The Rim Strip Tirade

The lowly rim strip is one of those bike parts that seemingly should have been perfected around the time Laurent Fignon won his first Tour de France. As bike parts go, it’s hard to make one very heavy; similarly, it’s hard to make one much lighter than any of the others. They are parts of such inconsequential impact that they really only affect performance when they fail.

My first brush with crappy rim strips came in 1996. I had just moved from temporary digs in Bel Air (long story involving Alan Alda, a crazy woman and entrapment, though not in that order) to the Santa Clarita Valley. I left three bikes in my car in a covered parking garage. The next morning, two out of three bikes had both front and rear flats. The rim strips melted while the bikes were in the garage (which was probably somewhere around 110 degrees) and the tubes flatted when confronted with the sharp edges of the aluminum rims.

The cheap bike of the bunch had thicker rim strips and for reasons I can’t explain, they were just thick enough that they didn’t reach their melting point. What, exactly, is the melting point of various rim strips I have no idea, but the fact remains, one melting point reached, but another not so much.

That incident and another one like it the following weekend confirmed my love of Velox rim strips. I’d loved them all along but had no idea just how much better they were than everything else. It’s a bit like being blind when you get married then getting your sight and realizing that your bride is the prettiest woman in the room. Or some such.

I wouldn’t be writing this post were it not for the damned mylar weave rim strips being marketed by any number of companies. I wouldn’t have a thing to say about them if they had an adhesive on the bottom to make sure they never move. But they don’t.

It’s that detail that has caused me a number of flats in rapid succession. That is, once I have one flat, I tend to have another. The mechanism at work is simple; without anything to hold the rim strip in place, it slides to the side, exposing the drill holes in the rim. Once the rim strip slides over it gets a crease in it and keeps sliding over, even if you re-position it with your fingers. To this I can attest.

Also, I have noticed that the tighter the fit of the tire on the rim, the sooner the rim strip gets pushed to the side and the sooner the flats start.

I’ve had a couple of companies tell me, ‘These rims strips aren’t like the crap ones. These will stay put and they’ll be lighter than the others.”

For the record: I don’t care if they weigh twice what every other rim strip on the market weighs. I just want them fool-freakin’-proof. Full stop. From here on out, I don’t care what I’m sent, I’m going to replace them with Velox rim strips.

So what brought this on? The realization that two of the three flats I suffered in the final 36 miles of the Son of the Death Ride were rim strip-related. While it felt like I lost fewer than 10 minutes to the two flats, if someone had timed it and informed me that I’d lost more like 20 or 30 minutes and it just seemed like less because I was so fatigued, I wouldn’t be surprised. Nor would I argue.

Some shit just needs to work. Bottle cages shouldn’t break. Seat binders should hold a seatpost securely. And rim strips shouldn’t permit the drill holes in a rim to cause a flat.

Ever.

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25 comments

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Rim strips need to be foolproof. Period. End of statement. Can we make a law requiring companies to use Velox? -- Topsy.com

  2. MCH

    Its funny how a product that’s been around since the time of Alfredo Binda toe straps is still the best. Key caveat though, use the wide Velox. The narrow stuff (if still made?) will get pushed to the side, exposing the sharp edged spoke holes. Don’t ask how I know.

  3. Jamie Andrews

    I had a bunch of rim tape related flats too

    At first I couldn’t figure it out but careful forensic analysis after the last couple showed a kink in the rim tape exposing a not-particularly-sharp bit on the rim

    I use velox rim tapes but I had reapplied it after a rebuild and obviously reusing the tape hadn’t worked out quite as expected.

  4. Champs

    This knowing plea for the nigh-impossible, would take some serious rethinking of the bicycle wheel. Until the day when rims are seamless and nipples are not driven through the outside of the wheel, I’ll stick with Velox rim tape.

    In the meantime, has anybody taken a shot at this problem with Stan’s tape? Airtight rims damn well better be immune to problems with rot, heat, and every minor tire bed imperfection that could cause an unhappy tube surprise.

  5. CCH

    Why do we still have spoke holes on the tire bed of a rim? Presumably it is a cost issue in terms of getting the nipples in the right place. Mavic does not seem to think they are necessary for their Ksyriums. I have been running tubeless for a couple of years on Shimano and Fulcrum wheels that don’t have spoke holes. Without a spoke hole in the tire bed, to seat a nipple you have to drop it in the valve hole and work it around to its proper place with a magnet. Not super convenient, but easy to automate in a factory setting for the initial build.

  6. Jim

    >>>>>Some shit just needs to work. Bottle cages shouldn’t break. Seat binders should hold a seatpost securely. And rim strips shouldn’t permit the drill holes in a rim to cause a flat.

    Serfas Cirque SL. Thomson seat posts (and stems, FWIW). Velox rim tape.

