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Flats and Tires on Tour

Old 06-16-21, 09:52 AM
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MidLife50
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Flats and Tires on Tour

With my 1st multi-day tour (7 days riding GAP/C&O) quickly approaching I've become a multi-level contingency planner. How much is enough?

I typically use CO2 as a peace of mind answer around town. Haven't had a flat in 5 years so in one sense it's worked. But given the advice I've gotten here, I've added a Topeak Road Morph G pump to my on-bike arsenal. And I've used it to inflate a tube on my bike. So I've got redundancy on air.

I started with reviewing changing a flat, have practiced several times on my bike and yesterday I had a real live flat to fix on my daughter's bike. I've got this down, and did this sitting on my porch in about 10 minutes in 100+ heat index weather. So if it takes me 15 - 20 minutes on tour it's a delay, but not a day-ruiner. My wife and I are both riding 700x35 so we had 4 spare tubes (now 3 because I used 1 yesterday). I'm comfortable starting off the tour with 3 spare tubes between us.

Now I've progressed to worrying about what if I get a flat that involves a tire hole or cut. So I've gone to the FedEx store, got a Tyvek envelope, and trimmed off the self-sealing strips into would-be tire boots. They measure about 1 inch x 3 inches. If I get a hole/cut I peel off the boot cover to expose the adhesive and hopefully use it to seal the tire so my tubes don't bulge out. If this happens I'm looking for the next bike shop to buy a new tire.

Have I done enough or is more planning needed?
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Old 06-16-21, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by MidLife50 View Post
...
Have I done enough or is more planning needed?
You have done more than enough. I carry two tubes on a bike tour, and a small pack of self-adhesive patches.

The self adhesive patches do not reliably work for me for more than a few months, but they work long enough to get me home. At home I can peal them off and glue on a patch with glue.

I have only had one puncture on a tour. But I also had a valve stem partially tear off of a tube, that is something you can't fix. Thus, I carry the second tube in case one tube became unusable I would still have another.

A few notes:
  • When you pull a tube out of a tire, make sure no dirt gets into the tire, a grain of sand can cause a puncture in a tube miles later.
  • If your tires are dirty, having a pair of disposable gloves like medical staff use can come in handy. I keep a pair with my spare tubes. Pre-covid, when I asked at the dentist or doctor office if I could have a few pair for road emergencies on my bike, they were always happy to give me a few pair, but I suspect that stuff is in short supply still so I never ask now.
  • If you have the tube valve stem on the wheel at the same place as the tire label, after you pull the tube out of a tire, if you put plenty of air in the tire with the pump you can usually tell were the puncture was. And then you can line up that spot on the tube with the spot on the tire which makes it easier to find if there is a piece of broken glass or something in the tire that cause the flat. There are two possible places on the tire when you do that, flip over the tube to find the other spot on the tire to look.
If I think of any more thoughts, I will add them.
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Old 06-16-21, 11:09 AM
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Looks like you've been very thorough

I'd add that the amount of advisable precautions depends on where you tour. If you a in a remote area where access to a store is out of the question, carrying a spare tire would be advisable. If you can call for help, or are less than a few hours ride from a bicycle store (the stranded cyclist remains behind while the other gets spare parts), then you look good to go. (and a hand pump is a definite necessity. CO2 are useful close to home because the gas typically leaks and you must repressure your tire a day or 2 later.)
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Old 06-16-21, 12:14 PM
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I'd say you're well prepared, and don't need to worry about flats any more. At least as long as your tires aren't worn out to start with!
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Old 06-16-21, 12:47 PM
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you might carry some tube patches that use glue & some of these Park Tool TB-2 Emergency Tire Boot (Pack of 3)

I have a cpl glued tube patches on a cpl MTB tubes that are going on 2 yrs old w/ no problems, even after swapping tires (for studs) twice a year

