Prepping for the Puncture Season (and a cool PDW pump)

With spring on the way here in our neck of the woods, the potential for punctures will soon increase exponentially. It’s at this time of year that I take my annual look at the saddle pouches on each of our bikes to be sure we have everything we need to repair a flat or take care of minor repairs on the side of the road. This is the basic kit we carry on each of our bikes:

  • Multi-tool
  • Tire irons
  • Patch kit
  • Mini pump
  • Spare tube specific to the bike

On a bike with nutted axles I add a 15mm wrench to the above.

If a puncture is from a sticker, I’ll usually first try to repair the leak with the wheel on the bike. I’ve found it fast and easy to pop the tire free from the rim adjacent to the puncture, pull out the portion of tube that’s punctured, install the patch, re-insert the tube, and pop the tire back onto the rim. It saves a couple of steps and works fine when you know the cause and location of the puncture. If I don’t know the location of the puncture, I’ll take the wheel all the way off and completely remove the tire and tube from the rim so I can locate the leak and make sure whatever caused the puncture is removed from the tire.

Even after riding for over 40 years and repairing countless flats, I’m still surprised and disappointed when I feel that tell-tale squirm that indicates a puncture.

If you’ve tried mini pumps, you know it’s a chore to pump a tire from fully deflated up to riding pressure with such a tiny barrel. But since we ride only robust, puncture-resistant tires (at least 32mm with a kevlar strip), we don’t expect to get more than a few flats per season among all of our bikes. Since the odds are with us, it’s a fair trade-off for eliminating the need for larger pumps or cartridges. If we rode lightweight tires, we’d carry more substantial, full-sized frame pumps.

As an aside, Portland Design Works sent us the little Poco mini-pump shown in the photo above. It’s a sweet little pump, and the bamboo handle looks great inside Michael’s fancy saddle bag (OK, not a high priority, but what the heck). Most mini pumps work about the same, and this one functions quite well while also looking better than the generic black plastic versions. With its CNC-machined head, it may end up lasting longer as well (with our current low rate of flats, it may take a while to figure out… LOL).

I’ve yet to decide if the newer self-adhesive, glue-free patches work as well as the old school glue-on type. I grew up on the latter, so I’m a little skeptical about the new self-adhesive patches; I’d be interested to hear your feedback on these.

I can’t prove this, but I’d swear higher quality tubes resist punctures better than generics. For sure, Schwalbe tubes hold air better, and require less frequent top-offs, than cheapie generics. If you’re running puncture-resistant tires, I’d say it’s well worth the extra few dollars for premium tubes. Just watch out for premium “lightweight” racing tubes; they’re not nearly as puncture-resistant as even generic standard weight tubes.

Some people don’t carry an extra tube in their saddle pouch. I think it’s a good idea to always carry a spare tube because they sometimes fail at the valve stem, and if they do, a patch kit won’t get you home. Just be sure the tube in the repair kit fits the bike it’s intended for.

We’ve been fortunate to have very few flats over the past few years. As we’ve moved to more and more robust tires, the punctures from stickers and glass have dwindled to nearly zero. Flat protection technology has also improved over time, with the latest flat-resistant tires being surprisingly light, supple, and lively. One of my favorite tires is the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme. It’s a sweet riding tire that wears well and has proven to be quite flat-resistant.

Even after riding for over 40 years and repairing countless flats, I’m still surprised and disappointed when I feel that tell-tale squirm that indicates a puncture. At least if our saddle pouches are stocked with the necessary parts and tools to make the repair, we know we’ll be back on the road in no time.

If you’ve never repaired a flat, check out the tutorials on inner tube replacement and repair at the Park Tool website.

28 Responses to “Prepping for the Puncture Season (and a cool PDW pump)”

  • Skip judge says:

    I have not had any luck with the pre glued patches holding. I suppose that something that gets thru my schable marathons must be significant therefore a new tube is often in order and usually gets one back on the way almost as quickly. I am going to put in a new tube when i get home anyway….

  • AdamM says:

    I’ve had excellent results with the Park Tools ‘instant’ patches, although I still treat them as a convenient ‘get me home’ solution rather than a long term option. I find they can be fine when remaining on the bike, but sometimes wrinkle while a tube is stored which then provides an air path.

    My preferred solution is still to swap the tube and then patch the tube with proper glue on patches later. I find patching tubes quite theraputic, actually. Not sure if that makes me a little strange or not…

    Most of my punctures are on my mountain bikes, so I’m planning on experimenting with tubeless tyres shortly.

  • Jason says:

    I’ve found the pre-glued patch work almost as good as tube and glue, but the benefit come from not having so many wasted dried up tubes of glue. They seem to dry out over time after the inner seal is broken.

