How To Plug A Tire

plug cut

Many years ago, as a motorcyclist surviving the streets of NYC, I had a great teacher. Armen Amirian taught me a lot of things, including things about myself. That I’m more a rider than a wrench, as I lack the patience to do most motorcycle maintenance. One of the more valuable lessons he taught me was how to plug a tire so it will stay plugged. Most bike shops won’t do this for fear of litigation. You can do it yourself quickly and easily on any roadside. Of course, this is all at your own risk. I’m only telling you what’s worked for me. I can’t guarantee that this will work for you. Armen prefers the mushroom type plug, which requires a fancy set of tools, the ability to separate the tire from the rim, and basically a proper workshop. If you’re stranded on the side of the road, or can’t afford to pay someone else to do all that, this is what has worked for me…

Step 0: Always be prepared! These are my plug tools. I got some plug kit somewhere, and use these tools every time. The ONLY type of plug I know works is this kind. It’s a thick gooey rope drenched in something sticky. I also keep a small air cartridge on the bike for when I’m 50 miles from the nearest air pump. I keep the plug kit in my tank bag because that’s what goes with me on road trips.

plug tools

Step 1: get a big-ass hole somewhere. I picked up this big ass hole in Vernon, riding in the gutter because I’d rather risk a puncture than sit around behind semis. I heard it when it happened, and thought “that can’t be good”. But I continued the short ride to downtown LA, and didn’t notice the flat till I went to leave the garage where I’d parked. Because I didn’t feel like working on it right then and there, and could park it there safely overnight while I took the metro to my next destination, I left the bike. The next day I towed it home to work on it.

Step 2: find the hole. Basically, reinflate the tire and find where it’s leaking. With a hole this big, that’s easy. With a pinhole it’s harder. Spray suspect nicks with soapy water. If it bubbles, you’ve got a hole.

plug this!

Step 3: Gouge it out with the gouger to roughen up the surface where the plug will go. Also be sure all the glass is out of the tire. Sure, some may get in and float around inside the tire, but you don’t want it left lodged into the tire.

Step 4: Stick some rubber cement in the hole, using the gouger to get it in.

plug gouge

Step 5: When they say… “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” I think this is what they meant. Right? These camel plugs are great. Just press one end flat and run it halfway through the needle. Fold it back toward the handle. Jam it in there like you mean business. The first time you do this it feels like “WTF?!? I’m making the hole bigger?!?!” But when you’ve done it a few times you get used to that working. Don’t let the plug go all the way in. Leave about half of the folded length sticking out, then pull back on the needle. It has a slit in the end so the plug will stay while the needle comes out.

plug insert

Step 6: Trim off the excess plug (see first pic) and let the glue dry. I usually leave it to sit a few minutes before pumping the tire back up with air. Longer is always better. Sure, when you cut it you’ll have about 1/8″ showing, but that will wear down as you ride. Pump the tire back up to the recommended pressure. If you’re not in a hurry, let it sit awhile then check the pressure again. I’ve been in a hurry, ridden 50 miles on about 5PSI, and the plug is still going strong. That 5PSI ride taught me to always plug first THEN add fix-a-flat, if you absolutely have no other form of air! sealants are not recommended.

 

Step 7: Be safe! Tire manufacturer Dunlop admits that a plugged tire will get you there. But their recommendation to keep it below 75MPH is a good one. I’ve done 400 mile days on a plugged tire, no problem. But I wasn’t doing any top-speed testing on it either. Sure, if I could afford to buy new Pirellis every time I put a hole in them, I most certainly would. Luckily my daily ride is lighter and less potent than the R1 and therefore a lot easier on the tires. But sometimes I still need the R1.