Inner Tube Quality

SchwalbeTubes

Inner tubes often seem like generic commodities. One is as good as the next – so buy the cheapest one… I used to think that, too, until I started to see split seams, valves separating from the tube, and other mysterious flats that were not caused by “outside influences”. Around kilometer 1000 during the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris, the seam split on a brand-new Michelin tube that I had bought at a control. (I had good luck with French-made Michelin tubes, but this was one of their Asian-made budget tubes.) It was a distraction I did not need at that point in the ride.

On the other hand, the Schwalbe 650B tubes I had been using always had been flawless. It became obvious that they were made to higher quality standards. So we decided to add Schwalbe tubes to our program. Initially, we intended these as “add-ons” for customers who were ordering tires anyhow. We were surprised how many customers ordered tubes just by themselves. Several customers thanked us for making these tubes available, and commented how they were tired of problems with the generic tubes they bought at their local bike shop…

pinch_flat

Nobody likes flats, and fortunately, as we have switched to wider tires, we get far fewer flats. Now we can enjoy the comfort and speed of supple tires without added puncture protection, yet not worry much about flats. But there is no protection against faulty tubes… (The photo above shows a pinch flat. On some very rough gravel, even 42 mm tires are not wide enough…)

I also like to run slightly undersize tubes in my tires. Not only does it save weight, but it also makes the tube easier to install. (Trying to get a slightly stretched-out tube into the tire without creases and folds can be a challenge.) With quality tubes, you can run slightly undersized tubes (say a 28 mm tube in a 32 mm tire) – at your own risk, I hasten to add! The walls of quality tubes are uniform in thickness and will stretch evenly. Budget tubes often have thin spots, which don’t respond well to stretching.

(Superlight tubes always should be sized correctly for your tire, since they are too thin to stretch much. However, some tubes aren’t labeled for all the sizes they fit. For example, the Schwalbe SV14A tubes we sell are labeled for 26″ tires, but they also fit 650B x 38 – 48 mm.)

Better tubes don’t make your bike ride better… so if you are on a tight budget, get the best tires you can afford, and use cheap generic tubes. Be prepared to fix an extra flat once in a while, but at least you get the performance, comfort and pure fun factor of great tires. However, if want quality in all your components (or if you are entering a big event and want to decrease your risk of flats), using quality tubes means that you have one less thing to worry about.

Click here to learn more about the tubes (and tires) Compass carries.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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65 Responses to Inner Tube Quality

  1. cbratina says:

    I have had great luck with Schwalbe tubes, after having some Conti’s split on me, turned out they were made in China.
    What is the status of the 700x35c and 26x55c tires?

  2. Bob says:

    It’s true, they are better, as are Conti tubes.

  3. h. honnest says:

    On my road bike I just switched from 23 to 25mm (front) and 28mm (back) road tires. To save some weight I would like to carry only one spare inner tube, but I can’t find any inner tube that accommodates 25 as well as 28mm tires.
    I know I could try to use an overstretched 25mm inner tube inside a 28mm tire, but the week point is said to be the point where the valve is attached to the inner tube.
    So here are my questions:
    – Do you know about an inner tube that is designed to fit both 25 and 28mm tires?
    – Or is there an inner tube available with higher quality valve attachment, that is less likely to cause problems when overstretched?

    • The Schwalbe SV15 is rated for tires from 18 to 28 mm (700C), so it should fit your bill. I have used them in 32 mm tires with no problems. (I cannot recommend that, of course, for reasons of liability, etc.)

      • Josh says:

        I have no such liability concerns, and I can confidently say that a 25mm wide inner tube will expand to 28mm without incident.

  4. keepawheel says:

    IMHO, the greatness of your compass tires is amplified by removing the tube altogether!

