We show you when, how and why you should wave your in­ner tubes good­bye

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - Words Guy Kesteven Images Dave Caud­ery, Robert Smith

There are nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits to wav­ing good­bye to your in­ner tubes, if you’re pre­pared to get messy with the sealant. We ex­plain the pros and cons, and the best type of rid­ing to suit tubeless tyres

Go­ing tubeless is seen as a uni­ver­sally good idea for moun­tain bik­ing, and it has fi­nally crept into reg­u­lar road use. In sim­ple terms, tubeless tyre sys­tems use an air­tight tyre, an air­tight rim and no in­ner tube.

As well as cre­at­ing a ‘self-heal­ing’ de­fence against penetration punc­tures when you add sealant, tubeless set-ups also pro­tect bet­ter against im­pact punc­tures from things like pot­holes and rocks. There’s no in­ner tube to get pinched on the edge of the tyre as con­tact is made.

When is tubeless more?

While it’s the ma­jor ad­van­tage of ev­ery­day tubeless use, the penetration punc­ture as­pect is hard to quan­tify, as the self-heal­ing as­pect means you may still get punc­tures but just not re­alise it. The only give­aways are that the tyre might be slightly soft, from los­ing pres­sure be­fore it sealed, or a spray of sealant up your frame.

The pinch punc­ture re­duc­tion ad­van­tages that al­low you to run tubeless sys­tems at lower pres­sures than a con­ven­tional set-up are very clear in a more com­fort­able ride and bet­ter trac­tion. While softer will al­ways feel slower than firmer – your brain per­ceives rat­tle and clat­ter as a sign of go­ing fast – the stop­watch or GPS might well say oth­er­wise. With tubeless, there’s none of the fric­tion be­tween the in­ner tube and the tyre that ab­sorbs en­ergy as they de­form over bumps. That gen­er­ally makes tubeless tyres faster rolling than non-tubeless ver­sions of the same tyre, par­tic­u­larly on rougher sur­faces. Pre­sum­ing you get a well-de­signed tyre, the big­ger the vol­ume and wider the rim, the more ob­vi­ous the sup­ple feel of a tubeless sys­tem is too.

This makes tubeless tyres bril­liant for off-road use or any­where that lower pres­sures and larger sizes are a com­fort and con­trol bonus. We’ve seen their use ex­pand mas­sively with the re­cent in­crease in the pop­u­lar­ity of gravel/grinduro rid­ing, as Tom Marchant from Hunt Bike Wheels says: “Tubeless is a no­brainer for gravel rid­ing as the lower pres­sures mean pinch flats are a mas­sive is­sue if you’re not run­ning tubeless. For road use, it’s more nu­anced. Small punc­tures are in­stantly sealed and if you get one that doesn’t seal you can plug it in-situ. Tubeless also gives bet­ter lev­els of com­fort and grip with lower rolling re­sis­tance.”

Roller/drum-based tyre drag test­ing by bi­cy­clerollingre­sis­tance. com, whee­len­ergy.com and other test­ing labs show tubeless tyre ver­sions to be faster than even those us­ing su­perlight and sup­ple, but frag­ile, la­tex tubes. Tubeless tyres tend to be slightly heav­ier than non-tubeless, by around 40-50g, due to the ex­tra rub­ber needed to seal the car­cass, the lack of an in­ner tube, usu­ally weigh­ing be­tween 100-150g, means the over­all sys­tem is sim­i­lar or slightly lighter, even with a gen­er­ous (40-50ml) slop of sealant.

The ride qual­ity from tubeless tyres has also in­creased mas­sively, af­ter spend­ing years rid­ing on set-ups that were mostly dis­ap­point­ingly wooden in feel. A few no­table ex­cep­tions were Hutchin­son and Sch­walbe, who cracked the sup­ple, small vol­ume car­cass trick early, but it’s re­ally only the lat­est gen­er­a­tion

“tubeless tyres bring com­fort through the lower pres­sure and you don’t have the pinch punc­ture risk. I’ve not had a punc­ture to fix in 3800 miles” The self-heal­ing as­pect means you may still get punc­tures but just not re­alise it

tyres from most brands that feel pal­pa­bly smoother than con­ven­tional tyres.

That abil­ity to turn a rel­a­tively crude or sav­agely stiff frame into some­thing far more cul­tured just by switch­ing to tubeless tyres at lower pres­sures – or even mim­ick­ing the lat­est ‘sus­pen­sion’ frames with larger vol­ume tyres – makes the over­all up­grade cost more bear­able over a whole new frame. Dom Ma­son from Ma­son Pro­gres­sive Cy­cles ex­plains: “The real value of tubeless fully dawned on me when Josh Ib­bett won the Trans Con­ti­nen­tal Race in 2015 on a Ma­son Def­i­ni­tion fit­ted with Sch­walbe 28mm tubeless tyres. It was a tough course that year with many gravel sec­tions and he didn’t punc­ture once in 4240km with a fully loaded bike! We now of­fer tubeless up­grades for all our bikes and the new off-road Ma­son Bokeh ben­e­fits hugely from the low tyre pres­sures that you can run with a mod­ern, large vol­ume tubeless tyre.”

Andy Jef­fries from Whyte Bikes con­tin­ues: “There are some in­no­va­tions you just know are the fu­ture the first time you ride them. I can’t imag­ine ever go­ing back. Tubeless tyres bring com­fort through the lower pres­sure and, of course, you don’t have the pinch punc­ture risk. I’ve not had a punc­ture to fix in 3800 miles!”

