Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tubeless Bike Tires

I'm thinking about switching to the latest tubeless tires on my road bike.

Yeah, I know traditional clinchers are really easy to work with, and come in all kinds of sizes, tread patterns, and price ranges. And I know that fixing a flat while out on a ride is easy, even with a cheap mini-pump. And they don't require any messy liquids to mount or seal them. And yes, I know there generally aren't compatibility issues between different brands of "normal" clincher tires and rims.

Yes, the new tubeless tires can be a pain to mount, and special "fitting fluid" is recommended. And they're hard to get seated on the rim without compressed air. And it's generally recommended that you use liquid sealant with them which makes a nasty mess if you do have to remove the tire. And yeah, there can be fit and compatibility issues between brands and types of rims, tires etc. And they're expensive. And there aren't many choices for sizes.

Tubeless tire and rim - plus special rim strip,
valve, and liquid sealant.
OK, I know the actual weight savings over regular clinchers is not even as much as a the weight of an inner tube. And I recognize that if I really want to drop weight, I could drop a lot more by switching to sew-ups. And yes, I realize that there are traditional clinchers and a lot of sew-ups that have lower rolling resistance than tubeless tires.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering why someone would switch to tubeless tires. Well, because they're NEW, of course, so they have to be better.

It's probably pretty obvious that I'm being sarcastic. But seriously. What are the benefits to tubeless tires? What is the selling point?

I've read that tubeless tires virtually eliminate "snake-bite" flats like those that can happen when running traditional clinchers at low pressure. It is probably for that reason that tubeless tires have become so popular with mountain bikers (I've seen surveys saying 50% of MTB riders use them). But they don't eliminate flats entirely. And unlike traditional clinchers, if you do get a flat out on the road, they are much tougher to fix. You'd be much better off calling someone for a ride home.

Some people claim that they're "faster." I have my doubts. Some tubeless tires might have lower rolling resistance than some traditional clinchers, but rolling resistance is greatly affected by the "suppleness" or flexibility of the tire's casing and tread -- and from what I understand, a lot of the new tubeless-specific tires are less "supple" than the best traditional tires. I know of some traditional clinchers that are awfully hard to beat when it comes to weight and rolling resistance. (For more about those, check out this article from the Bicycle Quarterly blog).

Anyhow, it really seems to me that tubeless tires and wheels are yet another thing where the reality doesn't match up to the hype. Another situation where just because something is New, it isn't necessarily Better. In fact, in reading about the new tires, I was really trying to find the benefits of switching "systems," but I couldn't find any advantage to the tubeless systems that wasn't either doubtful, or offset by serious disadvantages. Tubeless tires? Fine on my car -- but I'm in no rush to put them on my bikes.


  1. New, heavier, more complex, harder to install and maintain, selection limited and costlier! What's not to like?

  2. Hey, RG, local guy here from Hartville and just happened to find your blog and an enjoying the reading. RE: tubeless tires, I've been riding them on the mtn bike for years and can't remember the last time I had a flat, and that's under hard riding. All the other benefits people claim, I agree, its a bunch of hooey.

    This year I'm running them on the road, no flats all season. Something pierced my tire a few months ago, sealant filled the hole, put some air back in and I'm on my way back to riding. Yes, they may be more maintenance with the sealant, different valves, but I won't go back.

    If you need to buy a wheelset, get tubeless rims regardless whether you use it or not cause you will change your mind eventually. Don't need new wheels? Any wheel can be converted to tubeless with a little effort. I'm running tubeless on non-tubeless carbon aero rims.


  3. Lmao...someone else talking smack all the while having zero real world experience...yawn*

    1. "zero real world experience"? If that's supposed to refer to me, you really should read more of the blog before you go posting unsupported assumptions. I mean, if we're just going to post assumptions, then based on things like "Lmao" and "talking smack" I'm going to have to assume you didn't get your training wheels off prior to the G.W. Bush administration.