Matt Piechota, a friend of mine and a dedicated member of the Mac Pac (southeastern Pennsylvania’s premier chartered BMW riding club), had just posted notice that the rear tire of his flawlessly naked 2004 “R1150R “bike had hammered a nail into itself, burying the head flush with the rubber. Despite the fact that the tire still had a couple of thousand usable miles on it, Piechotta was taking the safe route and planned to replace the tire with a new one.
“The bike is in my garage,” he wrote. “I’ll pull the back wheel off and deal with it this weekend.”
This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. Having learned my lesson about riding with marginal tires at a BMW rally in Vermont four years ago, the rubber on my bike is always in very good condition. But shit happens, and road debris shows no discretion in the tires it chooses to ruin. So I carry a plug kit, complete with oversize C02 cartridges for inflating the tire, in addition to a Cycle Pump Air Compressor. But I have never tried any of this stuff out; and consequently, had no idea how well it worked. There was no way to ruin this tire of Matt’s any more than it was, so there could be no harm in screwing around by trying to plug it. And that’s what I said to him.
Above — The offending nail. Photo by Matt Piechota.
Like 98% of the Mac Pac’s riders, Piechota is an engineer. He is incredibly even-tempered and believes everything in the universe is part of a vast inter-related equation that is revered, massaged, and tended by those of his profession. (However, I do get the distinct impression that he regards those of my profession as coming from the part of the master equation watered by the cosmic septic system.) Matt welcomed me at his open garage door with the ancient Mac Pac salute of pressing an ice cold beer into my hand.
Piechota looked on in mild amusement as I spread out the parts of the Progressive Suspension & Tire plugging kit, the pump, and some other stuff. Men accustomed to working with tools often respond to my attempts to imitate them “by having stuff” with a patronizing look usually reserved for a three-year-old with a toy toolbox. He was good enough to conceal his smirk by covering it with his hand though, and converting an obvious laugh into a cheap stage cough.
Above — Early in the game, Piechota and I discovered the tube of cement was empty and petrified in its own juices. Photo by Matt Piechota.
The directions were simple enough. Start by removing the nail from the tire with pliers. This took a second. Then run a rasp-like tool through the puncture a few times. The next step entailed smearing a miniatuire ice-cream cone-type plug with rubber cement and jamming it (using the rasp-like tool), into the hole. According to the directions, the plug was supposed to snuggle into the hole with a resounding little snap.
This is where the plan went awry as the plug did nothing of the sort.
The kit came with three plugs, each residing in a little semi-soft clear plastic capsule affair, like the sort of package designed for leprechaun condoms. I have been carrying this kit for over three years, during which these little capsules became the greenhouses of hell, with its own little bit of fouled atmosphere. Each plug was banded by a green strip of tape that the directions demanded be removed. Peeling back the green strip then revealed a red strip, which was not mentioned in the dispatches. (This was because it was the backing of the green tape, and was now semi-fused to the plug.) Piechota just shrugged and attempted to smear the glue over it.
This was the point at which we discovered that all of the glue in the little cement tube (about the size of a tiny Tabasco sauce bottle found in an army “K” ration) had dried out leaving a petrified vulcanized glaze on the container. Matt and I looked at each other and busted out laughing.
“This is not the sort of thing you want to discover in the middle of nowhere, at night, or in the rain,” said Piechota. He retrieved a fresh tube of cement from a tool box and picked up where we left off, smearing the red-banded plug with cement. He then speared the plug on the rasping tool, and jammed it into the hole. The plug held for a second before firing back out like a cork from a champagne bottle.
“Do the directions say anything about that,” asked Piechota?
I extracted another plug from its little greenhouse condom, and peeled the green strip from the new one with a similar effect. But this time, I also removed the remaining red strip too, which exposed three fine circular ridges. (Ribbed for the puncture’s pleasure?) Once again the glue was applied and the plug was jammed into the hole. This time it went in with a little “pop,” and stayed there. Matt trimmed the excess plug and the whole thing made a very nice presentation. He then attached my Cycle Pump directly to the valve on the tire, periodically checking inflation progresss with a pocket gauge. I would normally use the "EZ" Tire Pressure Gauge as it is a bridge connection from the tire valve to the pump, giving an accurate and progressive reading, and is easier on my knees.
Matt regarded my collection of stuff the same way a curious — but naturally suspicious child — approaches a live rabbit that appeared from a magician’s hat. I knew he was thinking, “Riepe had all the gadgets, but no cement.”
