How Long Do Bike Tubes Last: I asked cyclists


When I ran tires that had inner tubes, it sometimes felt like I was having to change the tube every week, but then at other times, I’d have a year-long period where I’d completely forget that I had an inner tube at all. Given how varied my experiences had been, I wanted to take a more detailed look into how long inner tubes should actually last, be that on a bike or in storage. And I also wanted to find out from real riders how long their inner tubes had been lasting them. So, how long do inner tubes actually last?

While in storage, bike inner tubes will effectively last forever, provided they are being kept in a cool, dry, and low-light area. However, when being used on a bike, inner tubes have a shorter lifespan, often needing to be replaced every few years as a result of punctures or other damage.

So, we’ve established that inner tubes can theoretically last a lifetime while in storage, but how do you actually store them? And if you are using them on your bike, how long can you really expect them to survive? I take a look at this in more detail, as well as asking a large group of cyclists how long their inner tubes have lasted them in the rest of the article.

How long do bike inner tubes last?

There are many different factors that will impact how long a bike’s inner tube will last. However, the most important factors that will impact the lifespan of an inner tube are the quality of the tube itself as well as the way it is being stored.

The quality and material of the inner tube

In general, there are 2 main types of inner tubes. Ones made from butyl rubber and those made from latex.

Butyl rubber inner tubes are the most common type of material. They are cheap and widely available (if you don’t know what material your inner tube is made from, it is likely to be this).

Latex inner tubes are a newer alternative to butyl rubber. Latex inner tubes are “stretchier” than traditional tubes and so are better able to adjust to any external pressure that attempts to penetrate and puncture the tube. Put simply, they are more resistant to punctures or flats.

On the other hand, they lose more air over time than butyl rubber inner tubes and so need to be pumped up more frequently. On top of this, you can’t use latex inner tubes with rim brakes as the heat from rim brakes can damage the latex causing a puncture.

Finally, latex inner tubes are more prone to damage from environmental factors such as sunlight. We’ll look into these in a lot more detail in the next section.

Overall, latex inner tubes will last longer than butyl inner tubes when being used on the bike, however, if you plan to keep the tubes in storage, then butyl rubber ones are your best choice.

It’s important to clarify that the quality of any tube is also important, no matter the material it is made from. A poor-quality latex inner tube is just as bad as a poor-quality butyl rubber one.

Whether the inner tube is being used

Obviously, an inner tube will last a different amount of time depending on whether it is being used or it is being stored.

Inner tubes that are being used will last less time than a well-stored inner tube. When an inner tube is being used there are some key factors this will contribute to its lifespan.

First of all, the type of tire you have around the inner tube will make a difference. Inner tubes inside a road bike tire are more prone to damage as they are smaller and have less protection from debris on the ground.

Mountain bike tires on the other hand have knobbly edges that help to lift the inner tube away from the ground, limiting their exposure to debris.

Larger/wider tires are also better if you want to prolong the life of your inner tubes. The wider tires not only have more material to protect the inner tube but they are often run at a lower tire pressure. This means that the inner tube is less prone to punctures.

Mountain bikes in general are better at preserving inner tubes than road or gravel bikes. This is because mountain bikes either have full or rear suspension. This helps to relieve pressure on the inner tubes are you cycle over rough terrain.

If and how the inner tube is being stored

If you are storing your inner tubes at home for future use, then they can last much longer! However, there are many different factors to account for when it comes to storing inner tubes and making them last as long as they can.

The first thing to consider is the temperature at which the inner tube is being stored. A temperature either too high or too low can reduce the lifespan of the inner tube.  High temperatures break down the material itself, while low temperatures can freeze water droplets around the inner tube causing small microcracks.

Storing inner tubes in direct sunlight can also cause them to wear down faster. This is because UV light can break down the bonds holding the inner tube material together (both latex or butyl rubber). This happens over time but the more sunlight exposure the faster this will occur.

A very humid or moist storage location is also going to reduce the lifespan of your inner tubes, This is because moist conditions are more prone to the formation of mold, which can work away at the inner tube. Also, prolonged contact with water can change the shape of the inner tube, causing them to inflate in an uneven way.