I was never a big tube patcher, but a buddy I was riding with encouraged me on a dirt trail & advised me how to deal w/ the glue. I still carry tubes but I'm a tube patcher convert! ;-)

to go further, do they make folding tires in the size you use, so you can carry an actual spare tire?

related - I was listening to a touring podcast for a while & the rider told of how he & his partner prefer 26" wheels/tires because they are easier to find in touring widths while traveling the world

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Old 06-16-21, 01:32 PM
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If the OP's tires are in reasonable shape (and I were him), I wouldn't bother carrying a spare foldable tire. Three extra tubes for two bikes seems good to me. Plus there are bike shops in Pittsburgh (REI is right at the Hot Metal Bridge crossing), West Newton, Connellsville, Ohiopyle, Confluence, Rockwood, and Cumberland the last time I checked.

The only thing I might add to your arsenal is a cotton ball. I use one out of an aspirin bottle. This is very helpful to make sure that you've caught the offending material from inside the tire that caused the puncture. A tiny bit of wire or glass that you might miss with your fingers or visual inspection will snag the cotton as you run it along the inside of the tire.

To Tourist in MSN::
You can get a box of a hundred vinyl painter's gloves at Walmart for like $8.00. They were in short supply last year, but I've seen them this year. Handy for handling flats on the rear to keep the grime off your hands. I keep a pair in each of our each of our saddlebags.

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Old 06-16-21, 01:33 PM
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The quality of your tubes and tires are also very important. I have had no problems and very few flats with Schwalbe tires. The tubes being made to stretch to many tire sizes can be a problem. They are porous and thin. I have had flats from little pin holes in the tubes and no external puncture in the tire. I use Schwalbe or Continental tubes in the largest size I can make work in my tires. I currently have Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 26" x 2" tires on my bike. I am running Continental Size: 26" x 2.3 to 26" x 2.7 tubes in them.

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Old 06-16-21, 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Altair 4 View Post
...
To Tourist in MSN::
You can get a box of a hundred vinyl painter's gloves at Walmart for like $8.00. They were in short supply last year, but I've seen them this year. Handy for handling flats on the rear to keep the grime off your hands. I keep a pair in each of our each of our saddlebags.
Yeah, I have dozen or maybe two dozen pair I have accumulated over the years, I do not need more at this time.

Harbor Freight has some vinyl ones too.
https://www.harborfreight.com/pack-o...arge-8936.html

Thanks.
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Old 06-16-21, 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
You have done more than enough. I carry two tubes on a bike tour, and a small pack of self-adhesive patches.

The self adhesive patches do not reliably work for me for more than a few months, but they work long enough to get me home. At home I can peal them off and glue on a patch with glue.

I have only had one puncture on a tour. But I also had a valve stem partially tear off of a tube, that is something you can't fix. Thus, I carry the second tube in case one tube became unusable I would still have another.

A few notes:
  • When you pull a tube out of a tire, make sure no dirt gets into the tire, a grain of sand can cause a puncture in a tube miles later.
  • If your tires are dirty, having a pair of disposable gloves like medical staff use can come in handy. I keep a pair with my spare tubes. Pre-covid, when I asked at the dentist or doctor office if I could have a few pair for road emergencies on my bike, they were always happy to give me a few pair, but I suspect that stuff is in short supply still so I never ask now
  • If you have the tube valve stem on the wheel at the same place as the tire label, after you pull the tube out of a tire, if you put plenty of air in the tire with the pump you can usually tell were the puncture was. And then you can line up that spot on the tube with the spot on the tire which makes it easier to find if there is a piece of broken glass or something in the tire that cause the flat. There are two possible places on the tire when you do that, flip over the tube to find the other spot on the tire to look.If I think of any more thoughts, I will add them.

