Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rubber cement

The useful, yet offending substance, accompanied by sundry tools of the trade.
Patching tubes is a tradition as old as the pneumatic tires first developed for bicycle application, well over a century ago. Keeping and repairing a stock of tubes can ensure a revolving supply, while saving money and keeping usable items out of landfills. I've got a big pile of tubes of various sizes, some of which have been in service for a decade or more, and some sporting nearly as many patches as years. I've even got one or two with a patch on a patch. 

Over the past weekend, I decided that the pile of need-to-be-patched tubes was large enough for a marathon patching session, so I rounded up my materials. However, the problem with patch kits is that even though they often are equipped with a generous supply of patches, they are generally sold with only tiny tubes of rubber cement, also known as contact cement. In my experience, I've found that unless the little tube of rubber cement is used nearly immediately after it is initially opened, it'll be dried up and useless the next time it's needed. Again and again I buy a patch kit, install a patch or two and inevitably the rubber cement dries up in the intervening time. Therefore, I've got numerous patch kits with plenty of patches but no usable rubber cement.
Dry as a bone.
No problem, I thought. I'll just hit the local grocery store and buy a big bottle of rubber cement, and have plenty to spare.

Well, the first store didn't have any rubber cement among the paltry office supply items. Nor did others. No problem, I'll go to a big box store nearby. Nope. They didn't have any either. The teenage clerk I asked hadn't even heard of rubber cement.

"Didn't this stuff used to be everywhere?" I thought to myself. When I was a kid I could have sworn rubber cement was on every back-to-school shopping list and in every junk drawer. I don't recall specifically what I used it for in grade school, but I was sure it had been a nearly ubiquitous commodity.

If my memory is indeed accurate, then present circumstances no longer share similarities with the past. I ended up having to make a trip to a big hardware store to find rubber cement, which I eventually located in the adhesives isle. "Great, got it," I thought.

Only when I was going through the self checkout stand, the only viable option on a busy Saturday afternoon, did I make another discovery. As soon as I scanned the jar, the purchasing process stopped cold. The screen started flashing a warning and an attendant was automatically summoned. All I could do was stand there, incredulous to the absurdity of the situation. I had gone to a lot of trouble to procure $3 worth of sticky goo in order to engage in arcane rubber wizardry, only to be thwarted in the final act. 

The clerk that arrived didn't quite know what the problem was or what to do. He had to scan his ID badge and navigate through several administrative screens before the scanner could be coaxed into a more compliant state. By then, the people in line behind me were wondering what I was attempting to buy that was holding them up and/or endangering us all. The clerk returned a verdict that the rubber cement was a regulated item, in essence a controlled substance, not to be sold to anyone under 18. Glue sniffing or some such thing, he speculated as the apparent reason.

With my ID checked, in a minute or two I was on my way. But I was left wondering how prior generations existed with easy and cheap access to flush supplies of rubber cement. Maybe I have involuntarily repressed memories of those dark times. Maybe I was just lucky to have survived. In any case, I will soon have a pile of tubes with renewed utility; their holes dutifully plugged.


  1. Was just poking through some bike stuff and found rubber cement purchased at Cycle Analyst. Next time you'll know where to find it!

  2. I knew that there should be an easier way to get some. The quest started all because my LBS had plenty of patch kits, but no separate sales of rubber cement.