It’s been seven months since my last “lesson” in managing road tubeless tires. In many ways I’m glad I’m not a “fast” learner and I appreciate that my lessons are coming at long intervals rather than all at once since my lessons have always been hands-on, at inopportune times, and involved a lot of swearing and consternation. On the other hand the see-no-evil philosophy of bike care, for which I have great fondness, in the long run leads to more inconvenience. So there you go.
This time I decided to do a little preemptive maintenance and ended up learning something profitable. How many of us check our tires before or after a ride? It’s one of those items that is inevitably included in handy-dandy lists for beginners in Bicycling magazine (which they reprint practically every year). Yeah, me too—there is no way in hell I’m going to be that diligent after climbing up the hill to the manse. After doing a one-mile 10% grade at the end of a long ride, I’m not thinking a lot about how my tires are doing. Not flat? Great—throw the bike in the corner for the next ride. But this time Roger warned me that I had ridden through a big honking pile of glass. Uncharacteristically I hadn’t seen it, and even more uncharacteristically after having been told I had just piled through a splatterfest of future tire flatness I didn’t bother to wipe my tires down. They’re not flat? Great, dodged that bullet and keep on riding. But after returning home despite my innate lethargy and diminished mental capacity due to climbing El Toyonal, I thought I should check them just to be sure I wasn’t going to have a surprise the next time I rode.
The front was fine but the rear tire had something embedded towards the sidewall. I tried to dig it out and it turned out to be a dried plug of sealant. Pop! and the tire started to deflate. I immediately spun the tire so the hole was facing down and sure enough, a spray of Orange Seal came out and shortly thereafter stopped. No problem! Just wait to let it seal up…
The next day I checked the tire and the pressure was down (duh!) but it seemed rideable. When I inflated it with a pump, the seal broke and the tire couldn’t hold pressure above about 40 psi. The hole was just large enough that even Orange Seal wasn’t going to work unless I resigned myself to riding at low inflation all the time. (For dirt it would be plenty but for pavement 40 psi is a little bit too cushy for me.) Since the tire was $70—a Schwalbe Pro One—I wasn’t interested in just tossing it and putting a new one on.
So this is what I did.
A long time ago in a Boy Scout moment I purchased tire plugs for tubeless tires just in case. Tire plugs, you say? Whazzat? If you’ve had a flat on your car tires, you know what these are: they’re big honking plugs of rubber that the repair shop jams into the hole the nail made in your tire using a special tool along with some rubber solvent. The hole seals up and you can inflate your car tire back to 28 psi or whatever. It’s a quick fix and it works on puncture holes typically. Well, they also make tubeless tire repair kits for bicycles. Mountain bikers know what I’m talking about because dirt riding went tubeless years ago. So there is a thriving cottage industry of tubeless tire repair kits—usually a plug jammer with some tacky plugs—just for mountain bikes. Those same plugs *mostly* work for road tires too. Being a cheapass amateur bike mechanic I of course bought the bottom-of-the-barrel brand, Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tire Repair Kit, for about six bucks. It’s the aforementioned plug jammer tool with about five plugs. The kit is two years old and I had never used it. Usually I’d go to YouTube if I were doing some new bike repair thing just to make sure I wouldn’t completely fuck up. But again in my new liberated state of oh-fuck-it-let’s-just-see-what-happens I opened the kit, put the plug sort of on the jammer, and tried to stick it in the hole in the tire. Of course it didn’t work.
Now, why is that you ask? Because (a) the tire plug, which is a short, strand of wound fibers dipped in tacky rubber, doesn’t like to go into a tiny hole without a lot of force, and (b) the jammer tool is rather dull and large. After several attempts at trying to get the plug into the slightly-too-small-hole (but not so small that Orange Seal could plug it), I came to the conclusion that the only solution was brute force since I was way too lazy to try to carefully ream out the puncture. If you’re an amateur mechanic, you know that resorting to brute force often leads to an unhappy ending (and you know I always like my repair sessions to have happy endings!) In a fit of frustration I had a boy-moment and just JAMMED that tool as hard as I could into the tire. And it worked: the plug went in and stuck in the hole like a condom off a limp dick. No leaking air. Voila! The last step is to cut off the part of the plug that sticks out of the tire with a razor blade and then I had a ‘flat’ tire again.
I went riding yesterday on my repaired tire and it worked like a charm.
Yes, tubeless road tires can be a pain in the ass. You’ve got to remember to put fresh sealant in them at regular intervals, put up with getting sprayed with sealant when you do get a puncture, you can’t use CO2 cartridges, and seating the tire on the rim can be Sisyphean. But boy, the pleasure of riding without worrying about flats is leading to a new, oh-fuck-it-all me.
If you want an even easier tubeless tire repair kit, there is Dynaplug. Their tire plugs have a sharp, pointed metal tip that looks like it would slip easily into even a small puncture—no need for brute force! You simply load a tip into the inserter and jam it in. The metal plug can’t be pulled out so it stays in place. The catch is Dynaplug kits start at $42. And that’s with just a tiny number of their proprietary plugs. As I said I’m a cheapass amateur mechanic so I won’t be including these in my repair kit anytime soon (unless they come at my birthday!) But they’ll look cool with your $15,000 Colnago and Zipp carbon wheels.
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