You’re twenty miles from home and you hear the dreaded “psst” while your tire quickly deflates. You have no spare tube. What do you do?
Obviously, if possible, you patch it.
Anymore, there are two main types of patches: glue and glueless. Glued “traditional” patches (which are rubber cemented on the tube) are often preferred as they hold up better, but they’re tricker to install. Glueless patches, on the other hand, are super easy to install (no glue – just stick it on and throw the tube back in the tire and inflate) but aren’t as rigid.
In my experience, how do glueless patches hold up?
A couple days ago, I got a puncture in my front tire. The hole was slightly larger than pinhole-sized, but still small enough that it shouldn’t present a problem with any patch.
So I got out the “Skab” glueless patch kit I carry around to mend the puncture. Installation, as I mentioned, is super easy. You first find the site of the wound. Once the puncture is found, you scuff the area surrounding before applying the patch. After applying the patch, you press down on it for about 30 seconds to a minute before putting it back in the tire, remounting the tire on the rim and inflating to the desired pressure.
(It should also be mentioned that you shouldn’t overinflate the tube outside of the tire with a glueless patch to check for leak. Inflating the tube just enough to roughen out wrinkles before inserting in the tire is fine, but inflating much more will cause the patch to wrinkle and leak.)
After installing the glueless patch, inflating the tire to the normal 60 PSI and reinstalling it on the bike, I called it a night.
The next morning, I hopped on the bike to go for a ride. One thing though: the tire was low. The tire lost about 40-45 PSI that night. I inflated the tire back up to 60 PSI and was on my way.
After a quick ride of less than 30 minutes, the tube had lost about 10-15 PSI. I re-inflated to 60 PSI, this time with different results.
This time, air started gushing out of the tube. (It reminded me of the time that a tube failed on the Pinnacle last fall.) In a matter of a minute, the tube had completely deflated.
After tearing down the tire and inspecting the patch, I found the problem: the patch wrinkled up and created a gap for the air to escape.
Giving the Skab patches a second chance and the tube a second chance at being revived, I applied a new patch. I removed the old patch, scuffed at the tube for a while to make sure that there was nothing to cause a gap, and applied a fresh patch.
After reinstalling the tire and inflating to 60 PSI… I went away. An hour later, I checked back to see if it was holding. Yes! Three hours later, still holding perfectly. The next day, still around 60 PSI. Will it hold permanently?
Nope. On the third morning, the tire was completely flat. It must’ve failed overnight, as the tire was still around 55-60 PSI before I went to bed the night before.
The failure mode was the same as the first patch: it somehow wrinkled, allowing air to escape.
After that, I discarded the old patch and the tube. I installed my spare tube, as I didn’t really want to deal with patching the tube a third time just to have it fail again. (A little more on that later.)
But I’ve heard of people who have had excellent results with these glueless “Skab” patches. I’ve seen people permanently patch tubes with them, some having tubes with many patches on them. Most of these people also only top off their tires weekly, so they aren’t experiencing big pressure drops.
There may be other issues that affected how well the patch held up. Pressure, the type of rubber used to make the inner tube (in my case, a thick butyl rubber), and how the patch/tube/tire installation processes may all affect how well the patch holds.
So I don’t know… these glueless patches offer mixed results. I’d say the glueless patches are good for getting you home after a puncture, but once home you’ll probably want to peel it off and either apply a fresh, standard rubber cement patch or just replace the tube altogether. There are a lot of people out there that don’t even bother patching tubes unless it’s their only option due to the reliability issues. (Others, however, will only replace tubes if the damage is irreparable – long rips or broken valve stem – or when they change tire casings. Some will even run tubes longer.)
But in a pinch, such as being 20 miles away from home and the only thing you have is a glueless patch kit: it’ll work fine.
So you may be asking me: why did you discard that perfectly good tube? Why not just put a traditional patch on it?
First – my local Walmart only carries the glueless patches. (They used to sell the traditional patches but somehow they quick selling them.) To order the traditional patches, I’d need to either go to a bike shop (there isn’t one around here) or order online (with shipping, you may as well just buy a new tube.)
Second – as mentioned, a patched tube is likely to be less reliable than a new tube that hasn’t been punctured. The patch is the weak link. As I mentioned, there are many factors that can affect how well the patch will hold up. Different rubber compounds in manufacturing the tube, the inflation pressure, and how the patch, tube and tire were all installed can play a role. As does the size of the puncture. Naturally, a pinhole is easier to seal and likely to not cause problems after being patched in comparison to a rip or burst in the tube. This is the reason most people don’t even bother patching tubes – because that patch becomes a weak link.
As another side note, the three Goodyear (Kent) tubes I’ve bought since January seem to all be from different manufacturers, as the logo and size is located at different points on each tube, and all have different markings and numbers molded into the tube. Also the valve stem caps seem to vary slightly.