A flat tire is one of the most typical technical problems for bicycles and electric scooters with pneumatic wheels. Due to the smaller wheels, electric scooters have a higher risk to get a flat tire. On the bright side, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of getting a puncture close to zero. This article prepared by the Falcon PEV team shows you how to take care of your tire and tubes to reduce tire punctures and flat tires.
Flat tires are a fact of life for bicycles and electric scooters with pneumatic wheels. However, due to the smaller tires, there is a chance that e-scooters have a higher chance of getting a flat tire. While usually not life-threatening (most punctures happen without causing injury), a flat tire is without exception a frustrating inconvenience. It downgrades a leisurely ride to a sweaty and dusty affair. For riders who commute to work, it tears a big hole in a tightly scheduled day. An enforced trip to the electric scooter store for a replacement costs both time and money.
A punctured tire is probably the most common ‘technical problem’ an electric scooter rider will ever face. Some riders can suffer multiple punctures over the course of months, weeks, or even days. This may lead them to believe that replacements they received were of poor quality.
Unless you choose to ride on solid tires, you are likely to get a puncture at some point.
To avoid getting a puncture, we must first get to know the pneumatic wheel and understand what causes a puncture.
Myths & Facts About Wheels & Punctures
MYTH: The tire is punctured.
FACT: The tube is punctured.
An electric scooter pneumatic wheel consists of the outer tire, and a hidden synthetic rubber inner tube tucked between the tire and the wheel rim. The inner tube is the part that holds the air, like a ring-shaped balloon.
The inner tube offers shock absorption and rebounds, while the tire on the outside protects the inner tube and offers traction. Many casual cyclists and electric scooter riders don’t even know the inner tube exists until their first flat tire.
Outer tire and inner tube (with pump valve)
Most bicycles and practically all-electric scooters with pneumatic wheels use this traditional outer tire plus inner tube combination. For cars and motorcycles, the tire and tube have merged to become what is called a tubeless tire. When a puncture happens, it is the inner tube that is deflated, not the tire. Unless there is a very big hole in the tire, most of the time, the tire can still be used after the inner tube is replaced.
MYTH: All punctures are the same
FACT: There are different kinds of punctures
The first type of puncture is caused by foreign objects piercing the tube, called a penetration puncture. Objects like glass, nails, sharp stones or road debris cut through the tire and pierce the tube to result in a puncture.
A penetration puncture on an inner tube
The second type is caused by impact on the riding surface, called a pinch puncture. This is usually caused by riding at speed over bumpy surfaces, portholes or hard edges like the corner of a curb. The sudden impact pinches the inner tube between the wheel rim and the hard surface, cutting the tube.
In both types, punctures can vary from tiny pin-prick holes less than a millimetre across to a gash several centimetres long. Small holes may take various hours or days to deflate the tube, while big ones cause immediate deflation and may include a dramatic pop.
Myth: Something sharp caused the puncture.
Fact: You caused the puncture.
Contrary to popular belief, most electric scooter flat tires are NOT penetration punctures caused by the stereotypical nail-in-the-tire or other sharp objects. Pinch punctures caused by poor riding habits and lack of tire care are much more common.
In order for a penetration puncture to happen, the rider will first have to find a sharp object to roll over. (It’s harder to find than you think.) Next, the rider will have to roll over the object in the exact manner for it to pierce into the tire. Finally, the penetration must be deep enough to cut through BOTH the tire and the inner tube. Unless your route is mined with caltrops, you will have to be really unlucky for this to happen.
A pinch puncture, however, can happen simply if you don’t take good regular care of your scooter or don’t ride conscientiously.
3 Things You Can Do to Avoid a Puncture
There are three important things you can do to avoid tire punctures. To help you remember it, we have organized them with the acronym “AIR”, pun intended. They stand for:
- Add a Sealant,
- Inspect Regularly and
- Ride Sensibly
“A” for “Add a Sealant”
A tube sealant is liquid latex, that you can pump into the inner tube through the same valve that is used to inflate the tire. The fluid sloshes around inside the tube as the wheel spins. When a hole appears, the fluid leaks into the hole and quickly dries, plugging up the leak. It works like how blood clots in a wound to stop bleeding. The sealant can defend against both penetration and pinch punctures.
Applying a sealant to a tube
A sealant can often save you from a puncture without you even knowing it. A typical bottle of sealant contains enough fluid for a single application to both front and rear tubes. They usually cost less than the price of a replacement tube with labour.
The usefulness of a tube sealant is more well-known in the cycling community. Sealants are becoming more popular with electric scooter riders, especially the daily commuters who have a lot to lose over a puncture. Considering the price of a bottle of sealant against the inconvenience and cost of tube replacement, it is a no-brainer. Think of it as insurance against flat tires.
“I” for “Inspect Regularly”
By “inspect”, we don’t mean troublesome trips to an e-scooter workshop, but routine checks that you can and should do on your own.
Check for sufficient pressure
The first and most important check is for enough tire pressure. We cannot overstate the importance of this. This is because the number one cause of tire punctures for electric scooters is pinch puncture due to insufficient pressure. When tire pressure is low, the tube can’t ‘bounce back’ into shape as effectively. This makes it easier for an impact to instantaneously press the wheel rim and riding surface so closely together that they pinch the tube between them, causing a snake-bite-shaped rupture with two holes.
Think of a tube of toothpaste with its cap on. If it were half full, it is easier to squeeze the tube until the inner surfaces of the tube touch together than with a full tube of toothpaste. With enough tire pressure, the tube can do its job of absorbing vibration and resisting the compression without being damaged.