Whole blogs, essays, and environmental impact studies have been written about the preferred inflation systems for repairing flats or topping off tire pressures on the road. Many repair kits include C02 cartridges for refilling tires. And many of these same kits come with a three-inch length of hose to connect the cartridges to the valve stems. What you may not know is that the gas will rush right out of the cartridge if you connect the hose to the shiny little cylinder first. And in doing so, the temperature of the cartridge (in your hand) will drop to zero degrees Kelvin. Many tubeless flat tire repair kits offer false confidence in providing three of these C02 cartridges. Be advised that you are likely use all three to reach a minimum degree of inflation. And if you were to botch one, you’d could still be screwed.
Above — The first plug popped right out with a smear of cement taking on the color of the protective strip that remained on it. Photo by Matt Piechota.
The Progressive Suspension & Tire plugging kit has a C02 dispenser device that controls the gas coming out of the cartridge, allowing you to save some if you have a bad bite on the valve. It also prevents you from getting freezer burn on your hand. But as far as I’m concerned, inflating a tire this way is still a bit of a science project. (This kit came with three plugs, patches for tubes, the rasping tool, the gas dispenser, cement, a connecting hose, and simple instructions, all contained in a neat pouch for $55.)
Above — The Cycle Pump fully inflated the tire in 5 or 6 minutes. Photo by Matt Piechota.
That’s why I also carry an electric compressor that fits in my tailpiece. The one I use is the Cycle Pump. Clad in armored aluminum, with four folding legs and a slider switch that rests between two protected bolt heads, this unit has a generous length of connecting hose (2 feet), a realistic length of power cord (8 feet), and multiple connection options including an SAE fitting, plus a plug for a cigarette lighter outlet or a Powerlet fitting, along with clamps for battery posts. It weighs a pound and a half and comes in a very nice heavy duty red bag. (Every aspect of this pump hints at precision.) While it has a fairly large footprint (insert dimensions), it is flat and fits perfectly in my K75’s tailpiece.
Now for the bad news: it costs $100.
And for that princely sum the Cycle Pump does not come with a tire pressure gauge. The “EZ” Tire Pressure gauge is a clever device that gives you highly accurate tire pressure readings, and attaches to the valve stem with a hose. You can fill the tire by attaching the compressor to a valve right on the gauge. This enables you to stop filling at the exact pressure you want, or to easily bleed off a pound or two with precision. This unusual tire pressure gauge makes life easier on my knees, as I do not have to crawl around to get a good fit with the air pump. So I carry one of these too. (I have heard that the rotors on the F800 BMWs crowd the valve stems and that the EZ Tire Pressure Gauge may not get a tight bite under these circumstances. The company that makes this accessory also makes right angle valve fittings to sidestep this difficulty. These are $7 bucks. The gauge was $25.)
There are many other compressors out there that are much cheaper. I used an Airman Sparrow pump for three years. This little beauty cost $25 and included a decent stretch of power cord, a good hose, and a tire pressure gauge. It worked very well — right up until it caught fire while topping off my back tire. My research for a replacement led me to some of well-written promotional material for the Cycle Pump. Somewhere, I read that this unit is standard issue for British Commandos. I could just imagine super-tough British Special Forces, inflating their Triumph Triple Speed tires, while being shot at, shelled, or otherwise inconvenienced. As a BMW rider in a Harley environment, I know that feeling. I forked over the $100 gratefully.
It should be noted that many of my esteemed friends and colleagues in the Mac Pac are as tight as a clam’s ass when it comes to money. (And a clam’s ass is water-tight.) They will buy some sort of inexpensive pump — housed in a 2-quart Tupperware-like case — and reinstall it in a Band-Aid box for less than $9. One gentleman of my acquaintance retrieved a Jarvic Seven mechanical heart from his mother-in-law (who was at death’s door anyway), reconfigured it to pump air, and mounted it in a metal box the size of a tea bag. (It works great but can’t be made to pump faster than 92 beats per minute.) I lack the skill of these guys, and prefer to buy something once, if I can. Enough people use the Cycle Pump (as per their testimonials) to support company claims regarding durability and effectiveness. The Cycle Pump is made in the United States and looks as if it would stop a .45 caliber bullet.
The Cycle Pump inflated the tire to 40 pounds or so in about 6 minutes. There is a cautionary tale that accompanies the use of small tire-inflating devices. It appears that they can overheat after prolonged “continuous use.” “Continuous use” is defined as about three our four minutes. Even the immortal Cycle Pump carries an advisory to switch the pump off if it gets hot. (But the Cycle Pump’s aluminum case acts as a sump to draw off excessive heat, and we did let the unit rest for a minute or two in pumping up the tire.)
