Are you tired of running into thorns, glass, or other debris and having to patch and replace your inner tubes constantly? If so, then you’ve probably heard of using tire liners to prevent frequent flats. The discerning cyclist is going to want to know if and how they work.
So, do bike tire liners ACTUALLY work?
Bike tire liners will protect your tire from a lot of obstacles, and they do it quite well. There is a bit of a trade-off to their use, as they increase both weight and your bike’s rolling resistance. They also need to be properly installed or they can cause problems of their own.
If you’re considering tire liners, read on as we cover the following:
How Tire Liners Work
Tire liners are just strips of relatively hard plastic that sits inside the centerline of your tire. They function as physical armor, hopefully keeping thorns and other external debris from reaching your inner tubes.
They don’t protect from internal damage, and for some riders, pinch flats are a bigger problem than external debris. They may not protect from a dead-on hit with a tack or nail, but it is possible for the liner to cause sharp objects to glance off (preventing a flat).
Tire liners aren’t perfect, and they vary in quality depending on the brand. With that said, tire liners offer good protection for the most part, but you need to make sure the ones you pick are up to par for your riding conditions.
Do You Need Tire Liners?
If you run into frequent, small, sharp obstacles like glass debris or thorns, then tire liners are a good idea. That said, they’re not the best solution for every rider who needs extra protection.
Pros and Cons of Tire Liners
Pros of Tire Liners
- Protect from sharp debris
- Easy to install
- Re-usable with different tubes
Cons of Tire Liners
- Extra weight
- Increased rolling resistance
- Can cause wear on the inner tube
- Quality varies
If you’re looking at long-distance rides, or even semi-serious recreational riding, then these cons are significant. If that’s you, then you may want to consider another method of puncture prevention, or learn to fix flats more quickly.
Who Should Consider Tire Liners
- Commuters – Bikes for commuting just need to get where they’re going, and not necessarily at breakneck speed. The extra layer of protection can help you avoid flats and arrive on time, even when you encounter debris.
- Riders in Areas with Thorns – If you live in an area with a lot of thorns, tire liners are worth trying. Many bikers have learned to despise goat head thorns, and a good liner can keep most of them from penetrating your bike’s inner tubes. Just be sure the one you pick a quality liner.
- Riders who Go Through Heavy Debris- A bicycle that, for whatever reason, will run into sharp debris frequently would benefit from tire liners. An example might be a cheap bike used to get around a flea market lot.
Are Tire Liners Worth It?
Tire liners are typically quite affordable, and they can be worth it for those who frequently get flat tires caused by thorns or debris. However, tire liners do increase rolling resistance and weight, which can negatively affect your speed and ride quality. As a result, tire liners are only beneficial for some cyclists.
Most Popular Tire Liner Brands
There are quite a few brands of bike tire liners, however, the most popular brand is Mr. Tuffy. If You’d like to try a bicycle tire liner, then a good place to start is by reading more about Mr. Tuffy brand liners on Amazon (FYI: we get commissions on qualifying Amazon sales).
If you’re not into the Mr. Tuffy brand for some reason, then you could also consider the tire liners made by Slime, which is a reputable brand that’s best known for their tire sealant products. You can learn more about Slime tire liners on Amazon (FYI: we get commissions on qualifying Amazon sales).
If, after reading the info above, you’re not sure that tire liners are right for you, then I still want to help you out. Here are a few alternatives to tire liners that you might also want to consider:
Tire Liner Alternatives
Slime or other inner tube sealants often outperform tire liners when it comes to penetration. While a good liner can keep a lot out, longer or very thin obstacles can penetrate when hit at the right angle.
If the debris makes it through the liner you’re still going to get a flat. These compounds fill up the smaller holes and prevent them from leaking. They can protect from some internal flats as well.
Sealants are often cheap, but they’ll require a new purchase each time you replace the inner tube.
Puncture Resistant Tires
Puncture-resistant tires have an extra layer of material on the inside, usually something like kevlar. When they’re well-made they provide a lot of protection and can handle most debris thrown at them.
Puncture-resistant tires stop damage better than most liners but are more expensive by a wide margin. They’re a much better choice for those riding long distances, but they add a considerable amount of weight compared to normal tires.
“Puncture Proof” Non-Pneumatic Inner Tubes
There are non-pneumatic inner tubes, essentially plastic tubes that you place inside the tire and over the rim. There’s no chance of a flat at all in this case since you don’t need to inflate the tire.
These tubes are also heavy, ride differently than a regular inner tube, and can be hard to install. They can also be dangerous for high-performance riding applications like mountain biking, since the tire may move a bit.
Overall, these are best for a bike that’s in a location with a lot of puncture hazards. For intentional protection at one location, they can’t be beaten, but they’re not the right tool for most recreational or commuting riders.
Unfortunately, having to air up tires is just part of serious cycling.
Tubeless tires aren’t an easy solution, they’re an involved process. That said, the sealant placed inside of them plugs holes and reduces weight and rolling resistance compared to other forms of puncture protection.
The disadvantage is that tubeless tires are an involved process of their own and get expensive quickly.
Switching to tubeless tires requires rethinking your whole bicycling setup. It can be a good way to reduce punctures, but it’s not the first line of defense for most bikers. In many cases, it may be best to just have a shop do it for you.
Carrying a Spare Tube
Carrying a spare tube is something you should get in the habit of. I usually carry 2 in my backpack for all but the most casual of rides, regardless of other preventative measures. As long as you have a little hand pump you can get yourself back on the road quickly.
Unless the road/path you’re riding on is really bad, the chances of running into another puncture on the same ride are pretty low. That said, changing tires is still pretty time consuming, at least compared to not getting a flat at all.
My advice is to make sure you have a spare inner tube no matter what, but try to avoid needing to use it.
Do Tire Liners Slow You Down?
Simple physics tells us that the additional weight of a tire liner will slow you down when riding your bike. The location of the weight (on the outside of the tires) also directly increases rolling resistance. Put together, you’ll see a significant slowdown if you’re pushing the limits racing or trying to hit a speed goal.
Bike tire liners usually weigh from 90-150g and the weight distribution is on the outside of your wheels. Many riders notice they can make a ride feel worse as the tires are less supple as well.
However, if you’re a beginner, weight isn’t quite as important at the amateur level as people think. But, that doesn’t mean you should discount it either, a lighter bike will handle better and be easier to accelerate with overall.
Overall, tire liners aren’t a great choice for making speed PRs but a casual rider won’t notice much difference, and if you experience frequent flat tires due to external debris, tire liners could be worth a try.
How to Install a Tire Liner
Installing tire liners is very simple, you just slip them into the tire on the outside of the tube. You can see the whole process here: