Versus: Tire Plugs

Much better than tubes, unless you like walking

The first mobile phones showed little promise of ever appealing to the masses. But then, cellular networks expanded, microprocessors arrived and suddenly it was hard to imagine the days of the land line.

Early tubeless systems also seemed destined to stay niche. They were aimed at XC racers and weight-weenies. But of course, the technology surrounding them caught up. Tires improved, latex-based sealant arrived, and most recently, the tire plug made the leap from cars to bikes. Suddenly, it was hard to imagine the days of the inner tube.

Tubeless plugs all do essentially the same thing, but each uses a different method. Blackburn and Genuine Innovations simply scaled down the plug system we all should (but probably don't) have in our glove box. And Dynaplug scaled down a unique system of its own.

Instead of waiting until I got enough pinch flats to exhaust the supply of the 53 various plugs I planned to go through, I sat down in the garage with four tires, two bottles of Stan's, an air compressor, an X-Acto knife, goggles and a lab coat in an effort to find which plug I want with me when the sun is going down fast, and my tire pressure is going down faster.

Blackburn Plugger on the left and Genuine Innovations on the right.

Blackburn Plugger--$20

The Plugger runs on familiar-looking strips of unvulcanized rubber, but with a twist. Literally. Wrap two plugs together, pre-load them into the applicator needle, store it into the sealed case, strap it on your bike and wait for the inevitable.

The Plugger works best on mid-sized punctures 5- or 6-millimeters wide. Smaller punctures barely beyond the capacity of your sealant can be a tight squeeze. Those might seal up fine with a single plug, but that yielded mixed results on the two-plug-specific Plugger. The Genuine Innovations Takle Kit can be scaled down to suit your needs, but I can appreciate the security of always doubling up. When it was necessary to double up again for large punctures 8- or 9-millimeters across, the Plugger was just as ready as the rest to pack 'em in, but I couldn't get a slice over 11 millimeters to seal overnight. To be fair, I couldn't with any of the other systems I tested either.

The frame-mounted design of the Plugger is practical, but only makes sense if you somehow catch the leak soon enough not to lose much air. Most of my flats lose air quickly enough that I'm opening my pack for a pump or CO2 anyway.

Reloading the Plugger is a little tricky. Residue from the plugs eventually lines the inner walls of the applicator, and it will need to be cleaned out with alcohol or degreaser occasionally. Sometimes after just a couple uses. It's a good thing to be prepared for on long rides.

Genuine Innovations Tackle Kit--$25

From the 'if it ain't-broke, don't fix it' school of engineering comes the Genuine Innovations Tackle Kit. This is a Xerox of an automotive tire plug after hitting the 'reduce' button a few times. And its small size is one of its biggest features. Load it with a single plug, and it's perfect for stubborn but small 3- to 4-millimeter holes.

This was the best-performing tool for fixing hard-to-reach punctures just above the tire bead like the ones you'll get in hard pinch flats. The long, thin applicator makes it easy to get the plug plenty deep, even when the tire is so soft it deflects before you get to the business end of the plug, an issue I ran into with the Dynaplug occasionally. And you can control the depth, which can be difficult on the Blackburn when the plug sometimes doesn't immediately slide out of the applicator.

Though the applicator is designed for a single plug, you can certainly fit another in for slices 5 millimeters or bigger. For slices double that size, the Tackle Kit makes it the easiest to keep inserting plugs until the leak is fixed. But reloading isn't easy. It's like threading a needle if the thread were covered in oily chewing gum. Thankfully it doesn't need careful cleaning, and you can set out with it loaded and sealed in the case.

The tiny case comes with a sheet of five plugs, but you can easily squeeze another sheet inside. And the bottom of the case has a clever integrated Presta valve stem tool.

Dynaplug Megapill--$75


"If Apple made a tire plug, it would look like this."

The first testimonial I heard from a Dynaplug user had me both intrigued and skeptical. I'm a PC/Android fan, but you can't argue with good design. Every Dynaplug product features very good design, and they're made in the U.S. to boot. Popular in the motorcycle world, Dynaplug makes the most intuitive, user-friendly and clean-looking plug kits there will likely ever be. And there are a lot of different configurations. I went for the all-inclusive Megapill, which includes five standard plugs, two oversized (Mega) plugs and a tiny blade to slice off any excess plug material. The standard plugs are the effective diameter of a folded-over traditional plug and have the same plugging capability: punctures under 5 millimeters. The Megaplug offered even greater plugging power than a doubled-up, folded-over traditional plug, and was much easier to insert. It aptly handled 7-millimeter slices. But doubling up on them was tricky. The Megaplug itself is much shorter than traditional plugs. Excluding the alloy tip, it's half the length of a folded-over traditional plug. When pushing two Megaplugs next to each other for an extremely large hole, I managed to dislodge one. I found it easier to start with one Megaplug and add standard plugs until I fixed the leak.

The short length also made it a little tricky when a softened or deflated tire deflected when trying to insert the plug. And large holes at the bead, though rare, were difficult to fix with an oversized Megaplug. Two or three of Dynaplug's standard plugs worked better for big holes in tight corners, but again, the short applicator made it slightly tricky to get deep enough. Along the tire bead, Genuine Innovations had the advantage.

But above all, patching with a Dynaplug is quick. Every plug in the Megapill comes pre-loaded in its own applicator, ready to be screwed into the handle and plugged in, so it's always ready to go again. If you exhaust the supply of pre-loaded applicators, they are refillable. But like the Blackburn, you'll need to clean them out occasionally. Unlike the Blackburn, you can just buy more applicators and stash them in your pack to be threaded in and used later.

Speaking of buying, the Megapill is triple the price of the other plugs I tested. And refills are four times the price. But for a U.S.-made product of this quality, those numbers are about right. And just imagine how pricy it would be if Apple made it.