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So my rear tire, new 2k miles ago with old clean tube, seems to hold pressure for days on end. But twice now I've discovered it dead flat. Once a few hours after checking and once first thing in the morning.

I ride daily, several rides a day ranging from 10-50 miles per ride. I check the pressures at least the first ride of the day, sometimes more, but usually just give them a squeeze to make sure they're not low. Of course I lose a small amount of pressure each time I check it so it does lose a pound or two over the course of a couple days just from checking.

If there's a leak in the tube, I'd think it would be a steady loss of pressure. If it's the valve stem core, I'd think it would be a significant leak... but if it IS the core, how would I ever know for sure? I don't like the thoughts of putting soapy water into it to test it after each time I check the pressure because eventually all of that would end up inside the tube.

I've not found any nails or screws or anything like that. I also don't want to change the tube "just to be safe" if I don't have to (for several reasons).
 

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Lets rule out a couple of variables first... Do you have any kind of sealer in your tube? I know many add it as a preventative measure...

My first thought would be the valve stem core itself has sand or similar on it. A single piece of sand caught in your gauge when you do your pressure check can fall in just so and cause a leak, at leaks until your next check when it can move and everything seal normally again. Sand can also cause small nicks in the rubber that actually seals where the little internal bits open and close to allow air in, pressure checks, etc. I keep my air gauge in a small ziplock bag to prevent this.

Try pulling the core out and replacing it. Almost any auto parts store, tire shop, or even Wal Mart has them. They're cheap too. A couple bucks for a 4 pack at my local Wally World.

Also take a long, careful look at your tires and check them over with a bottle of soapy water. Bring the tire a few pounds over max (maybe 5 or so) and hawkeye every little nick, scuff, or anything that doesn't look normal. Soak it liberally with the soapy water and give it a minute for bubbles to form. Don't forget to include the valve stem when you do this. You can also spray the spoke nipples at the same time to see if any air is coming out there as well.

After having the tire "overinflated", bring it down to your usual riding pressure and repeat the process.

If you don't find anything, bring the pressure down a bit more (low), and try again.

I have seen leaks that seemed to come and go, and it had something to do with the amount of pressure as to whether it would leak or not. As you ride, the tires warm up, and the pressure can go up. I have seen tires that would only leak when warm with the increased pressure.

Hope this helps, and hope you get it figured out!
 
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