In this same way, exposure to other environmental factors such as dust, solvents, chemicals, or oils can also result in the material of the inner tube being damaged and not holding air as well as it should.

The best place to store an inner tube is somewhere that is dry, does not get too much direct sunlight and can be stored at room temperature. For example a chest of drawers or closet.

When actually storing your inner tubes, try placing them inside a plastic bag and then in a cardboard box. This will help to limit UV damage and ensure the tubing stays dry.

Some riders even advise putting baby powder (talcum powder) around the inner tube to help ensure no moisture is present and limit any damage. However, this is only really necessary if the inner tube is not new (as new tubes often come with their own powder on them anyway)

Finally, if you are planning to keep an inner tube inside a bike tire (for example on a bike that is going into storage), then it is helpful to ensure the inner tube is partially inflated, as this will help to keep the tubes rough shape over time and limit the buildup of debris inside the tube itself.

Do bike tubes expire?

In reality, bike inner tubes do not expire (or at least not in enough time for you to notice). Butyl rubber, the most common material used to make inner tubes, has been shown to last 89 years before starting to degrade providing it is kept at normal temperatures and in suitable conditions.

Certainly, manufacturers such as Continental do not advertise a set expiration date for their inner tubes. And in reality means that unless your tubes are very very old, you shouldn’t have to worry about them.

Obviously, the factors we’ve looked into above can result in them becoming damaged more quickly, and so you should periodically check that your inner tubes are still safe to use. But overall, you should not get rid of an inner tube just due to its age provided it otherwise looks normal and functions well.

How often should bike tubes be replaced?

So theoretically inner tubes will last forever tens, maybe hundreds of years, but how true is this in reality?

I asked a large cycling group how long their longest-lasting inner tube had survived (when being used on a bike, not in storage). As you can see, the results were very varied, with the majority of riders having an inner tube that had lasted them 2 years. At the top of the spectrum, there was one cyclist that had been using the same inner tube for the last 31 years!

Looking at the results in general, we can see that the average result overall was 3 years and 8 months for a rider’s longest surviving inner tube.

The significant reduction in the number of people with inner tubes lasting 5 years or more is a good indication that even though butyl rubber is supposedly able to last a lifetime, in reality, other factors such as the type of riding you are doing will significantly reduce their lifespan.

As time goes by, there is more risk of a puncture or damage to an inner tube. And thus if you have an older inner tube (particularly one older than 3 years), you might want to consider changing it pre-emptively to avoid a falt at an inopportune time.

I personally am happy to take more of a risk, using the same one until it goes flat and I need to change it. But if you also plan to do this, make sure you are always carrying a spare inner tube with you on the bike.

How do I know if I need a new bike tube?

Obviously, if an inner tube leaks over time, or can’t inflate at all, then it is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be replaced. But what are the other signs you should be looking for?

Any cracks or areas of damage on the inner tube itself mean it has likely been damaged. Small punctures caused by debris or a pinch puncture can be repaired using an inner tube patch, however larger and more significant cracks mean you should be replacing the whole tube.

A change in color is another area to look for in an inner tube. In reality, inner tubes are not actually “black”, they are actually a very “dull dark gray”. Any change in the color, either to a darker blue, light gray or a change to black indicates there has been some wearing away of the material and it might be time to change the inner tube,

When feeling the inner tube, it should feel smooth and elastic. Any loss of this, for example, if they start to feel rough or “tacky”, is another sign that the tube may have been damaged in storage.

Finally, if the inner tube inflates unevenly, for example, if it doesn’t expand uniformly and part of the tube remains at the right diameter while other parts swell disproportionately, then this is another reason to get yourself a new inner tube.

Overall

As you can see, overall there are many factors that will impact how long an inner tube lasts. However, with a well-thought-out storage solution, inner tubes can last almost indefinitely.

If you are just getting into cycling or bikepacking and want some more information on wheels for bikepacking specifically, take a look at my article here.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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