on the wheel. See the attached photo as evidence.

8. Mount your tire so that the valve stem is next to a recognizable part of your tire.

Valve stem over the Bontrager "r"

This way, you can quickly compare a hole in your inner tube to a specific part of the tire and thus identify an foreign objects that are causing punctures.

9. Practice changing tires in the comfort of your own home. Practice makes perfect, or at least it makes you less of a klutz than you would be without it. Put on some nice music, grab a cold beverage of your choice and give it a shot. This is infinitely preferable to learning on the side of a highway in sweltering heat.

10. Consider a CO2 cartridge. Tube-mounted pumps will get the job done, but the last 30 PSI will wear you out. A CO2 cartridge takes seconds. They’re small and easy to store in a saddle bag or jersey pocket. They aren’t necessarily the most intuitive thing you will ever use, so if you decide to go with these, refer to Tip #8.

If you would like to join Steve with a guest post on this blog, write one on the topic: What’s the Most Important thing you’ve learned about cycling? Details available here.


  1. amazer98 says

    Great points, Steve. I would just add the following to your list:
    1. Carefully rub a bunched up glove along the inside of your removed tire to scrape away any sharp objects like thorns or glass shards that might have penetrated and that could puncture the replacement tube. Don’t use your bare hand to do this!
    2. Don’t overtighten the little nut that screws down the valve stem. I made this mistake a few times and noticed my tubes were bursting at the base of the valve. Just lightly finger tighten the nuts.
    3. When inflating tires, position the valve stem so it’s pointing downward from the 12 o’clock position. Push the pump or CO2 fitting straight onto the valve– no twisting. When you are done, grab the end of the pump fitting with your right hand and push hard straight down on your right wrist (with your left hand, of course). This avoids any twisting motion, which can bend or stress the tire valve.

    Hope my $.02 helps!

  2. says

    Thanks for the air time, Ray! It’s quite an honor to be on such an informative site as yours. And good tips, Amazer98. I had never heard #3 before. I’ll have to think about that…

    • says

      Very funny, Clive. Very funny. You know, I travel a lot. One of these days I just might make it to Manchester. If that comes to pass, I think I will grab a large stick and walk the tow paths in the pre-dawn light…

  3. aaronwest says

    Good points. I completely agree on upgrading the tires. When I bought my entry level bike with cheapo tires, I seemed to have a flat a week. Since I upgraded, I have yet to have a flat in about 6 months. Unfortunately this isn’t helping with my tire changing practice.

  4. says

    All good advice, personally one spare tube is not enough for me, I carry two and a full puncture repair kit, I’ve found that punctures come in twos. There’s nothing worse than being unable to get moving again because you’ve no spares left to repair a puncture. It’s only happened to me once, fortunately I had a great mobile phone app that saved me. I phoned the wife up to come and pick me up. Now I’m a little paranoid about making sure I have enough puncture repair kits in my bag.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *