Any cyclist who’s been through this or that knows very well that good tires and quality inner tubes can make all the difference in the world. I guess that’s also why neither comes cheap.
So, when you spot a sweet deal on tubes or tires online, it isn’t difficult to understand why the first thought that comes to mind is to stock up on them before everybody else does—and they sell out.
And then, as you hastily fill your cart with spares and send your mouse racing toward the “Buy” button, it strikes you that you have no clue at all about how long bike tires and inner tubes last in storage.
Properly stored, bike tires and inner tubes last for 4 to 6 years. Store unmounted bike tires on wall hooks in your garage and keep unused inner tubes in a drawer, preferably in the cardboard box they came in.
Your tires are the only thing that’s touching the ground when you’re riding. If you want it to stay this way, keep a small supply of spares on hand and throw away (or repurpose) any old tires or inner tubes you suspect are on their last legs.
In this post, we will talk about the five factors that degrade unused bike tires and spare inner tubes slowly but surely—and the storage techniques that you can use to keep your spare tires in mint condition so they’re ready to mount when you need them.
The Five Factors that Cause Bicycle Tires to Degrage
The older your bike’s tires get, the less traction and poorer wear resistance they have. Eventually, they reach a point where they’re likely to let you down when you need them the most, whether that’s landing after a jump on your mountain bike or taking a steep turn in the countryside on your road bike.
Let’s take a look at the main reasons why this happens, and what this tells us for your spares’ lifespan.
Oxygen Breaks Down Rubber
Many riders find it surprising that air—the very thing we inflate our tires with when mounting them on the rims—is also what wears them out the most during storage.
The first (and perhaps most surprising) factor that majorly impacts how long a tire will last in storage is how aerated your storage space is. The United Tires Library, as a matter of fact, lists oxygen as the number one killer of stored tires.
Over time, oxygen breaks down rubber, the main material in tires, inside and out. Dated bike tires can dry out, crack, and become unusable over time partly due to oxygen exposure and the oxidation that results from it.
Store tires in a well-ventilated, but not over-ventilated, space. Wrap inner tubes tightly in a bag to protect them from oxidation.
Ozone Dries Out Tires, Causing Cracks
Ozone is another factor that negatively impacts the long-term health of a tire in storage. Contrary to popular belief, ozone concentrations are actually higher in rural areas than they are in big cities (this is known as “the ozone paradox”).
Tire manufacturers use antiozonants and waxes to fend off damage from ozone, but if not taken care of, the wax disappears from the surface, leaving the rubber brittle and vulnerable to cracking.
Your bike tires are more likely to sustain irreparable cracks when stored near motors, generators, furnaces, and hot pipes. Anything that produces an electric current or heat effectively contributes to the creation of ozone.
Don’t put your tires next to your ozone air purifier (but you already knew that).
UV Light Breaks Down the Chemicals in the Tire
Another producer of ozone, UV light—basically, electromagnetic radiation from the good old sun—can affect stored tires in many ways. The most serious is that it destroys elasticity and flexibility, the two qualities that make tires so useful.
Direct sun exposure can also shrink tires, which is why you might find your brand-new tires don’t fit all of a sudden if you leave them outside. Lastly, like most other tire killers, UV radiation can also cause cracks, sometimes rendering a tire unusable.
With all that being said, it’s best not to store bike tires outside or near a window, even for a short time. Artificial light also emits UV radiation, so a lights-out policy is preferable for long-term storage.
In other words, it’s best to mount your tire hooks next to but not facing the windows.
Heat Damages the Rubber
Fluctuating temperatures cause the pressure inside your bike tires to change. Heat agitates the air molecules inside a tire, causing it to expand. Conversely, cold air reduces molecular activity and causes tires to contract.
While neither of these is particularly damaging by itself, the constant hot and cold cycle, the expansion and contraction, stresses a tire out and causes it to lose pressure.
The damage goes beyond the need for a quick top-up, though.
Tires stressed in such a way will tend to be under-inflated or lose their pressure more quickly when riding. Of course, under-inflated tires make the going rougher and aren’t as safe as tires with a proper PSI.
For the best storage life, bike tires should be stored at a temperature below 60°F (15°C).
High Humidity Causes Tires to Swell
Another factor impacting how long a bike tire will last in storage is the humidity. More humidity means more condensation on the affected tire.
While most rubber tires are coated with some level of protectant to fend off damages of this kind, the rubber itself will absorb moisture, leading to deformation and warping.
Higher humidity levels in states like Florida, California, and Texas mean that a bike tire will not last very long if left in a garage.
Worse yet, liquid condensation can produce ozone, which makes this particular storage hazard more detrimental to a bike tire’s storage lifespan.
Bike tires stored in sheds or near bodies of water are particularly susceptible to damage via humidity. Hanging tires vertically off the ground can eliminate the concern of humidity in the form of moisture on the ground getting to your tires.
How to Store Your Bike Tires for Best Longevity
With all these risk factors that can make your tire unusable in as little as a year or two, it’s important to consider the ideal conditions that impact a bike tires’ lifespan. Preparing your bike tires for storage is essential.
A quick clean of any grime or grit using a tire brush using water (no soap needed) ensures that it’s clean and ready for use when you take it back out. Just make sure it’s fully dried before storage.
Store your bike and your unmounted tires on wall mounts in a cool and dry place, not facing any windows and at least a few feet from appliances like the fridge and freezer, which push out a lot of heat from the back.
Bike tires will last much longer if you rotate their position and give them a good flexing once a month to avoid deformation. This is easy to forget, so set a reminder on your phone or a recurring event in your calendar and you should be good.
Keep inner tubes away from the windowsill and store them in a closed cupboard instead. If you live in an apartment in the city, the pantry or the cupboard where you keep your cleaning supplies are two of the best storage options.
With tender loving care, unmounted bike tires can generally be stored for up to 6 years before they need to be thrown away. So says Schwalbe Tires’ website. (And if you haven’t used them up by then, you probably have to ride more!)
Bike tires can last for years when stored under the right conditions. Good preparatory practices, maintenance, and careful selection of storage environment all positively affect how long a bike tire can last.
Temperature fluctuations, humidity, and sunlight are all factors that can quickly render a bike tire unusable through cracking, under-inflation, and embrittlement.
Bike tires stored in such unsafe conditions can be a hazard to the rider, so it’s always important to check tires carefully for cracks or brittleness before riding.