Punctured tyre on your bike? No problem. Here are two (virtually) failsafe methods to get straight back on the road

Home Road Motorcycles Tips Punctured tyre on your bike? No problem. Here are two (virtually) failsafe methods to get straight back on the road

A flat tyre is a real nuisance. Fortunately, as we will see, as long as the puncture isn't too big then in most cases it's easy to repair it and resume your journey. We should first make it clear, however, that this is a temporary fix: your first port-of-call should still be a tyre specialist where you can get the damaged tyre replaced so you can safely resume your journey. Even if your repair job seems to have worked well and the tyre hasn't gone flat, you shouldn't keep riding – don't just think "I've got to get home". Safety is no laughing matter.              

With that in mind, let's take a step back and ask the question: what is the safest thing to do if you have a flat tyre? Obviously, you can't prevent a puncture (we are not going to go into anti-puncture systems like off-road mousses and special foams right now), but you can make sure you act fast both when it happens and also when you want to repair it, not only so you can continue your journey, but also to avoid any dangerous situations, given you will most likely find yourself on the side of the road.

How can I tell if I have a punctured tyre?

If the puncture is large, or if the tyre is torn, then obviously you will realise straightaway: the pressure drops to zero, your motorbike becomes unrideable, and you have to be careful about what manoeuvres you make.             

If the puncture is small and the tyre is losing air slowly, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be much less treacherous. If you are riding a series of bends, then you will notice immediately: the steering starts responding in a strange manner and the motorbike tends to open or close its trajectory depending on which tyre has a puncture (front or rear, respectively). But if your tyre is losing air slowly on a straight road, then you might only notice when braking or in the entrance to corners, and this is when you might have problems.             

Fortunately, many motorbikes today are fitted with a TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) that monitors tyre pressure and warns you – through a switch on a warning light in the dashboard – if the pressure isn't in the right range. Years ago, this might have seemed like an excessively sophisticated accessory, but if you think about a situation where you are travelling on the motorway in the saddle of a maxi-tourer with a passenger and baggage (which can easily weigh more than 400 kg) and you have a system that will warn you if a tyre is losing pressure.... Well, then forget the macho idea that a "real" motorbike rider isn't afraid of a little flat tyre – in this situation, the little orange light that notifies you of the danger is truly a blessing.

Not to mention the fact that the same system ensures you always have your tyres at the right pressure, an extremely important detail that is often neglected.

Okay, I have a puncture, what should I do now?

It goes without saying, but the first thing to do is to look for a safe place to stop. It's worth bearing in mind that it only takes a second to end up on the carriageway if you are working on the tyre and moving around your motorbike, which is why you need a safe space.             

The second thing is to look for the object that has caused the puncture: most of the time it's a screw or a nail, and it's usually still there. If the wheel isn't too deflated then you might be tempted to leave it as it is and ride on until you find a distributor or a tyre specialist, but this is a risk: it's better to take action. You should remove the sharp object. This isn't always easy, however, which is why it's a good idea to keep a pair of pliers in your toolkit. Once you have liberated the tyre from its unwanted intruder, you can move on to the repair itself. There are two possible paths, depending on the type of wheel: does it have an inner tube? And if so, is it a tubeless tyre? If your motorbike has alloy wheel rims, to confirm the tyre is tubeless and that the air is therefore held by the carcass and the tread between the beads and (specially designed) wheel rim, you just have to read the instructions on the side: TL, meaning tubeless (always present if the tyre does not require an inner tube); TT, with an inner tube (often not included in the description of the tyre).             

Please note: tubeless tyres can also be fitted on wheel rims designed for tube-type tyres, i.e. with an inner tube; common examples include adventure motorbikes or maxi-endurance bikes without tubeless rims. In this case, when you get a puncture it is because the inner tube is damaged and the pressure collapses almost instantly, so you need to fix it immediately.

Which is better, a spray can or a repair kit?

There are two kinds of rapid repair methods: the classic "inflate and repair" spray, and repair kits for tubeless tyres. A tubeless tyre can also be repaired with a spray, while a tyre with an inner tube or a tubeless tyre fitted with an inner tube can only be repaired with a spray.             

