Tire Repairs / Inflation Recommendations

By Stephen Karlan (Dali Meeow) <dalimeeow@comcast.net>

I really hate to get flats. Unfortunately I have the experience to make that statement with authority. In the process of getting my expertise, I have tried several types of plugs and inflation devices.

With the exception of the Stop & Go and the TRK-2 kits for tube tires listed below, this review investigates gear made for tubeless tires. There are four types of flats. There are small, medium and large holes in the tread that can be repaired with on-board kits. The fourth type of flat can't be repaired; it's the result of a sidewall puncture or large enough tread slash that can not and should not be repaired.

Repair options

Small holes (toothpick diameter) are easily plugged with a Dynaplug kit obtained from ACH Industries, Inc. Reading, PA 19603-1417, telephone 1-800-486-8122 or 1-800-988-2292. The plug is slighter fatter than a toothpick and has a pointed brass tip on one end with the rest of the plug made of a sticky, flexible material. The built-in adhesive is so sticky that no rubber cement is needed (none supplied). The whole plug fits into a hollow (straw-like) tool with the pointed brass end sticking out. To insert the plug into the tire, simply aim the tool with the brass point headed into the tread. Push until about half an inch of the plug is buried in the hole.

The hole is not enlarged when the DynaPlug is used; a small hole remains small. No reaming tool is needed and none is supplied. There are two drawbacks to the ACH kit; it is costly and it only repairs small holes. If you are riding and manage to get a small hole in your tire, this is the tool to have. If you don't, you'll have to enlarge the small hole so that a medium plug can be used.

On the right coast, Dynaplug kits may be available at Chief Auto Parts. In California and other left coast areas, try Kragen Auto Parts stores. The tool with four plugs is about $15.00. An 8-plug refill costs about $5.00. (Whoever in San Francisco sent me this information, please contact me so I can give you the credit for this.) It is less expensive to buy from the auto parts store than from the manufacturer (see comment on pricing below).

Medium sized holes (larger than toothpick and smaller than a pencil) can be plugged one of three ways. You can use the same plug that is used on automobile tires and is available at Kmart, Pep Boys, Rose Auto Discount and other similar stores. These kits include a reamer to clean and abrade the hole, an adhesive (vulcanizing or rubber cement) to coat the plug before it is inserted, several plugs a metal tool that inserts the plug. Follow the easy directions in the kit. After insertion, cut off the excess plug within 1/8 inch of the tread.

TRK-2 Kit from Progressive Suspension.

The most complete kit is the TRK-2 Tire Repair Kit. made by Progressive Suspension. There are five things about the kit that I like. (1) Nice case. (2) Excellent inflation tool. (3) Easy attachment to tire valve. (4) Tube, tubeless or combined kit. (5) Priced right.

Here are the details on the TRK-2 Kit. The zip-up nylon case holds everything in compartments; it was made for this tool and works well. There is a CO2 cartridge inflation tool that uses non-threaded (cheap) cartridges like the BikeNashbar unit mentioned later in this article under inflation options. There is no model or name designation on the inflation tool so I cannot identify it separately. The kit contains a three-inch long threaded tube that makes it easy to attach the inflation tool to the tire valve. The kit comes in three flavors -- tube, tubeless, or combination for both.

The difference between these kits is that the tube kit comes with patches, the tubeless kit comes with plugs, and the one for both contains both patches and plugs.

This plug system is unlike any other I've seen. There is a reaming tool that will clean out an opening from 1/16-inch to 3/16-inch, depending on how deep the tool is inserted. The hole doesn't need to be reamed out much. The instructions recommend reaming twice with the included "Super Valkarn" or other vulcanizing cement on the reamer. The plugs themselves are unique. They are one inch long cones (miniature ice cream cones) with a pinched or narrow waist. The cone plug has a recess in its bottom into which the reaming tool fits (instead of ice cream). The tool, fitted into the bottom of the cone, pushes the point of the cone into the hole until the narrow waist gets into the hole and seals the hole. I won't mention the company's recommended list price because it's much higher than the price at Motorcycle Accessory Warehouse (MAW), which has the tubeless kit for $21.95. MAW contact information and complete pricing is given below.