  7. bikenerd

    I use 3M strapping tape. It stays put, doesn’t melt, it’s light, it’s cheap, and it’s thin enough to allow tight tires onto Campy rims. It’s never failed me.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments. I really need to try the Velocity plugs; I’ve heard good things about them, but I have zero dealings with the company and never see them when I’m in a shop, so they aren’t on my radar at all. I’ve used 3M strapping tape when in a pinch and it worked, but I was always concerned about long-term durability. And I’d love to know why Velox makes that skinny version of their tape; I’ve yet to run across a rim it’s appropriate for. As to the tubular issue, I love them but there are times when I know the risk of a flat is too great to risk their use here in California. When I lived in New England I rode nothing but tubulars and could typically count the number of flats I had each year on one hand. That statistic had more to do with how clean the roads were than the fact that I ran tubular. I ran tubulars because the roads were clean. I run clinchers here because of glass and shells and the need to change flats quickly when riding with an impatient group.

  8. Big E

    I had a very similar experience with rim strips on a pair of Bontrager Aeolus. And let me tell you, a few extra grams of rotational weight is worth every gram if it keeps you from getting two blow outs (on the front tire no less) on a tricky mountain descent. Scared the living bejesus out of me! I switched over to velox strips after having discovered the problem and haven’t had on issue since.

  9. Lachlan

    +1

    Velox has always looked the business on a new set of clinchers too.

    And as for rotating mass…if a few grams of weight are of concern -you wouldn’t be riding clinchers anyway, you’d save a few hundred grams with tubs, right?

  10. fbhidy

    I’ve had good success with Michelin rim strips. They are a stiff plastic ring (as opposed to a coated fabric)that form a nice cup (cross section) in the rim. Never had them move on me on several sets of wheels (Ritchie, Mavic…) Though I probably don’t put in the mileage or speed of many of your readers … I am a big guy (6’3″, 250lbs) so I do apply a lot of downward force :)

    http://store.icyclesusa.com/michelin-road-bike-bike-tire-rim-strips-700x16mm-p199.aspx

  11. parlorbikes

    YES! Velocity plugs are not bad, have been trying some out over the last few months. However, there is nothing and will be nothing that is the fantastic product called VELOX.

  12. tjh

    When I was wrenching back in the early 80′s, Bikes were showing up stock with newfangled plastic rim strips. These same bikes were coming back into the shop with “mystery” flats. Owners were swearing they’d checked for glass…etc. A quick pump showed the hole was on the UNDERSIDE of tube. These wonders of modern engineering were spitting at the drill holes, pinching the tube when fully inflated. We sold A LOT of velox that summer.

  13. Mr Blue Sky

    +1 on 3M packing tape. Since 1985. Zero problems. Some seasons saw 11,000 miles plus. Now I own a shop and get to hear about the epic rides. Living the dream.
    That said, I generally use Pedros rim tape on clients bikes. It has better adhesive, and I don’t have to explain the 3M tape to skeptics.

  14. Mark

    Good to hear more positive info on the 3M strapping tape. I’ve used it for yrs on the MTB @ max. ~35lb pressure but was leery about using it on road wheels with the higher PSI as it’s only reinforced in one direction.
    I feel better now hearing others success with it though, and it’s worth mention also that it has the added benefit of greatly easing the mounting with tight tire/rim combos.
    not to mention it’s cheap as chips and one roll will do a bzillion wheels.

  15. Dan O

    Great post. Wacky enough, I was hit with rim strip related woes myself a few weeks ago.

    I built up my 11 year old son a trick mountain bike using various new and used parts, including a wheelset that I’ve used for years without issue – and so did he for a few months.

    That ended when I bought him a pair of skinny slicks for road rides. With the slicks mounted, a succession of flats. Closer inspection revealed a hole punched though the rim strip, causing the tube puncture on the spoke end. I’m sure this occurred from the 80 psi for road use, verses the usual 25 psi he runs for dirt rides. The extra pressure blew out the rim strip.

    Something as simple as a rim strip can really ruin your day….

  16. cbaehr

    I agree with your love for Velox rim tape. Although it such a simple part of the bike it’s pretty crucial to the quality of ride because after all changing flats on the side of the road gets old and especially dangerous on the outside of a bad part of town. My first pricey rig’s wheels came with the thin plastic like strips and flatted on my very first ride which happened to cut through a part of town populated by folks that see cyclists as moving targets. My next move was swapping out the thin strips for the Velox tape. Rarely do I flat (unless i can’t dodge a pothole). I’m completely satisfied. It’s not PRO when you roast someone on the road and then they pass you while you are fixing a flat or to me at least.

  17. NateXTR

    Velox, while it works well, takes up too much room. Additionally, the past few years, it seems like the adhesive has grown weaker so that it doesn’t stay put very well…

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