While tubeless tires have become the predominant choice for mountain bikers and even gravel riders, road cyclists have been slower to go tubeless. One reason is that tubeless tires have been messy and hard to install, especially on low-volume road tires. These tires have also been heavier, were offered in only limited models/brands, and the set up was an additional expense for wheels, tires and sealant.
The main benefits of tubeless tires include avoidance of flats and the ability to run low pressure to improve comfort and traction — all of which are important on bumpy off-road surfaces. However, given that most roads are smooth, and flats due to impact (if not, in general) have not been a huge concern for road cyclists, the benefits have yet to outweigh the drawbacks, and so the reliable tubed-tires have persisted.
HOW TUBELESS HAS EVOLVED
Since the off-road disciplines embraced tubeless, the technology has advanced and many common issues have been fixed. The beads of the tires lock to special grooves on the rim more easily now so getting the tire to seal and ‘seat’ (lock together) is easier. There are now pumps that allow you to store compressed air to help provide a boost to pop the tire on.
Road tires are also getting wider with many road cyclists using 28c or larger tires (I have used 32c road tires over the last few seasons). This added volume makes room for sealant and an overall easier time getting the tires mounted. These larger volume tires are generally run at lower pressures to enhance control and comfort, and tubeless helps avoid flats due to pinches since there are no tubes to pinch!
As more people switch to tubeless, most brands are making tires that are ready to be set up that way so you can keep your favorite tread and have it tubeless, too. With the popularity of the gravel discipline, more people are pushing the limits of what their road bikes can do, so having wider tires and tubeless tires let’s you adjust your pressure down and be less concerned that you will flat due to impact or debris you pick up on the road less traveled.
SETTING THEM UP
If you can install tubed-tires then installing tubeless tires is not much different. You will generally install a special valve (since you don’t have one from a tube) that is specific to your wheels. Once the valve is in, you can install one side of the tire. Some people carefully pour sealant into the tire while one side is open, while other people seat both sides of the tire then unscrew the inside ‘core’ of the valve and squirt the sealant in through the valve using a syringe or small tube adapter. While you have to experiment once the tires are mounted, many road cyclists do not have to do much with their tires except add some more sealant every few months.
READ MORE > HOW TO FIX A FLAT 101
FIXING A TUBELESS FLAT
You still need to carry a spare tube when you run tubeless even though the chances of a flat tire are much lower. Flats can occur due to large punctures, very hard impacts, rim damage or persistent glass that works its way into the tire but that is not sealed by the sealant.
To fix your flat, pop one side of the tire off the rim and remove the tubeless-valve. Do your usual check for the cause of the flat (e.g., find a thorn/glass) and then install the tube just as you would in a tubed tire. It is really just the one step of removing the valve, but you don’t have to carry the flat tube after your repair, so it’s better in that respect.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With more options and better technology than ever, it is time to switch to tubeless road tires and enjoy the control, comfort, and peace of mind that tubeless tires and sealant provide versus traditional tubed technology.