    I’ve been running your Barlow Pass tires with extralight casing tubeless for around 750 miles. These tires set up tubeless without issue and have never wept any sealant from the sidewalls or bead like some thin MTB tires are known to do. A bit of sealant eliminates the concern of small punctures. I weigh ~210lbs and have settled in to running the tires between 45 and 55 psi on the 700x38c depending on the load I’m carrying. I have 28mm internal width MTB rims.

    Partially relevant side note: I had a sidewall gash halfway through a ~350 mile tour last week. a 3/4″ cut was taken care of with a stick-on tire boot and backed by a crisp $1 bill, then a tube went in the tire. This repair lasted the remainder of the trip without the sidewall tearing any further.

  5. Bill Gobie says:

    A minor problem I encounter with Schwalbe tubes is that the valve core can unscrew slightly, causing a mysterious slow leak with no evidence of a puncture. Tightening the valve slightly fixes the leak. Usually it just takes 1/8 of a turn, gripping the flats on the core with needle nose pliers while holding the stem with larger pliers. Other than that, Schwalbe tubes are great and I don’t bother with other brands.

    • Years ago, there was a batch of Schwalbe tubes where the valve cores weren’t screwed in as tightly as they should have been. We haven’t seen that problem lately…

      • Stephen says:

        Unfortunately, I’ve had that problem this year with several SV14A tubes, and now tighten all the valve cores before use. One unscrewed completely when the valve cap was undone…

      • Tim Evans says:

        As of last year I have been putting a bit of blue Locktite on all my Schwalbe valve cores. My Lezyne tire pump would, sometimes, unscrew the valve core when removing the screw-on type pump head – very frustrating – but problem now solved.

    • nextSibling says:

      I’ve found similar with several Continental tubes. FWIW Michelin have been my default tube for many years without issue.

    • aztris says:

      I’ve also inadvertently completely unscrewed the top. I simply screwed it back on. I was leery it would even hold air after that. To my surprise, it still worked great!

      I lose maybe 1-2 psi over the span of a week, which I find very impressive. By far the best tubes I’ve used. Looking forward to trying lightweight version next.

    • darelldd says:

      Right. Same with Tim. I Locktite my valve cores now because the Lezyne will often unscrew them. They are NOT installed tight enough at the factory unfortunately. Even in modern times.

    • zundel says:

      Always tighten removable presta valve cores before installing the tube. Both Stan’s and Park make nice simple tools. I have yet to find thread lock needed: a good firm snug suffices.

  6. Harald says:

    Aren’t tube failures so infrequent that it is very difficult to make any meaningful comparisons between manufacturers (or countries of origin)?

    • Tube failures are easier to compare than punctures, because the conditions are more controlled. With a puncture, it depends so much where you ride on the road, what has been dropped recently, etc. With tube failures, you have a tube sealed inside a tire. If brand A has three failures and brand B has zero, that already is meaningful data…

  7. mikeptocs says:

    I have generally gone with the $4-5 tubes from the LBS because, hey, why not? It’s just a tube. There have been several times where I have flatted without any obvious cause (no debris, rim tape in place, tire pressure good, etc.). The only explanation I could come up with was a tube that wore out or had a defect. What do you expect for $5?. A flat doesn’t need to be the end of a ride but it never makes the ride more enjoyable. I might give some of these higher quality tubes a try. I have a 4-day tour coming up around Labor day and I don’t need to be changing flats.

  8. james says:

    do the tubes you sell have removable cores?

  9. Willem says:

    During my tandem days I quickly learned that cheap tubes (but also Panaracer tubes) fail more frequently than e.g Schwalbe. I now use Schwalve xxlight on my solo tourer, and these tubes seem marginally more fragile, but not seriously so. I have had a few problems with the car type valves on xxlight tubes, however.

    • I can see that Schrader (car type) valves are so big and stiff that they might not work well with extralight tubes. The tubes we sell have Presta valves. If your rim is drilled for Schrader valves, there are adapters (inserts) to make the hole smaller.

