Anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle knows the pains of riding and all of a sudden, realizing that the ride feels a little less smooth because one of the tubes in their tire has gone flat.
This happens frequently which causes many of us to ask, well, what is the average lifespan of a Bike inner tube?
With proper maintenance and storage, bicycle inner tubes have been reported to last up to 15 years, and the shortest lifespan reported is less than 7 days. Common factors that determine the life span of a bike tube include storage, temperature, heat, light, exposure to elements and riding conditions.
While every tube will last a different length of time, there are many things we can do to extend the life expectancy of our bicycle tubes. Here are a few elements to consider in greater depth.
How Long will My Inner Tube Actually Last?
The very obvious answer is it will depend. There is no science or math equation to tell you exactly how long a bike tube will last, but there are many variables that will either lengthen or shorten your bike tubes life span.
In my personal experience, in good riding conditions, a bike tube will last for a few years. In conditions that are rougher, you will probably need to replace or at least repair your bike tube every 1-3 months.
I have even had a freak accident where I hit a rock and had to replace my tube after a week!
This is probably the number one reason a bicycle tube will last forever or only for a week. The fact of the matter is, rough terrain is the main cause of flats in bicycle tires. Especially tires on road/ racing bikes.
Road bikes are extremely prone to flats because of the size of the tire compared to the size of the rider. Since the tire is so thin, when I rider hits a stone or something sharp, there is a large chance that the tire will pop.
Other than the weight of the rider is the high pressure of the tube. A road bike tube will typically be inflated between 100-110 psi. A tube with that much pressure does not "squish" around an object that you run over. It will ride right over it, often times resulting in a punctured tube.
The bike I use to commute is a road style bike, and I see it time and time again. The route I take to work is quite rough. Quite a bit of gravel and other objects are strewn in the bike lane, causing me to swerve around slightly in order to save my tires.
More professional riders will often judge the lifespan of their bike tubes using distances rather than days or years. Many cyclists say that often times they will get around 1000 miles out of the rear inner tube while getting about 3000 miles out of their front inner tube.
This is very true, there is more pressure and wear on a rear tire than a front tire.
Mountain/Off road Bikes
Mountain bikes have similar but different issues surrounding the life expectancy of their bike tubes.
Mountain bike tubes are inflated to a much lower pressure than a road bike would be. Most mountain bikes will be inflated to 40-50 psi. This allows for the tire to "squish" over objects rather than maintaining its form which would cause a flat.
The main cause of a mountain bike flat tire is probably nails, glass or tough prickly weeds.
There is a product that I LOVE that I have put into my mountain bike that protects my inner tubes from almost all sharp objects.
It is the Slime brand bike tire protective liner. Since I have put these liners in my tires, the number of flats I have, have decreased drastically. I honestly would recommend these to anyone with a mountain bike. It is a relatively small investment for a great return.
Here is a link so you can check these Slime protective liners out on Amazon!
Storage Effect on Inner Tube Lifespan
When storing your bike, you have to remember that over time, the inner tubes will naturally deflate. Now just because they deflate slowly doesn't mean they are not good anymore. You will probably just have to inflate them more frequently.
You [probably see that when you store your bike between riding seasons that the tubes will be flat or soft by the time you pull it out for the next season. This is common.
If you ride just for fun, you can simply inflate them and hit the road. If you are more serious in your riding, this could potentially affect your ride.
Just replace the tubes at the beginning of each season. It isn't worth it to get a flat on your first ride.
When storing your bike, extreme temperatures can cause problems. If it is very hot and dry, you will find that your tube has become somewhat brittle and dry. If you try to inflate it, more than likely it will pop, or it will pop once you begin to ride.
The same thing will happen if there are extremely cold conditions. Your tubes will become brittle and weak.
If you see that your tube is dry and cracked, just replace it. It will save a lot of annoyance later.
A way you can tell if your bike tube could possibly be brittle is by checking the side wall of the outer tire rubber. More than likely if you see that the outer rubber has started to crack, you can know that the tube will start to do the same.
The outer rubber does serve as a protection, but only for so long.
Light can also affect the life of your bike tube. Especially when stored for a long time. A properly stored bike should be in a cool, dark place with low humidity. Light can also cause brittle and weak tubes.
Again, use the outer rubber of the tire to gauge if there could possibly be a weakness of the inner tube.
After long periods of storage, it is important to always check the integrity of the bike tubes before you ride.
Exposure to the Elements Shortening Inner Tube Lifespan
One of the hardest things on a bike is for it to be left outside, exposed to the elements. Not only does this harm the inner tubes of the bike, but it will also damage many other extremely important mechanics of the bike.
Leaving your bike outside for a short period of time will probably not hurt your bike too much, but it all depends on the weather.
Recently I moved to an area where I did not have inside storage for my bicycles anymore. I moved in the middle of the winter and unfortunately had to store my bikes outside for a period of time.
During those few months, we had a lot of snow and in the springtime, it rained. A lot. When I got around to fixing my bike up for riding, both of my inner tubes had gone flat. I was concerned that they had become brittle because the side wall of the outer rubber had started to crack.
I inflated the tubes and they both still held air.
Now I'm not suggesting that you leave your bikes outside. I had to de-rust my chain and do a lot of extra maintenance but at least the inner tubes had survived.
The best case scenario is to store your bike in a cool, dry place where the temperature won't change too much.
More than likely a garage will work pretty well, especially if it is connected to the rest of the house.
The temperature from inside the house will generally be pretty close to the temperature in the garage.
Extending Inner Tube Lifespan
Something to always remember if you don't want to spend money on new tubes every time you get a leak is to make use of a repair kit! In many instances, you can repair a small leak with a simple and cheap patch.
If you would like to see my recommendation for a great repair kit, check out my recommendations page here!
Another great way to protect your tires is by hanging the bike on hooks from the ceiling. If a bike sits too long and the tires are deflated, the rubber and the tube can crease and deform over time, causing weakness once the tire is once again inflated.
All of these things will increase the likelihood of your inner tubes lasting longer than average! But in my honest opinion, a bike tube is like what? 5-10 bucks. It's probably worth it to replace your tube if you are unsure of the quality of your bike tube.