On Good Friday, also the first day over Passover, my dream came true or rather my nightmare came true. The Damoclean sword of tubeless road tires is the catastrophic puncture. Well, the string finally broke. Until then I was beginning to believe tubeless road tires were fulfiling their promise…
Pictures are worth a thousand words. Unfortunately I didn’t stop to take any during this ordeal because, um, my mind was on other matters. So you’re getting the thousands of words instead.
Roger and I were heading to Bollinger Canyon for a nice, long ride up a beautiful, relatively untouched canyon to enjoy a bag lunch at Las Trampas Regional Park. As we were rolling on Danville Boulevard I suddenly heard the loud “psss-psss-psss” hiss of a puncture. I thought it must have been Roger’s wheel because I was on tubeless tires. It couldn’t be me, right? Wrong, it was my rear tire. Tubeless punctures rarely make any noise at all and often you are unaware that anything has punctured your tire because the sealant acts so quickly. Once I realized it was me I knew it was very bad juju. And it was.
Sealant was dripping profusely from my wheel onto the pavement leaving a small puddle and I could see bubbles on the tire casing where the air was leaking out. My tire was very soft. Shit. Despite the look of things I was praying the sealant would do its magic. I spun the wheel so the puncture was at the bottom and sealant could pool readily to clog the hole and we waited a couple of minutes. Then I borrowed Roger’s pump—because it’s a much better pump than my ridiculous minipump—and gently tried to inflate the tire. But it wouldn’t hold air and when I pumped I could see more bubbles. This puncture was clearly too large to be sealed by Orange Seal.
My ride was done it seemed. I carry a spare tube and a pump knowing it is theoretically possible to put a tube in a tubeless setup, inflate it, and keep going. But based on my experience with these Schwalbe Pro One tires I was leery of trying a roadside repair. In the past I could barely get the tire on and off the rim even with tire levers at home let alone by the side of the road. I had visions of me a mucky mess covered in sealant, screaming multisyllabic profanities, and hurling broken tire levers into the street. So essentially my repair kit has been more magical fetish than practical.
We agreed Roger would go home to get the car and I would wait to be retrieved. After he left I came to the realization that since I had over an hour I might as well try to get the tube in. The worst that could happen is that I would fail and everything would be covered in sealant, he’d show up with the car eventually and we’d cart this mess back home where I could deal with it properly. Plus I wanted to see if I could actually do it, sort of an experiment of one. The worst that could happen is that I’d have a LOT of cleaning to do later and get another lesson in frustration. So I took a deep breath, thought happy thoughts, and dove in.
My thinking was that the tire is well-used (= frickin’ old—more than six years) and hence stretched out as much as it could. So perhaps I’d be able to get the bead off and back on the rim. When it was new this was nearly impossible.
I was actually somewhat prepared for this eventuality. I had nitrile gloves and several sheets of paper towel to protect myself and mop up the inevitable mess. Fortunately I still had fenders on the bike despite our dry winter and that prevented a fountain of sealant from merrily spraying every whichway—on the bike, on my clothes and into Roger’s face. However the one thing I did not have and that might have spared me this agony was a tire plug that I could have tried to jam them into the tire casing to assist a seal. Suddenly that $60 Dynaplug kit I had rolled my eyes at wasn’t looking so frivolous.
I was able to get the left bead off the rim but only after releasing both beads in order to get them into the wheel well to create enough slack to lift a part of the bead over the rim. Releasing the beads from the rim hooks means having to get them back in later, which is not easy. If you don’t get them back in, you end up with an un-round wheel and a thump-thump-thump ride home. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to release the right side bead because that would surely result in sealant everywhere. And it did. I could see the tire was full of sealant, not too surprising because I had topped it off with a copious quantity about three months ago in a Boy Scout moment—no good deed goes unpunished. “Release the kraken!”
If you’re not familiar with tubeless tires, you may be unaware that you have to remove the tire valve so that you can insert the valve stem of the inner tube into the rim. However if one screws the retention nut too hard during installation, one may not be able to get it off without a wrench. But this time I lucked out and I was able to remove it. More dripping ensued during all this.
I popped the spare in and then the fun began: trying to get the tire bead back on the rim. It was almost Herculean. The tire bead actually was more compliant now that it was hella old. Yay! But any stretching was negated by the slippery film of sealant on my gloved hands, the rim, and the tire. Boo! Trying to grip the bead was like trying to catch an eel with your bare hands. After a few futile attempts I ripped the gloves off into order to get a better grip, utlized best practices in creating more slack, and tried again. Fail. So I resorted to the neutron bomb of tire repair: using a lever to get that last bit of bead on. This time I succeeded but I wasn’t sure if I had also pinched the tube and punctured it. Prayer ensued. 250 slogging pumps later with my feeble minipump I had a mostly inflated tubeless tire with a tube in it! About a half-hour had passed.
I cleaned myself and the wheel with fragments of paper towel and packed up everything strewn on the ground. I called Roger and told him I was going to ride home and I would call him for a car pick up only if my temporary fix failed later down the road. As I rode away there was the thump-thump-thump of the wheel—part of the bead hadn’t seated properly. But long story long, I got home in one piece not smelling like a rose but like Orange Seal.
Next: the aftermath.