Do I need a repair kit?

It usually depends on the type of tyre and if you have pneumatic tyres; the answer is definitely, yes!  Manual or powered wheelchairs (including those supplied by the government) and scooters may have solid, semisolid or pneumatic tyres. Pneumatic tyres are made of rubber, inflated with air, or have an air filled inner tubes. Most private service providers will supply a 24” semisolid, rear tyre for manual wheelchairs, and government issued manual chairs have either 22”or 24” semisolid tyres. Semisolid tyres look like pneumatic tyres but have a polyurethane (foam) or rubber filling. They are “flat free” but still need repairs, if they are damaged, or come away the rim. Solid tyres are “maintenance free” tyres, as they do not go flat, and are often used for indoor wheelchairs. High-end wheelchairs, such as sports wheelchairs have “ultralight” and strong wheels that use specialised tyres.

So why go with the pneumatic option? Solid tyres are heavy and give a hard ride. Semisolid tyres provide a “softer ride” but are heavier than pneumatic tyres, and needs more strength to propel.  Pneumatic tyres are the lightest, but require maintenance to prevent wear and reduce “drag”, as they can lose 40% of the air pressure within four weeks. Pressure in air filled tyres can be changed to suit the ground surface, but they puncture if driven over nails, thorns, sharp edges, or from kerb or rock bashing.

Extending tyre life

  • Tyre replacement is expensive, and a puncture can be really badly timed. So, it makes sense to extend your tyre life, no matter what type of tyre you have. Firstly, “safe driving” means fewer tyre bumps! Maintenance checks are just like car tyre checks:
  • Monthly tyre inflation - use the recommended pressure on the sidewall of your tyres.
  • Look for wear and cracks on the sidewall of each tyre and the tread depth.
  • Look at your wheelchair from the front and back to see if the wheels “toe in” towards the centre or “toe out” (wheel alignment).
  • Spin each wheel to look for wheel wobble (wheel balance).

Strengthen your tyres:

  • Get puncture proof tyres with good quality rubber and kevlar walls.
  • Use tyre liners (a strip of tough material for thorn proofing) between your tyre and inner tube.
  • Use an inner tube. Inner tubes hold the air and the tyre acts as the protector. They are easier to patch and cheaper to replace than tyres but with heavy use, it needs to be replaced three or four times a year. You can get thicker “thorn proof” tubes.
  • Use rim tape to stop wheel spokes coming into the tyre.

If you do want to change to tyres, make sure the new tyre fits the old wheel rim size.

Repair kits

There are products for roadside emergency fixes, usually sold as a puncture repair kit, and products to puncture proof your tyres. A basic repair kit would include patches to cover holes in the tyres, the means to stick the patches on, and a hand pump to re inflate the tyre. Hi tech repair kits contain special sealants, valve converters (if required), and a CO2 pump.

Patches & Plugs (Price R20 to R140)

Patches come in traditional glue on, or self-adhesive variants which are sold in packs of six to ten patches. Look for kits with different sized patches. The kit should also have a glue/rubber cement/vulcanising cement (if traditional), specifically for bonding with rubber, a means of marking where the puncture is (marker pen or chalk), and sandpaper/emery paper for roughening the edges of the puncture before adding the patch. Before buying a repair kit, check if the kit is used for tyres or inner tubes! Instead of a stick on patch, you can use a rubber plug (looks like a worm) which is glued into place to close the puncture hole.

Some bikers are pro patches as a cheap, easy repair option. Others complain that they are the “get you home” solution, notably, the self-adhesive type. However, much depends on the quality of your repair as well as the product. If you do patch, you should check the wear on the patch regularly and replace when needed.

Sealants (price R55 to R138)

Sealants are latex, polyurethane or silicone and come in a pressurised tube so can re inflate the tyre as well. These products vary according to the size of puncture that they can be used to plug to repair (3mm to 6mm) and whether they are meant for tyre or inner tubes. Sealants are put through the air valve, and spread throughout the tyre to seal the hole, or can be used in the inner tube. Repairs can last for a year, but they react to temperature, so if you are in colder climate look for one that works in “sub zero temperatures.  Sealants can be used to create a tubeless tyre but you need a conversion kit as well.

Pumps (price R150 - R599+)

Once patched you need to re-inflate the tyre. Pumps range from an old fashioned bicycle hand pump, to compact CO2 pumps and electrical compressors. Hand pumps are light but need upper limb and hand strength as well as endurance to operate, and have no carbon emissions if you are eco conscious. CO2 pumps give fast inflation and are a better option if you have poor arm strength, but CO2 is a carbon emission. Look for pumps with built in pressure gauges. An electrical compressor can be used at home for pressure maintenance. Compressors range in sizes (143mm to 205mm), weights (93g -155g) and maximum pressure, 100psi to 300 psi/20.6 bar. The greater the pressure the quicker they inflate.

Wheelchair tyre pressures are written on the tyres’ sidewall. Minimum tyre pressures for rear wheels and castors are 25-30psi, and should not be lower than 20psi, however, high pressure tyres are available.

Valves, caps and adapters

The valve is the part of the tyre that takes in the air. There are 2 types and both are used on wheelchair tyres. Schrader valves (8mm) are also used on garage air hoses/car and bicycle tyres. They have a spring loaded pin and need a dust cap to stop air escaping. A Presta valve is a bicycle valve, only 6mm, and is kept closed by internal tyre pressure. To convert to either valve, an adapter is used. There are also valve extenders available that increase their length, so you don’t have to lean so far when pumping.

Tyre levers (Price R25 - R90)

A really bad puncture may mean you have to take the tyre off to make the repair; in this case, you will need tyre levers. These devices are made of plastic, glass reinforced nylon or metal; and some have a lifetime warranty.

Conversion kits (Price R840 - R950)

Mountain bikers recommend that bikers convert their pneumatic tyres into “tubeless” tyres, using a tyre liner and sealant to prevent any punctures. The conversion kits include sealants and rim bead kits to seal the tyre against the rim. If your tyres are full of sealant, it seals any new punctures.

Repair tips

How to change a tyre

Listen for the air escaping or put the tyre in water and look for air bubbles, to find where the puncture is. Use levers to take the tyre off (and take out the tube) and check if the object causing the puncture is still there, check the inner tube for punctures. Dry the tyre/tube around the hole, roughen with sandpaper, put on patch/plug/sealant and leave for few minutes to set. If using a tube, insert it and slightly inflate, put tyre (and tube) on rim and inflate to the recommended tyre pressure.

Be careful of using knives and screwdrivers as levers, they can make holes, if you slip. Rather use dessert spoons.

You can use the high pressure hose at the nearest garage but it may blow your tyre, as it pumps air in quickly!

Advice

Your local bike shop can help you out with advice and repair kits (and there are many biker’s comments in this review). Standard bicycle wheels (26”) are sometimes used in rural areas as it is easier to source them.

Prices and Retailers

Prices are sourced from online catalogues but try your local bike shop. Basic kits are available at the local small retailer, if you are in a rural area.

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