Patched tubes vs. new ones

Last weekend, I flatted on my Saturday morning ride. I was only two miles from home, and was too worn out to change the flat then and there, so I called my wife and had her perform sag duties.

That evening, in the cool of my kitchen, I pulled out the tube and replaced it. The replacement tube had two patches, but they looked pretty sturdy. I generally will patch my flatted tubes and reuse them, so doing this again wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for me.

Sunday morning, I went out to the garage 20 minutes before the club ride was due to begin, and to my horror, found that the tire had gone flat overnight. Yikes! I pulled the wheel from the bike and hauled my tire levers and floor pump into the kitchen again. Then, I grabbed a new tube that was still in its box, fresh from the bike shop.

I scrambled to get the tube replaced and the tire remounted on the wheel. Everything seemed okay, so I quickly filled my water bottles and dashed to the coffee shop to meet the club ride. I got there within five minutes of the start — a record time for me at replacing a flat tire.

Then I proceeded to worry throughout the ride that I had been too hasty, and that the new tube might not be seated correctly, or any of a dozen other things that could cause me to flat again. But the tire performed well, and caused me no problems.

Obviously, I had missed a leak in the repaired tube — the one with two patches. There should have been a third one in there. The question is, when do you patch tubes and when do you replace them?

I’ve got four older tubes hanging from the wall in my garage right now. Each has one patch. Each would be called upon as a replacement tube if I get a flat (although since I’m running a new tube in the tire now, I would probably just go ahead and patch it, and remount it).

But is that a wise policy? Are patched tubes less durable somehow than new tubes? How many patches can you put on a tube and still have it give good service? How do you deal with the question?


  1. Ron J says

    I patch and reuse until they have 5 patches then toss them. I usually carry 2 tubes on the bike, and patch at home.
    Ron J

  2. says

    Always a new tube. The patch kit only comes out if the new tube dies which has yet to happen (knock on wood). There are too many things to worry about in cycling, wondering if your patch has a slow leak is not something I want to deal with. I keep one spare tube for use as booting material and recycle the rest at the local tire recycler.

  3. lalahsghost says

    I like Ron J do a long-term duration. I do four patches. That equals the tube new [1.)], then four terms of riding on it with patches [2.), 3.), 4.), 5.)] This lasts me for ages, and I do not worry.

    If the tube leaks or fails to hold pressure for any reason, it becomes my new ‘from the rafters’ bike holder when doing funky repair that do not need a repair stand.

  4. says

    I’ll patch and tube and keep it in my seat bag for emergency but only use the patched tube to complete a ride and then replace it with a new one. I don’t know what kinds of patches you guys are using to get 4 or 5 patches on a tube and still have it hold pressure over time but I’d like to know. The ones I have don’t seem to last long.

  5. says

    I was once told that a properly patched tube is stronger than the original at the point of the patch.

    I don’t think I’ve ever used a tube beyond 3 patches, but that’s mostly luck and getting flats is a rare event for me (none this year yet). I see no reason not to keep using a tube irrespective of the number of patches until it can’t be patched because a new patch would overlap an old, or there is a larger than patch sized gash in the tube.

  6. tracywilkins says

    For quite a while, I didn’t bother patching a tube. I figured they were inexpensive enough that it just wasn’t worth my time. I normally try to keep two new ones in boxes in addition to the two spares on each bike, but lately I’ve been more inclined to patch a tube if it’s just got a pinhole in it. I tend to get flats in bunches, and this last round I was having them so fast that it started getting expensive to buy a new tube every couple of days. I’m careful, though, to not use a patched tube on the front of the tandem where a flat at high speeds could be really nasty.

    I’m currently using plastic glueless patches. In the past, I’ve had some rubber ones fail quickly at the high pressures I run, and these appear to be working fine.

  7. says

    I’ve had as many as 8 or 10 patches on a tube, and since mountain bike tires are run at a lower psi, leaking is really not an issue. I’ve found the good old black & orange patches that are glued on (you know the ones that come in the green box) to be the best. I’ve had the “slime” brand glueless patches pull loose when exposed to heat (ie, bike sits in sun in back of truck all day) and have had other glueless patches refuse to stay stuck (when freshly applied) in really humid conditions. I do carry a mix of glued-on & glueless patches and usually a spare tube when I’m off road (or going very far from the truck). Here’s what I usually carry with me

  8. says

    $7 for a $0.35 piece of rubber is highway robbery. 4-5 patches and I have amortized the cost down to about $1.50, which seems reasonable. Plus my daughter enjoys helping out in the process (water, chalk, glue, etc). I patch once every 2 months or so and never had a patch slow leak.

  9. says

    I usually try to patch tubes immediately. I believe that inflating a patched tube right away can help keep pressure on the patch, which helps it set. I have tried glueless patches, but I had bad luck with those. So now I only use patches with glue.

    There are some tricks to getting them to work. The biggest being that you REALLY have to wait for the glue to dry before you can put the patch on, or it won’t work right. It seems counterintuitive, but it works.

    In my experience, glue-type patches, properly installed, almost always hold long-term. I only actually replace a tube if I’m in a hurry, or if I can’t get a patch to stick (which is rare), or if the tube develops another problem, such as a leaky valve or a large hole, that can’t be repaired with a patch.

  10. Jeff H says

    I usually patch a couple times as well, with the Park pre-glued patches. The one concern I’ve always had about the patches, however, is that they don’t stretch like the natural tube rubber. You can make a nice patch, but when the tube gets inflated the patch makes a little bit of a divot as it doesn’t stretch the same.

  11. Gary C says

    I carry a new tube as a spare, but I run patched tubes in the tires. After applying a new patch, I leave the tube in the tire overnight. If it’s good in the morning, it stays.

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