A lot has changed since I posted “How I Eliminated Bicycle Flat Tires Forever!” While the methods I outlined in that post still work well today, there have been a lot of improvements in technology since then. Mavic’s introduction of the road Universal System Tubeless (UST) is perhaps the most important.
I remember eagerly buying a set of Shimano Ultegra wheels that used the UST standard when they were first released. Sadly, the wheelset sat unused in my basement for years because I couldn’t find suitable UST road tires to use with them. Luckily, a lot has changed since then. Now there are dozens of high quality, fast rolling tubeless ready tires for road riders.
Today, ignorance is bliss when it comes to punctures. I never even know I got a puncture until I get home and see signs of sealant on the outside of my tire. In addition, tubeless tires have eliminated the low pressure snake bite type flat. This is great news for touring bike riders. Now when I encounter bad roads or rough chip seal surfaces I can drop the tire pressure and ride in comfort. While upgrading to tubeless wheels and tires may be a bit costly, it is a good investment in reliability, comfort and performance.
1. Locate the puncture. Assuming that you have already removed the tube, inspect it and locate the puncture. It can usually be found easily by pumping air into the tube to find where the air escaping. However, slow leaks can be a little more difficult to find. In those cases, inflate the tube and submerge it in water and watch for the escaping air bublle.
2. Prepare the tube. Use the tire rasp, to remove the outside coat on the tube. This coating is used in the manufacturing process to keep the tube from sticking to the mold. Unfortunately, this coating will also keep a patch from adhering to the tube. Prepared an area larger than the patch. If your tube has seams that will interfere with gluing the patch to the tube, they can be shaved off with a disposable razor. Note: If your patch aren’t sticking, it is most likely because this coating was not removed.
3. Apply the glue. Apply and work the glue evenly into the surface of the tube. While it may sound counterintuitive, in many cases the glue need to dry (no longer tacky) before applying the patch. So check the instructions for your rubber vulcanizing cement before hand. Here again, the area with glue should be larger than the patch.
4. Apply the patch. Press the patch onto the tube and hold it in place. Use the tire/tube stitcher tool to apply pressure to remove air bubbles under the patch while taking care to ensure the edges are firmly attached as it vulcanizes and cures. Don’t worry about the clear plastic film on the top of the patch, just leave it in place.
5. Check you work. Give the patch time for the vulcanization to cure. Generally, I leave them overnight. Inflate the tube and check for leaks. If it holds air you now have a spare tube.
1. Tire/Tube Rasp – The rasp can be as simple as a small piece of sandpaper or a tool made specifically for flat repairs. The rasp is necessary to remove the outer coating of the tube that is applied to keep the tube from sticking to mold in the manufacture process.
2. Disposable razor (optional) – Useful to shave any seams on the tube created during the manufacturing process that might interfere with the patch adhering to the tube surface.
3. Rubber Vulcanizing Cement – A special cement needed for gluing the patch to the tube.
4. Patches – Not all patches are of equal quality. I prefer Rema patches and have had good success with them.
5. Tire/Tube Stitcher Tool – Similar to the rasp, the stitcher tool can be any hard object like a coin or a tool made specifically for flat repairs. The stitcher is useful to help remove air bubble under the patch by providing pressure on the patch as it vulcanizes and cures.
You can find the items mention above by clicking on each below.
I am always surprise to see riders trash bicycle tubes after a puncture. A properly patched tube is just as reliable as a new tube. I can recall my son asking me if I didn’t think it was time to replace the tube, after seeing a tube I had been using and patching for years that had perhaps a dozen patches on it. The truth is, that I never considered replacing the it. Why would I? It was still a good tube!
In those days I never even carried a spare tube. I simply patched my flats by the side of the road and continue on my ride. However, since then I’ve learned the error of my ways. After getting flats in the rain or at night in an area with little light to make the repair, I now carry a spare tube so I can make a quick repair and take the punctured tube home to fix in my workshop.
The reason most riders don’t patch their tubes is because their patches fail. So, how do you patch a tube so it is a reliable spare? The first step is your patch kit. I’m not talking about the small patch kit you carry on a ride for emergencies. We’re talking a home workshop tube repair kit for making permanent reliable patches.
