22 December 2012

Long Term Road Test -- Japanese Punctureless Tire Tube

There was an era, back in the 1960s and early 70s, when American cars had a very short lifespan.  The manufacturers did not mind -- in fact, they wanted it this way, since customers would want to buy a new car every 2 or 3 years.  Planned obsolescence.

The only problem with this strategy was that American cars got a reputation for being very poorly made.   Japanese cars won a place in the U.S. market because they lasted a long time.  A Toyota, Nissan or Honda would run trouble free for a decade or more.  The Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla with over 100,000 miles and 10 years was a standard "graduate student" or even "junior faculty" car at many U.S. universities.  U.S. manufacturers eventually got the message, and their quality improved, eventually closing in on the Japanese manufacturers.  Today, the average car on the road in the U.S.A. is something like 11 years old -- the oldest ever.  Even as population increases, the U.S. does not need as many new cars each year.  Little wonder that GM and Chrysler needed bail-outs back in 2009.

The same thing is happening around the world with light bulbs.  We used to have incandescent bulbs that lasted maybe 1000 hours on average and consumed 60 watts.  Now we have LED bulbs that last 50 times as long, and consume 10% the wattage for the same brightness.  Yes, LEDs are much more expensive, but it is nice to put one in a light socket and know that it should last as long as I am in my house.  Without any light bulb changes, it is only a matter of time before the end of light bulb jokes.

Could the tire tube be about to undergo a similar transformation?

After my speech in May 2011 to the bicycle usage promotion study group run by Shigeki Kobayashi, a Chiba-based inventor named Suzuki-san came up and started to tell me about his latest award-winning invention -- a tire tube that is nearly puncture proof (well, he markets it as "very difficult to puncture" -- not wanting to overstate his claim).

I was pleasantly surprised to receive, a week or two later, a package in the mail with a gift of two of his patented, award winning Isshin Tasuke tire tubes, plus some explanatory material.  

The tubes felt heavy -- they weigh around 250 grams, as opposed to 90 for a regular Vittoria 18-25x700 road bike tube.  I was not sure I would want to use them.  And I am not sure you want to hear about them either -- tubes are not the most exciting piece of equipment on a bicycle.

The 一新助け(Isshin Tasuke) Tube weighs 247 grams
A Vittoria standard road tube weighs 91 grams.
But the next time I changed to a new a tire on my Bianchi (commuting bike) rear wheel, in June 2011, I tried out one of Suzuki-san's tubes.

I recently changed a threadbare rear tire on the Bianchi for the second time since then.  I put the same Isshin Tasuke tube right back in this third tire.  No flats for almost 18 months of mostly urban riding.  

True, I have not used the Bianchi as much this year as in 2010 and 2011 -- less daily commuting, and more urban riding on the Yamabushi this fall.  But still, no tube punctures in what must be thousands of kilometers, through the entire life of 2 normal road bike tires (both Vittoria -- supple, light, good grip, and high TPI, but nothing extraordinary in terms of puncture protection).

I have never understood the explanatory material that Suzuki-san provided.  Either a lack of Japanese or of technical knowledge.  The tubes have some kind of little loose granular items inside.  You can hear these rolling on the inside as you spin up at the start of a ride ... but they are silent once you have been riding for a minute, and do not seem to cause a noticeable change in rolling resistance.  Yes, the tubes are heavy, not recommended for a hill climb race, but the road feel is acceptable, and for normal riding the convenience certainly more than compensates for the additional weight.

After 18 months, the loose granular substance seems to be forming into lumps on one side of the tube, but it is certainly still useable.  I plan to ride it until it finally punctures.

I just put the second tube from Suzuki-san on the rear wheel of the Yamabushi.  If all goes well, I will use this rear wheel, with the new road disk brake/carbon clincher front wheel, on a 400km brevet in mid January around the Seto Nai Kai.  It will be a bit different than the usual road bike setup, but it is not a hilly course, and it will be worth it if I can avoid changing even one or two flats while out riding in the cold this winter.

Is this a better approach than the Air Protect Max goop that Hutchinson makes, or the Stan's No Tubes sealant, for insertion into a tire?  I do not know.   The sealants add around 100 grams of weight to the tire, if properly used -- not much different than the Isshin Tasuke approach.  I tried the Hutchinson goop a few times on my road tubeless tires 4 or 5 years back, ... and it seemed to end up oozing out under the tire bead and hardening on the back of the seat tube, where needless to say it did not serve its purpose.  Others like the sealants -- David and Juliane used them in the 2011 Transalp in their tubulars, and made it through the week without a flat.

You can order the Isshin Tasuke tubes (Japanese language only) online at 

or via fax at 04-7132-2415.

They are not cheap -- at 2850 yen for a road bike version.  Then again, if they last as long as 5 or even 10 regular tubes and save you from all those flat tire incidents, they are not expensive either.  The same concept as the LED light.


mob said...

Very well written post, David, linking the topic of tubes with various other topics (light bulbs and Japanese cars) one wouldn't think of immediately. I like that very much.

Anonymous said...

Interesting ..

Whats the difference between the two products on his site?

David L. said...

One of the products has a presta valve (the more expensive one). In Japanese, presta is a "French" or 仏式 style valve.

The other (less expensive) one has a mama-chari style valve (in Japanese, an "English" or 英式 style).

CM said...

I don't see the point. If you are worried about punctures just change to a slightly heavier tire.