Tubeless bike tires have been a mainstay for mountain bikers for years, but they have also been adopted across other categories too, like road and cyclocross. The verdict is in— if you’re not running tubeless tires then you’re missing out on increased traction, decreased rolling mass, and a reduced bike weight overall.
While a standard tube may seem simpler and just as effective, the truth is that going tubeless results in less overall maintenance and costs while improving ride quality. It’s a win-win.
Less Air Pressure & More Traction
Let’s start with the most obvious “why”— ride quality. When riding a bike, the only contact point with the ground (ideally, if you’re not crashing) is the tire. Tubeless tires allow you to run less tire pressure, as you are much less likely to pinch them. Lower pressures, in the 25-30 psi range, maximize your tires’ footprint on the ground and boosts traction.
Tubeless tires, as a system, are also lighter. Two standard Presta valve tubes weigh about 400 grams total, which is nearly a pound! After subtracting these tubes and adding back tubeless valve stems and sealant, you can shave about 200-400 grams from your overall bike weight. This may not seem like a lot, but when spinning up your wheels, that reduced rolling mass allows for quicker acceleration and makes it easier to maintain your momentum.
A tubeless tire with sealant is virtually flat-proof. The usual suspects like thorns and other trail debris that will puncture your tubes are a non-issue with tubeless tires. When set up with sealant, the fluid will coagulate around the debris and seal the hole extremely quickly, resulting in almost zero pressure loss. And with a regular recharge of sealant every four to six weeks, your tires will maintain your desired pressure indefinitely. Tubes are made from a porous material that will leak air over time and are susceptible to thorns, sharp rocks, or littered like wire or broken glass.
Alas, flats or rapid pressure loss can still happen. A tubeless tire can “burp” when the tire is rolled over and the bead separates from the rim. The bead will seat itself again but you may have to pump your tires back to your desired pressure. Additionally, a pinch flat can occur if you are running too low of pressure and your tire hits a square edge rock or root sticking out of the ground. This results in a small tear in the sidewall on either side of the tire when the tire tread, sidewall, and bead, are all smashed together on the rim. This is why it is always good to ride with a flat repair kit even if you have tubeless.
Speaking of flats— make sure you know how to change one, whether you’re tubeless or not. Check out our handy mountain bike flat repair tutorial, and if you still need assistance, stop by your local bike shop or attend a bicycle maintenance class where you will learn how to mend a flat, among other simple fixes and cleaning techniques.
A Note on Tire Inserts
As we mentioned in the previous section, flats from pinches can still happen. A new trend in the last few years is to add a foam insert, or an insert of a similar material, to your tire that creates a cushion between the sidewall of your tire and the rim. This can, in some cases, protect your sidewall from pinch flatting. We’ve seen tire inserts work successfully but also not so successfully. It all depends on the severity of the impact, how worn your tires are, and if you have selected a good quality tire insert.
Common Tubeless Systems
Tubeless systems are comprised of a tire, liquid sealant, a rim strip, and a removable Presta valve, to properly seal the tire and wheel. Bike and wheel manufacturers all have similar systems, and the parts are often interchangeable. The majority of the tubeless installation, if not all of it, can be done at home.
One step that can be tricky is inflating the tire, which requires a sudden rush of air that a standard floor pump usually can’t provide. Instead, you can use a CO2 cartridge to blow up the tire. Specialized and Blackburn also make tubeless tire inflators that look like a normal floor pump, but use an air-charged cylinder to inflate the tire.
Keep in mind that a tubeless tire can be blown off the rim if inflated too quickly with too much pressure. This results in a VERY loud bang and a mess of sealant all over your work space. To be safe, we recommend having an Expert bike mechanic install your tires if you haven’t done them yourself before.
Now You Know All About Tubeless Tires
So… what are you waiting for? If you haven’t made the transition to tubeless tires, you are just pushing more weight up the hill and sacrificing traction. Over the last 15 years, tubeless tires have been designed to near perfection and the ride quality is better than ever! Stop by Jans or White Pine Touring in Park City or your local bike shop to learn more about upgrading to tubeless tires.
By Paul Boyle, Production Manager, jans.com