Tubeless Bike Tires: Pros and Cons
Tubeless Bike Tires: Pros and Cons
Tubeless bike tires are becoming more and more popular in cycling. Especially mountain bikes and touring bikes. This guide outlines the pros and cons of tubeless bike tires to help you decide which system is best for your riding style.
Advantages of Tubeless Bicycle Tires
You’ll get fewer tubeless units – the number one reason to go tubeless. Tubeless tires repair themselves when punctured. If a nail or puncture punctures the tire, the liquid sealant inside the tire fills the hole before the air can escape. No more stopping to repair or replace tubes. You know a tubeless system has saved you from a flat tire when you see a little white liquid on the tire. When you hit a pothole, rock, or other hard object, your tire compresses enough to hit the rim. This creates enough force to tear the tube and cause a flattening. This is called “pinching” or “snake bite.” With tubeless, there is no tube to tear. I know cyclists who cross continents without a single flat tire while running tubeless. Imagine driving 10,000 miles without tinkering with the pipes.
Tubeless tires provide better traction, allowing you to corner better and climb easier – because you don’t have to worry about blowouts, you can run tubeless tires at much lower air pressure than tubeless tires. Generally, a reduction of about 10 psi is safe. The reduced pressure allows more of the tire tread to touch the ground. This greatly improves traction. This is especially useful when riding on loose or slippery surfaces such as gravel, sand, snow, ice or rain. You can turn harder without washing the tires. You can also climb steeper hills without the tires slipping. If you routinely ride on soft or slippery surfaces, a fat bike with tubeless tires is a great option. If you plan to ride in the winter, you can install studded tubeless tires to provide more traction on snow and ice.
Better Ride Quality Tubeless – When you run your tires at lower PSI, the ride is softer, smoother and more comfortable. This is because the tire absorbs some of the shock and vibration from the trail instead of bouncing around. When you hit a rock, rut or pothole, the tire absorbs the impact and takes the shape of the obstacle instead of bouncing off. You don’t feel as many bumps. This is especially useful if you are riding a hardtail mountain bike without suspension.
Tubeless systems are lighter – whether this is true or not depends on your setup. Removing the tube will remove about 200 grams from each tire. You add some weight with the tubeless sealant you put into the tire, but the weight savings is still a net positive. Generally, tubeless tires and rims are lighter than tires and rims designed for tubes. Wheels are the best part of a bike you can lose weight. Using the same amount of energy, lighter wheels can spin faster and easier. You can ride longer and farther without getting tired.
Tubeless tires retain momentum better – when tire pressure is low, the tire deforms instead of bouncing off when it hits an obstacle. This allows the wheels to keep rolling instead of slowing you down. This increases efficiency when riding on rough surfaces.
Flats are usually easier to repair – if your tire has a large puncture or tear and it becomes flat, you can usually repair it without removing the tire from the rim. Tubeless tire plugs can repair most punctures or tears. If a stone creates a large cut in your sidewalk, you can stitch it up with a large needle and dental floss. Put some super glue on it to help it seal. If all else fails, you can install a tube.
Almost any tire and wheel can be set up tubeless – with a tubeless kit or some DIY, you can go tubeless using your existing wheels and tires. No need to buy any new parts. I will outline the process later.
Tubeless makes you faster – because you get better traction, you can turn faster without washing out. You can also power up faster on steep hills without spinning. When you pull off from a stop, you can use more torque to accelerate faster without loosening the rear wheels. This allows you to maintain a faster average speed. This is important for racers.
You can easily switch back to the tube – if for some reason you don’t like riding tubeless, you can simply wash the sealant off the tire and put the tube back in place. If you run out of sealant or can’t find anything when traveling to a remote destination. Just plug in a tube and hit the road. Always check the tire for debris before installing the tube. Otherwise, you may end up with an instant unit.
Tubeless is more modern – If you like to use the latest and greatest gear, tubeless is the way to go. Tubeless tires use high-tech rubber compounds. Tubeless rims are engineered to be lightweight and very strong. Decades ago, the auto industry stopped using tubes. Now the bicycle industry is following suit.
Tubeless Bike Tire Disadvantages
Running tubeless is more expensive – Tubeless tires and wheels are more expensive than tires and wheels designed for tube. If you can’t convert your existing gear to tubeless, you’ll have to buy new gear. When you need a replacement, you may want to buy tubeless-designed tires and wheels. There are many small costs added when switching to tubeless. For example, you have to buy sealant, rim tape, and tubeless valves. You’ll also need a tubeless patch kit to fix large holes or cracks that the sealant won’t fill. I love manual tubeless tire repair kits.
Installing and setting up a tubeless tire takes longer and is a bit tedious—the hardest part is making sure the tire bead is properly seated on the rim to create an airtight seal. This may require some trial and error. You also have to be careful to add the right amount of sealant. Once everything is in place, you have to add a lot of air quickly to make sure everything is sealed properly. Compressed air may be required if the manual pumping is not fast enough. If the tire isn’t properly sealed and there’s a leak, you’ll have to take everything apart to find it. There is a bit of a learning curve to setting up tubeless bike tires.
Tubeless requires more maintenance – the sealant in the tire can dry out over time. When you get pierced, sometimes there is a little leak. At least once a season, you must top up the sealant to make sure the tire has enough sealant to seal itself if it gets punctured. If you ride a lot or ride in a hot climate, you may need to add sealant every few months.
Tubeless gear isn’t everywhere – if you’re touring in developing or remote areas, you may not be able to find tubeless sealant, rim tape, patches, tires, and more. Some small bike shops do not stock tubeless equipment. In this case, you must bring your own in the kit. Worst case, if you can’t find sealant or decent rim tape, you can always switch to a tube.
You’ll have to carry more gear to fix punctures and tears – if you’re traveling or riding in remote locations, you may need to carry extra sealant, tubeless plugs, sewing kits, superglue, and a high-volume pump to fix large punctures or sidewall torn. You’ll also need a spare tube or two in case you can’t get the tire airtight after the repair. All of this gear adds weight. Riding tubeless while touring is often heavier than riding with a tube only, due to the extra gear you need to carry.
You still have to carry an inner tube just in case – if you get a puncture and the tire blows out, it means the puncture is too big to fix with sealant. Your sealant will just leak out. In this case, you’ll need a tube as a backup so you can go home.
Tubeless sealant is messy – it’s basically a glue. Sealant can splash on your gear, clothing, and hands. If scratched, it could splatter out of the tire. This stuff is messy and unpleasant to deal with.
You need a high volume pump – when you set up tubeless, you need to move a lot of air into the tire quickly to get the bead to seal properly. A mini pump probably won’t cut it.
Valve may be clogged – sealant can condense in your valve and dry out. This can cause blockage or even damage the valve. Usually, you can remove the spool and clear the blockage. Check out my Presta Vs Schrader Valve Guide for more info.
Hiccup – This is when the bead brakes and the tire separates from the rim. The tires were deflated and there was sealant everywhere. This happens when your tire pressure is low and you hit a sharp rock just right. It also happens on road bikes running narrow tubeless tires.
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