Flat Tire Defender Downhill Kit

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Does It Really Prevent Pinch Flats? Vital Tests the Flat Tire Defender
Vital Review
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Iposted a Vital MTB forum thread in May of 2014 asking "Why are flat tires something we still see these days?" Some riders were plagued by the typical race-robbing issues of pinch flats at the first two World Cup DH events. "We have $10,000 bikes but we can't keep air in the tires if they're hit just right?" I was frustrated and I'm not even a racer getting hosed or a team sponsor watching tens of thousands of dollars go down the drain on a single race effort.

Lo and behold, industry-leading tire designer and tester, Frank Stacy, was already on the case. Frank is the lead man behind some of the most successful tire designs of modern mountain biking and knew all-too-well, the problem of flat tires in racing. A solution had to be light, effective and easy to use. Inspired by Michelin's anti-flat Bib-mousse foam tubes found in off-road motorcycle racing, Frank began deconstructing existing moto products to make them fit a tubeless mountain bike application. The idea on paper is pretty simple; prior to tire installation, a circular foam ring is inserted snugly around the rim. The valve stem passes through the insert, the tire is mounted, sealant added, the tire is inflated and there ya go, you have an added layer of pinch flat protection and even vibration damping. The production-ready execution, however? Not as simple as you might think.

Aaron Gwin discusses the Flat Tire Defender

Frank spent years researching and testing a variety of different foam types to strike a balance between durability and protection while avoiding significant weight increases. The material, EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) was ultimately selected as the foam rubber of choice. Its properties allowed shaping (the cross-section of the Flat Tire Defender is not a perfect circle for a reason) and EPDM is available in a variety of durometers. Extensive testing with the professional athletes led Frank to develop successful prototype versions of the FTD. Tracy Moseley won the EWS series on the FTD inserts in 2015, Laurie Greenland won Jr. World Champs DH on them in 2015 and in 2016, Aaron Gwin used the foam inserts to clinch the World Cup overall. Frank and the riders kept these things a secret, right under our noses.

Gwin's exploded wheel from World Champs in 2016 with the Flat Tire Defender hanging out. This was in the Vital slideshow and no one commented.

Gwin explains why he had to have FTD all to himself in 2016 and what happened at World Champs

Frank and Aaron worked together exclusively in 2016. Gwin had actually started on the journey of deconstructing Bib-mousse moto tubes on his own when Frank saved him the painful journey of experimentation. Frank had obviously proven the idea of the product with other riders the year earlier, and Aaron was on board to run the FTD inserts. Aaron freely admits that he did not want any other riders to have the FTD advantage in 2016, which was part of the agreement he and Frank had if they were to push to product to production. The two worked together to arrive at the the product we now see in production and since the FTD is publicly available, Gwin's exclusivity goes away.

Brook MacDonald from Vital's G-Out Project gallery at the 2015 Lenzerheide World Cup. FTD is in there, but none of us knew.

So you may see the World Champs wheel pic above and want to smugly comment that "the insert didn't help", but Aaron explains that the FTD performed as it should. Aaron struck a big rock, early in his run, damaging his rim. Despite the damage, he continued ride hard, with limited tire pressure, for a significant remainder of the track before striking the rim again, destroying the wheel. It's racing (World Champs no less) and things happen. Gwin believes without the insert, his run would have been over after the first rock strike.

That's Flat Tire Defender in a nutshell. During our time with Frank and Aaron at their product presentation, we were pretty excited about the testing history, as well as the relative simplicity of the product and its installation. Installation was not difficult, especially if you're already handling tubeless duties yourself. Frank has made sure each kit has all the pieces necessary for easy installation and the website is robust with tutorial videos if you need some help. Fred Robinson, our resident product smasher and experienced mechanic mounted up the FTD into both front and rear tires on his DH bike without hassle.

We were supposed to experience some on-trail pinch flat defense that day but weather was not on our side and muddy trails shut us down. Upon learning about this product, my memory instantly went back to the early 2000's and the T.H.E. Eliminator rim. It was an aluminum rim that used this idea of preventing the sidewalls from ever being pinched sharply thanks to a rounded, raised structure down the middle of the rim. The Eliminator was built up with additional aluminum creating bulge down the center with a thin rubber liner over the bulge. So imagine the photo below, but instead of the lightweight foam you see, the "filler" area was immovable, permanent and made out of aluminum with just enough material out of the way for the tire beads.

T.H.E.'s marketing was video of a rider going full pace into a parking block, "KAPING KAPING," and rolling on without a care in the world. No pinch flat, no destroyed wheel, no problems. I tried to find the video online, but couldn't. Long story, short, in the day of 4-ply Intense DH tires and extra thick tubes, it took 15 of the strongest humans on the planet, each with two tire levers to mount or remove a single tire, and lacing them wasn't exactly something any wheel builder wished to tackle. Exaggeration? A little, but you get the idea and T.H.E.'s Eliminator eventually disappeared.

If T.H.E. could smash the curb and live, the Flat Tire Defender should be able to, right? I told Fred about the old video and asked if he was ready to sprint his perfectly good DH wheels into cement for science. Game on.

