Midweek Post for May 24, 2023 – Ride Essentials (Tubes)

Image By Alessandra Caretto from Upsplash.com

Without question, one of the most important (and essential) accessories you should carry with you on a ride is a spare inner tube(s). This is, of course, if you are running clincher wheels and tires. Tubeless tires, which are usually glued onto the wheel rim, I won’t touch on here.

That said, before you go out and buy tubes, you should be aware of the different types of tubes out there, the valves used on a road tube versus a mountain tire tube (Presta for road and Schraeder for mountain bike) and their different lengths versus a mountain bike tube (primarily to protrude from wheels with deep rims), then test a new tube and fold it up for storage in your saddle bag.

Quick History of the Bicycle Inner Tube

The first bicycle wheels weren’t wheels made of metal with a rubber tire. They were more like wagon wheels with iron bands encircling the wheel. The first actual tire for bicycle use was made by John Dunlop in 1887.

These tires were called “pneumatic tires.” The word pneumatic pertains to an operational item that has gas or air under pressure. It wasn’t until 1891, however, that Édouard Michelin made the first tire that could be removed from the bicycle wheel and, if possible, quickly patched if a flat occurred. So basically, these were also the first tubeless tires, but these tires eventually gave rise to the inner tube.

Butyl Bicycle Inner Tubes

Photo of a Road Tube with a Presta Valve

Today, bicycle inner tubes are made of various materials. And, as Road.CC mentions in an article about tubes, you can buy lightweight tubes, tubes with a thicker wall to help avoid a puncture, or tubes with sealant added in.

Historically, though, bicycle inner tubes are made with butyl rubber, short for a “synthetic elastomer made by combining isobutylene and isoprene,” according to the Vittoria website. Butyl has, as Vittoria states, “excellent shock absorption and durability while returning low moisture and gas permeability, to maintain internal pressure.”

Butyl inner tubes have been the standard of the bicycle industry for a long time. They are what’s installed inside the wheels and tires on the bike you’ll get at a shop. They are also what a mechanic will use to fix a flat for you. Butyl inner tubes, for the most part, are inexpensive and their use can be prolonged with a patch kit.

While these tubes are manufactured in light and thick versions, they can still be quite heavy and negatively impact rolling resistance. That’s especially true if you were to buy a tube made with sealant. The other thing to note is that an inner tube, over time, can leak air, especially if you stored your bike away over the winter or you haven’t done a ride in a week or so.

Latex and TPU Tube Alternatives

Like most of the equipment in the sport of bicycling, the inner tube has been improved by the use of different materials. Those materials are latex and TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane). These types of tubes have many positive characteristics and attributes:

  • The tubes are lighter.
  • Decrease rolling resistance and increase performance.
  • Latex and TPU tubes are less prone to air leakage.
  • They are more durable, which may explain the reason for their high price tag.
  • More compact to store in a saddle bag.
  • TPU tubes are recyclable.

The downside of using these types of tubes is they are sometimes difficult to patch, even resistant to patching as is the case with TPU, so I’ve read. Plus, latex and TPU tubes can be expensive and can cost anywhere from $15 to $30 per tube.

Last Thoughts

If you run clincher tires on your wheels, then carrying spare tubes with you is essential. However, one key point here. Don’t just pull your new tube out of the box and shove it in your saddle bag. Make sure to inflate the tube enough so you can check for possible defects, such as valve leaks.

If the tube is okay, fold it up the same way it came in the box (make sure all air is drained), then rubber band or zip tie it for storage. And even though you’ve tested your spare, I would suggest carrying two spares. You never know when or if you might need it, or if you can lend another rider a tube who is without a spare.

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