Equipment to deal with punctures on the trail when adventure riding

Punctures and adventure riding go hand in hand so having the right gear packed in your toolkit to deal with punctures is a must. There are a number of methods and products available to address punctures out on the trail however as any seasoned adventure rider will agree there is only one simple, reliable and dependable system that can't be beat.

Criteria
Just so we are on the same page, this article is intended for adventure riders that either ride in remote locations or ride for extended periods (days/weeks/months at a time). For this type of rider the criteria of a puncture repair system needs to be:

a) Compact, lightweight and easily packable: this doesn't really need explanation, we all know weight is evil when packing our bikes so the lighter and more compact the better

b) High quality: All products should be high quality and not prone to manufacturers failure or failure in the field

c) Durable: luggage carried on an adventure bike gets a hard life, it needs to handle prolonged vibrations, knocks plus be able to handle repetitive field use.

d) Able to repair multiple punctures: it is not uncommon to get multiple punctures on one trip therefore the system needs to be able to handle multiple puncture repairs.

So, with the criteria set let's have a look at one of the options that pops up frequently:

Aerosol puncture repair fillers

There are a large number of aerosol filler products on the market and on the surface they look like a convenient way to repair a puncture without having to remove the wheel and tyre. By attaching it to the tube valve stem, these aerosol fillers inject a gooey substance into the tube to plug the hole while also injecting gas to bring the tyre up to a rideable pressure. Great right? No, not really.

Firstly, these are only suitable for slow leaks or small holes. A decent impact puncture or snakebite normally can't be successfully sealed with aerosol fillers and worst of all, you're then left with a flat tyre that is oozing sticky goo everywhere.

Secondly, pressure reliability has a high failure rate, the internet is laced with people complaining about failures to seal the hole and putting enough pressure in the tyre to be rideable.

Thirdly, by filling the tube with a sticky goo your tube becomes a gooey throwaway item. If in the case of the puncture not being repaired by the aerosol filler, trying to apply a patch after the fact will often not work as the gooey contents that seeps out the hole often acts as an adhesive retardant and the vulcanising adhesive will fail to correctly cure and adhere to the tube. 

Photo 1 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
A few samples of aerosol tyre repair products

It's not that this product doesn't have its place, for road riders without the skillset to repair a puncture they can be a great way to get you to the nearest garage/motorbike shop to have it professionally repaired. As for serious adventure riding though, this is a poor option.

Aerosol puncture prevention fillers

Similar to the aerosol puncture repair fillers there are also aerosol puncture prevention fillers like the product Slime Puncture Prevention. This works in a similar way by filling the tyre with a sticky goo and then bringing the tyre up to pressure with standard air. The objective is that this will prevent any air loss should you ride over a foreign object etc however it has limited effectiveness against impact punctures and snakebites and has all the associated negatives of the aerosol puncture repair products rendering them impractical for adventure riding.

Photo 2 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
A can of Slime puncture prevention

So it’s off with the wheel and tyre then eh?

Yep, the reality is there's no magic product to reliably fix a puncture without replacing or patching the tube. So it’s a case of: wheel off, tube out, repair/replace and refit. So, now that we've established the wheel needs to come off and we need to perform a puncture repair, next up is the list of items required to do this.

Puncture repair items required

1) - Tyre and tube removal/refitting tools
2) - Tube repair kit and replacement tube(s)
3) - Pump

 

1) - Tyre and tube removal/refitting tools

This can be quite a personal topic with each rider having their own preference, especially for tyre leaver shape and length. Aside from the bike specific tools to remove the wheel, below are the items from my toolkit I use for tyre removal and refitting

Photo 3 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
The tyre removal/refit tools from my toolkit (detailed below)

Three tyre levers:
Many people only pack two tyre levers to reduce weight however three tyre levers makes the task so much quicker and so much easier.
Valve remover:
I prefer the ones with a larger diameter offering decent grip and leverage should a valve become seized
Small bottle of dishwashing liquid:
This is gold on the trail, it makes refitting the tyre to the rim and seating the bead with low pressure a breeze.
Small paintbrush with the handle cut off:
Used to brush on the dishwashing liquid

I won't bother going through the steps of tyre removal, there are numerous videos on YouTube on how to do this. My only advice to anyone new to changing tyres is that repetition is key. Your first tyre change will most likely be a bit of a struggle laced with many colourful swear words! Some people can be a little daunted by the task however the good news is the more tyres you change the more familiar you become with all the little tricks to simplify the task and dramatically reduce the time and effort it takes.