We’d al­ways rec­om­mend ded­i­cated tubeless wheels and tyres for higher road pres­sures

When is tubeless less?

The most ob­vi­ous down­sides of go­ing tubeless are the cost and set­ting them up ini­tially. While you can cre­ate a work­able ‘ghetto’ tubeless sys­tem us­ing con­ven­tional tyres and a self­sealed rim for low pres­sure use such as cy­clocross, we’d al­ways rec­om­mend ded­i­cated tubeless wheels and tyres for higher road pres­sures, which ob­vi­ously adds up­grade costs. Tubeless tyres have to be a tighter fit on the rim, which means they can be more of a fight to get on in the first place. Liq­uid sealant po­ten­tially adds a sig­nif­i­cant amount of mess to set up and when chang­ing tyres, but re­mov­able valve cores and kits such as Milkit can clean up the process. Wheel sys­tems that come with tyres pre-in­stalled are very tempt­ing – it’s cur­rently an op­tion from Hunt and JRA and stan­dard on the lat­est Mav­ics. The tight fit can also make it hard to safely squeeze an in­ner tube into a nar­rower (23-25mm) tubeless tyre if it punc­tures and won’t re­seal/re­pair. If you’re rid­ing 23mm or smaller tyres, you’re best off stick­ing with in­ner tubes.

Tube lessons

While they’re a rel­a­tively new tech­nol­ogy to road bikes, we’ve had 18 years of ex­pe­ri­ence us­ing tubeless on moun­tain bikes, so learned a few hacks along the way to get you up and rolling.


Road tubeless sys­tems are more re­fined than the hor­rors of some past moun­tain bike set-ups, but if you’re pre­pared for frus­tra­tion and mess, any­thing less is a bonus.

Don’t set up tubeless tyres in your kitchen or any­where an ex­plo­sion of sealant would be a big prob­lem. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as an ex­tra pair of pumping or tyre-press­ing hands can be a big ad­van­tage.

(1) Fit the first bead (edge) of the tyre into the cen­tral well (de­pressed sec­tion) of the rim, fol­lowed by the sec­ond bead, to avoid stretch­ing the bead so far it won’t fit onto the wheel.

(2) En­sure the valve head is in­side the tyre, not pok­ing out though it. Where pos­si­ble, fit the tyre with­out levers as they can dam­age the tyre edge or the rim tape, which can cause leaks.

(3) Start­ing from the op­po­site side of the valve, con­cen­trate on squeez­ing the tyre down around the rim as you fit, cre­at­ing the max­i­mum amount of slack in the bead for the fi­nal fight to get it into place.

(4) Once seated use what­ever method you have to get pres­sure in fast. Be pre­pared for a se­ri­ous bang as some beads snap into place.

If pos­si­ble, re­mov­ing the valve core helps to re­duce pumping re­sis­tance and pop the tyre in.

(5) In­ject sealant and re­fit the tyre once it’s snapped into po­si­tion. If the tyre is strug­gling to seal, ro­tate it so that the leak is at the bot­tom al­low­ing the sealant to get to the right place. Press down on the wheel to squish any gaps, then spin the wheel to cir­cu­late the sealant. Take the bike for a five-minute ride to set­tle all the el­e­ments into po­si­tion. You may need to re-pres­surise a few times over the first few days/week as tiny leaks seal them­selves.


Tubeless tyres don’t rip as easily be­tween the rim and road, so can be run safely at lower

“In­ner tubes are what we’re all used to us­ing, whereas tubeless some­how seems more ex­plo­sively risky and cer­tainly messier”

pres­sures. The larger the tyre/wider the rim (in­ter­nally), the lower the safe pres­sure. We run 25mm tyres on 17-18mm rims at around 80psi, drop­ping to­wards 70psi for 28mm on 19-20mm rims, head­ing down to 40-50psi for a tough 40mm gravel tyre on a 20mm-plus width rim. Al­ways start high and grad­u­ally re­duce pres­sure to find the sweet spot of your pref­er­ence and your equip­ment.


Check for cuts or imbed­ded sharp things reg­u­larly. Spin to check for bulges, dis­tor­tions and wob­ble and re­place when they wear thin. The only ex­tra job is check­ing whether the sealant is still liq­uid (slosh it around near your ear) as it will dry out over a few months.

Road­ies slow to the cause

There have been tech­ni­cal issues in get­ting tubeless tyres to work well in typ­i­cal road sizes, but the big­gest rea­son for the slow up­take, and de­vel­op­ment, is be­cause you don’t need them on the road. Yes, there are def­i­nite tubeless ben­e­fits if you can be both­ered, but in­ner tubes ac­tu­ally work fine for most reg­u­lar road rides and rid­ers. In­ner tubes are what we’re all used to us­ing too, whereas tubeless some­how seems more ex­plo­sively risky and cer­tainly messier. Re­cent changes in tech­nol­ogy – and the trend to­wards wider tyres and rims – have def­i­nitely bought tubeless tech to a tip­ping point, and we’d now mark a test wheel down if it wasn’t tubeless com­pat­i­ble.

“If the tyre is strug­gling to seal, ro­tate it so that the leak is at the bot­tom al­low­ing the sealant to get to the right place”

(03) (04) (05)

(01) (02)

Left Lower pres­sures in­crease com­fort Right Spe­cific valve kits can make set­ting up eas­ier Be­low For road use, you need the proper kit

Reg­u­larly check the tyres for cuts or imbed­ded sharp things

Se­nior tech ed War­ren lis­tens out for plenty of slosh­ing sealant

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.