Seth from San Francisco wrote me that he got a nail in the new rear BT-54 on his new RT after only 2,000 miles. "I just couldn't bear to throw the tire away for such a small puncture. I used a Progressive plug; went another 10,000 miles with no problems whatsoever.

When the tire was removed for replacement a few weeks ago, I checked things out from the inside and could see that the plug had installed itself properly and was still very firmly affixed in the hole (I had to destroy it to get it out). It wasn't going anywhere," Seth said.

Disclosure:  Progressive Suspension supplied the TRK-2 kit to me at no cost for evaluation and inclusion in this article.

A third possibility for plugging a tire is a gun that compresses and inserts a 1/2 inch mushroom plug that expands after it is in the hole. No adhesive is used in this system. Stop & Go makes this kit. Since there are at least four different Stop & Go kits, find out exactly what and how many items are in the kit you are considering so that you can compare pricing between the various vendors of the same unit. Stop & Go has tube, tubeless, deluxe and T/L plug gun kits. The manufacturer states that these mushroom plugs are suitable for 100 miles, at which time a permanent repair or replacement is appropriate. I have not tested these plugs; reports have varied about their efficacy. Here's a listing of some sources these kits and others as of January 1998:

Large holes (pencil diameter) can be plugged with thicker string-type plugs designed for use in trucks. The large plugs may be found at truck stops. I've seen mechanics insert two and three string plugs before they could seal the hole and inflate the tire. There is a better solution that comes standard with the BMW R1100 series bikes. These bikes are equipped with a tire kit that contains three large plugs as their only plug. The BMW kit is not recommended for small or medium-sized holes because the hole must be reamed out and increased in size (possibly increasing damage to the tire) before the plug can be inserted. However, if there's a large hole in the tire, the BMW plug is an excellent solution.

Another Suggestion / Pricing

Jim(Dr.Curve)Roche <jroche@mailer.fsu.edu> suggests that, when using vulcanizing (rubber) cement in inserting plugs, have the hole at the top of the tire so that the cement runs into the hole. After the plug is in the hole, rotate the tire hole side down "so that any glue that may have gotten into the inside tire will slooze down around the inside plug area."

Pricing I have listed the name and contact information for the manufacturers of these products but, I recommend that you do not buy from the manufacturer. Manufacturers set and maintain "list price", which usually is the the highest price at which the product is sold. You can contact the manufacturer and find out who sells the product in your area. This may enable you to buy it at a discount or, if there is some place local, you can see and feel the product before you buy it.

With so many products in their catalogue, it would be difficult for Competition Accessories to check their pricing against other mail order operations. The difference in pricing for the TRK-2 Emergency Tire Repair Kit between Competition Accessories and Motorcycle Accessory Warehouse probably is the result of the inability of the mail order companies to do extensive price shopping.

Plugs are not permanent fixes. If you have plugged a tire, monitor it closely and drive slowly; 45 mph is the high recommended speed I've seen. The plug should be used to help you avoid a costly tow and to safely ride to the next motorcycle dealer or truck stop. All plug manufacturers recommend that you replace a plugged tire.

If you are going to ride it, install an interior patch using either a cold patch or melted adhesive. You also must make frequent and thorough checks of the tread and ensure that the tire is properly inflated. Discuss your options with a tire expert.

Inflation options

After patching the tire, inflation is the next step. A bicycle pump can be used effectively. Bicyclists also have been carrying CO2 cartridges for the past few years. There are two types of CO2 cartridges, non threaded and threaded, which refer to the screw threads on the end. The non- threaded ones are about $.50 each and I found them at K- Mart, Wal-Mart and Sports Authority. The threaded one cost approximately $2.50 or more and are available at some motorcycle and scuba diving shops.