2) - Tube repair kit and replacement tube(s)

Along with a patch repair kit I always carry a spare front and rear tube in my toolkit. If the temperature is warm (allowing fast curing time) and I am not in a great hurry I'll often patch the punctured tube and reinstall it however if I am short of time or the weather is cold or raining (prolonging cure time) I'll simply bang in the spare tube and fix the punctured tube when I reach camp. Whatever the case I always carry a spare tube just in case the one in use is damaged beyond repair.

Heavy duty tubes versus standard tubes
Heavy duty or extra heavy duty tubes are more durable than standard tubes however they will still succumb to punctures be it foreign objects, impact punctures or snakebites. Personally I run (and carry spare) standard tubes based on the additional weight and size of heavy duty tubes. Comparing the two types of tubes side by side, an extra heavy duty tube is nearly twice the space and twice the weight of a standard tube and in my opinion the extra space and weight is simply not worth it.

Photo 4 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
A standard 120/80 18 tube which packs down to a fairly small size

Reducing space
It is quite common to just carry one front tube as this can also be installed into the rear tyre. Although not ideal, it works and can get you out of a jam. Personally I like to carry both a front and rear for reassurance however carrying just a spare front tube is an option if you are pushed for space.

Patch repairing a tube
I won't go over the process of patch repairing a tube, it is very straightforward and there are numerous videos on YouTube demonstrating how to do it. My only advice is to make sure you let the vulcanising adhesive tack off, if you apply the adhesive and then immediately apply the patch to the tube you could be waiting 30 min or more for the vulcanising adhesive to fully cure.  

A second note is to only use a quality patch kit (patch and vulcanising adhesive) and carry a spare tube of vulcanising adhesive. I wrap my tubes of vulcanising adhesive with a cloth tape to avoid any rubbing or piercing causing a hole. If a hole is created and allows air to get in the tube of adhesive will begin to cure so when you next go to use it, it will be useless and you'll have no way of adhering the patch to the tube.

Photo 5 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
Although I securely pack to avoid the tubes vibrating and rubbing holes, I cover the tubes in a heavy duty cloth tape as an extra precaution

Is patching a tube permanent?
This question comes up a lot. Many people say that once a tube has had a puncture, a patch is a temporary get home solution only. Many riders including myself disagree. If you apply a patch correctly and securely it can last for years, I have run tubes with more than one patch without issue.

Tyre repair
For large impact punctures, gouges or splits in the actual tyre casing, these need to be repaired before you refit the tube or you'll find yourself with another puncture half a kilometre up the trail. The easiest way to repair a damaged tyre is with a heavy duty tyre patch. These are simply like an oversized tube patch. These patches will require a larger volume of vulcanising adhesive, for this I carry is an additional large tube of vulcanising adhesive that I purchase from an automotive store. They are around three times the size of a standard tube of motorcycle vulcanising adhesive.

Photo 6 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
A photo of one of my heavy duty tyre patches taken next to a standard (large) tube patch for size comparison

Tube scabs
Tube scabs had huge popularity when they first hit the market but when it was realised just how temporary they are, they quickly lost their appeal with many. They are essentially a tyre patch that you simply peel and stick onto the tube. One of the main benefits is that it is extremely quick to peel and patch the tube, refit the tube/tyre and get going again. The only problem is they are very fragile and it does not take long for them to lift and leak. A full day of riding is about the limit, they really are just a temporary get out of trouble option. I do not recommend these as a primary repair option however for the fact that they take up almost no room I carry a couple as an absolute worst case scenario should anything happen to my tubes of vulcanising adhesive.

Photo 7 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
Tube Skabs, very handy and effective but only a temporary solution. Low tyre pressures and aggressive riding is not recommended

3) - Pumps

Ok, so we've removed the wheel and either installed a spare tube or repaired the punctured tube and we are ready to refit the tyre and fire some air into the tube. So, what should we use to pump it up?

CO2 canisters
As novel as these are they’re only intended as a temporary fix to get you to the nearest pump. Most CO2 kits recommend that you immediately seek a standard air pump, deflate the tyre to remove the CO2, then reinflate with standard air. This is recommended due to the temperature sensitivity of CO2 and the fluctuations of tyre pressure as a result. With this in mind they are impractical as a sole inflation option for remote adventure riding.

