Rather than looking at the ideal kit, whats the basic everyman version?
Lets Not Get Carried Away Here…
In my previous post, I laid out my idea of an ideal tool kit for my current daily driver/commuter/shopper/cargo bike. That sucker is one big bike, and given its nature, I can carry along a lot of crap with me (like a chair!) without really noticing. I thought maybe it might be a nice idea to toss out a short post supplementing that one, showing what I carry along on a much more normal sized ebike.
So, without further ado, lets see all the stuff:
The Patch Kit
As I noted in the other post, I am using kits I made myself of bulk patches and bigger vulcanizing fluid tubes. I save a little money, can carry more patches in the same space and get a little better container. If you just want to cover this base and aren’t into buying patches 100 at a time, the Rema Large Touring Kit has been on the market for decades, largely unchanged, for a reason (since I was a kid riding in the 1970’s, they improved the sandpaper. Thats the only change). It will suit you just fine.
The Tire Levers
No discussion of alternatives this time. These Park 6.2 levers are sturdy and thin, so they fit more readily in a small kit. Over time as I mentioned in my other article, I have tried many different levers and settled on these. They’re worth the extra money.
A Tire Patch
If you encounter something that puts a major slit in your tire, you need some way to limp home. The Park Tire Boot is basically just a great big gooey glue patch and probably the best overall solution to this. Another one is to pull a dollar bill out of your wallet and line the tire under the slit with it. Still another: Wrap duct tape around the outside of the tire and rim and suffer thru the thumpThumpThump on the ride home (I have done this and it really works). But a tire boot is the cleanest solution and may even be a permanent fix if the tire is not too badly damaged.
If you bumped up to a multi-tool above, you already covered this base.
Stubby Hex Wrenches
I used the long version of the Bondhus hex wrench set in my big kit. But usually I use this shortie version of the same wrench set. If I was REALLY trying to save weight I would pull out all the wrench sizes I don’t use, but you never know when you could use an extra little pry bar or brace ;-D
Short Adjustable Wrench
If you have a hub motor, then you need one of these to remove your wheel IF NECESSARY. While a big wrench is always easier to use as a lever, you should be able to use a small 6″ wrench almost as effectively. Make sure you need one of these for wheel bolts before you bring it along.
c02 Inflator and cartridges
This is something you will keep in a separate bag of some kind. It is your backup inflation method – that will be your primary in some cases where you need to blast in a lot of air fast to get a tire back up to pressure so the sealant inside can do its job. Usually that means blast in a cartridge, jump on the bike and ride a half block and pray the hole has sealed. If it does, use the pump to get it back up to a rideable volume. I haven’t discussed co2 before so this is what I used:
There are many out there. I have settled on the Lezyne inflator and have half a dozen of them. You can save a buck or three on something different, but this model has a regulator that doesn’t stick out so it can get bent in your bag. Its reliable over time and multiple uses. Its just a clean, reliable example of the species.
Bring as many as you can figure out how to carry. Especially if you have a fat bike. I use this brand and size (25g) of co2 cartridge… but the price they want for 9 is about what I paid for a pack of 30 of the things. Prices have gone way up on these bulk cartridges in the year or two since I bought them. Shop around and you can get a better price, but not a lot better. For tires that are not fat tires, you can get away with 20g cartridges.
Here again you have multiple choices. If you have a road bike you will want a high-pressure pump. If you have a mountain bike you will want one slanted towards high volume. While I generally like the Lezyne line of portable pumps, I have one of these and its a great alternative. The T handle in particular is worth a lot when it comes to delivering a hundred pump strokes, but also the screw-on chuck and the floor-mounting ability make it a standout. Typically a pump is either in a separate bag or strapped into a mount on one of your water bottle cages. This pump does have a cage mount included.
A Bag to hold all this Crap
I use an under-seat bag, personally. The one I decided I liked that holds all my stuff is found here on EBay and also you can find it on AliExpress, so long as you are willing to take the usual risks associated with buying direct from a Chinese vendor (I did).
There are many other alternatives. This one looks promising. I like velcro as it stays put where adjustable-length snap buckles tend to slip.
Chances are pretty good a bag like this will be large enough to handle more than the tool kit, like your keys for sure and maybe your wallet as well (or a couple-three co2 cartridges!).
I think. We’ll see if people come up with more questions on this subject on the FB groups where posts like this one are used to provide more in-depth answers.
You need to carry tools as a matter of routine. Especially if you ride daily for transportation or commuting. But what do you really *need*?