Fred Robinson, Vital's product smasher, has run full force into various curbs at least 10 times with the Flat Tire Defender. His wheels are still in one piece and the tires never lost air. Fred may have lost a few years off his life with the stress of each curb-smash, however.

After a handful of high-speed smashes into an every-day curb, the wheels were still round and the tires hadn't lost air. Frank and Gwin looked on slack-jawed after the first smash seeing Fred went back for more. This was not what they were expecting when we came to test the FTD. If there was ever a fairly legitimate parking lot test, this was it and the product passed. Initial impressions are one thing but we wanted to spend some time on real downhill trails with the Flat Tire Defender before releasing our findings to you. Fred's on-trail experience with the inserts can be read below. -spomer

Aaron Gwin and Frank Stacy.

Flat Tire Defender Features

  • Foam rubber polymer construction
  • Closed cell foam to prevent sealant absorption
  • High impact // high-density material
  • 100% airless insert
  • Kit includes foam insert, tubeless valve, installation Zip Ties, and FTD stickers
  • Weight: 290g (tested)
  • 28-34mm inner rim width (DH 27.5 kit)
  • Recommended tire pressure: 24-32PSI
  • Recommended tire size: 27.5x2.30/2.50”
  • Enduro and Trail 26 // 27.5 // 29”, Downhill 26”, Plus and E-Bike kits also available
  • MSRP: $121.50 USD (Downhill 27.5 Kit)

Flat Tire Defender on the Trails

Review by Fred Robinson

Initial Impressions

The FTD insert looks pretty basic at first glance. It’s a black, tubular foam donut, not much to it, right? Despite the R&D story we heard at the product launch, we were wondering if we could we just run down to Home Depot and grab some foam insulation or a pool noodle to make a similar product. It's doubtful, but stay tuned for our up-coming Tire Insert Face Off where we might just try.

The FTD kit includes two tire inserts, two tubeless valves, multiple valve gaskets to fit various rim shapes, as well as two heavy-duty Zip Ties and some stickers. Installation was surprisingly straightforward. With one side of the tire bead on the rim and the valve stem installed, the FTD insert can be stretched around the rim (with the seam opposite the valve) quite easily. A quick run of your fingers under the insert helps ensure it’s seated in the rim bed properly before getting the other bead on the rim. We were able to get the tire mounted without the need for the Zip Ties or tire levers. Sealant, which is still recommended, can be added two different ways: either remove the valve core and inject the sealant or add it before the second bead is completely mounted. We used the recommended 1.5-scoops of sealant to the system.

Here’s Aaron Gwin’s mechanic, John Hall, demonstrating how to install the FTD system.

Flat Tire Defender recommends starting at your normal pressures, which is what we did. Airing our tires up to 32 PSI rear and 29 PSI front with a floor pump had the beads popping into place no problem. Once everything was seated and in place, it was time to see if these inserts would allow for maximum smashability on the big bike.

Quick Tip: If you’re struggling at this point, go around the tire with your hands, squeezing the sidewalls to get the bead “under” the insert. This should help the tire bead seat properly.

On The Trail // First Ride Impressions

As you may have seen from our Instagram feed, we held no reservations when it came to seeing how much we could really throw at these tire inserts. From full-on curb smashes to charging rock gardens with little regard for line choice, we were impressed with the performance of the Flat Tire Defender system. We primarily rode the FTD inserts at our normal tubeless pressure, 29 PSI front, 32 PSI rear. At these pressures, we noticed no difference in overall traction from our typical setup.

. Thankfully, and likely due to the FTD inserts, our carbon rims suffered no damage and our tires held air perfectly on the type of hit we’d expect potential failure.

At 290g (0.64 LBS // tested) per insert, the FTD system is no welterweight and tips the scales roughly at what a Maxxis Freeride tube does. With the addition of tire sealant (we used a scoop and a half), any weight savings by running a tubeless setup is negated. That said, we only noticed the difference in weight, which is roughly 1.30-pounds (580g), while pedaling up to speed from a dead stop. Where we did feel the FTD system was when things got rough. On our maiden lap aboard the FTD system, we botched a line off a jump which had a large rock protruding from the right side of the lip. We felt the impact as we took off, which almost sent us over the bars, and we hit that rock hard. Thankfully, and likely due to the FTD inserts, our carbon rims suffered no damage and our tires held air perfectly on the type of hit you’d expect some kind of failure.

Flat tire defense aside, what we were most impressed with regarding the FTD system was their performance in rough rock gardens. Aaron Gwin spent a lot of time discussing how the system helps dampen vibrations from the trail that make their way to your hands and feet. And, we have to agree, this is by far the biggest advantage we found with the FTD system, as it tends to take the sting off those sharp impacts. For reference, we rode the FTD system on a carbon bike, with carbon bars, carbon rims, and even carbon cranks, all of which should help reduce the feedback from rough sections. Even with all that plastic, we felt a big difference when it came to plowing through those rough sections with the FTD insert equipped, and true to form, the inserts took a lot of the feedback out of those consecutive square-edged hits. For those of you who suffer from hand and foot fatigue, this product could be a game changer.

