Rim tape is an often overlooked (and inexpensive) piece of bicycling equipment, but it’s essential for protecting against flat tires.
The purpose of rim tape is to protect the bicycle wheel’s inner tube from spoke holes, which will puncture the tube if exposed inside the rim. Faulty rim tape will cause recurring flats, so it’s something to look at when diagnosing the cause of flat tires. In addition, rim tape that’s too wide or thick will make tires more challenging -- and sometimes impossible -- to mount properly. If you have ever broken tire levers when attempting to mount a tire on a wheel, you know what we’re talking about!
The rim tape shown in this photo is worn and needs to be replaced. (Photo courtesy of Park Tool.)
Rim tape is available in a variety of materials (usually rubber, adhesive cloth, or tough plastic), and it comes in various widths and diameters to fit different wheel sizes. It’s also inexpensive to purchase -- about $2–6 per wheel. Most new wheels come with rim tape that’s the right type and size, and your local bike shop will ensure that the rim tape is appropriate for your new wheels.
Here’s what you need to know about rim tape:
Most bike racers and other performance-oriented riders prefer lighter-weight rim tape, but it still needs to be durable enough to protect the inner tube.
Rim tape needs to be installed properly within the rim cavity to cover all the wheel’s interior spoke holes and sharp metal edges. Otherwise, these sharp edges will puncture the inner tube.
Rim tape needs to the correct type and size to fit the rim snugly so it doesn’t slip when replacing a tube or mounting a tire. Otherwise, it could cause flats.
Rim tape also needs to be the appropriate thickness to fit within your rim cavity and still allow space for the tire. If the rim tape is too thick and heavy, it might be impossible to mount a tire on the rim.
If installed properly, rim tape often lasts for the wheel’s lifetime. But the rim tape will need to be replaced if it’s causing problems.
If you experience a rapid series of flat tires or your tires are almost impossible to mount, consider whether your rim tape might be causing these issues. As always, the service staff at your local bike shop are available for assistance and advice on rim tape and other technical issues.