This is the companion post to “(e)Bike Flat Prevention“. In that post, I talked about how best to prevent the inevitable: Flat tires. Well, since they are inevitable you had better be able to fix one when your luck runs out. Part of that process is having the right tools for typical roadside jobs.
As I mentioned in the initial post on this subject, I ride pretty much every day by choice. Day in, day out. If it is raining I’m riding. Same for when the sun is blazing. I’ve been doing it for many years and over time I have experienced quite a lot in terms of pratfalls, mishaps, bad decisions and just plain rotten luck. One of the benefits of experience has led me to make specific choices with regard to the tools I bring along with me on the road. I see some folks bringing along the kitchen sink, including bandages, spare electrical wire and diagnostic equipment… All kinds of crap. I’ve been there myself, but if something hasn’t been used in my kit in awhile, it gets left at home eventually. The reverse goes for something that totally saved my butt. Its got a spot in the kit for life.
So… what does the kit look like? I’ll use the BIG one on my Surly Big Fat Dummy. It is larger than some of my kits, but not by much. I’ll go over the whys and wherefores of every item and you can decide if whatever it is I am including is something you want to leave off.
Lets See All The Stuff
Before I go into all the details, lets talk about what you cannot see.
The Electric Pump
I wrote up a post not too long ago on an emergency electric bike pump that uses the ebike’s battery so it can remain lightweight. That pump is on the It Saved My Ass list so its always included. As you can see in the linked article, I keep it in a cloth pouch and generally it sits at the bottom of one of my panniers.
The Spare Tube
I carry one of these whether I am running tubeless or not. Its the last line of defense between me and trying to carry the bike home. The spare tube on my Surly is located in the ‘basement’ deck at the back, in a ziploc bag. Where it will hopefully remain forever.
Yes thats right. A freaking chair. This is my newest addition and it got included after I had to stand one too many times in a sun-baked parking lot waiting for curbside pickup. A simple folding 3-corner stool, it can be used either as a seat at the (skateboard) table, or anywhere around the bike while I work. Much better than squatting on the ground or kneeling.
This is a luxury that, realistically, is only possible with a larger longtail bike, or at the least one with a rack you can lash a chair to.
Tubeless Tire Repair Kit (from Lezyne) I use FlatOut as a tubeless sealant and it should seal holes up to 1/2″ (I already have seen it do its job up to about 1/4″). But stuff happens, and a tire plug kit like this (same idea as the ones sold for car tires) is what you use to seal up a tear in your tire that your sealant doesn’t want to plug, or you just feel better about repairing – these plugs are a permanent fix. A tire plug is not going to make up for torn tire casing cords. In all but extreme cases you can use one of these and forget about the damage the hole made to your tire.
Tube Patch Kit (home assembled) I make these up myself. You can buy them cheap, but with all the riding I do, it makes more sense for me to buy a pack of 100 patches and stuff about a dozen of them, a snip of flexible sandpaper and an XL tube of cold vulcanizing sauce into an empty prescription bottle. That bottle has an adult-proof cap and a hard shell superior to the plastic boxes the full kits come with. Note that generally you would use this kit only if you are running tubes. I keep it along just in case I meet a fellow rider who has flatted on the road, or the off chance I can make use of it myself
The Ridiculous Tire Lever (from a set of 3) This is a tool reserved only for when I am desperate. It is in fact meant for a motorcycle and it is a solid piece of steel. A tool like this can easily damage a bicycle rim or tear open an inner tube so while its included in the kit, its there as a last resort only.
Sturdy, Safer Tire Levers I have tried many different tire levers. The Park TL-6.2 steel core tire levers I use these days seem to be the sweet spot between sturdiness and usability, and have never bent or broken on me. Before I switched to these I ran Pedro’s tire levers, which are cheap and smooth enough they pretty much never pinch a tube. But on really stout tire/rim combinations, they like to break, so its always smart to carry more of them than you need, and expect to keep buying them to replace broken ones.
Before I used those levers, I used the Portland Design Works 3Wrencho. I had three and bent two of them. Also the plastic on the lever side likes to tear away (something the Park levers don’t do).
Since we are ticking off the also-rans, these Schwalbe levers were pretty good, and don’t take up much space. But they are definitely breakable and the edges on the lever can tear into a tube.
6″ Needlenose Pliers These are your basic, garden variety small-ish needlenose pliers. I have them listed as going in the tool bag, but these are actually in another secure location where I can grab them fast. Why? Because when your tire is hissing air, you may or may not be able to remove the foreign object with your fingers. It could be a sharp bit of steel or jagged glass. Pliers will always be a better choice than bare fingers for grabbing that. Since you have to remove larger foreign objects so the tire sealant can do its job… keep pliers handy. You can jump off the bike, pull out a nail, jump back on again and keep riding like nothing happened.
