Tubeless tyres – pros and cons

Tubeless tyres are a ‘relatively’ new technology that dispenses with the need for inner tubes. Instead, you use specific wheel rims which can keep an airtight seal between the special tubeless tyre and the bead on the wheel .

I’ve updated this post because (inspired by readers comments) I’ve got round to actually buying and using a tubeless (Hutchinson Atom). First impressions are very good,  I was quite surprised because previously I had decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. But, now I’m considering next wheel purchase will be tubeless. It was easy to fit and I’m fairly confident to run that wheel virtually puncture free.

hutchinson-fusion3-tu-med

The main advantages of tubeless technology are:

  • Avoiding those irritating pinch flat punctures, where you get the inner tube pinched between rim and tyre. Some claim this is 99% of punctures, but I don’t believe it is that high. Nevertheless, I’ve had many pinch flats over the years, tubeless eliminates these.
  • If you want to ride at lower tyre pressure, tubeless are good because you don’t need to worry about pinch flats. Lower tyre pressure can be good for giving better grip and traction and comfort. (though a lower psi will also have a higher rolling resistance)
  • With tubeless you can put a small amount of liquid sealant in the tyre. If you puncture, this sealant will fix most of these punctures. This gives you excellent puncture protection – better than standard inner tube and tyres where you can’t run sealant.
  • Alternatively, if you do flat, you can put in a spare inner tube, and the tubeless tyre will still work
  • Can be marginally less weight than a standard clincher tyre and inner tube because you don’t need an inner tube.
  • If a tubeless tyre does puncture, air should escape more slowly – there is less risk of the inner tube bursting and causing a rapid deflation – which could be dangerous when descending rapidly. I ran an ordinary inner tube on a tubeless wheel, when I punctured, I was able to cycle home 7 miles because the air leaked out very slowly.

Disadvantages

  • They can be difficult to fit. Because the tyre needs to be airtight against the rim, many models are difficult to put on. This is a real pain if you puncture out on a ride. For some tyres you may need an air compressor to put on. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. I found that the Hutchinson Atom tubeless went on very easily. The other advantage of fitting a tubeless tyre is that you don’t have to worry about using tyre leavers – there’s no inner tube to pinch.
  • To get the best from tubeless tyres is it advisable to purchase some sealant. This makes it airtight and also enables punctures to be fitted.
  • So far they haven’t really caught on, (at least for road bike. MTB seems more successful because MTB tyres are often at lower pressure). There is no critical mass meaning most local bike shops often don’t carry them.  Even online, the choice isn’t great.
  • They are not particularly cheap.
  • Ordinary road tyre technology has improved a lot meaning you can get some good tyres which rarely puncture. These days clincher tyres are really quite good value. As long as you are very careful in refitting an inner tube to avoid puncture flats, there isn’t such a big puncture risk.

Personal experience of Tubeless

I recently bought a new wheel, kind of by mistake I ended up with a Shimano Ultegra 6700 Tubeless wheel – it was on special offer and discontinued at Wiggle. I didn’t really realising I was buying a tubeless ready wheel, I just saw the 40% off sign! This was a big mistake because it is much harder to fit a tyre and inner tube – even though it is dual compatible.  Once I punctured on a ride, and really couldn’t refit the tyre. The first time I put a new inner tube in, but because it was so hard to fit – I got a pinch flat. The second time I needed to repair the puncture, I couldn’t put it back on. I was only saved by a few passing kindly souls who somehow managed to fit it. This was my worst puncture experience, and it made me really regret buying the wheel.

bike-side-road-buckeden-500x375

Punctured on tubeless tyre. At least it was nice spot to puncture. Though I got a pinch flat

 

 

After that, I thought if I have a tubeless wheel, I might as well investigate tubeless tyres and see whether it is worth it. Firstly non of the local bike shops seemed to store tubeless – and who can blame them – there’s already a bewildering array of choice. I went online, and spent a long time researching. I was looking for a tubeless tyre with a reputation of not being super difficult to fit.

For a while I gave up, but after some research finally bought a tubeless tyre.

Hutchinson Atom Tubeless

But, after receiving some feedback, I bought a Hutchinson Atom tubeless tyre.

tubeless

Preparing a tubeless tyre – some soapy water, and sealant.

 

Fitting Tubeless tyre

This video was very helpful for fitting my first tubeless tyre. I was pleasantly surprised at how quick it was – much quicker than a tubular, and quicker than a clincher.

I did need to use a good track pump to get the tyre to become air-tight. The trick of using lots of soapy water helped.

Tips for using tubeless

  • Some tubeless tyres do have a better reputation for being good to fit, like the Scwalbe Ultraremo ZX (Road CC review)- though ironically I couldn’t find any to buy.
  • When putting on, warm soapy water helps get that first air-tight seal. If you struggle you may need to resort to a CO2 cyclinder which can give that quick blast of air necessary to pump it up.
  • I haven’t used, but these tubeless repair kits have good reviews

Ride quality of Tubeless

I’m using tubeless as a training wheel. I’m also running sealant in the tyre, which adds to the rotating weight. It is not optimised for performance. However, it compares reasonably well in terms of ride quality. I didn’t notice a huge difference with riding standard clincher set up.