  10. Cris says:

    My Schwalbe tubes have lasted forever without a single puncture — close to 10,000 Km. They continue to hold air just fine. I will be replacing the tires soon before PBP. Should the used tubes be replaced with new ones or is it OK to continue using the ones I have?

  11. Benz says:

    I’m surprised that you have issues with Michelin tubes. Michelin and Schwalbe tubes are the only ones I use nowadays as (as you stated) their thickness is uniform and the valve stems-tube interface is trouble-free. I actually like the Michelin tubes better as they are available with smooth valve stems that play nice with my Silca pump head.

    • As I wrote, there are (were?) two tiers of Michelin tubes, but in France, I was only able to find the cheaper ones…

      • Benz says:

        I read that. I neglected to mention that all of my newer Michelin tubes are from Thailand, and I have not seen a French-made Michelin tube for sale in more than a decade. Regardless, I have not observed a functional difference with either. Perhaps you saw a bad batch/sample?

  12. Andrew says:

    I’ll just add my endorsement to yours. Schwalbe tubes are worth the extra cost. They also hold pressure far longer than any other tube I have used.

  13. John Duval says:

    I have been stranded twice in 50 years of riding, both times from the valve stems breaking off. First a puncture, then the spare’s valve failed, then patched the first tube only to have the valve fail again. I had tried the cheap tubes after reading many times in Bicycling that it made no difference. $18 vs. $3.50? Yes: very much worth it.

    I now carry a valve stem remover tool and a spare valve nevertheless.

  14. Michael says:

    I live in an LBS 650b-free zone, so I am happy that Compass sells 650b tires and tubes. Makes it easy for me to keep stocked up and order when needed.
    I also like that Compass lists the recommended Schwalbe tube for the tires on their tire pages. Makes it easy to order without having to scroll through Schwalbes extensive tube list list to research what to use.

    Question:
    Switching to a extra light Schwalbe tube, will I notice any performance benefits, compared to their regular SV12 tube? Is one or the other more flat prone?

    • The extralight tube is lighter. In theory, that will make you a tiny bit faster. In practice, I doubt you’ll notice. Also in theory, the extralight tube is a little more supple, but I cannot tell the difference…

    • I’ll bet you do not live in a 559-free zone, and 559 tubes will fit 650B tires. In the Specialized line, I find 559 x 1.25/1.5 fits well, while the 1.5/1.75 is too wide and is very hard to install without catching a fold under the bead. The Maxxis Ultralight 559 x 1.5/1.75 also works very well with 650B tires. It is lighter than a standard weight tube, and also folds up very small, which is a handy thing for a spare.

    • darelldd says:

      Steve mentioned my favorite benefit of light tubes – As a spare, it is easier to carry and fits in more places. Just be sure to wrap it in something (I use a zip-lock bag) to protect it from abrasion and slow the cracking.

  15. Michael says:

    Also: How many times can a tube be glue-patched before it becomes unsafe to use? I have read 12 by a well known bike repair authority, but others say a patch isn’t a permanent fix and that tubes are so inexpensive (their opinion, not mine), might as well just use a new one and toss the punctured tube.

    • If the patches are spread out across the tube, then the number should be infinite… However, if your patches get too close to each other, they’ll inhibit the tube from stretching as it should. But the number is far greater than 12! However, you’ll probably have a big gash that is hard to patch after the 20th or 30th repair of your tube. At my current flat frequency, that will be decades from now!

      Vulcanized patches are permanent repairs, but glueless patches are only emergency repairs to get you home.

    • darelldd says:

      It is a common misperception that a patched tube is a less reliable tube. In fact, when I’m changing a flat and a member of my group sees that I already have a couple of patches on the tube, I generally have to suffer though the comments of, “no wonder you flatted, look at all those patches!” But of course the tube never flats where the patch is (when installed correctly!). And where the patch is the tube VERY unlikely to puncture again. So in some small way, a tube with lots of patches is actually safer to use!