Long T25 Wrench Most folks will have no use for this. But, I use Magura brakes. Magura has decided NOT to honor the M6 hex bolt standard used by the entire rest of the industry, and instead uses a Torx T25 for all their fittings. So I have to keep one with me. I keep the green plastic store card on it so its easier to find in the bag.
Pocket Knife Bit of string. Handkerchief. Some hard candy. Pocket knife. Gun. Stuff a guy needs on general principles. Tossed onto the pile. No purchase link because of course you already have several.
Chain Pliers Nowadays, chains use master links and don’t need chainbreakers (usually). Sure you can use a bit of your shoe string to separate a master link, and there are other tricks to reassemble one… but the right tool for the job weighs almost nothing and takes very little space. The pliers in the picture above are made by Park Tool. But these cheapo chain pliers work just as well at half the cost. I have a few of both. Make sure you buy a pair that can both separate and assemble (some just do one or the other).
Battery Charger Adjustor (#0 phillips screwdriver) Since I carry along a portable, adjustable, weatherproof charger on this bike, A little screwdriver is needed to adjust the pots that govern target voltage and current (amps). Even though the one in my kit is inexpensive, an electrician’s insulated screwdriver like this is overkill. You can find something much smaller, like an eyeglass repair kit screwdriver.
Metric Hex Wrenches Even though, on a bicycle, you only need about four sizes, I carry the whole set. For this XL bicycle with an XL toolkit, I am using the extra long ball-end wrenches. But for most of my bikes I use the short length wrench set. This is easily the heaviest tool in the kit, but its also the most useful. I like the USA-made Bondhus wrenches because they are a) cheap and b) made of strong tool steel. They will not round off.
Chainbreaker (aka “chain rivet removal tool”) With master links now being in common use, a chainbreaker (and the black art of its use) is no longer essential on the side of the road. However, this tool can be the only one capable of fixing chain issues that decide if you are riding or walking. This mini version by Park is a bit more expensive than others, but it is very small – just large enough to use effectively. And it has something a lot of chainbreakers don’t: a second ‘shelf’ that the chosen few know how to use to unfreeze a link.
Sized, Spare Chain (with fresh, reusable master links in the bag) This is the third and largest of the chain-related tools in this kit. A whole freaking chain! With the number of links needed to serve as a proper emergency substitute. In the case of this 11-speed Surly longtail bike, that means I have to use two chains sectioned together to hold roughly 210 links. If I am using the factory-stock 11-speed drivetrain, that means for normal daily riding I run two 11-speed ebike chains. Not cheap at almost $100 for the pair (thats the COVID shortage price. You should bargain-hunt when you don’t need them. I paid about $28 each for mine).
Why bring a chain? Because we are using a mid drive for power-assist. Mid drives can eat chains. So just as you carry a spare tube and a patch kit… the smart mid drive rider brings along a spare chain. Goes with the territory.
Since this is an emergency just-get-me-home chain, I use two KMC X11 chains, which only cost about half of the ‘e’ chain.
4″ and 6″ Adjustable Wrenches You’ll want to look at whether or not you need an adjustable wrench at all on your bike. In my case I do have some hex bolts with nuts. Realistically I can get away with just the 4″ wrench and as such I will probably get rid of the 6″ even though it is not especially large.
Brake Blocks These are a good practice to use when pulling off a wheel if you have hydraulic brakes. Depressing the lever when the wheel is off the bike extends the pistons way further than they were meant to go, and that can cause the caliper to leak fluid… onto the pads. Thats a disaster that can even mean replacing the brake caliper. You can also use a popsicle stick, a bit of twig off of a nearby tree or a key from your keychain. But the Magura brakes I buy come with these brake blocks for free so I carry a pair along.
The fact that these stupid things cost almost $10 each to actually buy is ridiculous. I have a stack of them from owning about 6 sets of brakes so that means I could sell them all on Fleabay for over $200?
Fat Tire Hand Pump Now that I have the emergency portable electric pump, this one is a backup. But lordy… trying to use a hand pump to re-inflate a flat fat tire is a nightmare! But this unique Lezyne Micro Drive XL portable pump is a modern miracle. It will turn 400-500 pumps into … well, 200. Thats still awful until you sit down roadside and try and pump up a fat tire with 500 strokes of a normal portable pump. Then… only 200 is freaking great.