We did experiment a bit with dropping the pressure lower than our normal setup. Typically, anything lower than our normal pressure results in a fair amount of tire roll when cornering hard. The folks at Flat Tire Defender let us know that their inserts help stabilize the sidewall of tires, and we could get away with dropping pressures a bit while maintaining a solid-feeling tire. We tested their claim by dropping the tire pressure in 2 PSI increments and sessioning the same two sections of trail - a berm section with six consecutive turns and a rock section comprised of two separate rock gardens (one you plow through and the other you can gap).

Dropping from 32 PSI rear and 29 PSI front to 30 / 27 and hitting both sections, we honestly didn’t really notice a huge difference; the tires didn’t roll in the corners nor did they ping any rocks. Dropping further to 28 / 26 PSI, we did notice a slight increase in rolling resistance and maybe a bit of extra cornering traction, yet the tires still held their shape without any real negative side effects. Sub-26 PSI front and rear is when we started to feel our tires bottoming out in the rocks. We were purposely shorting the section we’d typically jump over and landing directly into the rocks, and despite feeling the tires bottom out, no rim damage occurred.

Even so, at this point (for the sake of our rims) we reserved any lower pressure testing to cornering only. Pushing the envelope, we were able to drop all the way down to 19 PSI rear and 17 PSI front. While these pressures were far too low to actually ride in a typical scenario, for the sake of testing whether the inserts would hold the bead, we gave it a shot. And, despite some mega-sketchy tire roll, the system did not burp an ounce of fluid.

That said, even though you can get away with far lower pressures than you’d typically run, we found the system to be most beneficial running our normal pressures or within 2-3 PSI of those settings.

When it came time to dismount the FTD inserts there was a bit of a learning curve. The first tire took us a good 30 minutes of struggling and cursing to remove. But, after we calmed down and collected ourselves, and actually thought about how to remove the next tire effectively, here's what we came up with: Deflate the tire like normal and unscrew the valve's retaining ring. This allows you to push the valve into the rim, which lifts the FTD insert out of the rim bed. With the valve pushing the insert up, break the tire bead at that point first. Once you get the bead unseated, the rest of the job is pretty standard practice, and we were able to pop the second tire off in less than a minute.

Things That Could Be Improved

While we love being able to ride with less regard to damaging critical components on our bike, there’s always going to be a penalty of some sort. In the case of the Flat Tire Defender system, that penalty is added rotational weight. At 290g (0.64 LBS) each, you’re adding over a pound of weight in one of the most critical areas of your bike. On a DH bike, this is somewhat less of a concern being that the advantages outweigh (pardon the pun) the penalty of the FTD system. But, for those of you interested in running this product on your trail or enduro bikes, the weight penalty should be considered.

What’s The Bottom Line?

To sum up our time on the Flat Tire Defender system, we’ll simply say the system will be staying on our downhill bike, for sure. The difference in handling rough sections alone was enough for us. After all, that’s what downhill bikes are designed for - charging the roughest terrain out there, as fast as possible. And, if that’s your main goal, the FTD system definitely aids in that practice; not to mention the benefit of additional flat protection and sidewall reinforcement.

We have to admit to a bit of sticker shock when we were told the FTD system costs $121.50, but after stacking it up against similar products, the FTD inserts are about middle of the road. And, when you consider them as a little extra insurance when it comes time to plop down the cash for your next race entry fee, that price tag is far less hard to swallow.

Is the system without flaw? No. It does add rotational weight and it does have limits which we all saw during Aaron Gwin’s 2016 World Champs run. While the system may not be 100% bombproof, it is an improvement over a standard tubeless setup considering the abuse you can throw at it. Additionally, the improvement in vibration damping can’t be ignored and we’d recommend this system to anyone who suffers from hand and foot fatigue, as well as gravity racers up against the clock.

For more information, visit www.flattiredefender.com


Post a reply to: Does It Really Prevent Pinch Flats? Vital Tests the Flat Tire De

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In reply to by erik saunders

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Flat Tire Defender Downhill Kit
Flat Prevention/Insert
Pinch flat protection
Allows lower tire pressure
Minimizes tire & rim damage
Minimizes tire sidewall roll over
Tubeless & tube type application
Foam Insert is airless
Reduces vibration created by wheel assembly
Inspired by motorcycle off road technology
Fits modern day wide rim & popular tire brands
Race proven & developed by professional athletes
28-34mm internal rim width
Recommended tire size: 27.5 x 2.3-2.5"
Recommended tire pressure: Range from 24psi to 32psi
1 lb 4.5 oz (580 g)
*Listed weight for both inserts combined (290g each, tested)
What do you think?
Where To Buy
Free shipping on orders over $50 (continental U.S. only).
International shipping available. Some exclusions apply.
Free shipping on orders over $50 (continental U.S. only).
International shipping available. Some exclusions apply.
Tubeless & Flat Prevention

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