Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inner Tubes, Scooters and the Last Days of Summer

Last week we had a delivery truck come in with bundles of tires and box loads of inner tubes in all kinds of sizes for recreational scooters. I counted almost three dozen different sizes of tubes from 8 X 2s all the way up to the 20 X 2.4 size. One of the most popular tubes of them all is the ubiquitous 12-1/2" x 2.5/3.0 inner tube. This scooter inner tube is puncture resistant and comes with an angled valve stem. A size common to a great number of scooters, the 12-1/2" x 2.5/3.0 inner tube will fit so many scooters that I cannot even begin to list them here. Just click on the link here to see the compatibility list. So versatile an inner tube, it even fits on a number of wheelchairs.

Why do some scooter tires still use inner tubes when tubeless is almost the rule these days? Well it mostly comes down to mounting and repair. A typical tubeless scooter tire is stiffer and will still allow emergency riding at very low air pressure; however they can be a bear to replace. The same qualities of stiffness that keep a tubeless scooter tire on the rim -even when almost totally deflated- mean that getting them on or back off of the rim is sometimes a time-consuming, frustrating, and possibly knuckle-skinning chore.

A scooter tire with a puncture resistant tube, like our 12-1/2" x 2.5/3.0 inner tube, is far easier to fix and remount. The tube holds the air pressure, so the tire itself doesn't need to create the air-tight seal on the rim. Rims can get damaged, bent and dirty without creating too many problems for the tire. As such, scooter inner tubes are preferred by many riders due to the ease of repair. Additionally, many riders prefer tires with inner tubes due to what they perceive as smoothness of the ride. Those air-filled donuts do double duty as shock absorbers.

Back in the proverbial Olden Days of Yore, almost all tires used inner tubes. Whether on cars, trucks, aeroplanes or bicycles; if it was a tire it had a tube inside of it. Scooters had not really made much of an appearance in the US until the mid-1960s, and even those were the street-legal gas-powered motor scooters like the Vespas and Honda Cub 50s. Electric scooters like the various eZips and IZIPs and Razors and such weren't even thought of yet. Even if they had been, they would have had tires with tubes.

If you picked up a nail, you put a patch on the tube to get rolling again. Almost all kids who had a bike sooner or later made the trip to the hardware or dime store (anyone remember those?) for the little repair kit in the can. They came with a 4X4 square of rubber, some glue, and a textured metal lid like a cheese-grater that you could use to roughen up the rubber prior to slapping a carefully-cut and glue-smeared rubber patch over the nail puncture. You practiced on your bike tires because you knew that sooner or later you would be grown up and repairing the rubber on your (hopefully) future Mustang or GTO in the same way. I don't think that "puncture resistant" had been thought of yet, not for small vehicle inner tubes anyway.

With all of those inner tubes in circulation -(no pun intended)- there was always a few old ones ready to find a new lives as rafts. Swimming pools, ponds, creeks, branches, runs, rivers, ocean waves, inlets, lagoons, and swimming holes of every description and water level would be festooned with kids floating and frolicking on old inner tubes. And that was just what summer was for.

Hint: if you want to re-create the joys of inner-tube rafting, use a tube with an angled valve stem pointed down. Not heeding this advice will sooner or later result in a very intense pain in a place that you really don't want to get hurt. 'Nuff said.

And then they invented the tubeless tire and rafting became rarer each year. They also invented a lot of other things that took away the fun of being a kid on summer vacation. Then they told you about this terrible thing called work that would replace your carefree summer delights as soon as you turned 17 or 18 and life would never be the same.

It is now late September and the summer has flown off south with the Canadian geese. Perhaps to Uruguay or Argentina or wherever it is that summer retreats to. A Southern Hemisphere location anyway. The kids are back in school trying to decipher the algebra that most will never again have any practical use for, and those of us who live in the coastal South-eastern and Mid-Atlantic region will keep one ear on the weather forecast, always on the alert for terms like "growing tropical depression" and "maximum sustained winds."

September morphs into October with its cooler nights, small-town Oktoberfest celebrations and the sound of Vince Guaraldi playing his magnum opus "Linus & Lucy" on the piano. Mr. Guaraldi may have passed away decades ago, but his classic soundtrack to the Peanuts television specials like "The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" was the first introduction for millions of us to the joys of listening to genuine jazz. The cooler weather of autumn reminds me that I might never again get to drift down the lazy creek in an old inner tube. Somehow trying to float on a tubeless steel-belted puncture resistant radial just doesn't cut it.

Maybe I could tie up a bunch of these puncture resistant 12-1/2" x 2.5/3.0 scooter inner tubes (heavy-duty thorn resistant with angled valve stem), take my shoes off and pretend I'm floating down stream.



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