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Gear Prudence: While biking home yesterday, I rolled over broken glass at various locations. Fortunately, my tires were OK, but it got me wondering: If broken glass is unavoidable (say on a narrow trail or in a bike lane with parked cars on one side and heavy traffic on the other) is it better to slow down as much as possible or to maintain speed over the glass? My friend said slowing down and trying to avoid the worst spots was her strategy. I thought that going as fast as possible would give the glass less of a chance to stick. Which of us is right? —Speed Helps Avoid Random Punctures?
Dear SHARP: When faced with the fate of flats, is it a fait accompli? Or can you outrun your destiny, perhaps by speeding up or, ironically, slowing down? But before addressing strategy, it’s important to first assess the unavoidability of the unavoidable. In many cases, a bicyclist can scan the road ahead with an eye toward the glinty glass splinters that might provoke a puncture and takes steps well in advance to avoid them. Or, you could hire a team of off-season curlers to run ahead of your ride and clear the way of potentially harmful debris. Ideally, you’ll never want to be in the position of taking last-second evasive maneuvers to avoid glass—you could be trading a potential puncture for a far worse outcome.
In the case where the broken glass truly is unavoidable, would riding faster through the hazard, perhaps while invoking the David Farragut (the namesake of the downtown square) strategy, by damning the torpedoes and speeding fully ahead, lessen the likelihood of puncture? GP has his doubts. Puncture flats happen when an object gets through the tire and pokes a hole in the tube, thereby allowing air to escape. Whether you ride over something sharp enough to do this really fast or really slowly, if it gets through it gets through. Speed is not your succor.
But all is not lost if you have had the misfortune to ride over broken glass. Keeping your tires inflated to proper air pressure is a key flat prevention technique. Beyond that, some cyclists employ puncture-resistant tires, typically made of thicker material, or put a Kevlar strip between the tire and the tube. Beyond these options, it’s also a good idea, especially if you know you’ve just ridden over some bad stuff, to inspect your tires and rub away or pull out any small objects stuck in your tires that could over time damage the tube.
Ultimately though, it’s best to be sanguine about these kinds of things. Flats happen when they happen. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who blogs at talesfromthesharrows.blogspot.com and tweets at @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.