What can I do if I get a flat out on the road?

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Plugging

Don't panic. This is not the end of the world. There are plug kits that allow you to patch your tire without removing it from the rim, such as the Stop & Go Pocket Plugger, available at Aerostich and other places. What's notable about this kit is that it doesn't use "sticky strings," but rather "mushrooms." The mushroom type plugs are supposed to work better, although they're harder to find. Don't get the regular Stop-n-Go kit, make sure it's the Pocket kit. The non-Pocket one is huge, and isn't really sized for motorcycle use.

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It has been suggested to carry the Stop & Go, with its mushroom plugs, and also some additional tar rope plugs (sticky strings) which you should be able to get at your local Clueless Auto Supply. The reason is that tire punctures are different every time. The design of the Stop & GO mushrooms is better than the tar rope plugs, but they don't work for all punctures.

The Stop & Go is best used for simple punctures, such as a nail or screw through the tread. If you have an irregular or larger puncture, then the Stop & Go will not stay in place. The tar rope plugs are more likely to hold in this scenario. Riding for a long time on a plugged irregularly-shaped puncture is probably not in your best interests.

Stop & Go mushroom plug on outside and inside of a tire.

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One good tip: since you need to trim the end of the plug sticking out of the tire off, to ensure you have something to do so with, use a piece of duct tape to secure a razor blade (like for a utility knife) under your seat somewhere. The Pocket Plugger kit comes with one.

Portable air compressors

Once you have the tire plugged, you'll need to get some air back into it. The best option for inflation, for many people, is to get a compact 12 volt air compressor. This will probably take up less space than CO2 cartridges, and you don't have to worry about running out of cartridges this way. Here are some options:

  • A compressor that is ready-made for use with motorcycles is the Slime Power Sport Tire Inflator. It's ready-to-use and doesn't take any modifying to make it smaller, like the Campbell-Hausfeld (below) does. Size (with case) is 6 x 6 x 2.25". This one is used and recommended by quite a few people round here, and is generally considered to be better than the cheap Wal-Mart alternatives. It works well for filling up after a flat or topping off the tires.
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  • One of our crack staff of FAQ reporters found a $10 mini compressor at Wal-mart that comes in its own case and doesn't need to be modified. It's cheap, it's Chinese, and it may break eventually, but at least the compressor is in its little plastic case to protect it from day to day riding. Size is about 7.5 x 5.5 x 2.75". It's a "SUPER Line" WAC-0602 in a red box. Apparently it's exclusively marketed by Wal-Mart, but don't worry about the brand, as they'll most likely have something different next week.
  • If you want to spend almost no money, and go to a little extra work, you can find a compressor at Wal-Mart made by Campbell-Hausfeld. It comes in a blue plastic case that includes an on/off switch and a pressure gauge. Properly modified it becomes a 5x3x2" package that weighs about 19 ounces and can inflate a completely flat tire in a couple of minutes to any pressure. It can go under the seat, or in a tank or tail bag. Shown is the Slime pump with the DIY C-H one.
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Take the case apart and you will find the little single cylinder compressor. Take the pressure gauge off and replace with a little metric screw. Take the fan off by cutting the fan shaft with a hacksaw. Remove the power cord by desoldering the connections at the motor and get rid of the on/off switch (optional). Route the cord under one of the cylinder hold-downs on the compressor and tie a knot in it to act as stress relief, then solder the cord back to the motor connection. Put a couple of alligator clips on the power cord, and you are ready to clip it to the battery for a source of air. You can try to make it pretty by putting shrink wrap on the terminals and using cable ties to route the power cord. You can put a big zip tie loop on it so you can hang it from the bike while inflating a tire.
Here's a picture of the stripped-down compressor, with the gauge still attached (left) and ready-to-go (center & right).
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  • The BestRest Products website carries many on-the-bike tire repair solutions, including the CyclePump, which is very reliable and very expensive.

Manual pumps

Some people prefer to use a thin bicycle frame pump instead, if for no other reason than to save the battery while inflating a tire in the middle of who-knows-where. If you decide to go this route, make sure you get one that's high-volume. It's gonna take a while if you need to go from zero to 35 psi anyway. The one in the picture below is from Planet Bike and will go from 30 to 36 psi in about 30 strokes.

Here are some ideas for storage options for your tire inflation items. To get to the pump you'd have to take off the side fairing, but it's only one bolt, and if you change it to an allen that's not too difficult.

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CO2 inflation

You can use CO2 inflators with the Ultraflate Tire Inflator, also available from Aerostich or your local bicycle shop. Don't buy the company's CO2 cartridges; go to a sporting goods store and get the cheap ones.

Be aware that it takes quite a few CO2 cartridges to get a tire back up to pressure; many people only carry a couple, which is not enough. Here's a calculator that will tell you how many cartridges you need to have to properly inflate your tire (note: a 130/90-16 takes five cartridges to get to 29psi; six to 35.)