Products exist in which the tires are essentially solid rubber, perhaps not suitable for most road bikers opting for maximum speed and reasonable smoothness. My experience has been putting up with the occasional tube change or patch rather than deal with the complications of tubeless tires. I've given a lift to a biker stranded on the Woodside loop with a failed tubeless tire on his customized racing bike and his car some 20 miles away. The grateful biker stated he'd have to rethink using such tires on training rides.
With the right accessories and experience, most tube leaks can be dealt with. But what happens when your tire itself is totally torn? In my 25 years of road and mountain biking, this has happened to me twice. The first time I was descending Jamison Creek in 2003 and my rim overheated due to the braking I was applying on the 18% descent at 20 mph. After I was finally able to wobble my way to a stop, the wheel rim had knifed through the tire, destroying it as it was ground down on bare asphalt. My bicycle companion rode his bike back to our car, some 7 miles away, not totally convenient but luckily near the end of our 50-mile ride.
Accepting a car ride can be dangerous and I would never suggest for anyone to do it. Fortunately, my experiences have been safely accomplished. On that weekend afternoon, a couple out for a Sunday drive happened along and offered me a ride. Stuffing my bike in the back on their hatch-back, I crammed into the back seat and told them of the glories of Big Basin, giving directions that coincidentally passed by my truck. We surprised my buddy on the way, pedaling up narrow China Grade within a mile of where we had parked earlier.
This summer I mountain-biked up Windy Hill, no mean feat on a hot day, and afterwards headed north on Skyline to watch the 49er game at a friend's house behind Alice's Restaurant. Rolling on the pavement, I felt a hump in my rear tire. As I stopped to inspect it, blam! The tire had a six-inch long shred. My guess is that a tube seam catastrophically let go with enough force to rip the outer layer. Beyond cell phone service, my thought was to hide the bike rather than roll it—difficult with loose tire—or carry it--heavy--along. Skylonda and my friend's house was only a couple miles ahead and. As I gazed at the steep uphill banks covered with poison oak seeing a stash point, a car stopped and the driver offered me a ride. The driver was meandering his way to put in some weekend work at his company's Redwood City office. My bike barely fit in his car and he dropped me off at my friend's house just in time for kickoff.
I don't endorse picking up hitchhikers, even ones stranded with clearly inoperable bicycles. But once I stopped for two young Russians bikers stuck on Sand Hill Road. One of the two bikes had a broken derailleur and the two guys were unfamiliar with the area. I took them to an El Camino Real bike store, where I began explaining the situation to the mechanic. He cut me off and began talking to them in his native Russian, understood by all except me. Out of all the bike shops and mechanics on duty that day, I had delivered them to a compatriot. They couldn't thank me enough.
Some road bikers do carry an extra tire in a backpack or stuffed in one of two bottle cages. Mountain bike tires are much more unwieldy. Going to the hassle and extra weight of carrying an extra tire is a precaution you may never use. Having a cell phone along certainly helps in case of emergency, as does a credit card for contingencies. Thankfully, I didn't get around to hiding my bike off the road this last time before that car stopped. It's much easier to get a friendly lift with your bike alongside than be standing roadside without a visible reason for being stranded. Above all, be smart and always risk-aware and as risk-adverse as possible on rides. Triple A doesn't give roadside bicycle service. I know—after my incident near Skylonda, I asked.
Published Cycle California, March 2014, Vol. 20, #2