I’ve heard people say that a tube with Slime sealant can’t be patched. However, I can assure you that I have patched them.
You may be asking yourself, why did I need to repair a self-repairing tube? In one case, I punctured the tube during installation. While Slime should seal punctures up to 1/8″ (3mm) the puncture was larger, so I had to patch it.
I found that the secret to patching a tube with Slime is to completely remove all residual sealant from the outside of the tube with soap and water before patching the it.
Usually replacing a broken spoke isn’t a difficult task. That is, unless the offending spoke is a rear drive side spoke. In those cases, the rear cassette must be removed before the spoke can be replaced.
Unfortunately, removing the cassette requires a cassette lockring tool, wrench and chain whip. See Park Tool’s article Cassette Removal and Installation for more details.
Luckily, touring cyclists no longer need to carry shop tools or find themselves stranded with a broken rear drive side spoke thanks to a cool little tool from steintool.com called the Mini Cassette Lockring Driver. With it, a cassette lock ring can be easily removed and reinstalled without any other tools.
However, it took me a little time to understand how this unique tool works. So don’t wait until you need it to use it for the first time. Practice with the tool beforehand. The experience will be invaluable if you need to use it.
Unfortunately, most of today’s touring bikes don’t have kickstands. Even if you want to add one, you can’t on most bikes. Like it or not, there will come a time when you will have to lay your bike on the ground.
When that time comes, did you know that there is a right and wrong way to lay a bike on the ground? It’s true. A bicycle should always be placed drive-side up to reduce the chance of damaging the derailleurs.
While on the subject of tires, there is another safety feature I look for when considering new tires. That is reflective side walls. As a cyclist, I sometimes find it necessary to ride in low light conditions. Consequently, I’m always looking for anything that will help to make me more visible to drivers.
I find it reassuring to know that I can rely on the reflective quality of my tires without worrying about battery life or anything else. In fact, my tires probably provide a larger and brighter visible area to alert drivers of my presence on the road than poorly positioned or performing lights or blinkers. In addition, I feel like that they outperform both my front and back lights at catching a driver’s attention when I am crossing in front of a vehicle.
According to the latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics for 2015, “Regardless of season, the 6 p.m. to 8:59 p.m. time period had the highest percentage (compared to all other 3-hour periods) of pedalcyclist fatalities”. So, if my tires can help to keep me a little safer, it’s a no-brainer to have reflective tires on my bicycle.
Recently, I posted about adding sealant to my tubes to help eliminate flats (How I Eliminated Flat Tires Forever Part 3). However, adding sealant to a presta valve tube is easier said than done, especially, if the sealant uses particles to seal the puncture like Slime sealant. Consequently, I would recommend that the easiest and probably the least expensive solution is to simply purchase self-sealing tubes with the sealant already inside.
However, if you are a do-it-yourselfer like me then I would recommend using tubes with removable valve cores. The cores can easily be removed and the sealant injected directly into the tube, saving you a lot of time and headaches. Nevertheless, if you are on a tight budget and need to use your existing tubes without removable cores, the next best approach is to put a small hole in the tube, inject the sealant directly in the tube then patch the hole in the tube.
Finally, don’t added more sealant than necessary. For example, although an 8 oz. tube of slime bicycle sealant says that it is enough for two bicycle tubes, in reality that is overkill. Adding 4oz. of slime to each tube is probably unnecessary and just adding weight to the tube without improving flat protection. Check the slime calculator to find the optimal amount of sealant necessary.
Pinch Flats. Pinch flats are generally caused be under inflated tires. They happen when the tube is punctured by being pinched between the tire and rim. They are easy to spot because the puncture looks like a snake bite with two holes side by side on the tube. Although narrow tires have very high air pressure, they are more prone to getting pinch flats simply because they have a smaller cushion of air to protect the tube than wider tires.
I found that simply checking my tire pressure before each ride eliminates this type of flat for me and I haven’t had one in years. However, if you check your tire pressure regularly and continue to get pinch flats, you may have to change out your tires for wider ones.