Note you can also use 20g or 25g co2 cartridges – you’ll still need more than one cartridge of either of these expensive XL sizes. I have both. But since I have gone to using the portable electric pump, I have taken the single-use co2 inflators and cartridge piles out of service.
Padding All of this junk in the bag does two things: a) it does not fill up the bag and b) it rattles around as I roll over things. So I stuff in some padding to help keep things from rattling. this yellow closed cell padding is extra left over from when I lined my Great Big Bags. It serves a second use: A knee pad for when I am down on the ground. Another excellent candidate for this sort of padding is a sized slice of Thermarest Classic padding.
A Nice Soft Towel I roll up my adjustable and hex wrenches, plus the Ridiculous tire lever in the towel. Between the padding and the towel, there’s no rattling in the bag when the bike is going over bumps. Plus, a towel will always come in handy somewhere.
A Word On Tool Use
I try NOT to use tools that are half sized for easy packability, or otherwise downsized somehow (particularly multi-tools). When I work on my bike at home in my garage, I try and always use the tools in this bag. The idea is, if I am used to them – and they are as close to full size as is reasonably possible – then I am not handicapped when sitting on the side of the road, trying to do a job with tools that are half-assed.
So… thats it. All of the tools I carry on the bike. And yes thats plenty. But bear in mind this is a big bike and I am counting things in like pumps and chairs and such that take up a fair bit of space, and ordinarily aren’t looked at when it comes to tool kit inventory. I have plenty of bikes where all of the tools fit into a pouch behind the seat, and a frame pump is attached to a water bottle mount. What you see here is the most complete, more better version that, if you have the capacity, should solve all of your typical problems.
oh, and don’t forget to bring along your phone and at least a debit card 🙂
As a daily rider for decades, I have some thoughts on this subject. Mostly along the lines of “no flats allowed, ever”.
This is Part 1. Part 2 focuses on tools to carry. This post was updated on 27 Dec to report the results of the tubeless installation with FlatOut sealant.
So… I try to ride to work every day. My office is 4.4 miles from my residence, but since I am trying to get as much exercise as I can, I may take up to 15.5 miles to get there. Thats all on city streets, which translates to potholes, nails, staples, steel shards, rabid rats and whatever else the mean streets throw at me.
With one break of about 15 years, ending about 5 years ago, I’ve been doing this since the mid-1970’s, and that includes shopping and errands as much as possible. I do actually own a couple of cars, but I’m trying to completely replace them.
As such, I have spent more than enough time on the side of the road, dealing with punctured, flat and damaged tires.
What Not To Do
Be a weight weenie. If you want the most responsive ride, and are willing to work thru flat tires to get it, fine keep your wheels light weight, your tubes ultralight and your tire casings thin. Thats not me and we’ll be doing the polar opposite of this philosophy: going almost literally for Bulletproof.
What TO Do
Everything described here is about flat prevention. I have tried just about every anti-flat tech there is. I won’t be describing all of it and just focus on where I have evolved to today – probably after trying a lot of other things that you are thinking about trying yourself. I am this kind of guy: I use the best. Not because I can afford to throw money at the problem but … because I need to keep rolling; not walking. Nothing sucks worse than flatting on a cold winter night after work (well, maybe getting hit by a car but you know what I mean). What you see here is what I’d call state of the art to keep me on the road and not on the side of it.
If you have a bike where such tires can fit, these are the Holy Grail. I have found, for instance, the Continental Contact Plus City tire is to all intents and purposes invulnerable. I found it also wears like iron, so you will get lots of miles out of a set. It is E50 rated so its got a seriously sturdy casing.
It is less expensive than the Schwalbe Marathon Plus (which garners all the mindshare for this class of tire) but essentially the same performance: Flatproof. The Contis are cheaper because in part Continental is fighting to take market share from Schwalbe, and partly because they sell into ebike rental fleets where cost is a big factor.
If you can get this tire on your wheels, consider it seriously. Be aware however that it rides hard. In other words it sort of feels like you are rolling on a smooth rock (full suspension would be a big plus). Thats the price you pay for modern, genuinely flatproof tires so either live with it or look to a different solution.
If you have a fat bike, don’t worry about what flatproof tires would do to your ride comfort because you can’t get them for fat bikes. They would weigh a ton.
Thorn Resistant / tough / Smart Inner Tubes
I’ll make this simple: If using tubes, use thornproofs wherever possible. Always. Here again, if you own a fat bike you don’t have to worry about it because they don’t make them for fat sizes. Again because of the colossal weight.
