Poorly Installed Rim Tape Or Just Bad Luck?
July 26, 2010 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I paid a bicycle shop to install a new rear wheel on my bicycle. A little over a week later I have suffered through 3 flats and 4 punctured tubes. I have since learned of the importance of rim tape and noticed that the rim tape on my new wheel exposes many spoke holes. Was the rim tape poorly installed or is it just my bad luck that the rim tape got smooshed over?

The bike shop handled everything (wheel, casette, tire, tube, etc). Within the span of a week I have suffered through 3 flats. Each time I fixed the flat I examined the tire, found nothing, installed new tubes and cursed my luck.

After the third occasion I felt like the problem had to be with the tire, so I switched it out. This new tube installed within a new tire deflated almost immediately after I pumped it up.

Finally I used the great Google and learned about the importance of rim tape. It turns out that the rim tape along part of the wheel does not cover 5 of the spoke holes (it is kind of smooshed and runs along to the side), and partially exposes 2 more.

I am now convinced that it is the exposure of the spoke holes that is puncturing my tires.

Is it likely that the rim tape was poorly installed or is just my bad luck that rim tape got smooshed over, exposing the spoke holes? I ask because I would like to know how to rate the service of my bike shop. Did they do a bad job? Or am I cursed by the bicycle gods? Or both!?!?
posted by odacrem to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total)
Is the rim tape like a big rubber band with no adhesive on the back? Pretty much a tossup as to whether it was misaligned by the shop or whether it got nudged over when you changed one of your flats.

If it's adhesive backed fabric tape, I'd lean more toward thinking it was an oversight on the part of the shop. Though if the shop used fabric tape rather than a rubber rim strip, I'd view that as a mark in the shop's favor.
posted by zombiedance at 8:18 PM on July 26, 2010

Heavens, just take it back and tell them you've had nothing but problems with it, and they should fix it for free. After all, that's what you'd do if this happened when you had your car fixed, no? Can't hurt to be forearmed with technical knowledge as to what specifically went wrong, so hopefully other people who know about bikes will tell you what you can say if the bike shop tries to argue that it's not their fault.
posted by orange swan at 8:19 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there a puncture along the inner side of the tube? You partially inflate it then submerge it in the tub to find the hole.

Is it rubber rim tape? That's pretty easy to dislodge when putting a tire back on. Either you or the shop could have been the culprit (the first flat coming from any number of reasons.)

When you put on a tire, inflate the tube to about 10 psi, then go around the rim and squeeze the tire out of the way and look to see that the tube and tape is seated correctly and the tube isn't getting pinched. Do this on both sides of the wheel.

A good way to check for foreign objects in a tire is to run a cotton ball along the inner surface.

If you aren't happy with the rubber rim strip, switch it out for cloth rim tape that has a mild adhesive on the side that touches the rim to hold it in place. Be sure to get the right width.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:19 PM on July 26, 2010

Excuse me. You can partially inflate...
posted by hydrophonic at 8:21 PM on July 26, 2010

Sounds like they did a bad job. But you may have a hard time getting any satisfaction from them for your time and expense. You should map the holes in the tube to the points on the wheel where the spoke holes were exposed (compare to the valve, and which side of the tube [road side or hub side] the hole is on). Then see if its really the rim tape, or if you have a shard in your tire that's causing repeated punctures.
It's a small thing really- invest $5 in some tire levers and an hour of practice and you'll never have to deal with them again.
posted by TDIpod at 8:23 PM on July 26, 2010

When you seat a new (or patched) tube in the tire, align the valve so it's centered on the biggest tire label. This makes it easy to find the offending object once you've found the hole in the tube.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:29 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I should have noted in my question that the rim tape is Velox adhesive backed tape.
posted by odacrem at 8:37 PM on July 26, 2010

With actual rim tape, you have to pay attention, it would be almost impossible to not notice if it was misaligned. Scenario #1: they installed the rim tape correctly but shifted it while getting the tire on (maybe the tire bead is a really tight fit for those rims?). Scenario #2: the first flat may have been a pinch flat from running at too low of a pressure and/or hitting something, and then you shifted the rim tape yourself at some point while changing the flat. You could even have had multiple pinch flats, if you are using a cheap frame pump to reinflate the tire and not getting high enough pressure. A pinch flat will usually look like a pair of holes ("snakebites") on the inside of the tube, facing the rim. I'm not sure what a flat from uncovered spoke holes would look like, but I assume there would be just one hole in the tube.
posted by kovacs at 8:47 PM on July 26, 2010

am I cursed by the bicycle gods?

scenario #3: flat gremlins

seriously. nobody knows why the flat gremlins decide to target you, but they eventually will. i've gone more than a year without getting a flat, then gotten 4 in a week. it happens. it's part of riding a bicycle. if i talk to my friends who ride and i say "the flat gremlins are onto me they will 100% understand. it may be a tiny piece of gravel or something. tape up the spoke holes, vacuum the rims, say a prayer to the flat gots and hope your luck changes.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:25 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/flats.html - note especially the section on "tire inspection". If you just change the tube without determining the cause of the flat, you're likely to have another (and perhaps another and another . . . ) from the exact same cause.
posted by flug at 10:33 PM on July 26, 2010

Scenario #1: they installed the rim tape correctly but shifted it while getting the tire on (maybe the tire bead is a really tight fit for those rims?).

