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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- Hutchinson Atom £54.99 (on sale at £34) at Wiggle
- Tubeless at Wiggle – mostly MTB stuff
- Tubeless at Evans – mostly MTB
- Tubeless kits at Chain reaction cycles