The only tool that I have seen for non threaded cartridges (except for nearly a identical unit in the TRK-2 Kit above) is called Superflate by Innovations in Cycling Inc., 2700 E. Bilby Road, Tucson, AZ 85706 telephone 1-800-340-1050. These should be available at better bicycle stores. I purchased mine from Bike Nashbar, the mail order bicycle company. You can order a Nashbar catalog or order the unit for $16.38 including shipping from 1-800-627-4227. Ask for their current price; it has been on and off sale. Press the lever and air comes out; release and the left-over air is stored. Because of this, the tool is useful in adding a small amount of air to increase tire pressure. Its one drawback it that it can be difficult to attach to the tire valve. If you can, find a the flexible tube extension similar to the one supplied in the TRK-2 Tire Repair Kit.

I have tried several tools that use the more expensive threaded CO2 cartridges. The one-piece no-moving-parts plastic tool that was standard on my BMW is the easiest one I have tried. I also have one that came with the ACH kit which I do not recommend; difficult to use and I have wasted entire cartridges.

It normally takes two to three cartridges to inflate a tire. Or it could just take a little electricity from your battery if you're carrying a compressor. There are several compressors suitable for bike tires and, if needed, air mattresses. Depending on the model, they are heavy, bulky and you must have large-gauge wiring connected to your battery to run them. Don't ask me why I know small-gauge wire definitely will not work. On the positive side, they never run out of air. The compressor's case may be removed to make them less bulky, and the $15 to $20 expense is not much more than the CO2 tool.

Andreu Bruixot from Black Forest, Colorado (and hordes of old 4x4 users of the past generation) have employed a simple, compact, and less-expensive option. It's called the Chuffer (so named for the noise it makes) and it uses cylinder air pressure to pump clean (not air-fuel mix) into a tire. If you'll carry a spark plug wrench, the Chuffer may be for you. It's only $10.98 plus shipping from J.C. Whitney, part number 06 XP3890 N. You get the Chuffer itself (about 1 x 3 inch threaded cylindrical device with the valve inside), a 44-inch air hose, 3 threaded sparkplug adapters (to fit your spark plug hole) and tools and materials to repair tube and tubeless tires. I have not seen or tested this kit as of April, 1998. You may contact Andreu by clicking on his eMail address bruixot@rmi.net for more information and to thank him for writing this addition to the article.

J.C. Whitney also carries a CO2 tire inflator which uses the standard 12-gram cartridge (the kind you use for your Crosman pellet gun) for $12.88. Andreu says these cartridges, sold under the "Copperhead" brand in boxes of 25, are quite inexpensive at the ubiquitous Wal-marts. You can contact J.C. Whitney at 312-431-6102 or by writing to them at 1 JC Whitney Way, P.O.Box 1000, LaSalle, Illinios 61301-0100. You also can try their web site, http://www.jcwhitneyusa.com . Their web site isn't complete but you can get the basic information about them, order a paper catalog, and so on.

What tire pressure is right for you? Here's a test that you may want to try. Check your tire pressure with cold tires before starting a ride. Tire pressure should go up approx. 3 psi from cold after riding for 30 minutes. If it goes up more, they need more air. If it goes up less, they need less air. (I did not write this paragraph and lost the name of the person who posted it. Write me if this is yours and I will credit you with this information.)

How to tell when a rear tire is losing air ? As you lose air, the bike will have noticeable over-steer which means that a small steering input will cause the bike to wallow in the direction desired. Shocks also effect handling and a soft rear shock also will make the front wallow. Although I have not experienced this, a hard rear shock reportedly will destabilize the front.

Please notify me if you have found other tools or have additions, comments, etc.

Copyright © Stephen Karlan  <dalimeeow@comcast.net>  (Dali Meeow), Miami, Florida

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