Keep two cardboard boxes or crates in a corner some place. If you go through lots of tubes (have lots of bikes and lots of different size tubes), when you replace a tube on the road (always carry a spare tube since replacing it is so much faster than patching it while on the road) throw the tube in the box marked “to check and patch” when you get home.
Getting 10 or more tubes in the box is not difficult if you also pull old tubes from the trash can at any bike shop where they don’t bother to repair them (if they don’t mind). Ten or more is a magic number because when you open a new tube of cement, you want to use it all and when you decide to do tube patching your time is more effectively used by doing several.
Take your floor pump, your patch kit(s) and the box of tubes and go out to the swimming pool (or a friends if you don’t have one, or the lake if you need to get away).
Quickly pump up the tubes until they are really fat with air and toss them into the pool. Grab your marker (white crayons come with some patch kits) and jump in after them. Try to sit on a whole pile of tubes and then start grabbing them one-by-one at the point where the bubbles are coming up. Mark the spot and then throw the tube out of the pool (onto the deck by the floor pump would be a good place).
When you have checked all the tubes and marked them (and rejected any that wouldn’t hold air long enough to get them marked – big holes and defective stems, etc.) finish your swim while the tubes dry.
Now, sitting on the deck with a brewski and your favorite music, proceed to patch all the salvagable tubes in the conventional manner. Note: If several tubes seem to have holes at the same point around their circumference and are from the same bike, begin to suspect the nearly invisible thorn or piece of glass that doesn’t immediately cause a flat, but slowly penetrates the tube over a week or more of riding and then seems to give you a flat from a whole new cause. It happens.
Ready for another swim? If the patches have had a chance to set up, pump the tubes full again and throw them back into the pool. Jump on for a ride and look for bubbles. Look carefully this time because your patch may be “almost, but not quite” a complete job or there may be another leak that went unnoticed in the presence of lots of bubbles from an obvious leak.
Now, toss the “fixed” tubes into a pile and let them dry a few hours (more swim, more brewski, more music) and when they are completely dry you are ready for the anal retentive part. Take talcum powder, zip lock bags and post-it notes – write the tube size and number of patches on a post-it, roll the tube up and put it into the zip lock with some talcum powder and the post-it. Shake well and put into your tube supply.
Additional hints: When you are ready to carry the patched tube on your bike, put it into an old sock to protect it. When getting ready to roll up tubes, presta valve tubes are easy to deflate. For Schrader valves, it helps to have a core removal tool (little thing that has threads and a slot for unscrewing the core and also a pointy thing for just letting air out of Schraders. When the tube is flattened and rolled up, don’t forget to put the core back in. Also, when tossing tubes beyond repair, keep the cores if not the problem. There will be times when a spare core will save a tube.
This isn’t everything, but it’s what was at the top layer of my brain after about four cups of coffee.
These tips were contributed by Fred Meredith, © 2002 | Also see our article How to Fix a Flat