Tubeless vs Tubulars

  • Tubular are quite similar to tubeless technology in that tubulars can’t get pinch flats either.
  • Tubulars tend to be lighter than tubeless because the rims can be lighter.
  • Like tubeless tubulars require a bit of care and time in putting on. But, they are more manageable.

There isn’t a huge difference between tubulars and tubeless. It makes no sense to switch racing wheels to tubeless because of the prohibitive cost  – for no real benefit. Also, there is much less choice for top end racing tubeless technology. Also, having got used to tubulars, I would be reluctant to switch. Also, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the lower weight of tubulars.

One advantage of tubeless is that you need to carry less – in the event of a puncture. For tubulars, you have to carry the whole thing. But, for tubeless, you can just carry some inner tube and put in.

Tubeless online

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11 Responses to Tubeless tyres – pros and cons

  1. Ben Lowe April 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    Just to give a more favourable account of tubeless use (although at times equally frustrating) here are my experiences.

    I’ve used tubeless on the MTB’s for about 5 years on both tubeless specific rims and ghetto setups (using a split, smaller inner tube) and always with standard tyres (i.e. not tubeless specific) and Stans sealant with no punctures and only one burp of air. Usually running around 20 psi. Makes a HUGE difference and much lower rolling resistance running the much lower pressure on the Peak District’s rocky bridleways.

    When getting a road bike again a few years ago I was determined to get tubeless on that too when upgrading my wheels and have now been riding tubeless on my summer and winter road bikes for about 2 years. Once again, I’ve never had a puncture on these, note: always use tubeless specific tyres on road bikes due to the high pressures requiring a stronger bead.

    Tubeless rims have a different profile to them in order to make a better seal for the bead giving them less room to move. In order to get the tyre onto the rim you have to make doubly sure that you push all of the bead of the side you are mounting into the obvious valley in the centre of the rim and mount the section by the valve last of all. If you’ve done that then usually, with any of the tyres, you can get the last bit of tyre on just using your fingers. This would also be the case if you do find yourself needing to put a tube in (although it’s hard to imagine the circumstances when you would).

    Getting the tyre to inflate and seat on the tyre can, at times, be ridiculously frustrating. With experience you should be able to get it to mount 1st time the majority of the time just using a track pump. My tips would be to put in your sealant then slowly turn the wheel through 360 degrees while shaking the sealant to splash it around the inside of tyre and rim. If having real trouble then dribble a bit of sealant between bead and rim, only had to do that on MTB though. Also, if you’re using rims like Stans then you need to put special rim tape on as the spoke holes are still in the rim. Make sure you put at least 3 full layers of tape on so it can hold 100psi over the holes but it also makes mounting the bead much, much easier. If still struggling then add another layer of tape.

    As if having not to no worry of getting punctures isn’t enough of an incentive to use tubeless but in my opinion the cornering is noticeably more solid than on clinchers with tubes. Also, if you are riding on heavy/rough roads then running a lower pressure will actually decrease your rolling resistance. GT was running about 72 psi on 27mm tyres for Paris Roubaix although that is obvious a rather extreme example.

    • tejvan April 28, 2014 at 8:08 am #

      thanks for detailed comment Ben. I’ll have to look at my psi I often blow up to 120psi whatever conditions!

      • Ben Lowe April 28, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

        No probs. More than happy to take those Shimano Ultegra 6700 Tubeless wheels off your hands 🙂

  2. JB April 27, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    Just curious as to why an article about tubeless tires would be written by someone who hasn’t actually ridden them? I’ve been riding road tubeless for about a year now, and I think the greatest benefit that isn’t really touched on in the article is that, riding tires with sealant, small (and not so small) holes from thorns, glass and other debris seal almost immediately where they would require a tube change for either clinchers or tubulars. With the increased popularity of gravel riding, I think his is a huge boon.

  3. Craig April 27, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    I also inadvertently purchased a set of tubeless ready wheels – Easton EC90 RT – as they were 70% off in the Chain Reaction New Year sale. Very easy to fit a standard clincher on unlike the shimano wheels.
    I’m yet to try them tubeless though – I simply haven’t been able to justify the significant extra expense of tubeless tyres and sealant over the vittoria open corsa’s that I already know to be excellent.
    I would also agree with you about the frequency of pinch flats – I’ve had 2 in over 10000 miles roding despite being a 95kg ex rugby forward

  4. tejvan April 28, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Thanks for comments. I often learn a lot from readers comments

  5. TJ October 31, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    Just needing some advice on a silly question on tubeless tyres. I use them on my roadie.

    I’ve had 2 punctures on my tubeless tyres (schwalbe ones) the first time i had to get the tube in as the hole was too big and latex was just spewing everywhere when i tried to cycle on

    On today’s ride i felt the hissing and latex going out then it stopped as the latex presumably plugged the gap

    It then it seemed to start hissing again when i got back on the saddle a couple of times but then stopped as i continued to ride.

    My questions are

    1) what are you actually meant to do when you get a puncture? keep riding and hope for the best? stopped and try and find the hole and put finger over so the sealant sort of stays there??
    2) secondly, if you get home without having to fix the tyre do you need to patch it from the inside or has the latex effectively sorted it permanently??

    thanks guys and Ben Lowe really useful info there too!

    • David November 18, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

      Keep pedalling as long as you have enough air. Once sealed stop and re-inflate if you need to. Try and use a hand pump. CO2 freezes the stans fluid and creates fur balls.

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