For fat bike riders, scan the marketplace (it changes by the month) and look for the thickest tubes you can get: 1.2mm is the most I have been able to find, and only sporadically. The thicker the better.
What do I mean by “smart inner tubes”? Well, the tubes aren’t smart but you need to be when choosing the size. This is a little counter-intuitive, but you want to always try and oversize your tubes. If you have a 26×2.8″ tire, a 26×4.0″ tube is perfect for it. Why? Because the tube doesn’t blow up like a balloon inside of the tire. In fact it may not be distended in the slightest.
Try blowing a balloon up full and then barely touch it with a pin. BOOM. Now take another balloon and just put a puff or two of air into it, so its barely stretched out. Tap it here and there with that pin. Different result entirely. That same idea holds for tubes. The trick is if you are doing this, you are going to need to work more carefully to get that tube in under that tire safely without it getting pinched under the bead (top tip: Barely inflate it so it is not sufficient to hold shape… that will happen when you are stuffing the tire onto the bead). Once the tube is safely in and the tire is mounted, you are golden.
Oh and, like I said you need to be smart. So when using oversized tubes don’t overinflate the tire past its rated max. You will find that using a bigger tube means it is capable of tearing your tire apart from the inside. I’ve never seen anyone actually do this. Just Sayin’… don’t be That Guy.
DIY Belts Under Tires
There are many such products, with Mr. Tuffy being the oldest of the bunch and arguably the most effective. I started using Tuffy ages ago when it first came out, on road bike tires. That polyurethane formula was damn near impregnable. You did have to fiddle with it a little to get it centered on the tread, but the result was well worth the effort. Sadly I have found that the new-generation Mr. Tuffy that is made for Plus sized and fat tires (XL thru 4XL sizes) never met a nail it didn’t like. My Tuffy 4XL had a zero percent (0%) effectiveness rating at turning nails. I gave it plenty of chances to redeem itself. Its hard to hate the Tuffy people too much for this as a properly thick belt would (drumroll) weigh a ton. Sound familiar?
After decades of swearing by Tuffy, on fat tires I was forced to abandon it for what I consider to be its natural enemy…
Tube Sealant (Slime!)
With Mr. Tuffy failing to deliver in fat city riding (maybe it still works on goatheads), I turned to the most widely available and well known alternative: Slime tire sealant.
Remember… I am riding with tubes and not going tubeless. You CAN use tubeless sealant in inner tubes. I suggest you don’t. I have used both Stan’s Tire Sealant and Orange Seal Endurance Formula in tubes. Both did a great job of sealing the tire once the sealant leaked out of the holes in the tube… but the air kept coming out of the tube and leaked thru the spoke holes (that means a LOT of sealant gooshed out along with the air… that is a mess you need a toothbrush and an hour per wheel to clean up).
To be fair, I did have instances where both sealants worked to seal goathead thorn holes on a tubed tire. But after the above catastrophic failure (lots of goatheads… like 50 per tire) I abandoned tubeless sealants in tubes. They just do not have enough fibers to seal more-stretchy tubes with the same level of reliability as tube sealant.
Where was I? Oh right… Slime. Tubes. Slime worked very well for me, I found if I could hear the hiss-whack-hiss-whack-hiss quickly enough, I could jump off the bike (stopping first) pull the nail, jump back on and get rolling with enough air still in the tire the sealant could plug the hole. If I wasn’t so fast I might need some co2 to give a fast rush of air so I could get that roll on. And if I did have a leak that didn’t seal up completely, many times it slowed the leak enough I could turn and haul ass straight home so I could do my repairs sitting in my garage, with a soda and a sandwich, rather than sitting on a rock, or on the curb in the sun.
Slime was of course, a mess. A huge mess in some instances. But it worked. However it is only rated to work on holes up to 1/4″ in size. Over that and you could be walking. I’ve had that happen more than a few times (we’ll get to tools and roadside repair in the follow-on post to this one).
Slime is rated to last about two years before it dries out. I’ve had it dry sooner (about a year). Once its dry its worthless. You really should just replace the tube at that point as its really heavy and won’t do you any good any more. With respect to dosage: Rule of thumb from user groups (my experience is the same) is to double the recommended dose. A fat tire bike can and should use a full 8 oz bottle of the stuff. Work down in dosage as your tire size decreases.
While Slime has been knocked off of its pedestal by the following product, that product is I think still not quite fully proven. Thats why I am leaving a full discussion of Slime here rather than ignoring it as old news…
Unlike Slime and most sealants out there, FlatOut is advertised to last for “10+ years” which translates to “forever”. It doesn’t dry out.