      I look at it this way: Every patch on my tube equates to a frosty cold pint or two in avoided cost of replacing the tube.

      • TimJ says:

        @darelldd you are clearly an inner tube aficionado! I only wish I’d have thought about tying a knot in my (lightweight) tube when I flatted without a spare a couple days ago. My feet still hurt! Btw, a typical small TipTop brand patch weighs 1.8 grams. Patch that tube too many times and you get…a lot of frosty pints.

  16. TimJ says:

    When the “weight weenies” among us are looking to shave a few grams, I always suggest to look to the inner tubes. Schwalbe’s standard road tubes (700×18-28) are 105 grams, for just a euro more the Schwalbe ultralight tubes are 65 grams. Sure beats buying a carbon fiber water bottle cage for $75 to save just 5 grams! Now about those extra grams around my waist…

    • A light bike may not be much faster, but it feels different. And when you have to portage the bike, you’ll notice the weight difference.

      • TimJ says:

        Hilarious, I flatted one of my light-weight tubes today in the middle of nowhere. Realized I’d left my spare tube and patch kit sitting on the stairs at home. Walked 11k to find a spare tube. Racing shoes aren’t made for walking… treating blisters this evening.

      • darelldd says:

        @Tim – next time, take the tube out and tie a knot at the puncture. Reinstall. Ride home. Not kidding. You’ve got nothing to lose… except 11k of walking in road shoes….

  17. jeff says:

    I work in a bike shop and we see maybe 100 tube failures a year (out of thousands of flats fixed every year) not caused by foreign objects or rim tape failure. Sometimes there is a bad batch of tubes from the manufacturer and it takes a dozen flats or so before we catch on and send our stock of that size back.

    There is no good time to get a flat tire. Imagine looking for tiny holes in your tube in the dark, rain or cold. No thanks.

  18. Glenn says:

    This is great information. I generally spend some time picking the right tires and will spend more to get them, But I generally just buy cheap tubes and I have the occasional issue with splits at the base of the valve stem. I use Schwalbe Marathons on my commuter bike, despite the harsh ride, as I don’t want to deal with flats on my way to work. I’ll try their tubes as well.

    • Daniel Winks says:

      I run Schwalbe tires on my commuter/tourer too, but the ride is far from harsh…Big Apples aren’t the fastest tires on the block, but they’re probably even less likely to puncture than Marathons, especially when run at 25-30PSI, tops.

  19. Michael says:

    Schwalbe SV12 tubes are like “Coach” leather handbag quality, but for bike tubes.
    The mold lines on them are so crisp. The rubber so dark and clean. No powder mess. The stem connection so thick and strong looking. The white print so convenient. Upon cutting one open there is loads of powder inside.
    I used to use Kenda, Specialised, and Conti. First time I saw a Schwalbe it was like “Whoa, that is pretty!”.

  20. thebvo says:

    You’ve mentioned in the past using glue-less patches. I recently picked up a few made by Panasonic. At first I was delighted at how easy they were to patch the hole, but problems came later. Many of the patches have allowed air to bubble up under the patch and slowly leaking. It looks kinda like a blister. I haven’t had these problems with the glue type. What brand do you use? Have you had similar issues? Any tips?

    • Bill Gobie says:

      You have to sand the tube vigorously to remove the mold release. I have had very good results from Park instant patches. I replace them once I get home with glue-on patches. I once forgot about a Park patch on a rear tube. It went 600 miles before leaking.

  21. darelldd says:

    Thank you for offering these great tubes, Jan. And especially for the simple text chart that shows size correlated to model number. Chasing those down can be mighty frustrating sometimes. Heck, even reading the boxes can be frustrating! These are the only tubes I use now… and only in light weight.

  22. Conrad says:

    I love the Schwalbe tubes. I generally patch tubes until they completely die, usually due to a tear at the stem or broken valve stem. Schwalbes last much longer than the typical crap generic tubes. Also, the removeable cores allow you to replace them should they break rather than throw away the entire tube. And finally they seem to be more resistant to pinch flats in my experience- even the light ones. Its a shame that most LBS don’t carry them.