    I have read somewhere that the little tubes of glue are the same as rubber cement that comes in big jars. Can someone confirm this? Maybe my saddle bag could have a few pre-glued patches and a spare tube, than repatch the old tube at home with stronger and cheaper patch and glue.

    I’ve heard that some people throw old tubes away after their first hole. Seem like such a waste. A tube can hold a lot of patches, but as Alan and Michael said, a good tire prevents a lot of flats.

  • brad says:

    My approach is to use the spare tube whenver I get a flat, and bring the old tube back with me to inspect and patch in the comfort, warmth, and dryness of home. I find I just don’t have the patience to patch tubes when I’m out on a ride, especially if I have to hunt for the puncture or if it’s cold or rainy.

  • Cezar says:

    At one point I got tired of punctures. Being in Chicago, I get a lot of glass. So I bought some 26″ Marathon Pluses. I’ve had one slow leak in 1.5 years, for a corroded valve. You can beat them. They do weigh a ton though. Also, pretty expensive, but well well worth it.

  • Jeff says:

    I’ve also found pre-glued patches to work fine when the tube’s in the tire but they do wrinkle if stored. I also tend to change flats on the road using a spare tube and then patch a bunch of tubes all at once. I have no problem using patched tubes, however, I start getting a bit nervous if the tube has more than three patches. I’m not sure why this is, it’s just one of those things….

    As always, thanks for the great post Alan.

    - Jeff

  • Scott Wayland says:

    I’m also of the put-in-fresh-tube-and-fix-the-flatted-tube-later crowd. Although as I pedaled across west Kansas and eastern Colorado and started hitting some truly burly goat heads–what locals called “Texas tacks”–I found myself running low on fresh tubes! At one point after fixing a flat, I still had a slow leak, and I was so fed up at dealing with the issue, that I would pedal for twenty minutes, stop and pump, pedal for twenty minutes, etc. until I finally reached my destination for the day. Then I sat down on the grass in the shade and did a proper, totally thorough job of it.

    Oh, one tip: It’s a really good idea to have a Leatherman or similar tool with needle nose pliers for extracting bits of wire, glass, etc. that would be impossible with bare fingers. I once had to pull VERY hard on a nail that had become embedded in the inner rim! That was a truly serious flat.

  • wendy says:

    what saddlebag is this in the photo?

  • Alan says:

    @wendy

    “what saddlebag is this in the photo?”

    Here you go:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/02/13/zimbale-leather-saddle-bag/

    Alan

  • Dave Kee says:

    Another vote for Marathon Plus tires. Heavy and slow but flat free.

  • wendy says:

    Alan, thanks fro, Singapore. I think im going to order one now :)

  • patrick says:

    those insta-patches are worthless. who needs temporary when permanent is just as easy.
    i carry a spare tube as well, but i just go ahead and repair the tube as soon as i can. the glue can dry while you’re putting the fresh tube in your tire. and then you’re ready for the next flat moment. most of my flats are from staples and nails. and amen to the leatherman. i wish those guys would make a bicycle specific multitool.

  • doc says:

    Didn’t anyone ever explain to you about blogging about fl-ts? Never, ever, EVER, mention them! Now you’re in for it.

  • HowardBollixter says:

    Having grown up on bikes and dealt with tons of flats I too have noticed that tires nowdays are practically invulnerable. I have had one flat in the past three years despite daily year-round riding, and that one was a large nail that somehow pierced both the bottom of the tire and went straight through and out the sidewall. Very exciting on a fendered bike, Bap!Bap!Bap!

  • Mark K says:

    I’ve used both glue on and pre-glued patches. Both seem to work well, but I’m kind of leery of pre-glued on lower pressure setups. My wife and I only run HP tubes/tires (like the decreased rolling resistance), so they seem to hold up well. I do think, however that the glue-on make for a longer lasting repair.

    Like others my preference is to swap tubes on the road and patch at home. If I’m on the bike, I want to be out riding, and if I’m sitting along side the road during a ride, I want it to be a pleasant break, not a “work break” hunting down a puncture to patch…

  • doug in seattle. says:

    Spare tubes are essential. A couple months ago I was on an overnight tour on logging roads and got a flat. I had forgotten to bring along a spare tube. It had started raining, so the patch job was tough. Then I got another, then another. I was running low on patches and then my pump broke and barely worked thereafter. Eventually, I realized that my tire was failing: I had found it in a dumpster eleven months previously and was riddled with holes and little tears. I could see the air bubbling out of all these holes after each failed patching attempt. I ended up walking eleven miles out of the hills the next morning.

