About Bicycle Inner Tubes – Sheldon Brown

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Video Bike inner tube

[This section by John Allen]

Several dimensions of an inner tube are important.


Bicycle tires and inner tubes are sold in a variety of diameters. Because inner tubes stretch, exzact fit isn’t necessary. For example, the same inner tubes are used with tires in the E.T.R.T.O. 630mm (English “27 inch”) and 622mm (French, “700C”) sizes.

There are limits, though! An inner tube with too large a diameter will fold over inside the tire. It will give a bumpy ride and can possibly be damaged. An inner tube with too small a diameter will stretch over the rim like a rubber band and make tire installation difficult.

Sometimes, sizes of inner tubes are not close enough, even when they have the same markings. For example, there are two sizes called 24 x 1 1/8, but the rim sizes are 20mm different, 520mm and 540mm. The larger inner tube will fold over inside the smaller tire, but the smaller inner tube might be made to fit the larger tire with some coaxing. Diameters may be compared quickly by extending inner tubes between the two hands, as shown in the photo below.

Comparing inner-tube diametersChecking inner-tube sizes


Inner tubes are made to fit different tire widths. Again because inner tubes stretch, many are marked for a range of widths.

You can check before installing the tire on the rim. Inflate the inner tube so it just holds its shape and place it inside the tire. It should fit inside the tire, leaving a gap about as wide as the inside of the rim. This test will also check that the diameters match.

Once the tire is installed, if the inner tube is too fat, it sticks out from under the tire, preventing the tire from seating on the rim, or it crumples inside. If the tube is too skinny, it has to stretch too much to fill the tire, and it may tear or split.

In an emergency, you could use a tube which is too long, folding it over, and live with the bumpy ride to the next bike shop. Avoid using a tube which is too skinny, especially on the front wheel. A sudden front-tire deflation often makes the bicycle impossible to control.

Wall thickness

Most inner tubes have a wall thickness of about 1mm, enough so air won’t quickly seep through the rubber, and so rough spots inside the tire and rim will not puncture it.

Lightweight inner tubes are thinner, more like medical gloves, and require more careful treatment. Some must be pumped up before every ride.

In some regions, notably the Southwestern U.S., “goat-head” (tribulus terrestris) thorns are so common that thorn-proof inner tubes are a desirable option. They are thickened under the tread to help prevent flat tires. These tubes are not only heavier but also increase rolling resistance. They make your wheels heavy and sluggish, and, if incorrectly installed, they can actually cause flats! They can make sense in areas with “goat-head” thorns. Sealant, a liquid inserted into the inner tube which closes small holes, and aftermarket tire liners, such as the well-known Mr. Tuffy, are other options.Jobst Brandt has information on this site about how to recognize and avoid goat heads.

Valve dimensions

– will be covered in the next section.