Dec 13 2008
Every cyclist gets a flat tire sooner or later. I’ve certainly had my share, but I hate throwing out the punctured tubes. Most of the time I carry a new tube for my spare, and when on the road I normally change the tire rather than patch it. If the blown tube has a small puncture, I’ll try to repair it—either when I get home, or in camp if I’m on the road. Some tubes can’t be patched, though. If a puncture is near a molding seam, or if there’s a split (I had a spectacular one in the photo to the right), or if the base of the valve stem is split, then patching doesn’t work. (At least it hasn’t for me.) I still hate to just throw away these bad tubes.
Can they be recycled somehow, turned to some good use? YES, they can! When I’ve determined that there’s no way to reuse a tube, I store it with the bike repair materials. First, though, I cut through it cross-wise so that I don’t mistake the tube for a sound one. Next, I strip out the valve core (from Shrader valves), the valve caps, and the knurled ring that secures Presta valves to the wheel rim. Not sure what I’m talking about? Read Sheldon Brown on tire valves. Strictly speaking, the valve cap isn’t needed for Prestas, but I don’t like the idea of crud building up around the captive valve nut as I ride in sloppy weather, so I use the caps. Besides, Continental tubes come with elegant orange caps, and I like the way they look.
So what can the rest of the tube be used for? Plenty of things. Wherever you’d use a rubber band you can use a “band” of tubing. Cut strips across the tubing, making them as wide as you like. Use one of them to lash spare batteries together in a tidy bundle so they don’t go walkabout in your bar bag or pannier. Use another as a valve stem wrench to “unlock” a stuck stem cap.
If your punctured tube is from a narrow tire, cut across the tube to make a length that will fit over MTB bar-ends, making them grippier in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. Another use: If the hook-and-loop strap which fastens a rearview mirror to the handlebar isn’t tight enough to prevent the mirror from vibrating, slide a length of tubing over the mirror’s clamp and, if necessary, over the strap as well. This stricture will help steady the mirror.
I like to use inner tube material as a thin gasket or protective layer when attaching accessories to my bikes. My vintage Schwinn Traveler is an example. The bike has no braze-ons for a bottle cage, so I bought an adapter that can be placed on the bike’s frame. I don’t like the idea of a metal strip goring the paint, so I cut a rectangular length of tire tubing that wraps around the downtube under the adapter’s strap. The grippy rubber also helps keep the bottle cage from sliding down the frame when riding with a heavy water bottle in the cage.
Strips of inner tube can pad and provide grip for accessories on your handlebars or accessory bars—lights, cyclometers, compasses, bells, GPS mounts…. And small pieces work well as padding anyplace metal comes into contact with your bike frame. Take, for instance, eyelets for fenders or racks. Using a razor knife or sharp scissor points, I cut a small hole in a square of tubing, then place the tubing between the frame and whatever it is I’m fastening to the bike. When the accessory is snugly screwed into place, I trim the tubing (if I’m energetic). This photo at left shows how a fender stay and rear rack are padded by tubing on my LHT.
Does the rattling from the keys in your bar bag drive you crazy? Does the ring of keys gall your back when they’re tucked into your jersey pockets? Then cut a length of tubing and stuff your keys down inside. Leave the ring exposed to clip into your bar bag, or push it deep into the rubber so that it won’t snag on your jersey. Problem solved.
Who says that recycling inner tubes has to be restricted to bicycling? Not me. If you’re a paddler, you’ll think of ways to recycle tubes on your boat. I’ve used patches of tubbing for padding deck rigging, adding bump strips on gunwales where the paddle strikes repeatedly, and as padding on thwarts and paddles when setting up a portaging yoke.
If you have a few bad inner tubes stashed away, you’re sure to discover ways to use them around the house, too. Use a length of tubing as a gripper when opening tight jar lids (clean off any talcum powder first). And while we’re getting a grip, use wide tubing bands on the shafts of everything from screwdrivers to hammers to flashlights. Can you handle it?
Why throw away perfectly good materials just because one use is no longer possible? With a bit of ingenuity, blown inner tubes can be put to many good uses on your bike, in the workshop, around the house, and elsewhere. Have YOU found novel uses for punctured inner tubes and want to share your discoveries with others? Drop me a line and I’ll help you spread the word.