Get a silver Sharpie and mark an arrow with the direction of rotation or mark it “left” or “right” on the tube. Cuts the number of choices down by one.
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Old 06-17-21, 03:57 PM
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Respect for, and/or fear of, karma prevents me from saying anything about my preparedness.
One idea, use a cotton ball, rubbed around the inside of a tire to find small, thin wires causing punctures.
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Old 06-18-21, 12:35 AM
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Even more paranoid suggestion: take a spare tire in addition to the tire boots. Get a folding tire, it can be folded compactly.

I had an explosion of a tire on the C&O after riding the whole day in heavy downpour, luckily it happened right near Cumberland where I got a new tire.
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Old 06-18-21, 05:37 AM
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Seems reasonable.

I have had up to 3 flats in a day while touring and once on San Diego Christmas Ride had 6 flats. Cycling TDA across Africa the record for one of my fellow cyclists was 11 flats in a day.

Typically when you get to higher numbers, something might either be going on with the tire or you didn't quite find some little piece or wire, etc. My San Diego ride had a mixture of both, a tire on its last legs and rain that made it tough to get my patches right. The Africa case was not very good tires combined with some rim problems and sharp thorns.

So leaving with tires in good shape is probably a good precaution. I take a folding tire on most trips because I've had blowouts before, but generally those blowouts happen more when tire/sidewall has worn down. If it isn't a blowout, I've been able to patch most holes, even a case where I ran over a nail that went through the tire twice. With three (or even two) tubes, I wouldn't expect them to all go at once, so if you have back luck with some flats you need spare tubes early in the trip, I would vector a later day to go via bike shop to get another.

The other item I've learned over time is to put extra diligence into really understanding the cause of any flat. I was bitten once or twice, thinking there was a puncture that was fixed without having found a thin wire that came back and punctured again.
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Old 06-18-21, 07:02 AM
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Originally Posted by mev View Post
The other item I've learned over time is to put extra diligence into really understanding the cause of any flat. I was bitten once or twice, thinking there was a puncture that was fixed without having found a thin wire that came back and punctured again.
There are quite a few videos and instructions on how to fix a flat and get back on the bike in 5 minutes or less. But every time I've tried to emulate that feat, typically running late for work on a commute, I've found it wasn't a shard of glass that fell out but one of those thin wires that caused the first flat. And the second.

If you're on tour, what's 10 or 15 minutes to really fix the flat the first time? Find a nice shady spot and have a drink and a snack while you're working.
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Old 06-18-21, 07:28 AM
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Re worrying about damaging a tire--as you are riding on reasonably trails and roads, the chances of damaging a tire are very low.
With normal observation and common sense regarding looking at what you both ride over, and how you ride (ie not going fast over a section of large sharp rocks, or running over a broken glass bottle) the chances of tire damage are very slim.

And as mentioned, tires with lots of life in them very much help.
like others here, if I start getting multiple flats on a tire, that's usually a sign that it's getting thin (in regular riding situations, ie no thorns, which thankfully I haven't had to endure)

PS, put the spare tubes in a zip lock bag or something, so they don't rub against stuff over time and potentially get scuff holes. Will keep them in good shape over the years if you never use them but carry them often.
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Old 06-18-21, 07:50 AM
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As you are new to touring, don't forget that you'll need to put more pressures in your tires compared to unloaded.
More in rear, but how much will depend on your body weights and how heavy your bags are.

this is important and directly connected to increasing risk of a flat, specifically a pinch flat, if your tires are under inflated and you hit an edge of a pothole or whatever.

my commuter bike uses 35s, and I sometimes food shop with it and have two heavy rear panniers, 25 + lbs? And put them to 55, ish psi, but I weigh 135

the more you ride loaded up and pay attention, you can begin to get a better feel for pressures vs weight on bike and what is too squishy.
Trying out diff pressures is good practice, and why a floor pump with gauge is handy.
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Old 06-18-21, 08:36 AM
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Three to four spare tubes, a pump, and a patch kit prepares you very well. Having ridden the GAP recently, I found the surface to be pretty good so I would predict that you are less likely to flat on it than when riding on the road with all of its debris. Also there are a number of bike shops along the trail. Can't speak for the C&O, though.