Matt hooked the pump up to the standard BMW Powerlet socket on his rig, and filled the tire without starting the engine. When I expressed some concern over this (as I believe motorcycle batteries will use any excuse to crap out), he hit the starter button and fired the bike right up. Since it is a “R” bike, it makes a noise like a horse fart when the engine catches. (As a "K" bike rider, it is important that I make these useful distinctions.) Personally, I have the engine idling at 1000 RPM (using the idle advance on the handlebars) to keep the alternator charging when I’m topping off a tire.
This little adventure took us about a half-hour, but that was because we were unfamiliar with the parts and process. I think Matt could easily replicate our results in half the time. Also, if it was up to me, I’d carry the Kermit Chair too, so I could park my fat ass in comfort as I screwed around with a flat tire on the road.
So, what is the moral to this story? It actually has two. The first is that it is not enough to simply carry all the shit required to plug a tubeless tire; you should also get some experience using the stuff. The second moral is that the components of these kits seldom last forever in the harsh biking environment. Go through your emergency flat kit and check to see that the plugs are still functional (supple), that the cement is still usable, and that your onboard inflation system works well.
Author’s note #1:
I received no compensation in any way from the manufacturers of the Cycle Pump, the “EZ” Tire Pressure Gauge, nor the Progressive Suspension & Tire plugging kit. This is not because of my untarnished ethics, but because no one offered. I have yet to have a bad experience with any of this stuff and believe in sharing good news about great performance with other riders. You can buy this stuff with confidence... And if you have a problem with one of these products, or with service, please let us know.
Author’s note #2:
Twisted Roads does not advocate riding any great distance on a plugged tire— other than to a new tire dealer. While we have received numerous stories of riders plugging a fairly new tire and riding 4,000 or 5,000 more miles on it, we still recommend (as do most accomplished riders) replacing the tire as soon as possible. Twisted Roads acknowledges that it is a rider’s right not to wear a helmet or ballistic gear. Sliding on the pavement, face first, offers great birth control as you will not be getting laid anytime soon. As firm supporters of the iconic BMW riding lifestyle, the editorial staff of Twisted Roads strongly encourages all riders — particularly new ones — to wear a full face helmet, full ballistic gear, and gloves.
Twisted Roads is again rewarding its readers with prizes! Two great prizes will be offered for the month of August: A Progressive Suspension & Tire Plugging Kit, and an EZ Tire Pressure Gauge.
1) To compete for the Progressive Suspension & Tire plugging kit, please answer this three question survey:
Do you carry a first aid kit? (Yes, Or No)
Have you ever had cause to use your first aid kit? (Yes or No)
If the answer to the above question was “yes,” did you find it adequate? (Yes or No)
Copy, cut and paste your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark the subject line "Tire Plugging Kit." Include your first name and email address. Winners will be selected at random and notified by e-mail.
2) To compete for the EZ Tire Pressure Gauge, just leave a comment at the end of the blog. You can even say, “This blog sucks,” but then I’ll know you were either Chris Wolfe, Scott Royer, or Michael Beattie
To leave a comment, read through to the blog’s end (sheer torture). For those who see the comments posted, just click on the option “leave a comment.” If you click the “anonymous” option, be sure you leave a readily identifiable name so you can be announced as a winner.
If comments are not automatically listed, read through to the end of the blog. At the end you will see something like “15 comments.” Click on the word “comment”. Type in your comment in the space provided. If you click the “anonymous” option, be sure you leave a readily identifiable name so you can be announced as a winner.
• Winners for both contests will be announced on the “Twisted Roads Blog,” on Monday, August 16, 2010.
• Winners will be chosen at random.
• Relatives and former wives of the editorial staff of Twisted Roads are not eligible for prizes.
• No substitutions
• Void where prohibited
• Prizes are awarded new as they are shipped in their original packaging from the manufacturer. Twisted Roads is not responsible for any defects in awarded prizes, nor for any incidents, accidents, injuries, damages or death perceived to be caused by defective prizes. Riding a motorcycle is a dangerous activity with special risks. We all ride at our own pleasure and peril.
• Unclaimed prizes will be held a year. It is up to all contestants to read the Twisted Roads Blog dated August 16th, 2010 to see if they are winners.
• Any additional taxes or fees due on prizes are the responsibility of the winners. Twisted Roads is happy to pay for shipping and handling.
• Topless contestants who send pictures of themselves usually do a lot better at winning prizes. My email address is posted on my blog. (I dare you.)