Pam riding Pacific Coast Highway early in the morning with some light fog.

Bicycle touring without a spare tube

One interesting component of running a website is seeing how people get to your site and take a look at what they are searching for. Low and behold there are quite a few people out there wondering about how to bicycle tour without a spare tube. I have been thinking about this for some time and wanted to share my advice / opinions on this topic.

While touring you must assume that you are going to get flat tires. That being said that does not necessarily imply that you must carry a spare tube. While we are touring we have stopped using the glue and patch kits to fix holes in our tubes. Instead we are using the sticker kits available from Park. In our experience these little stickers work just as well if not better than the glue variety and they can be applied and pumped full of air without delay. If I were to not carry a spare tube I would make sure I have plenty of sticker type patches.

Location, Location, Location. If you are touring in a populated area, nearby friends or family, near public transportation, then you may be able to get away without carrying a spare tube. If something were to happen that a simple patch can’t repair at least you would have options for getting back home.

When considering what could possibly happen that a patch won’t fix let me share with you our experiences. One time while we were going to pump up the tube we just patched the entire Presta valve simply fell off of the tube. The point where the metal bonded to the rubber just gave up, no amount of patching can save you there.

Another time we were changing Pam’s tire in a muddy area and some mud got in the rim, preventing the hook from seating properly. We didn’t notice and pumped the tire up. Right around 65 psi the tire started slipping off the rim and before I could release pressure the tube stretched out the hole and burst with a sound like a gun shot. Of course it was a slime tube and it was 7 in the morning in a crowded campground. I was left standing in a fog of green slime as every single camper nearby looked out their tent to give me the evil eye for waking them up. No patching that hole.

For our first tour we took along two spare tubes. Down the Pacific Coast we managed to have just one flat tire! Next tour was the Southern Tier, going west to east. We started again with two spare tubes, but after two weeks we were up to two patches on each tube and had two failures. At that point we started carrying four spare tubes and all of them had patches by the end of the tour. The Southern Tier took its toll on us with a total of 15 flat tires between the two of us.

So while it is possible to tour without a spare tube I suggest that you bring at least one. You never know what you are going to manage to run over on the road, if your tube is going to fall apart, or how long it will be until the next car drives by. Have you a done long tour without a spare tube? Any suggestions for those that want to try it? Leave a comment below.

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Matt Emerson

Matt has ridden over 5,000 miles bicycle touring around the United States, and countless of miles training and riding around town. When not riding he enjoys computers and working around house. Getting the most out of his time alive is one his major priorities.

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