    So actually, while spare tubes are useful, dependable tires are essential.

  • Dann says:

    The Einstein patch kit looks cool in that bag! I’ve used both glue and glue-less patches. The Slime glue-less patches work great – I have one on a tube that is three years old and still spinning on the bike. I too keep at least one spare tube in the bag. Running puncture resistant tires saves a bunch on flats. Have used Continental Top Touring (sadly, no longer available), Vittoria Randonneurs, and Schwalbe Marathons over the past twenty years. I love the Vittoria’s, loved the Conti’s, kind of like the Marathons. Next time I need tires, I may try the Marathon Supreme.

  • Roland Smith says:

    After two flats in a couple of weeks with regular Schwalbe Marathons, I switched to Marathon Plus tires (in 35-406 size for my Hurricane ‘bent). Haven’t had a flat since. They’re somewhat heavier and stiffer than ordinary Marathon tires and quite hard to get onto the rims, but it doesn’t feel different when riding.

    I don’t care enough to do proper roll-out testing, but the effect of over- or underinflated tires seems much bigger than the difference between the regular marathons versus the marathon plus.

  • Alan says:

    @Doc

    “Didn’t anyone ever explain to you about blogging about fl-ts? Never, ever, EVER, mention them! Now you’re in for it.”

    LOL! Yeah, I know, I’m jinxed now. And at the beginning of the goathead season, no less…

    Alan

  • Lyle says:

    The glueless patches seem to fail quicker than the glue on, although they are quick and easy. I mostly only use glue ons. This year I’m going to buy some Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. The Continentals I’m running are ok, but wear out too quickly.

  • Donald Bybee says:

    I ride Specialized Armadillos and hardly get any flats. (Heavy though and very stiff in 27 x 1 1/4). I used to swear by the glueless patches as they are so easy to install. For about 4 years I never had any problems and then it seemed I started to get regular failures of both patches that had been in place for a while, and new patches recently after being installed. I was beginning to wonder if they have a shelf life, but could never find any info about it. I went back to glued patches since they were OK for the first 35 years of my cycling career. I am for patching the flat on the bike if at all possible. I will do anything not to have to remove the rear wheel, especially on tour, and I would think patching on the bike is quicker than complete removal to replace the tube.

    Sacramento, CA.

  • Jim says:

    Another nice thing about carrying a patch kit and related tools is that you have the ability to help out other riders in a jam.

    I don’t quite understand why the onset of spring makes punctures more likely, though. More road debris? If anything, I would suspect less.

  • Alan says:

    @Jim

    “I don’t quite understand why the onset of spring makes punctures more likely, though.”

    You must not be from California… :-) Spring and summer is goathead and star thistle season around here; in other words, our bike trails will soon enough be covered with stickers.

    Alan

  • Ari Hornick says:

    I use Park GP-2′s exclusively. It’s predecessor was crap because the patch didn’t expand at the same rate as the tube. Park definitely fixed the problem (around 10 years ago?), and I haven’t used anything else since. My experience is that if I’m careful when putting the patch on, it lasts forever.

  • beth h says:

    1. The PDW pump is painfully cute, and it does work — I used it two weeks ago to fix a friend’s flat on a ride — but it still takes much longer to inflate a tube than my old standby the Zefal HPX. Another pump I’m a fan of is the Topeak Morph, which becomes a mini floor pump to give you greater leverage.

    2. Glueless patches are a lifesaver when you’re in a hurry and stuck without a spare tube. That said, I try not to ever need one by carrying an extra tube and by repairing the oild tube at home with a TipTop traditional patch.

    3. I haven’t had nearly as many flats since swapping in a set of Schwalbe Marathon tires on my city bike.

  • Simon N says:

    I’m another ‘replace-and-patch-later’ type, but then I run 35c Supremes. As long as I inspect the tread once a week I’m good.

    I’ve just bought a Topeak Road Morph myself (shiny new bike needs shiny new accessories). Seems very slick. Hopefully the operation mirrors the appearance!

  • Ari Hornick says:

    Simon,

    I had a Topeak Morph. It worked like a dream until it broke. That was after ten years of regular use. I just bought another one last year. I figure, I’m good for another 9 years anyway. It’s a great investment. I hope it works for you as well as it worked for me.

  • DefensiveCycling says:

    I’ve been cycling for over thirty years and like you still suffer from a strong feeling of disappointment when I get a puncture. Even though the instant patches available today make puncture repair simple, it’s still a bad feeling when you get that familiar wobble that indicates a puncture. I use kevlar tyres now. There’s no worse feeling than when you’re having a good ride and it’s brought to a halt by a puncture.

 
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