Bicycle tubes are a simple but essential item for most cyclists (unless you’re riding solid or tubeless). They sit inside your tire and are inflated with a simple floor or portable pump. A tube puncture is typically a frustrating moment for every new cyclist, but being comfortable fixing punctures is an important skill for every rider.
Tip – Carrying a spare tube is always a good idea, even if you are running tubeless. It’s always simple to replace a tube and fix a puncture in the comfort of your home while sipping a beer/glass of wine, vs the roadside.
There are many different types of inner tube available so it is important that you get the right tube for your bike, and to suit the riding that you are doing.
BUYING THE CORRECT INNER TUBE FOR YOUR BICYCLE
You need to consider a few things while trying to zero in on a tube.
- Type of Tube Valve
- Length of the Tube Valve
- Tube Dimensions – tire circumference & width
- Type of Rubber – lighter for racing, heavier for training
TYPES OF TUBE VALVES
We have two major kinds of bicycle valves – Schrader and Presta
What are Schrader Valves?
Schrader valves end up on lower pressure tires, like mountain bikes. These are similar to the valves used in automotive tires and can be easily filled up at your local gas station in the case of an emergency (we recommend carrying a bicycle-specific floor/portable pump). Schrader valves are more robust, universally used, and have an easily removable core.
What are Presta Valves?
Presta valves have a slimmer stem. They are usually found on higher pressure tubes, like on Road Bikes. To inflate or deflate a tube which has a Presta Valve, the top section must be unscrewed, which allows the valve core to be free to move and to open/close. Presta valves are easier to pump than Schrader because they have no valve spring to overcome. The small diameter of the Presta valve requires a smaller hole in the rim, which becomes important in high-end bicycle rims.
LENGTH OF THE TUBE VALVE
Presta inner tubes come in different valve lengths depending on the depth of the rim profiles. If your wheel has a deep rim profile, make sure the valve is long enough to extend out of the rim hole and still be able to fit a pump onto. Valve extender can be easily purchased which will allow you to extend a short valve and still use it.
40mm – 80mm are common sizes available for Presta Valves. Anything more requires a Valve Extender.
Inner tubes vary in size depending on the circumference of the wheel, and the width of the tire. The size is written on the sidewall of the tire. Typically, you will see a wheel diameter and a width range which are acceptable. Depending on the bike, the diameter and circumference of the wheel can vary. The widths can also vary depending on the intended usage of the bicycle
The tube needs to fit your tire to avoid overstretching or pinching, both of which can lead to unfortunate punctures.
For example, 26 x 1.95-2.125″, indicates that the tube is intended to fit a 26-inch tire with a width of between 1.95 inches and 2.125 inches.
Since wheels are rotational mass, a good set of tires, wheels, and tubes can change your ride. Whilst tubes form a small part of this equation, this is something worth keeping in mind while you decide on which tube to purchase to ensure you can gain a competitive advantage when necessary.
As a rule of thumb, cheaper tubes are heavier, have more rotational weight and slightly more rolling resistance. On the flip side, they end up giving you more puncture resistance and are perfect for training rides. Not necessarily a bad thing eh. The heavier tubes end up being lighter and are perfect for performance riding as they reduce rotational mass and end up having lower rolling resistance.
Bicycle Tubes are normally made of butyl rubber or Latex.
What are Butyl rubber tubes?
Butyl rubber is the industry standard for inner tubes. They are relatively cheap and readily available. Butyl is also a strong and resistant material which also come with lightweight versions if you’re considering saving some weight.
Latex rubber tubes?
Latex rubber tubes offer enhanced riding characteristics as it’s more flexible than butyl rubber. Because of the flexibility, they adapt quickly to the tires changing shape and hence play a big role while cornering and deformation on impact.
Latex has tinner walls, offer weight savings and also have lower rolling resistance giving a performance edge over Butyl tubes. Unfortunately, apart from being expensive, Latex tubes are more permeable and more prone to blowouts under high heat situations. This can be a problem with carbon rims. Latex rubber is more gas permeable than butyl rubber and, as a result, latex rubber tubes do not hold the air as long as butyl based tubes and require more frequent inflation.
Nothing is 100% effective in preventing getting a puncture but there are a number of options that reduce the likelihood of getting a flat. Ensuring you purchase good quality tires, keeping a check on tire wear and ensuring the tires are inflated to spec are simple solutions to avoid punctures.
There are various options for Puncture protection and especially useful for commuters and mountain bikers – Puncture protection sealants and tire liners being two popular options.
PUNCTURE PROTECTION SEALANTS are suitable for use with inner tubes with removal cores. The sealant is poured into the inner tube and this quickly seals small holes. These are perfect to handle small holes from road debris, thorns, and sharp stones. The sealant works by filling the leak and creating a plug when it comes in contact with air.
A TIRE LINER is a thin strip of plastic that sits between the tire and the tube. This reduces the chance of a puncture from thorns and other sharp objects. These are popular and work well, but they do add weight to your tires and are not recommended for performance riding.
In conclusion, while a tube is a simple spare on your bike, it’s important to make sure you choose the right tube for your tires. Not only will it ensure you don’t end up with punctures, but will also ensure you roll lighter and faster.
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I love riding my bike. Whether it’s a simple commute, a high-intensity road race, a jaw-grinding brevet, fixie rides thru packed Indian city or a kick-ass technical single track – I love it all. Apart from riding bicycles, I love being all geeky and know everything there is to know about bicycles, technology, bike fit, and service.
I started BUMSONTHESADDLE to share this passion for cycling.
DISCIPLINE: Partial towards MOUNTAIN BIKING but love it all
CURRENT BIKE(S): Specialized Rockhopper, Specialized Tarmac, Pure Cycles Original
DREAM BIKE: S-Works Epic HT & S-Work Roubaix
OTHER PASSIONS: Technology, Photography, Baking, Travel, and Reading