Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wheel of misfortune

I just got back from a run into town in my car. On the way there the car started handling funny. I stopped, got out to check the tires, and found the right rear almost flat. Out came the jack, on went the spare. Twenty minutes later I was on my way.

A flat in a car is a pretty boring event compared to one on a bike, which can get way too exciting way too quickly. This was especially true back when all motorcycles had spoked wheels with tube-type tires that when they blew popped like party balloons. Today’s tubeless tires typically deflate more slowly when punctured, giving you a chance to pull over before things get too squirrelly.

Tubeless tires give you something else tubes don’t, a good shot at getting back on the road with a minimum of fuss. With a tube you have to take off the wheel, then weasel the tube out of the tire, then patch the tube, then put everything back. You need at minimum a way to prop up the bike, enough tools to remove either wheel, tools to dislodge either tire, a new tube or a patch kit, and a way to reinflate the tube.

With a tubeless tire, you need a plug kit, and an air source, and that’s it. You plug the hole from the outside, air up the tire, and hit the road. The tire stays on the wheel, and the wheel stays on the bike. You don’t even need a centerstand to prop the bike up. Just roll the bike a few inches at a time until you spot the puncture.

After you plug the tire you will, of course, ride straight to the nearest repair shop to have the tire plugged from the inside, or replaced, whichever the tire’s manufacturer recommends. (This message brought to you by The Litigious Society of America™.)

Since you asked (no, don’t deny it—I heard you) here’s what I carry to deal with flats on my bike, which has tubeless tires:

A Pocket Tire Plugger from Stop & Go.

A 12-volt air pump that runs off the battery. CO2 cartridges hold only so much CO2, and you can carry only so many of them. When you run out, you’re screwed. A 12-volt pump keeps pumping as long as your battery is working.

As a backup to the Stop & Go kit I carry a tubeless-tire repair kit that consists of half a dozen flexible plugs (sometimes called gummy worms) and a reamer/insertion tool. You can get these at any auto-parts store for a few dollars. They’ll sometimes fix a jagged hole or a small tear that the Stop & Go plugs won’t.

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