Disagree with that bit. Never seen a bead get anywhere near the rim tape.

Also disagree with the "you moved it accidentally" theories. Not adhesive rim tape. I'm going with incompetence. Same thing happened to me and the bike shop fixed it for free with humble apologies thrown in.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:43 AM on July 27, 2010

scenario #3: flat gremlins

Cute theory. But definitely caused exposed spoke holes as described by odacrem.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:46 AM on July 27, 2010

If you got a new wheel with velox on it that's a good thing (and a little surprising). It's most likely that they rushed the job a bit and didn't fit the rim tape quite right, and that will definitely cause flats. It's also possible that you got the first flat normally and then shifted the rim tape getting the tyre off the first time or something, but probably not.

To fix it, just partially un-peel the velox and re-tape it properly and you'll be all set. The tape will restick.

As for rating the bike shop? I'm torn, the fact that they actually used decent rim tape is great, and means that once you fix this you won't have any more dramas, whereas the crappy rubber strips you usually get could keep slipping. But then they really should have installed it properly. I'd probably fix it myself and then mention it next time I was in the shop, but I wouldn't make a big deal about it.
posted by markr at 5:20 AM on July 27, 2010

Also disagree with the "you moved it accidentally" theories. Not adhesive rim tape. I'm going with incompetence.

I've noticed that Velox rim tape can move around a little if you monkey with the tire/tube within a day or two after installation. As hydrophonic puts it, the stickum really is fairly "mild" (like, if you put it on a rim and leave it sitting around without a tube and tire it will sometimes fall off on its own) and being squished against the rim for a while seems to improve adhesion.

So, I wouldn't worry about the OMG INCOMPETENCE, just take it back to the shop and they'll fix you up for no charge--they probably buy their rim tape on big reels and a happy customer should be worth more to them than a single wheel's worth and an innertube. If they charge you, think about finding a new shop.
posted by pullayup at 5:52 AM on July 27, 2010

GF and I both have road bikes and ride a lot. Couple of flat experiences we had recently:

She has a bought-new bike, but after 6 months started getting repeated flats, both front and rear.

After the 2nd set of tubes, we took the tires completely off the wheels and noticed that the factory rim tape had "drawn down" into the spoke holes in the wheels, almost like it had been pulled down via a vacuum forming process.

The little pits in the rim tape where it was sucked down into the spoke holes allowed the tubes to develop bulging "blisters". The "blisters" apparently were an area of high stress because that's where the holes that allowed the leaks appeared.

We replaced the factory rim tape with a stronger rim tape that didn't sink into the spoke holes. No more flats since.

Also, when I first got my road bike, I did not inflate the rear tire enough and got a pinch flat when I hit a pot hole. I replaced the tube, but started getting repeated flats after that even when riding on smooth pavement.

After the 4th tube replacement, I finally did a very close inspection of the tire. The first pinch flat had apparently broached a small hole near the tread/sidewall intersection of the tire that was allowing the tube to bulge through. Eventually the sharp edge of the tire would wear through the tube bulge and...flat.

Replacing the tire ended the repeated flats.
posted by de void at 7:53 AM on July 27, 2010

What everybody else said. Also, consider patching your tubes (with those rubber cement patches). There is a little learning curve, but it will help you figure out where/how your punctures are happening and save $4-$6 per tube.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 9:39 AM on July 27, 2010

Using a cotton ball to find items poking through a tire is a great idea, but nothing beats flesh and pain to tell you where something is poking through.
posted by Big_B at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2010

If Velox tape is incorrectly located in the bed of the rim, properly covering all spoke heads, holes or ferrules, either it's the wrong width tape for the rim (it comes in different widths for different widths of rims), or the person installing it did a really poor job (it's not a highly skilled task). Velox tape uses a high quality adhesive that in normal and proper use should be more than adequate to make sure it stays put. It might come unstuck if the bed of the rim to which it is applied is particularly dirty or greasy, however.
posted by normy at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2010

Oh, yeah, and, fix your tubes, folks! It's not difficult. All your cyclist's environmental friendliness credibility is revoked if you use a new tube every time you get a flat.
posted by normy at 11:22 AM on July 28, 2010

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