Why do Boris Bikes hardly ever get punctures?

Have you ever wondered why cycle hire scheme bikes from around the world hardly ever get punctures? If you look closely at the tyres, you’ll find the answer. They tend to use Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres.

These tyres have a “five millimeter thick Smart Guard puncture protection belt made from special india rubber that in conjunction with the tread and carcass brings the total to almost a centimetre of material between the tube and road.”


The tyres also come with a 3M reflective strip that helps with side visibility. You’ll have noticed this if you’ve ever shone a bike light on a Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre. The benefits don’t stop there. The tyres also last absolutely ages and provide a safe grip on the road when you are cornering.

It’s pretty easy to see why they were chosen for London’s cycle hire bikes.

Not all is perfect

The main downside to the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres is the stiffness that makes them a pain to remove when you get a puncture. Something that anyone who’s used these tyres for a long time will attest to.

For road bikes

The road bike equivalent of the Marathon Plus tyre is the Schwalbe Durano Plus. These offers better rollability, which means it will glide across the road with less resistance.

If you are interested in bringing one of these two tyres to your bike, you can discover the size you need by looking at the side walls of your current tyre.


It’s not only about Schwalbe tyres of course and there are plenty of great alternatives out there. The Specialized Armadillo, Continental Gatorskin and Hutchinson Intensive tyres all offer good performance and puncture resistance.

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30 Responses to Why do Boris Bikes hardly ever get punctures?

  1. Andrew 16/10/2012 at 9:46 am #

    I have the 20″ version of these tyres on my folding commuter bike. They have deeper treads than the Dahon Rotolo tyres they replaced, offer far better grip in the wet, offer better puncture resistance and actually roll better, partly because they will take a higher PSI.

    They actually were pretty easy to get on, compared to the tyres on my road bike which gave me hefty blisters on both thumbs fighting to get them on the clincher rims.

    I’ve only been using the Marathons a couple of weeks, but so far very impressed.

    • Mick Beaman 12/06/2013 at 9:45 am #

      I have been using these for over six years now, including several tours. Probably around 20,000 miles in all. Two punctures. One due to overinflation and the other through a particularly pernicious thorn on a very old tyre. That is brilliant considering the mileage involved. But they are quite heavy.

  2. bob 16/10/2012 at 10:01 am #

    Been using Schwalbe marathon (not Plus) on my London commuter for a couple of years now. Solid tyre and I will not even bother trying anything else.

    Highly recommended and worth the money.

    Latest pair are 700 miles in, no puncture, tread still solid. My last pair ran for 2000 miles no puncture, tread still fine (but bike was stolen :-s or i would still be running them).

    A word of warning, do inspect them at least monthly as because they are so tough, you may be riding with thorns and shards of glass in the tread without even knowing!

  3. Filippo Erik Negroni 16/10/2012 at 10:05 am #

    In my experience, most tyres are puncture proof enough if well looked after, and the frequency of punctures seems to depend more on pot luck than any scientific advance in tyre technology.
    Having said that, Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus might be the only tyres scientifically proven to be almost indestructable.
    My recommendation is always to opt for a more supple ride than puncture resistance and assess over a period of time the frequency of punctures. If the particular route/road conditions/surface/maintenance schedule shows a propensity for punctures, then opt for a less supples but more resistant tyre.
    I just wish bicycle tyres weren’t so expensive so that we could all have a variety of tyres depending on weather/road condition and riding pleasure.

    • Gordon 31/12/2012 at 1:10 pm #

      a supple or tire with less than recommended pressure will always suffer from punctures as will thin cased tires like specialized own brand tires.

  4. zefrog 16/10/2012 at 10:16 am #

    I would dispute the “safe grip” assertion. Boris bikes get VERY squiddy (the back wheel) on wet ground if you break too sharply.

    • Clocycler 16/10/2012 at 2:42 pm #

      This skidding happens with most any tire and is a result of hard braking, not poor tire quality. When you apply your brakes, your body weight shifts forward. If you apply more brake on the rear while braking, the combination of less body weight and more brake pressure causes the tires to lose traction and skid. If you apply the front brake first, then use the back brake as needed, you are less likely to make the rear tire skid. Apply front brake first, shift weight back, and use the rear brake if more stopping power is needed.

