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Is it worth patching a tube on a mountain bike, or just replace it with a new one?

There are a lot of 1/2" - 3/4" thorns here in Texas, and I use 26 x 1.95 tubes.

Any particular patch type/brand is better? Can you recommend any methods to cut down on punctures?

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I'm generally a road cyclist and generally "go light", so don't carry more than one extra tube. With that...I've patched many tubes and had them go miles and miles.... Also, in my mtn biking days, I've patched tubes 10 miles from the nearest road. Anyway, it was either patch or walk back. ;~) –  user313 Jun 27 '11 at 19:30
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9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I generally carry 2-3 spare tubes and (back when I used to get flats, before Kevlar tires) I would swap out the tube, then repair the punctured one later, at my leisure. A simple puncture, on the tread side and not too close to the valve (or another patch), is no reason to discard a perfectly good tube.

I prefer to use a kit about like this one: http://www.rei.com/product/747197/novara-patch-kit -- with a tube of glue and rounded, feathered edge patches. The glue is a PITA if you try to put the tube immediately back in the tire (unless you carry talc), but when you do it later and the glue has plenty of time to dry it works fine. (Though place a bit of tissue over the glued area before folding up the tire for re-stowage.)

(But as I indicated, the real solution is Kevlar-belted tires.)

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I'm old school and do carry talc. Thanks for the tire and patch kit tip. –  Moab Jun 27 '11 at 3:08
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+1 for replacing with spare tube on the ride then patching it later. And once patched, put that tube back in the seat bag as another spare. –  Joe Bronikowski Jun 27 '11 at 22:18
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Although some may disagree, it's generally not worth patching a tube unless you don't have a spare tube handy. However, patch kits are so small and light that there's no reason not to carry one unless you're counting grams. It'll come in handy the day you carry a spare tube and have two flats.

I can't recommend any brands of patch kits, since I've never even used mine. However, I suggest avoiding the very cheapest tubes, such as Forte (Performance house brand), for example. Most flats I've had have been with cheap tubes.

In my experience, keeping your tires properly inflated won't help much with these kinds of punctures. (See the comments for another take on that, though.) I suggest you look into puncture-resistant tires. These are heavier and may slow you down a touch, but not as much as changing a flat will! (These tires still get punctures, but not nearly as often.) I'd also like to mention that I've almost never gotten a flat with tires that have full-knobby tread.

Are you riding on- or off-road?

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Mostly paved, I ride through the woods about 50 yards, then down an abandoned gravel road and over railroad tracks to a paved road. Thorns are brutal here in Texas and long enough to easily overcome knobby tires. I am contemplating pumping the tires full of urethane. ;-) –  Moab Jun 27 '11 at 3:02
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I'd suggest looking into 26" touring tires. The Schwalbe Marathons are well thought of and close to the gold standard for tourists, but they're not cheap or light. –  Neil Fein Jun 27 '11 at 3:09
    
Thanks, they look like nice tires, bookmarked. Don't have my size in the MTB : -( –  Moab Jun 27 '11 at 3:20
    
...*Keeping your tires properly inflated won't help much with punctures* - don't think that is the consensus opinion. The internal pressure is important to stopping sharp objects coming through. There is also the MTB context of snake-bites. God has not spoken on the subject - but there are plenty of claims on the internets that you have to properly inflate tyres to stop them getting flats. I also have my own anecdotal experience, getting a flat recently all of ten minutes after my first in eons. The glass was different colour, I had pumped the tyre with mini-pump so it was more susceptible. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 27 '11 at 13:09
    
@Mathew - Although I meant punctures of this type, you make a good point. Have edited my answer. –  Neil Fein Jun 27 '11 at 15:15
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I carry a patch-kit while riding, but my first choice is always to replace the tube. On a longer ride, running out of spare tube(s) may leave you stranded really far from help. A patch kit can get you out of that situation without a lot of extra storage space or weight.

However, if I get a flat and can fix it when I get home, I always replace the tube. The only reason why I've patched a tube at home is to make sure I know how to use the patch kit.

Personally, I find that my time is worth far more to me than the cost of an extra tube. And it takes me longer to patch a tube than to simply replace it.

To prevent flats, I use Kevlar liners. I've found for mountain biking, they are worth the weight/cost and have reduced my flats to the point where I don't worry about it anymore.

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There seems to be a wide range of kevlar liners, any particular preference?, Thanks. –  Moab Jun 27 '11 at 3:40
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@Moab Mr Tuffy have been around for a while and are perhaps among the original liners. They have worked great for me. –  David Jun 29 '11 at 2:52
    
I have liners and they do work, but the thorn went in right next to where the liner stopped coverage on the side, I think the tube gods hate me. The pneumatic tire is ancient technology, there is a fortune to be made reinventing it. I am amazed at how some technology screams into the future, and others, well, don't. Look how long it took to get rid of the carburetor, the Kitty Hawk had gravity fed fuel injection in 1903. –  Moab Jun 30 '11 at 1:45
    
I use Mr. Tuffy as well. Yup--I've had the same thing happen to me as well. I found it to be a bigger problem on fat tires than skinny for some reason. –  James Schek Jun 30 '11 at 19:43
    
I also use Mr. Tuffy. Haven't had a flat in years when combined with my Gatorskin tires. –  Kibbee Jul 6 '11 at 0:32
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As everyone knows, Schwalbe Marathon series are the bullet-proof-most tyres known to cyclistkind, seems they do have some variants in the 2.00 uber-width:

http://www.schwalbe.co.uk/c2-1254-marathon-plus-tour.html

enter image description here

These should look good on your bike, once fitted your question should be academic - no punctures for ages (well, until the tyres wear out.)

