Considering how bulletproof the rest of our motorcycles have become, it’s ironic that it only takes a little 1 ½-inch box nail in a tire to bring the whole show to a halt. We’re fortunate today that tubeless tire technology prevents intrusions by nails, screws and other foreign objects from becoming catastrophic blowouts. The object usually stays in the hole, the only place from which the tire can lose air, so it deflates more slowly than a puncture in a tire with a tube on an unsealed spoked wheel (which can lose air through all of the spoke nipples and even the tire bead). But even if that pointy thing does stay put and flush with the tread surface, as it flexes back and forth in the carcass the tire will eventually deflate enough to become a problem. Hopefully you will have noticed its presence or even received a low tire-pressure warning before that happens.
Of course, if it doesn’t stay put or is large enough to stick out of the tire (like a 6-inch gutter nail — don’t ask), the tire will probably deflate rapidly enough to strand you by the roadside. Unless you’re lucky enough to be next to a motorcycle shop at the time, you’re going to need either a good roadside assistance plan or a tubeless tire repair kit. (We’ll cover tube-type tire roadside repairs in another installment).
Here at Rider we’ve fixed enough tubeless punctures to appreciate that the most dependable tire repair kit you can carry uses rubber strings or “worms” for the plug that gets inserted into the tire, preferably the large red ones like those in the T-Handle Tubeless Tire Repair Kit from Stop & Go. There are more convenient plug types, but the strings rarely let us down. If you’ve had good luck with liquid sealers, installed either pre- or post-puncture, more power to you — we often carry Slime for tube-type tires on bikes that have tubes in the hope of avoiding a roadside tire dismount. But we change bikes too often to make using the pre-installed sealers practical, and prefer to avoid irritating the mechanic who has to change a tubeless tire on a wheel full of messy sealer.
Repair kits that use string plugs often come with rubber cement, which — depending on the string type — may not be necessary to complete the repair, but at a minimum it acts as a lubricant to ease inserting the plug, and seems to help vulcanize the plug to the tire. It’s important to keep your glue supply fresh (preferably unopened), or you may find that it has dried out when you need it.
No matter what sort you use, any plug inserted from the outside should be considered a very temporary repair used to get you and your bike to the nearest replacement tire. Limit your speed per the plug kit instructions, and replace the tire as soon as possible. Special patch plugs inserted from the inside of a tubeless tire are certainly safer, but even if you can find someone who will install one for you, every tire manufacturer (and even those who sell patch plugs) recommend replacing the tire instead since it has to come off anyway.
The photos in this article cover the basic plugging process with rubber strings. Depending on the size of the hole, you may need more than one — I once used three in an ATV tire and it got me back to camp.