A bicycle pump with a pressure gauge is very useful to maintain sufficient tire pressure
The best way to check for proper tire pressure is to use a standard bicycle pump with a gauge. The gauge takes the guesswork out of your effort. Plugin the nozzle to your tire valve to check the pressure once every fortnight if you ride regularly. Most electric scooter tires perform best between 40 and 60 psi. If the needle falls below 40 psi, give the pump a few squeezes to bring it up to pressure. You will not regret the effort.
As a bonus, fully inflated tires also confer a big positive impact on energy efficiency. A more fully inflated tire has a stronger rebound for more speed and a smaller surface in contact with the ground for reduced drag.
Always follow the pressure recommendation of the tube and tire manufacturer
For heavier riders, keep the pressure slightly on the high side to compensate for gravity.
Check for good tire condition
The second check/inspection is for outer tire condition. This is straightforward. Worn-out tires are thinner and easier for a sharp object to pierce through, resulting in a penetration puncture. It is very common for electric scooter riders to literally ride the tires to death without knowing it. The most practical indicator for the roadworthiness of the tires is the condition of the thread.
Worn tires (left) have shallow grooves in the thread, and may even be threadbare. Fresh tires (right) have clear and deep grooves to effectively drain water and grip the road surface.
The thread refers to the grooves moulded into the tire, mainly to drain water. On a new tire, the grooves are crisp, clearly visible, and deep. On worn tires, they tend to be shallow or have been completely worn away. Generally, if you have to look closely to see the grooves, your tires are worn out. Worn tires are not just easier to get punctured, they are also more slippery on wet or sandy surfaces. Get them changed. Remember: you can choose to pay for a tire change before or after losing some skin. Both cost the same, but one hurts more.
Aside from the exterior, old tires may be worn out on the inside surface. This wear-and-tear may include rough surfaces or frayed fibres on the inner surface of the tire, which causes abrasion on the inner tube, wearing it down. This check is not easy to do on your own and is usually done in workshops as part of a tube change. If in doubt, bring the electric scooter in for a tire change. A workshop visit at a time of your choosing is far better than one imposed suddenly upon you by a tube puncture.
Check for foreign objects
The third inspection is for particles lodged in the thread/grooves of your scooter tire or perhaps embedded into the material of the tire itself. If there are sand particles or debris stuck in the groves, carefully brush or pry them out with a toothpick, paper clip, or old toothbrush. Stubborn particles may require a tougher brush with thicker or metal bristles. This check is also useful to discover any sharp object which may have already partially penetrated into the tire, pre-empting a future puncture.
“R” for “Ride Sensibly”
Physical precautions like good tire pressure and sealant insurance are only half the story. Good riding habits can make all the difference.
No riding when wet
As much as possible, avoid riding in wet conditions.
The connection between wet riding conditions and the risk of puncture is not immediately obvious. But experienced cyclists will tell you that they had more punctures in wet weather or in winter.
During a wet journey, the wheels pick up small sharp particles like sand, metal debris, and other bits from the road. Moisture help this stuff to cling to the tire and spokes. Each time you stop at a crossing, water trickles down, washing these particles to the space between your tire and tube. Here, the particles get sucked into the gap as your tube compresses and decompresses during rotation.
The sharp particles are pressed up against the one-millimeter thin synthetic rubber of the inner tube, which is trying to hold in pressurized air while spinning at over 700rpm. These forms perfect conditions for sandpapering the tube. It is a sure-fire way to support your local tube replacement businesses.
More importantly, wet surfaces are also more slippery and dangerous to ride on. Water can seep into the electric scooter and cause corrosion to the expensive electrical components and damage batteries. Water damage is commonly not covered by seller warranties.
Ride with a responsive posture
Cyclists call it riding “light”. That means instead of a passive toy-soldier stiff riding posture, ride in a mindful and responsive way, using your body to respond to the ground condition.
For example, as you approach a hump, slow down and slightly bend your knees and allow the scooter to rise up under you as it crosses the hump. As you reach a bumpy stretch, raise your heels off the deck and bend your knees slightly, so the bumps feel softer as they pass under. And never, ever ride off a kerb – stop and walk your scooter down, one wheel at a time.
These active riding habits take a massive amount of brute impact off the tires. If a graph is plotted showing the air pressure inside a tube during a ride, an active riding posture will show a smoother graph with fewer sharp spikes. Less impact means fewer chances for a pinch puncture.
Riding actively also includes always choosing a sensible path or “line” for your scooter to glide through. Make it a habit to always cover the next few meters in your field of view in the smoothest, safest possible way. An adjustment just a few centimetres left or right is enough to avoid a porthole, crack on the ground or a big twig. Go around dirty spots or visible debris at kerb sides and near drains. These are gathering spots for sharp objects. Ride your scooter like a tank, and it will quickly demonstrate that it isn’t.
The Holy Grail of Tube Longevity
You have succeeded when your electric scooter wheel inner tubes last as long as your tires
Your ultimate objective is to delay a puncture for as long as possible and make your inner tubes last at least as long as the outer tires. When the tires are worn out and due for a change, take the opportunity to change the inner tube to a fresh one at the same time. The old tubes have done their job and are probably worn thin anyway.
Follow the three points of “Add Sealant”, “Inspect Regularly” and “Ride Sensibly” (acronym “AIR”) to take care of your electric scooter’s inner tubes, and they will help you save money, save time and stay safe.
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