As for tubes and patches, the correct answer is to swap with a tube but carry the patches too, the stick on ones because they are so much easier in cold, dark and wet conditions.

...and the small detail of tyre inflation. Yes, high tyre pressure prevents punctures. Some people here will be needing sources beyond anecdote for that, maybe the question has to be posed...

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I have been having problems with stick ons, I have one that is holding well for months now, but a second one that keeps failing within a day, not sure what I am doing wrong. I guess I will fall back to the glue type on that puncture spot. –  Moab Jun 27 '11 at 16:30
    
Well, the hole is always on the seam and I think you still need to abrade the surface for the stick-ons too. PArk ones have not let me down yet though... –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 27 '11 at 16:39
    
@matthew -1 because your comment 'once fitted your question should be academic' is overly optimistic. This assumes that both the tire and rim strip are fitted and installed properly and that there are no pinch flats. –  David Jun 29 '11 at 2:51
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I would say that yes, patching a simple tube puncture is a good idea. It takes at most 15 minutes, costs 15 cents, and saves you from buying a brand new tube.

I currently have the Park Tool patch kit. However, basically, the patch kits are the same. You get a small tube of rubber cement, an assortment of patches, and a tiny bit of sandpaper; all of which fits in less than the palm of your hand.

The extra tube or tubes is a good idea, but still, you can't go wrong with the patch kit.

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I think that it is definitely worthwhile to patch a tube for many reasons:

  1. five patches go for about $5, lower than the price of a single tube (~$7).
  2. a patch kit can be taped under the seat whereas a tube must be carried in a bag or pocket (and if in a pocket, remembered).
  3. Given the ability to avoid flats almost entirely (e.g. using puncture-resistant tires, riding mindfully / carefully), I have never had to wait for a patch to 'dry', even the minute or two for the glue to set passes pretty quickly. Except when in a rush (e.g. a mountain bike race), it takes this much time to change a tube.
  4. Tubes deteriorate more quickly and are more likely not to work when needed than a patch. For example, improperly folded tubes often crack where folded or at the base of the stem.

Despite my own advice, in practice I carry a spare tube in my pocket if one is handy.

On a side note, if you have neither a tube nor a patch kit you can

  1. tie a knot in the tire where the hole is and stretch
  2. ride home on a flat and risk damaging your rim
  3. stuff the tire with grass or something else handy
  4. hitch hike
  5. call a friend/ family member
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6. Stuff the tire with road kill, plenty of that here..7. seal the puncture with a 1 watt hand laser, hey that might work! –  Moab Jun 30 '11 at 1:36
    
+1 for some of the problems/risks with carrying spare tubes. I haven't had the same experience with patches, but it makes sense if you can patch quickly. –  James Schek Jun 30 '11 at 19:46
    
Actually, an average quality tube, rolled up and out of the sun and air (and ozone), will last a decade or more without serious deterioration. Tires deteriorate over time (especially in the sun), but tubes much less so. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 30 '11 at 22:37
    
@Daniel I did use tire when I meant tube, and I can't argue that an unopened tube might last a decade - or more with proper care. However, tubes in regular use are often no so lucky, particularly if the tube is rolled up improperly, held together with a too-tight rubber band, or exposed to weather and sweaty pockets. A ziplock bag and some baby powder will mitigate most of these abuses. –  David Jul 5 '11 at 4:49
    
Whatever. My experience has been different. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 5 '11 at 11:21
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Tired of patching/replacing tubes I finally decided to convert my wheels to tubeless using this kit: http://www.sincamaras.com/INGLES/indexenglish.HTM. I know there are several other on the market (e.g.: DT-Swiss has a tubeless kit as well) but my local bike shop recommended me this one. I decided to install it because in my area, this winter, a lot of vegetation has been cut around the trails and everyone is having lots of flats due to the spikes on the ground. I haven't had a flat since I installed the tubeless kit. I had almost one (sometimes 2) per ride before! Another advantage of removing the tubes is making the wheels lighter.

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Looks like tire sealant, is it any better than the rest on the market? I wonder I should just put the sealant in, saves on tubeless tires. –  Moab Jun 30 '11 at 1:32
    
I don't know. I used that because it was recommended by my local shop. I have no complain about it. I know DT-Swiss has one, another one Zero Flats: zeroflats.com. –  Narcís Calvet Jun 30 '11 at 20:55
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Is it worth patching a tube on a mountain bike, or just replace it with a new one?

If you get a flat on the trail, and you have a spare tube, replace the tube and keep riding. But fix the tube when you get home, and use it to replace the spare you just used.

There are a lot of 1/2" - 3/4" thorns here in Texas, and I use 26 x 1.95 tubes. Any particular patch type/brand is better? Can you recommend any methods to cut down on punctures?

I think there are some tubes that are more "heavy duty" than others. But most of the protection is in the tires as others have noted.

Talk to your local bike shop about the tire options they recommend for your thorny trails.

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The Schwinn dry type of patch is a total waste of time and money. About $4 at Meijer, and the patches have so little adhesive that they have trouble staying on the tube (much less sealing a leak). So if a big box store with only Schwinn products is your only alternative, just buy the cheap tube.

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