James Daley: The Cycling Column

Going down the tubes

There's nothing much more annoying than getting a puncture on your daily commute. If you're on your way to work, it makes you late, and if you're on your way home, it's usually too dark to do a thorough job when you repair your tyre or replace the inner tube. Worse still, if it's winter, it's usually cold enough for you to lose all feeling in your fingers.

October was the worst month I've ever had six punctures in four weeks. Every time, I would diligently get out my repair kit, and patch up the hole only to get another a few days later. It wasn't that I hadn't cleaned out the tyre either. It was simply that my tyres a set of Specialized Mondo Sport, which had come with my Langster were flimsy. By the end of the month, there were half a dozen holes in each tyre and I decided it was time to buy a new set.

The rude assistant at my local cycle shop in Wandsworth, who clearly had better things to do than sell me something, eventually advised me to go for a set of Continental Ultra Gatorskins. These, he said, were good enough for him and were practically puncture proof.

In fact, if you were to go on to Evans Cycles' website, you'd find them described as nothing less than "bullet-proof" with "three flat kevlar anti-puncture layers". That certainly sounded good. Just to double check, I had a look at Continental's website, which boasted about their "Duraskin sidewall reinforcement". This, it claimed, "forms an external protective shield over the entire casing to prevent cuts, punctures and abrasions". Although they were the most expensive in the shop at 40 a pair I promptly paid up.

November and December were puncture-free, even after accidentally riding through a few patches of broken glass, and I was a very satisfied customer. Perhaps I'd finally cracked it. But then last Thursday night, the fairy tale was inevitably shattered, as I got not one, but two punctures on the way home on one of the coldest evenings of the year.

When I finally got home (with the help of the train), I discovered that the second puncture had been caused by the same piece of glass as the first. Although I thought I'd removed it, I'd had to make the change on a dark street and alas failed to clear out all the splinters. A full inspection of the tyre revealed not one but three holes. So much for "Duraskin sidewall reinforcement"!

When I used to ride a hybrid bike a few years ago, I remember having a set of Armadillo tyres, which helped me to stay completely puncture-free, so I think I'll be picking a pair of them up this weekend. Unfortunately, I'm quickly running out of options in the (not very) "puncture-resistant" tyre market.

In the meantime, I've switched back to riding my mountain bike to work. It's much harder work, but at least I know it can crunch its way over just about any piece of junk on the London streets. And given I've got a few extra calories to work off after Christmas, perhaps the extra workout is no bad thing.



Read The Independent's cycling blog, Cyclotherapy, at www.independent.co.uk/blogs

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