It also advertises itself as working on holes up to 1/2″ wide. Double the size of Slime and other sealants. I’ve only been using it for a few months and a few hundred miles but it has already sealed a few holes for me… one of which was a piece of jagged metal so large I have to wonder if Slime could have handled it at all.
It was enough to make me start believing the 1/2″ hole claim. Time will tell.
The label on FlatOut indicates nowhere that it can be used on bicycles of any type. Hearing that others had been using this but nobody could say for sure if it was fit for purpose, I called FlatOut and asked. I got hold of their product manager responsible for bikes. It turns out the Sportsman formula was tested extensively by a manufacturer who made hunting ebikes: for hunters heading out to game stands and blinds in the boondocks. The recommended dose for a 26″x4.0+ tire is a half bottle (16 oz). The recommended dose for a Plus sized tire is about 12 oz. For smaller tires… figure something out or call them and ask for guidance.
So the dosage for FlatOut is quite a bit more than the amount that you would put in for Slime. On the plus side, its a one-time application that could very well last the entire life of the tire: Set it and forget it.
This one is kind of a new category unto itself. By and large it has one credible product in the category: Tannus Armour. Basically its just what it sounds like. A barrier that completely surrounds and protects the tire. Flexible enough not to ruin your ride and tough enough to stop stuff from coming thru.
There are a number of sizes. I can say the difficulty of installation can vary widely. My 29er has two slightly different tire sizes, one of which required a trim to fit. Difficulty of installation ranged from difficult to almost impossible. But I got it in. For those two installations I used thornproof tubes underneath and that probably kept me from damaging the tubes during the installation battle. Centering the armour under the tread was also difficult.
For the two fat bikes I have it installed in, both went in much more easily. One bike with 100mm rims and 26×4.8 Vee Snowshoe XL tires went smooth and easy. If anything the Tannus protected the tube completely as I levered the tire bead back onto the rim.
My second installation with 80mm rims and Vee Mission Command 26×4.7 tires was more difficult, but still ok. Part of the reason was the fact the claimed 4.7″ tire size is baloney and the Vee Mission Command is really a 4.3″ wide tire.
I have heard complaints about the ride with Tannus underneath the tires, but I have not experienced any squishiness or anything else other than an obvious unsprung weight increase.
In the spirit of overkill, I also used FlatOut in the tubes under the Tannus Armour. So far so good no flats. But if you ride long enough you know you can go months with no problems… then your luck changes and you get three flats in a week.
I have also seen photos of Tannus Armour that has, over time and miles, compressed to being paper-thin. I’ll have to see whether that renders its protection less effective. Since as I mentioned above, I like to oversize tubes and the tubes I used under all of my Tannus installations were a bit over. In particular I used Vee 26″ x 3.5-5.0″ tubes which are small enough to work but also capable of fully expanding. So maybe that was a good choice given this potential scenario.
So only time will tell. Still, I have high hopes and believe my expectations are justified.
Running tubeless is a whole different world. Here again, the right choices are simple and for simple reasons. You just have to hear what they are and the benefits should be obvious.
Tubeless Valve Choice
Any valve with a metal lip on the bottom. There aren’t too many of these on the market. The ones I use are from MBP and the Orange Seal Versavalve. The MBP valves are a bit less expensive but still totally solid on quality. The Versavalves give you more stuff along with the valve. Particularly a valve core remover that screws onto the valve and stays with the wheel permanently, staying right where you could need it as opposed to being *somewhere* but you are not sure what pouch you put it in when you need it.
Why does that bottom lip matter? Because it provides a solid backstop for the gasket that sits on top of it. When you screw down the valve the gasket is smooshed into the rim hole; sealing it to the rim whether it wants to or not. For a different kind of valve with just a rubber gasket glued to the bottom, well if you have to screw it down tight, you could end up pulling the valve clean thru the rim. Also the valve is not held in a vise like it is with a metal lower lip.
Like everyone else on the planet I first tried Stan’s Notubes valves and sealant. I found these valves worked perfectly on the first seal, but over time – especially when adding air down the road – they leaked no matter what I tried (including the standard pliers-on-the-valve-nut bit). Replacing them with MBP or Versavalves solved the problem instantly. Stan’s valves do not have a metal lip on the bottom.
In the long history of Serious Tubeless Sealant, there are only a couple of mass market players.
