You Can Ride a Bike With a Flat Tire, But You Shouldn’t

Whether you’re far from home on a recreational ride or riding your bike on your commute to work, getting a flat tire is a huge inconvenience. Depending on where you are, it could potentially be dangerous.

It may also leave you wondering, “Can I ride my bike with a flat tire?” How bad is it to ride a bike with a flat tire? Let’s answer those questions and provide you with some of the pros and cons of riding with a flat.

A mountain bike with a flat rear tire leaning against a concrete wall

Can you ride a bike with a flat tire?

Technically, you can ride your bike with a flat tire. At least for a little while. But you really shouldn’t. The only circumstances under which it’s acceptable to ride a bike with a flat tire are the following:

  1. You have absolutely no other choice to protect your safety. However, remember that you almost always have the option of getting off the bike and walking it with you.
  2. The tire is only a little bit flat, or just has a slow leak. Even so, you’ll find it more difficult to pedal and run a risk of poor tire performance, which can cause a severe accident.

How bad is it to ride a bike with a flat tire?

Bike lying on a dirt road several metres from a backpack after an apparent wipeout

We won’t mince words: It’s pretty bad. You risk serious damage to yourself and your bicycle.

Riding a bike on a flat tire puts you in harm’s way because the flat can worsen in any number of ways. You might not be expecting it when it happens, and you’re likely to fall off of the bike. Any fall risks injury.

You can also be injured in other ways, because your body will try to compensate for the flat tire. Bad form in cycling, even for a short distance, can strain your muscles and tendons in a way that does significant damage.

It’s also quite stressful to ride under the constant threat of a fall. Stress is bad for you, too.

Riding with a flat tire can damage your bike

You are almost certain to do some damage to your bike. Remember, the tire is not the same thing as the wheel. Without fully and properly inflated tires, the wheel, rim and all their parts are entirely unprotected and can easily become damaged. The strain and pressure, as well as the bike sitting improperly, can cause the bike to bend or break in a number of other places.

Ultimately, riding with a flat tire is a risk to yourself, your bike and potentially your wallet.

Alternatives to riding with a flat tire

Cyclist fixing his flat tire at the side of the road
If you learn basic tire repair and carry the right tools, you can be on your way in minutes. (© tps12 | Creative Commons)

The best alternative is to always be prepared to do a quick repair on the road. Carry a bike pump and spare tube or a repair kit every time you ride—and know how to use them.

Some automotive clubs such as Better World offer 24/7 roadside assistance for stranded cyclists as a small upgrade on their motorist assistance programs. That’s peace of mind for less than $20 per year, and they operate across the U.S.

We know of some cyclists who carry a pair of rollerblades in their packs, just in case. It’s extra weight, but could certainly get you back to civilization faster than you’d get there walking.

If you’re stuck out there with a flat right now, and haven’t taken any of these proactive steps, then your options are to walk home with your bike or call a taxi. The latter will, of course, cost you some money. When you call, make sure you check that they have some way to carry your bike. If they don’t, they should be able to summon a car or taxi company that can.

Image at top: © Andrew Magill | Creative Commons