To patch, or not to patch
The real question is in my title, here. And my short answer is absolutely, to patch.
First and foremost, let me say that I completely understand the skepticism of patching tubes, especially that of ones that we inflate to super high PSI’s, as in road bike tubes. With something being inflated to such high pressure, how in the world can sandpaper, glue, and a bit of rubber save something that’s supporting so much weight, and why wouldn’t I just buy a tube that’s already relatively cheap, at $5-7?
Why the industry has ruined patching
I feel that the reason that so many people are skeptics of the art of tube patching, is because some patches have ruined the reputability of tubes that actually work. Slime “skabs” are absolute shit, mostly any department store patches are crap, and I’ve even had experience with patches bought at flea market dollar stores, to no avail. I have never found that stick-on patches have worked well and do not at all advise that you try them out!
I recommend only two brands of patches, because I’ve had nothing but great experience with them myself, but I understand that there may very well be other brands that are just as good as REMA TIP TOP‘s patches, followed closely by Park Tool’s product, the VP-1.
What both these patches have in common, is that the are what are classified as vulcanizing patches. What is vulcanization? I’m honestly no chemist, and here is the Wikipedia article on it, so I don’t want to get ahead of my knowledge to say more than that it is a process by which two materials, namely rubber, are able to bond to themselves, and very well at that. Seriously, as in very, very well; check out how seamless that my TIP TOP patches are!
Both the REMA TIP TOP patches and the Park VP-1 are sold in a variety of packaging sizes and come with different amounts of cold vulcanizing fluid and sandpaper which are relative to the amount of patches that are included. Also, these kits often include ‘long’ patches that are especially good at covering multiple holes caused in pinch-flats.
I don’t buy these kits, however. Most of the money you’re spending is on the box, the glue, and sandpaper included in the six-patch kits. I’ll have my LBS order me a set of 100 TIP TOP patches at a time, and I will seriously go through the whole box in a year. Granted, I live with roommates that share my tubes and whatnot, but I feel that this is easily the best value if you’re in it to patch in bulk and carry tubes-on hand, as opposed to patching your tubes on the fly.
What a lot of fellow patchers may not know, is that rubber cement can be bought in large quantities for fairly cheap, and works great as a cold vulcanizing fluid. I’ve had great results with Elmer’s cement myself. Lastly, if you do go ahead and do not buy the kit, you will need sandpaper, which I think 80 grit tends to work the best.
What I personally do when I get a flat, is as I said, change it with my spare on the fly, bring the tube home, and hang it up in my bike room. When my hanger gets pretty full of holy tubes, I have a ‘tube patching party’ with some of my roommates, and we will go through and patch every tube that is possible to patch, and discard the bad eggs from the group.
Note: the tube I’m patching throughout my pictures is actually a tube for my cyclocross bike, which just flatted last night. At any rate, the process to patch a MTB tube of any diameter is exactly the same, and is honestly much easier than trying to patch a skinnier tube, as pictured here!
First, we’ll pump the tube up, until they get to be huge. If the hole is not noticeably leaking air, mark it with an X, or a star right away. If you can’t find a hole, it may be easy to fill a large pot or a bathroom sink with water, submerge, and see where air may be escaping from the tube. Bubbles tell all. Once you find the hole, dry, and mark as mentioned.
Once you get your holes marked, go ahead and take some sandpaper and scratch the area around the hole really well. Cover a larger area than where the patch can fit, as this is done to help the glue stick to the tube better, and having a bit of a buffer area doesn’t hurt.Apply glue to the tube, swirling it around with your finger, applying a thin layer of glue to a larger area than a hole. Thin layers are much better than gloppy thickness. Figuring out exactly how thin is a bit of an artform, however. Once you’ve got glue on the tube, though, I like to blow on the glued area to help it dry a bit faster.
Once the glue looks relatively dry, peel back the foil backing to the patch, and previously ‘foiled’ side down, firmly press the patch over the marked hole. I like to ‘kneed’ it around with my thumbs, until it seems to be stuck well enough. Whatever you do at this point in time, resist the temptation to peel off the plastic backing!!! This is by far the easiest way to ruin all the hard work that you’ve just put in to patching your tube, and that extra bit of plastic doesn’t really save too many extra grams to where it’s worth being peeled off.
Lastly, I like to fold up my tubes and put them in a box. If you’ve got an assortment of patched tubes, it may be a good idea to label them with circumference, width, and valve type information. I typically let all of the air out, and fold them up very tightly, binding them with a rubber band. For race weekends, I’ll just bring this box with me.
So how well does this newly patched tube work? Friends who occasionally borrow my bikes will notice when they get a flat and have to replace the tubes, that my tubes will often have up to six or seven patches in them, sometimes. They’ll immediately jump to conclusions, saying “well that’s why I got a flat!”
I always tell them to find out where the puncture came from, and that if the tube flatted due to a faulty patch job, they can grab a beer from my stash. Can’t remember the last time I’ve donated a beer to this cause.
Patched tubes work just as well as brand new tubes, and cost a fraction of a dollar to become as functional as a brand new one. If you are a skeptic, like I said, I completely understand where you are coming from, but I strongly encourage you to try out patching!