So, you’ve had a set of bike tires sitting in your garage for a few years.
Maybe you saw them at a huge discount and just had to buy them. Or maybe you stock up on your favorite model like you’re buying toilet paper at Costco.
Whatever the reason, you may start to wonder:
Can bike tires actually “go bad?”
Bike tires can expire, even if they’ve never been used! If exposed to elements such as excessive heat, light, or moisture, tires can rot, crack, and break down. However, if stored properly, new bike tires can last many years, and will be ready to go when your old tires need to be replaced.
New tires can be expensive, but they’re also the only contact point between your bike and the ground! So, if you want to check your tires (to see if they’re bad) or if you just want to get your tires to last longer, then you’re in the right place.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Three Common Reasons Bike Tires Go Bad
1. Exposure to Excessive Heat and Light
Excessive heat and light are rough on a lot of materials. Rubber is no exception.
Leave your tires in a hot garage or out in the yard with full sun exposure for an extended period of time, and they’ll begin to dry out and lose their “rubberiness.” Kind of like an old rubber band that breaks instead of stretches, tires become very brittle when they dry out.
Good luck mounting that tire on a rim before it snaps into pieces. Better now than when you’re out on a ride though!
2. Exposure to Excessive Moisture
You don’t want your tires to get too dry…but you also don’t want them to get too wet.
Excessive moisture buildup will have the opposite effect on tires, but it’s no less damaging.
If your tires are exposed to moisture, they’ll get moldy and begin to rot. A moldy, waterlogged tire is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and insects – mosquitoes love old tires – so definitely reconsider before storing your tires outside!
3. Lack of Ventilation
Airflow is essential for wicking away excess heat and moisture.
Think about it: why do athletic clothing companies focus so much on breathability? If your clothing makes you feel hot, sweaty and gross while exercising, are you going to perform at your best?
Similarly, if you store your bike tires in a poorly ventilated area, the effects of exposure to heat, light and moisture will be compounded. This will cause the rubber to degrade faster, thereby reducing its performance to a greater degree.
How to Know if Your Bike Tires are Bad
So maybe you’ve been storing your bike tires in less than ideal conditions, but how do you know if your tires are still salvageable…or if it’s too late to save them?
Let’s make a visual inspection and see what condition they’re in.
First, pick up the tire and take a look at the overall shape. If it’s warped, bent, or basically any shape other than round, this isn’t a good start.
Next we’ll go in for a closer look. Search for any cracks in the rubber – a sign that the tire is drying out. The tire may also show discoloration or have hard spots. These are also signs that exposure to extreme heat and light is taking its toll and causing the rubber to break down.
Also look for any mold or mildew. Prolonged storage in moist conditions can cause a tire to rot. Don’t forget to check the inside of the tire as well: this is where water can collect and cause the most damage!
If your tires have passed these checks so far, it’s time to seat the tire on a rim and inflate it. Even if a tire doesn’t show visible signs of wear, it may not inflate properly or bulge out in certain places when inflated. The former could indicate leaks, while the latter could mean that the rubber is thinning or wearing out in certain places.
If your tire fails any of these checks, then riding on them could be dangerous, or at the very least provide terrible ride quality!
Now, how can you prevent these problems from happening to your tires?
Three Tips for Properly Storing Bike Tires (To Help Them Last Longer)
1. Store Tires in a Cool, Dry, Well-Ventilated Area
To fight off the damage caused by temperature extremes and moisture, make sure to keep your tires inside and away from harsh elements. A climate-controlled area is best, but this can include your garage as long as it doesn’t get too hot or too cold out there.
Minimize light damage by keeping your tires in a spot away from direct sunlight. This area should also be well-ventilated. Your tires need to breathe too, as stagnant air can lead to bacteria growth – especially if your tires are exposed to moisture or condensation.
2. Keep Tires Covered
Covering or wrapping your tires with blankets or sheets can help prevent exposure to moisture and light as well. Plastic bags are ok, but they don’t breathe very well; and if they’re clear, they aren’t very good at preventing light transmission either!
Placing tires in a cardboard box is fine as well, as long as you take note of the next storage tip:
3. Store Tires Upright or Flat
Wherever you decide to store your tires, make sure you leave them upright or, if you store them in a box, ensure they can lay flat and are not being bent or squished by heavier objects.
Have you ever been on a long road trip or plane ride and fallen asleep in a really awkward position, only to have your body feel like it’s stuck in that position?
Now imagine your tires sitting for months or years in a similarly awkward position. They’re probably going to lose their roundness and look pretty wonky when it’s time to put them on your bike. If it’s been a really long time, the rubber could become permanently creased, which could cause serious structural damage.
Tires in this condition could be at greater risk of puncturing, getting a pinch flat or providing inconsistent grip and steering.
These three tips also apply to your tire tubes! If you ride with tubes and have a handful of extras stored in your garage, make sure you follow the above tips to keep them fresh and ready to go when needed!
How Long Do Bicycle Tires Last in Storage?
Bike tires that are stored properly should last for about 3-6 years, according to Specialized. However, the exact lifespan will vary depending on the brand and condition of the tires, as well as their exposure to heat, moisture, etc. Under terrible conditions, bike tires could break down in a matter of months.
I feel pretty lucky to have found a specific number from Specialized. If you have a look at this article, you’ll see that tire companies typically don’t like to give an exact number – probably due to liability reasons.
But Specialized was very specific. Here’s the quote so you can see exactly what they said:
“Tires and tubes should be stored in a dark, cool, ventilated area. Heat, UV light, Ozone, and time degrade the rubber compound. The tires keep their performance level for about three years. Then the aging agents and softeners have dissipated enough to let you feel the difference in grip and suppleness. However, it is safe to use tires up to six years after manufacturing.”
How they arrived at three years they don’t say – with science, I’m guessing! – but it’s always nice to get a solid answer out of a well known company like Specialized.
One further note: high-performance tires typically use a softer, grippier rubber compound. While this significantly improves traction on the trails or road, it does mean they will tend to break down faster – both during use and in storage.
Are Old Bicycle Tires Safe to Use?
Old bike tires can be safe to use if they’ve been stored properly and aren’t showing signs of damage, such as cracks, warping, discoloration, etc. With that said, the rubber in tires does tend to break down over time, so if you’re not sure that your tires are safe, it’s probably better to buy a new set.
It’s also worth mentioning that “old” is a relative term. And, believe it or not, time itself can cause tires to break down. Technology changes over the years as well. Newer tires may use stronger, more durable rubber compounds that provide better performance and handling.
So, if you’re in doubt about how well those old tires might perform, it doesn’t hurt to buy some new ones – especially since it can only make your riding experience safer and more enjoyable overall!