From thorns and nails to glass and debris, the variety of sharp, foreign objects capable of puncturing your bike’s tires is limited only by your luck, ingenuity, and imagination.
And, when you get a puncture—which usually happens unexpectedly and away from home—you need a solution. This is exactly where patching up the punctured tire comes in.
Tire patches come in glue and glueless variants. Glueless patches are great for quick repairs on the road, but they usually only last a few months to a few years. In contrast, if you take the time to apply a glue patch, it can last for as long as the tire.
As cyclists, we learn to check the tire pressure before each and every ride—and make sure the tires have just the right amount of air in them. As our tires age and get punctures, we start to notice that they’re losing more and more air by the day.
Inevitably, every cyclist needs to patch a tire. But how effective are bike tire patches in the first place? And which type of patch works best?
Read on to find out.
How Long Can You Ride a Bike With A Patched Tire?
If you’re running a marathon or going off-road for a few days, emergency tire patches are your best insurance for when one of your tires gets a cut or ripped sidewall. Alternative to the dollar bill or candy wrapper, these patches are for temporary repair to get from A to B without walking.
(In contrast, tire sealant plugs holes for up to 2 years. The only drawback to it is that it only works on punctures no bigger than 1/8 in / 3 mm.)
If you’re patching your tire’s inner tube on the run with a glueless kit, the patch should last for a few months to a few years with daily cycling (provided that you followed the instructions and applied it correctly).
In contrast, some cyclists claim that a glue patch can last “almost indefinitely” provided you apply it correctly. And, though it can be a pain when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it can be worth taking the time to use a glue patch as it maintains the longevity of your inner tube.
Does the Type of Patch Matter?
Yes, it does.
Many riders who use a glueless patch kit find that the patch only lasts for a few months to a few years. In contrast, riders who opt to use a glue patch can expect results that last for several years—making the method particularly effective.
Glueless patch kits are a quick fix when you’re out and about in the middle of nowhere. Using sandpaper around the puncture helps to prepare the surface for improved adherence of the patch.
After applying the patch, you’ll need to leave it for a couple of minutes and try to smooth out any wrinkles (these could allow air to escape).
A glue patch works in much the same way but has the additional glue component. Once you apply the glue to the affected area of your tube, you’ll need to let the glue get tacky before you use the patch.
To make the most of a glue patch, you need to ensure ample time for the glue to dry before your ride the bike. The other problem with glue patches occurs when you get a new puncture close to the original patch.
How Many Times Can You Patch A Tire?
How much do you want to risk a blowout or a sudden flat?
Some cyclists say you can patch a tire infinite times, while others say you should throw it away after three patches. Who’s right—and who’s wrong? How often can you patch up a tire before you have to dispose of it and get a new one?
The most times you’ll want to patch a tire is around five. This may sound like a random number, but there are three reasons for this logic.
Firstly, you don’t want to apply a patch to an area you’ve patched before. Secondly, you don’t want to place a patch too close to another patch. And thirdly, you don’t want to put a patch too close to the valve.
By the time you’re adding your fifth patch, it’s very likely that you’ll have encountered one of the above points.
It’s worth noting that some tire experts say you should never patch a tire in the same place more than once because it can (and often does) cause blowouts.
When considering how many patches are safe for your bike, think about the speed you cycle and the terrain you cover. If you’re in doubt, always put safety first and replace your tire.
When Do You Need to Replace the Tire?
If you apply a glue patch correctly to a puncture, you should be able to continue riding on that tube for as long as you need the tire. The problem comes when you have multiple patches and your tire is at risk of blowing out.
Any time you’re adding more than one or two patches, you need to assess their impact on the performance and safety of your bike and decide how much you’re willing to risk it.
If the tube blows out, gets a linear tear instead of a puncture, or the puncture is alarmingly close to the valve, it’s no longer safe to use and you need to change it with a new one immediately.
Likewise, if your tire—tubeless or not—is old, worn and torn, or has visible signs of dry rot, you probably want to replace it as it will no longer protect the inner tube or be able to hold air as well as you need it to.
Is It Worth Patching A Flat Tire?
If you’re on a tour or off-road and your only other option is to walk for hours and hours to get to a bike shop or civilization, there’s no question if it’s worth patching the tire.
Even if you’re a recreational cyclist—or you ride your bike to school or work—patching a punctured inner tube or tire is a viable way to extend its life considering that punctures are inevitable when cycling.
However, professional cyclists and mountain bikers will replace the tube and carefully inspect the tire as soon as they have the opportunity. After all, there are situations where your tires need to be at their best so they don’t let you down when you need them the most.
Tire patches can be a great solution for fixing a puncture and extending the life of your inner tube. A glueless patch may only last a few months to a few years, but a glue patch can last indefinitely if applied well.
Learning how to patch is a critical skill for a cyclist; not only can it get you out of tricky circumstances, but it can also increase the longevity of your tires. It comes down to the old saying: “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.”