Here, we are not going to mention the classic patches for inner tubes, which wouldn't be included among the "rapid” solutions. In this case, in fact, the alternative is to take all the equipment needed to remove a tyre with you, including spanners, tyre levers, patches, sealant, an inflation system and, if you are going on a really adventurous journey, some spare inner tubes. You also need a centre stand. In any case, removing a tyre then repairing the inner tube or replacing it is a decidedly difficult operation and we won't consider it here. So let's start with the simplest system: the spray can.

What are the pros and cons of an inflate and repair spray?

Using a spray couldn't be simpler. First, you should remove the object that caused the puncture. Then, all you have to do is insert the tube in the valve, which should be kept high up so the latex starts to spread through the tyre, then press the button.  The pressure of the spray pushes in latex foam, which closes off the hole, and in just a few seconds the pressure will be high enough for you to set off again. You should leave immediately, at low to medium speed, ensuring that the centrifugal force distributes the latex evenly throughout the tyre.             

Fast, clean and easy, and even if the object that caused the damage has disappeared, you don't have to look for the puncture: spray repair is highly convenient. But it does have one significant limitation: it only works for smaller punctures (usually up to 5 mm in size, though it depends on the tyre).             

In addition, we strongly discourage you from continuing to repair your tyre with liquid sealants as this is only a temporary solution that will not prevent a progressive structural deterioration triggered by the object that caused the puncture. This is one of the reasons why the first thing to do after fixing the tyre is to find a specialist to replace the tyre.

What are the pros and cons of repair kits for tubeless tyres?

A tubeless tyres repair kit consists of a series of a set of vulcanised rubber strips, a tube of sealant, a set of compressed air canisters, a box cutter, an awl with a rough surface to clean the hole, and a tool to insert the strip.             

This operation is simple, but requires a little bit of manual work. First of all, you need to clean the hole with the awl to eliminate any residue and make space to insert a strip of rubber. This should be sprinkled with glue and then pushed inside the hole with the right tool for around 2/3 of its length. You then remove the tool and proceed to inflate the tyre, a procedure that typically requires three canisters of compressed air. Finally, you use the box cutter to remove the excess part of the vulcanised strip. This is a summary of the procedure: it is hard to describe in words but easy to understand if you watch one of the many tutorials available online.             

The advantage of this method is the greater effectiveness in repairing punctures (typically up to 8 mm) compared to an inflate and repair spray; the disadvantage is that it requires more work (though not too much). It works very well if the puncture is at the centre of the tread, but if it is on the side then the elastic movements of the rubber generated when cornering could cause the tyre to lose its grip.  

With regard to the compressed air canisters to be used for inflation, we advise you to have a few spares, as one might be needed to find the puncture. It's also a good idea to use gloves, as the rapid draining freezes the surface, which can cause cold burns.

When is it not possible to repair a tyre?

So it is possible to fix punctures up to a certain size, and it's an easier and safer procedure with tubeless tyres. On the other hand, if the tread is torn because you have ridden over a sharp surface, a piece of sheet metal, for example, then obviously there is nothing you can do. There is another situation where it is very hard to fix your tyre, if not impossible: when the tyre is 'debeaded', meaning the bead has fallen into the channel of the wheel rim. This can happen if you have a puncture and keep riding with a flat tyre. In this case there is not much you can do, and most of the time, particularly with larger tyres, neither inflate and repair sprays nor compressed air canisters in tubeless kits offer the requisite push to return the tyre to its position. All you can do is call a tow truck.

Rapid, effective repairs but temporary

We conclude with a few pertinent safety recommendations. Once your repair is done, as soon as you are back on the road, travel with a moderate speed to the next service station to check the tyre pressure, as in most cases the repair method used won't be enough to bring the tyre up to the correct range. The second step is to visit the nearest tyre specialist: even if the repair works and the tyre isn't losing pressure, do not continue your journey. Instead, you should have your damaged tyre replaced with a new one.             

Finally, don't forget to regularly check your kit or spray, as it's vital they work perfectly when you need them to: with the former, the sealant can dry out, while sprays have an expiry date.