Stan’s Notubes Sealant
Ask any internet gathering what sealant to use and you will hear a chorus of “Stans“. And to be fair, the stuff works, and it has been on the market for years reliably keeping people rolling rather than walking. I am one of them. But being the first to market, and not really having noticeably changed over the years, I don’t think its the market leader anymore in terms of performance. You can depend on it, but it has some limitations. For starters, it dries out fairly quickly. The mfr says it will last from two to seven months. Thats not a lot but back in the day it was still a miracle just to have the stuff in the tire with no tubes, and for it to work. In my experience Stan’s lifespan is a lot closer to seven months than it is to two. This may be because I use it in thick-casing mtb tires.
Next, its formula has ammonia in it… and that can be corrosive to your rims. Yes really. Google it for details if you like. Suffice it to say this is not a good thing.
Lastly… remember I mentioned that Stans dries out fairly quickly? Well how it dries is a bit of a subject all to itself. Google “Stan’s boogers” and click on the image results to see what it becomes. This translates to your not only needing to add more sealant, but to also clean out the boogers on occasion.
The Other Leading Brand (which seems to be slowly replacing Stans as the de-facto recommendation) is Orange Seal. By all accounts, it works a little better than Stan’s to initially seal up stubborn wheels. Depending on who you ask, it either lasts longer. Or not as long. Yay internet! The Endurance formula is advertised to have a lifespan of six months. I have found this 6-month span to be about right. And when it does dry out… no boogers! It dries into a thin, spread-out, easily removable coating on the inside of your tire. Not enough to throw it out of balance. So every few months you add more and you can ignore cleaning it out.
Orange Seal and Stan’s both seem to last longer than advertised. But both have a finite lifespan.
So which is better?
Both work fine but I give the nod to Orange Seal for convenience and no corrosion issues. One thing is for sure: Both of these sealants are more suited to small pinholes (think goatheads) than they are large tears…. jagged metal and your garden variety construction site drive-by pickups. They just aren’t made for that kind of puncture. Even Slime is better at that sort of thing thanks to its thick gooey fibrous nature versus tubeless sealant’s watery liquid latex composition.
There are some new kids on the block, however, that seem to eat the big stuff up.
This stuff is amazing. Just watch the videos on how it seals tires up. Whats not to love about it? Its brand new on the market and relatively unknown at present. I contacted the mfr and asked them about the product’s longevity. They responded that they are still determining that (like I said… new on the market). For that reason, I’ll keep an eye on it… and wait and see.
Yup… FlatOut Sportsman Formula. Same stuff as was described in the Tubes section above. On the Amazon product page linked here there are videos of ridiculously large holes being nearly instantly sealed by this stuff. When I discussed the product with them, they noted they have versions for military use that seal holes up to 1.5″ wide (not highway safe but doesn’t need to be). I can personally confirm FlatOut sealed a hole on one of my bikes, from a large jagged piece of metal, that I doubt Slime could have handled… Never mind Stans or Orange Seal.
It seems the equal of the Black Ox stuff in terms of sealing hole size, and they say out loud it lasts the life of the tire. FlatOut is also a lubricant so I can see using a bit of it on the lip of the rim helping to mount a tire (instead of the dish soap I use now).
In my discussion with FlatOut I asked about using it as a tubeless sealant… something they had not tried or tested. I had a game plan as a result of that conversation where they suggested to ensure an initial seal at bead seating, paint the bead with FlatOut to ensure that initial pop and seal, then load the tire up thru the valve core as usual.
Did it work? Well, I put it into play the same day this post went live, and here’s the update: Yes. Perfectly in fact. The bead-painting trick was not necessary. the bead was seated as usual with a blast of compressed air, and the sealant added after this just like any other tubeless installation. In the first few days I was losing about a pound of air per day and expecting to need to refill each tire roughly once per week. Since then the air loss has slowed and I have only needed to refill air once in about a month, after the first week. Tires are still holding without any apparent loss.
I’m running 90mm Nextie carbon deep dish rims, 1″ gorilla tape over the center depression (a unique issue with my rims) covered over by 85mm Whisky tape. 26″x4.7″ Vee Snowshoe XL tires on top.
From the looks of it, I have a sealant that never dries out and is capable of handling some of the worst things that can happen to a bike tire.
Got an ebike? Use the big battery you are already lugging around to power a small portable pump.
Me personally, I like to ride around on ebikes with fat tires, and I have several of them. The most recent addition to The Pacific Fleet is my Surly Big Fat Dummy. Its a monstrous cargo bike that, for me, doubles as a commuter. A few nights ago, on my way home from work – in the dark – I picked up a piece of twisted metal in my back tire. Part of the reinflation process (I use Flatout tire sealant so you need air in the tires as they spin around and seal the hole) requires air in the tires.
