Words by: Liam Woods
The advent of tubeless tires heralded a new era of mountain bike tire technology. Their use is so prolific that almost 100% of mid- to high-end mountain bikes use tubeless tires, but they are also the cause of many riders’ headaches, from setting up to fixing them if you get a flat on the trail with a tubeless tire. The Stan’s DART tool should be able to help many of those flats you get while out riding on the trail, which is a boon for almost every rider. In fact, just today I had a customer buy a brand new set of tires only for the first ride on them to become a bittersweet event. He said at first the bike felt great and he loved the immediate traction of the fresh rubber. However, not long into his ride, psssssssss, a slice, and his ride was over. While the slice was pretty decent, we could tell from our testing that the Stan’s DART plug would have been able to seal up that hole and allow this rider to at least finish his ride. While he probably would have needed to get a new tire afterwards, plugging a tire and finishing a ride back to the car sure beats walking. I’m confident the Stan’s DART tool could have made that quick fix a reality for this customer.
While normal tubeless tire plugs do a pretty decent job of fixing small punctures, I have definitely let loose a few choice words while trying to use them out on the trail. Sometimes I just end up putting a tube in my tire since the tubeless plug didn’t end up sealing or staying in the tire’s puncture. We will not only cover the new tech Stan’s employs with the DART tool, but also compare them with standard tire plugs and, of course, we get pretty deep into our testing.
A few issues that Stan’s addressed with the DART is, to start, the plug itself. Instead of being more like rubber, the DART plug is a flexible material that takes up much more surface area than your standard tubeless tire plug. Another is the DART plug has a barbed tip that helps keep the DART stay in place when removing the tool from your tire and while riding. Aside from the actual DART plug design being better than traditional tubeless tire plugs, there is also some crazy magic science going on with the DART plug. Ok, maybe not crazy science, but for us bike folk it’s pretty crazy. The DART plug material is treated with a special chemical that reacts with latex based sealants, like Stan’s standard and Race sealants as well as other sealant manufacturers like Orange Seal, to create a chemical bond between the plug and the sealant. The last pretty cool feature about the plug itself is that the flexible material will wear away as needed while riding so you don't feel it. No trimming of the plug necessary. Plug the hole with the DART and ride away, even on gravel or road bike tires where a normal tire plug might be felt every rotation of the tire.
The actual DART tool was also not overlooked and was a major part of Stan’s development. From the ergonomic design in your hand, to the carbon post that holds the DART plug and exactly how long it is, every detail was considered from the ground up. Speaking of the carbon post, don't let the carbon fool you into thinking that it might be weak; it isn’t. This post is purposely designed to not only hold the DART plug but it's also the perfect length to allow the plug to be inserted just enough so that the barbed tips take hold inside the tire. No more fiddling around with a small, awkward handle that might or might not be weird enough to cut your hand, and no more sharp metal spears poking into your tire that can possibly cause further damage. The center part of the DART tool is two-sided and fits two plugs so you are ready for a full ride. There is a clear cap to protect the plug from the elements, as well as a larger cap/handle that makes the tool fit in your hand nicely. The handle of the tool also features a valve core remover on the tip, so in case you need to add more sealant you do not need to carry any extra tools. Now that you have read about the tech, we know you want to know just how well it works in the real world.
The Stan’s DART tool wouldn’t really be all that cool unless it actually works better than standard plugs or bacon strips you have in the bottom of your pack, right? We put the DART tool in a head-to-head test against standard bacon strips to see just how much better, if any, the DART can seal versus a standard plug. The results might be shocking. Buckle up.
First, we started by making a 9mm slice in the center tread of the tire, between any knobs where you are most likely to get a slice while on the trail. The DART plug worked like a charm, even with the 9mm puncture. It sealed up pretty fast and I would be confident riding with that plug. Next, we did the same 9mm cut in the tread and tried to use the bacon strips. These didn’t quite work like a charm. Actually, they barely worked on the tread, and would probably leak a bit while riding. Not exactly ideal and for sure not confidence inspiring if you happen to be far from your car.
The second test was on the sidewall. I'd say a major sidewall slice is probably more common than getting a big slice in the center tread, so this is a good real world test. Again, we used a razor blade to make a 9mm puncture in the sidewall and went to use the DART tool to seal it up. Second use with the DART tool and there were no gaps in their claims. The DART plug sealed the sidewall up. It wasn't quite as fast as the center tread but fast enough for us and sealed enough to get back on the trail with little time or pressure lost. The bacon strips didn’t fare too well on the sidewall test. In fact, one did nothing, two slowed the bleeding, and three might have let us limp home, but there was no way we were riding hard after that. We actually couldn’t really get the sidewall to seal at all with the bacon strips no matter how many we used or how much more sealant we added. If we were on the trail, we would have immediately used a tire boot and tube and went on with riding with a tube.
After the test, it was clear who the real winner was. The fact that the Stan’s DART not only lives up to its claims, but so thoroughly convinced us real-life scientists of its efficacy that we now need this in our riding packs is no small feat. The slices it sealed up could have been ride enders and would have resulted in replaced tires, making this $25 tool a huge value.
The Stan’s DART tubeless tire plug might not seem necessary when you already have bacon strips or other brand’s tubeless plugs, but after testing, we can honestly tell you this is not a gimmick and we are big fans of this little tool. Stan’s really thought out each feature of the DART tool, from the flexible material that is treated to react with latex sealant, to the plastic tip with barbs to make sure the plug stays in the tire, to the design of the tool with protective caps and a handle with a built-in valve core remover. For only $25 you can save a tire, and more importantly to me, save a ride from ending and that, in itself, is close to priceless, I dislike walking with a bike almost more than anything. The Stan’s DART tool is a small, but mighty tool I highly suggest you add to any day of riding.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.