      • k8 16/10/2012 at 10:06 pm #

        Yikes! this is not the recommended way to brake. If you brake front first you can just go over the handlebars. Brake rear first and you can go into a nasty skid.

        I always used to brake rear first and then front, which sometimes gave me heart thumping slidy moments. But after learning to apply both brakes at the same time, like squeezing toothpaste tube a la Bikeability, I have not had any such problems.

        • Will 17/10/2012 at 4:13 pm #

          Using the rear brake does nothing to reduce the likelihood going over the handle bars – it’s a myth taught to children (who have a tendency to grab a fist full of brake and hold it) which refuses to die out once we reach adulthood.

          The way to get the shortest stopping distance on a normal bike (barring exceptions such as icy roads or faulty brakes) is to use ONLY the front brake, applied hard enough that the rear wheel is almost leaving the ground. This might sound scary but it needn’t be. If you overdo it and the rear wheel starts to lift, it actually happens fairly slowly and the cure is to simply release the brakes slightly. This will drop the wheel straight back down without any major drama.

          There are only two situations when the rear brake is needed.

          The first is if there is a risk of the front wheel skidding, for example on icy/oily roads or if braking while cornering sharply (very bad idea btw). A front wheel skid is very hard to recover from and almost always results in a fall, whereas a rear wheel skid is much easier to control so the back brake should be used instead. Fortunately is almost impossible to lock the front wheel outside these two circumstances. Even in the wet, the rear wheel will start to lift before the front slides.

          The second is in event of a problem with your front brake. If you are riding towards a busy junction and the front brake cable goes “ping”, you’ll be very glad to have a secondary braking system to bring you to a halt.

        • Andrew Wilcox 19/10/2012 at 12:59 pm #

          Front brake first please.

        • Gordon 31/12/2012 at 1:17 pm #

          you should really use both at the same time and find a quiet spot to asses your own stopping ability (i.e. an empty car park to practice emergency stops)

  5. Simon Wilcox 16/10/2012 at 10:38 am #

    My hybrid came with Continental Contact tyres on it and I’ve ridden about 1,000 miles on them so far and they look as good as new. No punctures although now having said that I bet I get one on the way home !

  6. Ade 16/10/2012 at 10:53 am #

    I use the Marathon Supreme for touring and winter commuting. A tad more expensive but no punctures in nearly three years of use. I’ve just given in and put a new set on even though the old ones were still looking fairly good.

  7. Jason 16/10/2012 at 12:06 pm #

    I’ve not used marathon pluses myself but the view on some of the forums I’ve visited is that they are indeed as puncture proof as is possible but they lack grip in the wet compared to other tyres…and yeah, they are a pain to get on and off 🙂

    I used durano pluses on my hybrid after getting a bunch of punctures and they were excellent – I tried to get them for my road bike when I switched but as they were out of stock I tried some Vredestein Fortezza TriComp instead which got a good review on some cycling mag page I cant find now. They have less puncture resistance than the duranos and marathons but better wet weather grip.

    So far they’re been good on the 1000 miles I’ve had them but the real test is coming up as wet winter weather seems to make the roads fill up with crap.

    Whatever you use you need to make sure the tyres are pumped up to the proper pressure – else no matter what tyre you have you’ll end up at the side of the road in the rain and dark cursing everything and everything 😉

    • Jason 31/12/2012 at 12:53 pm #

      …so I’ve had 3 punctures over the last 3 weeks…might go back to the Durano pluses soon 🙂

      • Jason 02/01/2013 at 1:15 pm #

        make that 4 – happy new year to you too!!

        counting down the days till the durano’s arrive…;)

  8. Gizmo 16/10/2012 at 12:15 pm #

    They might not get punctures, but it’d be nice if they fitted valves that kept the air in a bit better. The number of bikes you check before hiring and the back tyre’s “floppy”…

    Tip: before releasing a bike, lift it a touch, grab a spoke and spin the wheel to see how freely it spins: should rotate for at least ten seconds on its own. (Be careful to get your fingers out of the way, of course). Then put it back down and lean sideways on the bike: if the rim pushes sideways relative to the tyre (like a jelly!) skip it and find another…

  9. gordon 16/10/2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I’ve been using continental gatorskins for a few years now and they’re great, just switched to the hardshell version, a little dearer but there’s a bit more rubber on them, both are fantastic in the wet or dry and I’m yet to get a puncture with either.