Another thing to keep in mind is the number of canisters required to pump up a tyre to a rideable pressure. Use the below chart as an example.

Photo 8 of Equipment for punctures on the trail

Price up CO2 canisters and you’ll soon see that carrying large quantities of CO2 canisters to accommodate for multiple punctures is very costly and if you regularly inflate/deflate tyres to cater for on-road/off-road terrain, it amplifies the impracticality of CO2 canisters for adventure riding

Electric pumps
Electric pumps have become quite popular for adventure riding and as a result some high quality models have come onto the market. If you're going to go down the path of an electric pump the best thing you can do for yourself is buy yourself a good one. Although there are numerous posts on advrider.com with riders claiming they have had good runs from their cheap $15 pumps purchased from Walmart, do you really want to put your trust in such a low quality item when you’re in the middle of nowhere? By doing so you're playing Russian roulette with the odds heavily against you. Do yourself a favour, strip one of these pumps down and see first-hand the horrendous build quality and I can assure you, you'll quickly be convinced that cheap quality pumps have no business being in the toolkit of a serious adventure rider.

Photo 9 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
An electric pump with a quality reputation, the CyclePump

Quality does not guarantee it will not fail! One thing to keep in mind with electric pumps, even though many riders get years of faithful and trouble free use, we are still talking about an electric device with moving parts that is susceptible to failure. Is the benefit of an effort-free 60 second pump-up time worth risking being in a remote place, flicking the on switch and hearing nothing but dreaded silence? I’m not a pessimistic person, more so one who favours simplicity and reliability; this in turn leads onto the next options:

Hand pumps
Hands down this is my preference and the preference of many seasoned adventure riders. A quality high output hand pump provides a reliable, durable and lightweight way to pump up tyres. One of the first things that people criticise about hand pumps is the time that it takes to pump up a rear tyre. Low quality and/or low output hand pumps are inefficient to use, however a high quality high output hand pump will inflate a rear tyre in under 5 minutes. With consideration to the reliability and durability factor of a hand pump, 5 minutes is very respectable.

The hand pump I use is a high output pump with a flex hose, foot stand and flip out T handle while still being remarkably compact. It is easily disassembled for servicing (cleaning and re-greasing with rubber grease) plus most quality pumps on the market have spare parts available. New plunges are very low cost and take up very little room in a toolkit

Photo 10 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
TOPEAK produce quality mountain bike products and have a great line of pumps. This one has a flip out foot, flip out T handle and a flex hose. Although TOPEAK also produce small compact pumps, they do not provide the output for quick inflation of a motorbike tyre, the larger pumps are much quicker and easier to use

Foot pumps
Foot pumps use the same basic plunger technology as a hand pump so naturally high quality units adopt the same level of reliability and durability. The only major disadvantage of a foot pump is that they are slightly more bulky than a hand pump, but on the other hand, they are much quicker to use than a hand pump based on the increased bore size.

Photo 11 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
One of the smaller compact foot pumps on the market, the KTM Power Parts Foot Pump

In Closing...

So in closing, the moral of this article is that simplicity and durability are highly favourable for periods of extended adventure riding and riding in remote locations. The good old hand or foot pump and patch kit provide reliability, dependability and trump any fandangle electric pump, CO2 canisters and most certainly aerosol canisters filled with sticky goo!

 

A nifty tip for DRZ400 riders

Photo 12 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
I donít use trail jacks, with hard panniers you can just lay the bike on its side and it conveniently holds the wheel up for easy removal, however there is one small trick to make the task of reinstalling the wheel significantly easier. From stock, the rear axle of a DRZ400 enters the left side of the swingarm and is tightened with the nut on the right side of the swingarm. This means, to fix a puncture on the trail you need to lay the bike on the right hand side to slide the axle out. This can make for a prick of a job to reach under the wheel and guide the brake disk back into the brake calliper when refitting the wheel. By fitting the rear axle in the reverse direction you can then lay the bike down on the left side. This means the brake calliper is conveniently right in front of you unobstructed. This makes the job of lining up and sliding the brake disk into the brake calliper and sliding the wheel back into place a breeze.
Photo 13 of Equipment for punctures on the trail
I am unsure of what other models this works for, but it also worked for my trusty old DRZ250
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