Because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, by the time I got the bike pulled over and the metal removed, my 26×4.3″ tire was flat as a pancake. Fortunately, I had a painless solution in my panniers and that solution is the subject of this post.
Now, when it comes to bicycle commuting this ain’t my first rodeo. I have always carried a Lezyne portable fat bike pump and it makes pumping fat bike tires tolerable. But its still far from ideal. Life sucks while you are putting in those 250+ pump strokes. And it ain’t quick by any stretch. If your tire is leaking air while you are pumping, the pump may not be a workable solution. As a backup I used to carry 25g co2 cartridges. Two of those monsters would blast a fat tire up far enough, fast enough, to be able to jump back on the bike and roll a half block or so to let the tire sealant do its job. Followed by another 250 pumps to get the now sealed but mostly-flat-again tire back up to rideable pressure.
But… you can only carry so many single-use co2 cartridges, and they are very pricey at that large size. Some time ago I came across a better way to deal with this issue.
The Portable Pump Solution
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just connect a hose to a small portable compressor, flick a switch and pump up your tire? And the compressor pumped fast enough to outpace even nail-sized holes in your tube or tire? Well, portable pumps like that have been around for quite a while. Small automotive ones connect to your cigarette lighter plug in your car (I have this one in mine). Unfortunately they run on 12v DC. Your ebike is running at least 36v DC and likely more. So you can’t use those. There are plenty of pumps available that have their own internal battery… but batteries are heavy and so are those pumps. Besides. You already have a great big battery on the bike. Why can’t you use it?
Yeah yeah. I know. China. If you can find a USA-made portable pump that runs directly on a 48v power source, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll add it in here. As it stands, there are only a very few such pumps readily visible on the market and they are all from the Far East. I have used them a half dozen times without incident. Will they last forever? Good question. I do still carry my hand pump just in case.
DIY a Battery Plug
As you may have noticed from the pictures, the pump has an odd plug on it. What you want to do is plug straight into your main battery. To do that you are going to have to get your hands dirty. From here on, I’ll give a step-by-step on how to make this happen.
Step 1: Snip off the plug
This one is pretty simple. Take a pair of scissors and snip off the plug.
Step 2: spread and strip the wire ends
You can see the wire strippers I used in the picture above. I used the 18ga hole, and I left about twice as much bare wire as I ordinarily need for a crimp connector. These wires are so thin I want to fold it back so the butt-end connector I will use has more material to grab onto.
Step 3: Determine which wire is hot
Yeah thats right. The plug gives us no indication which is the hot wire, so we have to figure that out for ourselves. What I do is bring out a bike battery and connect a bare XT90 pigtail to its output cord. This in turn gives me a bare, hot lead that I had sure better be careful with, and so must you.
So the next move is to bring the bare, stripped pump wires up to the bare battery wires and – after turning on the pump, touch the wires together to see which combination fires up the pump. Getting it wrong will not hurt anything. Just try the other combination if your first try doesn’t work.
As soon as you have marked your hot wire, disconnect the pigtail so you don’t have bare hot wires waiting to say hi to the cat.
Step 4: Make the connection
My choice for this job is a combination of the following: 1. Marine adhesive butt-end connectors 2. Adhesive heatshrink over the individual wires on each side 3. Adhesive Heatshrink over the butt-end connectors
I’m looking to make a reinforced and solid connection since the wires on the Chinese side are pretty flimsy. Here’s what it looks like after I have crimped the wires together, but before I have done the final heatshrink of first the connectors, and then the sheathing over them.
Notice the different colored rings on each side of the connections?
I used ‘step down’ connectors because the pump side wire was so much thinner. 18 gauge if we are being generous and probably 20 gauge if we are being accurate. This is why I folded the pump wires over to double them up. Which will only give more material to the crimp itself. The true strength of the connection comes mostly from the connector ends, plus the adhesive sheathing over top of that.
Step 5: Activate the Heatshrink (last step)
Finally, heat shrink the connectors first, then the individual wire sheaths, and finally the connector sheaths that also go over top of the individual small wires. BE CAREFUL on the pump side as the pump wire is very intolerant of heat and will happily melt on you even with mild heat. I use a heat gun set to low. You could get away with a hair dryer. I wouldn’t want to use an open flame due to the fragility of the pump wires.
At this point we just toss our pump into a bag to protect it from everyday rummaging, and that bag into our panniers. We’ll all hope we never have to use it, but we will of course.