  10. gordon 18/10/2012 at 8:40 am #

    Also if you like marathon plus tires you should try Rubena stop thorn tires they are identical to the marathon plus but about £10 a tire cheaper.

  11. Iain 18/10/2012 at 9:40 am #

    The marathon plus on my hybrid’s back wheel has done 20000 miles without incident, it’s on its second bike, fourth wheel but the tyre itself continues… It’s getting a bit bald now, but still surprisingly grippy – the cheap tyres that came on both bikes as standard were amazingly lacking in grip, Marathon’s are nice and surefooted. Heavy bulletproof tyres might seem OTT, but there’s a lot of glass in London – with normal tyres I’ve had two punctures in two miles in the City… With the marathon plus you don’t have that worry when you hear it in the dark… Indeed I remember a bottle getting flicked out from the gutter by a rider in front, my front wheel flicked it round, the back crunched right through it – heavy hybrid and marathon plus tyres are London-proof! Oh and yes they are a pain to fit, by as you’ll fit them so irregularly, treat yourself and get the shop to do it!

  12. Jerry 18/10/2012 at 8:24 pm #

    Been using Marathon Plus for several years now with no punctures. Agree they’re almost indestructable, once on properly, and pretty sure-footed. In the narrower versions (say 700x25c) they are tricky to fit. I’ve blown several inner tubes by getting it pinched between the rim and tyre, until I saw this great video http://www.spacycles.co.uk/ It’s at the bottom of the Spa Cycles home page. “No smoke, no mirrors, no levers”.

  13. Paul B. 19/10/2012 at 10:56 am #

    I’ve been using Gatorskins on my hybrid & road bikes for a couple of years. No punctures until two months ago when I managed to get a half centimetre vertical cut in the sidewall of the front tyre. Haven’t a clue how that happened but, obviously, had to scrap the tyre.

  14. dave 19/10/2012 at 11:50 am #

    I have had swalbe marathons on my Brompton from new, I have worn out one back Tyre in the 5 years i have owned it and NEVER had a puncture, commuting daily on London’s worst. I won’t use anything else, now!

  15. Andrew Wilcox 19/10/2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Tip (based on one experience): If you can’t get the Boris bike back into its rack. You may have a flat front tyre ( I didn’t notice). Lift to insert successfully and press the red button.

  16. Jeremy 19/10/2012 at 2:14 pm #

    I am a fan of marathon plus after a run of punctures on my hybrid. Wrestling for two hours putting a tyre on a wheel builds a special bond! When I wanted to try a lighter tyre on my road bike, I decided it was easier to get new wheels rather than just swap the tyres.

  17. Shaumik 20/10/2012 at 12:07 am #

    Many years of using specialized armadillo which were very good

    When tyres worn out I switched to marathon – good but they are REALLY heavy. And rotating weight is the worst to kill speed.

    Just bought a brompton with schwalbe kojaks – nearly half the weight but still have puncture gurd system (though clearly not as heavy duty as marathon)

    Finally tread is apparently useless (makes no difference in the wet on roads that is, unless doing 100mph!) on bicycle tyres – see Sheldon Brown on the issue

  18. iain 23/10/2012 at 11:58 am #

    They’re not “Boris” Bikes, they’re actual “Ken” bikes, it was his idea, his hard work highjacked by Johnson again.

  19. Mikey 05/03/2013 at 8:37 pm #

    I’ve been running MArathon plus tyres on my hybrid for over 6 months now with no punctures 🙂 Touch wood!

  20. Kie7077 28/06/2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Lea Valley Canal gravel path will puncture almost all but the chunkiest of tyres.

    I’ve used armadillos, I didn’t think they wear too well – sidewall too weak, Gatorskins, hardskins, tuffy tape + hardskins, fully pumped up.

    Still got punctures, some of the little bits of flint-like stone are arrow-shaped, they’d stick into the tyre and then get forced further and further in until the tyre gets a puncture.

    Cycling on the roads now so have ditched puncture proofs and gone with race tyres 🙂

    It’s where you ride that causes punctures.

    Best thing to do is blow your tyres up to the max and replace them when they’re worn.

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