Have a great time.
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Old 06-18-21, 08:58 AM
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When preparing for my first tour, two weeks across Easstern Canada, I got overconfident because I went so long without a puncture, and put on some nice light non-flat-resistant tires early in the season before the tour. Big Mistake -

SO! MANY! FLATS!

Day 1 x 1
Day 4 X 4
Day 6 X 2

A friend's wife was meeting us in a city along our route, and she brought a selection of my friend's used tires, so I swapped out my rear for a well worn tire with a flat resistant feature. This stopped the punctures for the most part,

Day 9 X 1

but a few days later, paranoid about how worn was the tire, I stopped in a shop and bought a new one of the same model (specialized 'Black Belt') and replaced the worn one. All great except for that, after the new tire was installed in the parking lot, we got turned around trying to find our route and wound up on the busy Trans-Canada highway, where I ran over a piece of sharp metal and punctured my brand new tire about 2km from the shop.


Day 10 X 1

Like OP, I had lots of practice fixing flats. I, too, was planning on relying on C2 cartridges, but I found this wasn't practical for long distance touring... you can't assume you're going to have a finite number of times you need to reinflate. Also, I found there is a small failure rate of CO2 inflators - sometimes a gasket isn't seated right or gets frozen by the CO2 and you don't get full inflation. A decent pump is a must.

I think the only reason my group didn't leave me by the side of the road after my 4th or 5th successive puncture was that, because I have so much flat fixing experience from working in shops, I was able to get back on the road in less than ~5 minutes each time, and they remarked that I was always still smiling and in a good mood. Otherwise they would have gotten sick of me real quick.
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Old 06-18-21, 03:59 PM
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Midlife and Mr flat guy,
at the opposite end of the scale, I've toured since 89 and while not a ton of trips, there must be 20 or 30 tops, but I've never had a flat on tour.
(touch wood repeat over and over)
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Old 06-19-21, 12:38 AM
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Originally Posted by MidLife50 View Post
I started with reviewing changing a flat, have practiced several times on my bike and yesterday I had a real live flat to fix on my daughter's bike. I've got this down, and did this sitting on my porch in about 10 minutes in 100+ heat index weather. So if it takes me 15 - 20 minutes on tour it's a delay, but not a day-ruiner. My wife and I are both riding 700x35 so we had 4 spare tubes (now 3 because I used 1 yesterday). I'm comfortable starting off the tour with 3 spare tubes between us.
Put a Park GP-2 in each of your repair kits. They're cheap, take up no space, weigh nothing, and work quite well. Once you've burned through your tubes, they'll be there to provide a lot of margin against additional punctures.

Or a Rema patch kit. They also work very well, if you're more into the cold-vulcanizing patch thing.

Now I've progressed to worrying about what if I get a flat that involves a tire hole or cut.
Throw one of those metallic food bar wrappers in there: they've got plenty adequate tensile stiffness and strength. If you don't want to carry food wrappers around, carry the wrappers with the food still inside: then you can use the flat as an excellent excuse to stop and eat the food contained within the wrapper, before fixing your tire.
Or use a dollar bill if you're desperate. They work, most of the time.

If you want super-bonus-extra peace of mind, it's not a huge deal to carry a spare tire, especially if you're the sort of person who carries three spare tubes around.
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Old 06-19-21, 04:49 AM
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Agree with others, sounds like you are all set. The surface on the GAP is so good I've never had a flat and wouldn't carry a spare tire.

The C&O Towpath is a different story, but much of the trail downstream from Antietam has been resurfaced and is very GAP-like. On a through ride on the Towpath I flatted years ago between Hancock and Williamsport, but that was on 32mm tires. Since then, on 35mm tires I've never flatted on the Towpath and wouldn't worry about a spare tire.