  23. Michael says:

    Sometimes when riding seated up a hill I suddenly get a curious sinking, sort of settling feeling from the rear of the bike. Like the tire is squishing down an inch under my weight. Or suddenly flatting, but it’s not flatting.
    Sometimes (rarely) I also feel a squirm upon downhill cornering. Like the back end suddenly shifts sideways for a split second.
    Does this mean the tire is under inflated? I use 45psi in my SV12 tubed 650b Loup Loups and I weigh 170lbs. No rear loading on the bike. Just a front rack with Berthoud bag. SV12 tubes installed with neurotic care. Tire beads set even.

    • Your tire pressure sounds about right, but tire gauges are notoriously off… The best thing you can do is experiment. Add 5 psi and see whether the squishy feel goes away. Is it worth the slight trade-off in comfort? Establish your own “sweet spot”.

  24. John McNamara says:

    How large a hole can be safely or reliably patched? I tore a 4mm recently left little overlap from patch.

  25. John Wood says:

    Tips for preventing valve stems tearing away from the tube,I cut a 1 inch square of old tube with a small hole in the centre made with a scriber or similar,the square is fitted over the valve snugly against the tube.
    I also ‘soften’ the edges of valve holes on the inside of rims with fine emery paper before fitting the rim tape.
    I ride at low pressures 45f /65r for the 38/40’s and 15f/30r on a rigid MTB,and reason things are more prone to movement.
    Since doing these two simple things I’ve never had a valve tear out of the tube in over 15years.

    I’ll second(or third or more) the quality of Schwalbe (and Continental)tubes,they last and are of dependable consistent quality.I sometimes descend at well over 40mph,occasionally 50,and so want complete confidence at those speeds,so I don’t compromise on tyres and tubes.That said, I second what was posted earlier,a well applied vulcanised tube repair is as good if not better than the original tube,if the job is done properly with a good quality patch it won’t lift or part company with the tube.
    For keeping tubes safe in saddle bags where they can get holed by even rubbing against the fabric of the bag,I wrap them in a piece of old truck inner tube I got for free when having tyres fitted to my car.
    Truck tubes also make really good front mudflaps too.

  26. jsallen1 says:

    In recent years, I have had three tubes fail due to leaks around the valve stem, shortly after installation. This type of failure is repairable only by carrying a spare bolt-on valve or spare tube. I’ve also had a flat due to a tube with small patch of thin rubber, and another insufficiently labeled tube — 24 x 1 1/8 was the label, but it was a 540mm tube that didn’t fit me 520mm tire. I applaud your supplying high-quality tubes but I wonder where I might get them in the rarer sizes such as 520mm and 451mm.

  27. h. honnest says:

    In some of the comments I read people use glueless patches. The only reason I could think of doing that, is the experience of having to wait for many minutes before the vulcanisation glue dries up enough to put the patch on. I disliked this very much, but then about 15 years ago a bike shop owner showed me to set flame to the glue on the inner tube for only one or two seconds. Then you can put on the patch straight on, with no waiting at all🙂 That really works fantastic.
    Minor drawback is the need to add something like a 20 extra grams (small tube of glue and a lighter) to your repair kit😉

  28. Matt O'Toole says:

    Michelin have been my favorite, for the smooth valve stem which seals better with the pump and doesn’t tear up the gasket; and having the least amount of mold flashing to interfere with patches. I like narrower tubes for easier mounting as well, but tubes stretched out more do leak down faster. A skinny tube can stretch to fit a huge tire, no problem. Also, I’ve found glueless patches reliable — for a year or two — but eventually do fail — after you have a dozen of them, and cant tell where the slow leak is. Key to good performance with these, and vulcanized patches too, is not “test inflating” them outside the tire and shearing the glue.

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