If you’ve recently got into mountain biking, you may be wondering how many flat tires you’re likely to get so you can turn up to the trails well prepared.
Whilst it’s virtually impossible to say when you’ll get a flat without a crystal ball, in this article we’ll look at the variables that will help you get a feel for how likely you are to get a flat tire.
We’ll also get some insight from other riders on how often they get flats.
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How Many Flats Will My Mountain Bike Get?
The honest answer to this question is that it’s impossible to say. It’d be great if we could work out exactly when and where we’d get our next puncture, but sadly that isn’t the case.
What we can do however is consider all the factors that affect our likelihood of getting flats.
Let’s run through the factors you need to consider when trying to estimate the number of flats you’re likely to get, then later on we’ll look at some guidelines from other riders explaining how many flats they get.
Factors Affecting the Likelihood of Getting a Flat Tire:
Weight of the Rider: A heavier rider will get more flats than a lighter rider if all other conditions are equal. More weight on the bike means greater force acting on the tires when they hit obstacles, drop-offs, etc. The greater the forces acting on the tire, the more likely they are to puncture.
Hardtail or Full Sus: Hardtail bikes will typically get more flats than full suspension bikes, again if all other factors are equal. The lack of rear suspension on a hardtail means the only thing absorbing impact at the back of the bike is the rear wheel. This increased demand on the back tire results in more flats than a full sus.
Tire Pressure: It’s important to ride with the right tire pressure to minimize flats. Too much pressure and you risk bursting a tire if you hit an obstacle or have a hard, flat landing. Too little pressure and you’re more at risk of pinch flats (if riding with tubes).
Tubes vs. Tubeless: Tubeless tires contain a sealant that seals small punctures like the ones made by thorns. Additionally, as tubeless tires don’t have tubes they can’t get pinch flats. They can ‘burp’ but this is remedied simply by pumping up the tire.
Quality & Suitability of the Tire: Cheap, poorly made tires will result in more punctures. Using the wrong sort of tire will also result in more punctures, for example using a lightweight tire to navigate a technical rocky trail.
Puncture Protection: Having some form of puncture protection such as a tire liner or using Kevlar belted tires reduces the risk of flats from punctures. If you’re unsure what Kevlar tires are, check out this article I wrote explaining what they are and how they work.
Type of Terrain: If you know the trails you’re heading to, you can get a feel for the likelihood of a flat based on the terrain. Sharp rocks? You’re more likely to get a puncture. Loads of thorns? Again, more likely to get a puncture. Nice compact dirt trail? Flats are much less likely. You get the idea…
Speed: If you’re flying down a trail you have less time to react to obstacles, so it’s more likely you’ll hit something nasty. More speed also equals more impact force, so that rock or root that wouldn’t cause you a problem at lower speeds could well result in a flat.
Riders Skill Level: I’ve certainly been guilty of this one. If you’re riding features and trails too far above your skill level, you’re going to get more flats. Think about hitting jumps – everyone will case a jump at some stage, but if you’re casing jump after jump all day you’re way more likely to burst a tire. The same goes for uncontrollably rolling down trails that are too technical for you, if you’re unable to pick your line you’ll hit something you shouldn’t.
LUCK! – Sometimes you’re just unlucky. You can be on the smoothest, most forgiving trail, path, or road in the world and somehow you manage to hit that one tiny piece of glass 5 minutes into a ride. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Use this list as a guideline to try and get a feel for how likely you are on any given day to get a flat.
On top of that, use it as a checklist to bear in mind the factors you can actually do something about, such as making sure your tires are inflated to the right pressure.
Now let’s see some examples from other riders.
How Many Flats do You Get on Your Mountain Bike?
To try and get a feel for how many flats mountain bikers get, we’ve reviewed responses to this question from riders from all over the world on Reddit, MTBR, and other forums.
As you’d expect when considering all of the variables that we’ve just discussed, the numbers vary massively. That said, there were some general trends that emerged in the responses.
The most common answers were in the range of 1 flat every 3 to 5 years. There was however a massive caveat to this – virtually all of the riders claiming they had flats only once every few years were riding with tubeless tires. Many of them go on to explain this number was much higher when they were riding with tubes in the past.
It’s also worth mentioning that many riders commented that they could go years without a single flat, then get 2 or more in the same month, or even the same day.
Check out some of the responses, they really highlight how much these riders believe tubeless changed the game for them:
“I have had one in the last 5 years. That was only because I threw a tube in for a ride until I
could pick up some Stans (tubeless sealant).”
“Two flats in 8 years, but got them all the time before tubeless”
“Man. After switching to tubeless, I don’t think I ever had a puncture that didn’t seal.”
I could go on as there were many more responses to that effect, but hopefully this paints the picture.
Why are Flats Less Likely with Tubeless Tires?
Now we know flats are much less likely with tubeless tires, it’s worth asking why.
The answer is quite simple, tubeless tires prevent or heavily reduce the probability of 2 of the most common causes of flat tires: pinch flats and punctures.
As tubeless tires don’t have tubes, there’s no tube to pinch, and therefore any scenarios where you would have gotten a pinch flat no longer result in a flat. This type of flat is completely mitigated.
Next, we have punctures. Tubeless tires can still get punctures, however, due to the liquid sealant that is put into the tire, punctures from small debris such as thorns will typically self-seal and therefore won’t result in a flat.
Do Mountain Bikes Get Fewer Flats than Other Bikes?
Mountain bike tires are designed to cope with the demands of off-road riding. The thicker treads offer more puncture protection than you would get on a road or gravel bike, and the lower tire pressures compared to road bikes mean they’re less likely to burst when impacting obstacles.
That said, the terrain a mountain bike typically will ride on vs. that of a typical road ride also affects the number of punctures.
We go into more detail determining which type of bike is likely to get more punctures in our article here.