A Tube Worth the Search

A Tube Worth the Search

If you’re of a certain age, then you’ve probably seen the great Steve Martin movie, The Jerk. There’s a famous scene in it in which he runs to a guy from the phone company, grabs a phone book and starts exclaiming, “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!”

Getting excited about inner tubes is likely to cause you to look just as ridiculous.

And with that little prologue, I need to admit that there’s a tube out there I actually get excited about. A tube about which I care. At the end of the review, I’ll give you an address to which you can send Xanax.

But let’s be honest. Most seat bags are so small that if you try to go garbage compactor on them and cram two tubes, a few insta-patches, a CO2 gun and a few CO2 cartridges, all you’re really guaranteed to do is wind up with a jack-in-the-box with a pressurized zipper for a latch.

There’s a special prayer for those who have discovered a blown-out seat bag with nothing but a stem nut bouncing around inside. That prayer is to be recited on the ride home as way of fending off the nearly inevitable flat.

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The Panaracer R’Air tube is a thin butyl tube that mimics the feel of a good latex tube. For riders running 700C wheels, it comes in two sizes, 18-23mm and 31-35mm. The 18-23 comes in 32, 48 and 60mm valve lengths while the 31-35 comes in 32 and 48mm lengths.

I run the narrower tubes for everything up to 28mm in width, and I’ve even run them on 32mm tires in a pinch.

Here’s the extra-cool part: When I buy them, I get the 32mm valve length and Panaracer includes a valve extender and valve core nut. No matter what happens, I know that I’ve got whatever is necessary to put that tube to use. I’ve been on so many rides where a rider has a flat only to realize that the valve on the tube in their seat bag isn’t long enough to extend beyond the spoke bed. Oops.

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These tubes aren’t cheap. They go for $15.95, but the combination of ride quality, packability and included valve extender makes them more than worth it in my mind. I can get two of the R’Air tubes in a seat bag that might otherwise only hold a single tube.

For those who have never ridden with latex tubes, the improvement in ride quality is a real thing. It makes any tire feel like an open tubular, or nearly so.

Final thought: The new phone book is really here.

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12 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s been ages since I last wrote about latex tubes. May have mentioned them in a post for Belgium Knee Warmers, but the first time I wrote about latex tubes is earlier than the first time I wrote about embro, and that’s been a while.

      The short version is that with a more supple tube beneath the tire, the tire ends up feeling more supple itself. If you’re ever ridden a 60 tpi version of a tire and then upgraded to a 120 tpi version, it’s that kind of improvement. Latex tube plus open tubular is as good a feel as you’re going to get from a non-tubular tire.

      So why aren’t we all riding latex tubes? First, they are expensive. Second, they must be pumped up every single ride. Third, out on the road they are impossible to patch and they are difficult to patch even in the best circumstance. In other words, they are a bit of a pain.

  1. Justin Barrett

    I love the R’Air and have been using them for years. I agree with the ride quality. I loved latex when I was running alloy rims, but in the high mountains here latex plus carbon can mean death on a tricky descent (latex doesn’t have the heat resistance that butyl does, not even close). So, I found the R’Air and have been very happy. That is, when I can find them. They are very difficult to find. I stock up when they come in stock.
    Any special place you happen to find yours?

  2. Jeff Zell

    Patrick, thanks for the really nice write up. And if anything I’m writing doesn’t fit here on the site, feel free to remove it.

    First off, I work for Panaracer for anyone reading these comments. And what I’m telling you is not marketing hype. I want to clear a couple of things up about the R’Air. They are not 100% latex. The material is both latex and butyl based. This gives the tube amazing elasticity like latex, but the ability to be patched easily like a standard butyl tube. Kind of the best of both worlds. The tubes are made by us in our factory in Japan, and to my knowledge, our butyl extrusion process is unique in the world of tube manufacturing. And tolerances are tighter for circumference consistency in material than any again, that I am aware of. Also, please note that not every tube comes with a valve extender. We did do that for a while but the cost was just too great. Patrick asked me about this last week and I was waiting for the factory to confirm my thoughts on this. So if you order and the valve extender isn’t there, we’re sorry. The tubes are not easy to find in the states. We have an exclusive agreement with Excel Sports out of Boulder and they can be found there in the most popular sizes.

  3. Charles Pelkey

    Just as an outside observer, Patrick, you really are a bike geek… which is why we all love you so.

    Same for you, Zell.

  4. Chris

    Expand on the valve core nut please? If I can pull the valve core I can put sealant in there. That’s good.

    PS–Do you not have pockets for that extra tube, etc?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, you could put sealant in after you pull out the valve core.

      Pockets? Those are for food, armwarmers, phone, cash … not tube. The funny thing is that when the ride is short enough that my pockets aren’t bulging with food and such, I don’t feel like I need a second tube. Which we all know is poppycock.

  5. miles archer

    You carry two tubes? I always carry one plus a patch kit. My current patch kit is unopened (don’t jinx me!). The only time I had a problem with this setup is when I snapped off the valve stem of the new tube while pumping it up. Yeah, i’m an idiot. A kindly stranger gave me his spare or I would have patched the original on the side of the road.

  6. Spider

    damn it! I’ve been using these for years…now you’ve spread the word to your disciples it will be harder again to find them.

    Agree with Jeff’s comments above…I’ve never got the extender in all my orders!

    Apparently a site did tests and they do NOT decrease rolling resistence over any other butyl tube. I just think they feel nicer!

    Padraig, can you please get the new Assos mille intermediate jacket and do a review on that – they have lowered the price point for the mille version and with the wider fit may suit your readership

  7. Les.B.

    Another disadvantage of latex, and the reason I avoid them like the Black Death is that they tend to blow out rather than slow leak. One blew out on me while ascending Cotharin Rd. Had the tube held off half an hour before blowing it would have betrayed me during the harrowing Deer Creek descent. That was enough to scare me back to butyl forever, ride quality be darned..

    So, how are the R’Air’s in this regard?

    1. Justin Barrett

      The R’airs slow leak. They do not burst unless something really bad gets them. They are much like butyl in that regard. Also, they patch nicely. I’ve got a pair on my bike now with 3 patches each. Each tube is at least 2 years old. One of them is probably closer to 3 years old. They might not actually roll better, but they do feel better. And they are very light without the issues that light butyl tubes typically have (blowouts, easily pierced, etc.).

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