On those shorter touring rides I do carry a mini-pump in addition to the CO2. I'm always worried I'll screw up and waste a cartridge or have one of those wire shard flats where you don't fined the sharp bit the first time and immediately re-flat. Neither of those have happened for a long time but since on those rides I have the carrying capacity, I bring the pump along.
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Old 06-19-21, 08:17 AM
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I did blow out a sidewall on a Schwalbe Marathon Plus on the C&O at the Paw Paw tunnel. It used to be very rocky at the southern exit of the tunnel. I think that is fixed or at least much better now. I used a piece of an old inner tube to patch it. I was able to get to the next town for a new tire. Worked well.

Tweezers/forceps are important to find those tiny protruding wires and thorns.

I do not like the self adhesive patches. If I am going to repair a tire I use Rema patch kit. I had 1 tire with 13 Rema patches on it before I threw it out, I could have put a 14 patch on it but decided I got my moneys worth
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Old 06-19-21, 08:38 AM
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Originally Posted by balto charlie View Post

I do not like the self adhesive patches. If I am going to repair a tire I use Rema patch kit. I had 1 tire with 13 Rema patches on it before I threw it out, I could have put a 14 patch on it but decided I got my moneys worth
Yep, agree wholeheartedly. Rema patches are permanent and completely reliable if applied as per directions. I've even patched over a patch. I have no idea why folks would want to use the self-stick ones. To save time??? Most of the time is spent dismounting the tire and hunting for the leak so why not spend a few minutes more and do it right.
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Old 06-19-21, 08:44 AM
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You'll be fine. Start with good tires. Wife & I each carry a tube & patch kit, I carry a mini pump and we each have a co2 system. Stan's Dart if we're on big tires and tubeless. A 4" piece cut from an old tire is our boot if needed and flatly slips inside a seat pack. We've done the GAP, C&O, Katy and a bunch of self supported gravel tours. We generally only get flats when in a town or on a road shoulder. Even then, a flat is a 10 minute time out and sometimes in a beautiful place - if the latter I opt for the pump and save co2 for another day. I have truly good memories of flats in Vermont and Montana Enjoy your trip and don't worry.
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Old 06-19-21, 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Moe Zhoost View Post
Yep, agree wholeheartedly. Rema patches are permanent and completely reliable if applied as per directions. I've even patched over a patch. I have no idea why folks would want to use the self-stick ones. To save time??? Most of the time is spent dismounting the tire and hunting for the leak so why not spend a few minutes more and do it right.
this pretty much sums it up. The extra few mins or so putting on a permanent patch by following the simple instructions is worth it.
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Old 06-29-21, 10:40 AM
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Tour completed and here are the results...I had 2 flats (both rear) and Mrs MidLife had none.

Flat 1...Low tires are low for a reason: This flat occurred on Day #4 (Meyersdale, PA to Paw Paw, WV. It was (for us) a long day that started with a rainstorm. I was checking the bikes before we left and noted my back tire was low. Anxious to get going, I pumped it up and chalked it up to losing some air over the first few days biking. Almost 30 miles into the ride, coming downhill into Cumberland, Mrs MidLife noted it was getting visibly lower. I topped it off with CO2 and decided to wait 5 more miles until in town. Went to Cumberland Trail Connection (Link) right at the start of the C&O. They changed it in about 15 minutes while we waited. Very good and prompt service.

Flat #2...It's almost always a bad time to have a flat: This flat was on Day #7, from Harpers Ferry to DC (our longest day). We made dinner plans with our daughter (bad idea committing to an arrival time) so we left early. We planned on stopping at Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick, MD (about 5 miles down the trail) for breakfast and to grab a couple sandwiches for lunch. As we neared Brunswick Mrs MidLife again observed my rear tire to be low. I committed to make the change while at the cafe, which was considerably more convenient than doing so out on the towpath. So it was a good thing we left early as I used up a chunk of time getting things squared away.

The flat sucked but the comfy chair, breakfast sandwich, ice water and coffee made it better.
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