Now I ask ya … are all inner tubes created equal? Is it worth it to purchase a certain brand at a higher cost? Here is what I think I know and understand about the matter. In a word … YES! … there is a difference. My answer is based on my personal experience and what I have read about it. I used to use common lower cost inner tubes and I had a lot of flats, many of which were “internal” flats … not caused by a puncture from the outside.
When I first bought my Catrike Trail it came with Presta valves. I had never heard of them prior to that. I quickly learned to hate them so I took action and drilled my rims out larger to accept Schrader valves. Quite some time passed before I discovered that Schwalbe inner tubes with Schrader valves have a threaded metal valve stem like the Presta valve has. The threaded metal valve stem was the only thing I did like about the Presta valve. I like the idea of having a threaded metal valve stem which with the use of the nut won’t push down into the rim when the inner tube has no or little air in it. So I started buying Schwalbe inner tubes which were considerably more expensive than the inner tubes I had been using.
Some more time passed before I discovered that Specialized also offers the threaded metal Schrader valve stem inner tubes. And although they are more costly than the inner tubes I originally used they are a little bit cheaper than Schwalbe brand. And I can buy them at my local bike shop where they offer “buy three and get the fourth free”. So I have been using these Specialized brand inner tubes for several years now.
Now to get to what I have read about inner tubes. Only a few brands claim that they are made with equal thickness thruout. And yes, they are the more expensive brands such as Schwalbe and Specialized. You might ask “does that matter”? Yes, it does because an inner tube that has thin/thinner areas means that those thin/thinner areas are weaker than the areas which are thick/thicker. A weak/weaker area in an inner tube is more likely to fail in that area.
To be totally fair I have to say that the biggest factor in reducing the number and frequency of flat tires for me was when I started using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. That in and of itself totally eliminated externally caused flats for me. As far as I am concerned the Marathon Plus is the best tire money can buy. It not only offers great flat protection but the mileage wear out of them is incredible. I have consistently got 12,000 to 15,000 miles out of each of these tires. Previously other tires I used yielded 2,000 to 5,000 miles before I had to replace them. And I buy them for half of what they retail for making them a real bargain. HERE is my source in the U.K. where I buy them.
Lastly I want to touch on internal flats. A few things come to mind here. Before I started using Marathon Plus tires I had started using Mr. Tuffy tire liners in an effort to reduce flats. They did help accomplish this but in the process something else happened. My internal flats increased. Upon dealing with this I observed that the area of the inner tubes which were failing was right where the Mr. Tuffy liner overlapped itself. I read about the use of talcum or baby powder to help eliminate internal flats so I started using it. It helped immensely although I still occasionally got internal flats and still many were caused by the Mr. Tuffy tire liners. When I started using the Marathon Plus tires I continued using the Mr. Tuffy tire liners. That was a mistake which I eventually figured out. I didn’t have any external flats but I had an occasional internal flat. Coming to the realization that I didn’t need the Mr. Tuffy tire lines with the Marathon Plus tires I removed them and just kept on with the baby powder. From then on I extremely rarely ever had an internal flat. I am sold on Marathon Plus tires and baby powder. BTW, when I apply baby powder I use it very liberally coating the inside of the tire as well as the outside of the inner tube. I rub in in to all surfaces using my hands.
Have you ever noticed when removing an inner tube from a tire that it is stuck to the inside of the tire almost like it is glued to it? That is what happens or at least can happen when there is no lubrication such as I speak of further below. Also have you ever noticed an imprint on an inner tube from something inside of the tire? That is another example of lack of lubrication. Neither of these can happen when baby powder is used. Below is a picture of the imprint of Mr. Tuffy tire liner on the inner tube. It shows the overlap of the tire liner.
You might be wondering what the baby powder does. Well, it more less acts as a lubricant to keep the inner tube from sticking to the tire and to help keep rubbing from occurring. With the lateral forces taking place in cornering the tires move about side to side on the rims and this tends to create rubbing (abrasion) between the tire and the inner tube. And this causes internal flats. So helping to eliminate this abrasive action helps reduce internal flats. One note on the use of baby powder … be sure everything is bone dry as moisture will cause the baby powder to clump together and that causes abrasion and internal flats. I learned this from experience.
And I am fully convinced that the reason on rare occasion I have an internal flat is simply because inner tubes fail. It is that simple. I have done all I know to do to eliminate this and it rarely happens anymore … but … it does still happen. (Fortunately it has been a very long time since the last time it happened.) I have talked to bike mechanics about this … all of this … and they are in full agreement with me. They don’t and won’t recommend the use of tire liners.
Another safeguard one can employ is to use heavy duty thorn resistant inner tubes in place of the standard inner tube. Of course, in order to do this there has to be sufficient room inside of the tire. They work best in a balloon type tire such as Schwalbe’s Big Apple or Big Ben as they offer lots of room inside. That thick wall makes for a lot stronger/tougher inner tube which can’t fail very easily from internally.
As far as I know the threaded metal valve stem is not available with the heavy duty thorn resistant inner tubes.
Like ol’ Forest Gump … that’s all I’ve got to say about that. I don’t know about you but I much prefer to simply …
ENJOY THE RIDE
KEEP ON TRIKIN’
rather than being stuck alongside of the trail or road working on a flat tire problem.
A FREE GIFT awaits you!
7 thoughts on “INNER TUBES … is there a difference?”
I tried Mr. Tuffy tire liners in my fatrike tires, hoping they would help prevent flats because Schwalbe does not make a large Marathon PLUS fat tire. On the second day of desert riding, I went through some goatheads, and by the time I got back to the house (about a mile distant), all three of my tires were totally flat. Inspection inside the tires revealed that dozens of goatheads had penetrated the cheaply made fat bike tires, and also right through the Mr. Tuffy tire liners. I communicated this to the Mr. Tuffy company, and never received a response. Mr. Tuffys are a total waste of money in my experience. On my trikes (prior to the fat tire trike), I have always ridden with Schwalbe Marathon PLUS tires, and never have had a flat with them, even when riding through hundreds of goatheads hidden by fall leaves back in 2009. By comparison, the Kenda tires that were on my trailer went flat from the same experience. Marathon PLUS tires are worth every penny for those who do not want to deal with tire repair out on the open road (which could prove fatal on long tours in certain inclement weather conditions).
Re your article on Schwalbe tire tubes. Did you ever get the Metal Caps with them? When I first started buying them – after your notes years ago, I got some nice metal caps with a rubber ring inside. I noted longer time between needing to reinflate. They seemed to effectively slow down the air leakage thru valves. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find them any more.
No, I have never seen them on Schwalbe inner tubes. I have only seen the small clear plastic caps. I have had metal caps like you describe though. I could not tell you where they can be obtained.
Etrailer.com has a set of 20 Schrader caps for less than $7 plus shipping.
I have a link to it in my article on Marathon Plus tires, however, since then I have discovered another source which has even better prices. Right now as I type this their price for a 20 x 1.75 tire is $26.75. I think the 1.35 size is the same. Unfortunately these tires are in such high demand worldwide that Schwalbe can’t keep up producing them fast enough and many companies run out of stock frequently including this one and the one in Germany I used to buy from.
Many thanks for that link!
Steve, thanks for the great article. So, one question though. Just where do you manage to get your tires and tubes for half price? Please let us know. Thanks.