For years, car tires have enjoyed the benefits of tubeless tires. But it’s taken a while for bike tires to follow suit.
Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of tubeless road bike tires so you can determine whether or not they’re right for you.
THE RISE OF TUBELESS TIRES
Ten years ago, road cyclists had two options when it came to tires: tubular or clincher.
Since tubular tires are lighter and more resistant to punctures, they’ve been popular among professional racers who have team cars following them to switch wheels or help with any mechanicals. However, for amateurs, if you got a flat, changing your tire was next to impossible since the tire is glued onto the rim. For this reason, clincher tires, which use an innertube that can easily be changed roadside, have been the standard.
Today, cyclists have a third choice: tubeless tires. Tubeless tires are a hybrid of tubular and clinchers. Tubeless tires don’t need an innertube, and they don’t have to be glued onto the rim. The best part is: If you happen to get a flat, the tire can be used with an innertube to get you home.
ADVANTAGES OF TUBELESS
The big plus to going tubeless is fewer flat tires. Because a tire changes shape when you roll over an object like a rock, the pressure caused between the tire surface and the rim squeezing together can commonly cause a pinch flat, tearing the innertube. Since the tube is removed, tubeless tires make pinch flats non-existent — and that’s definitely a good thing.
The other type of flat tires you’ll commonly get on most bike tires is a puncture flat, which results from a sharp object, like a thorn or glass, puncturing through your tire and making a hole in the innertube. To solve this problem, most tubeless tires use a special sealant to patch those tiny holes as they happen and keep the air in your tire. This results in far fewer puncture flats than you’d have with a normal clincher tire.
In addition to flat-tire protection, other advantages of tubeless tires over their clincher counterparts are increased comfort and a reduction in overall weight. Tubeless tires can also be ridden at much lower tire pressures, putting more tread on the ground for better traction on rough surfaces and improved handling on hair-raising descents. When you take out the 200-gram tube inside most clinchers, you’ll get a fair amount of rotational weight savings that can add up to fresher legs the further you go.
DISADVANTAGES OF TUBELESS
No bike tire is perfect, and today’s tubeless tires still have a few disadvantages to consider before making the switch.
- Cost: To use tubeless tires, you’ll need tubeless-ready rims. While the price has gone down substantially, the initial investment of purchasing new wheels and tires won’t be cheap.
- Mounting: Tubeless tires don’t use an innertube, which means the tire bead on the rim needs to be air-tight. Because of this the tires can be difficult to mount, and getting them on the rim can be a long and tricky process.
- Sealant: Part of achieving that airtight seal when mounting the tire includes adding a sealant. This process can be messy and time consuming. The sealant can also dry out, and if you live in a warm climate sealant may need to be added to your tire every few months.
Also, keep in mind that just because you’re going tubeless doesn’t mean you won’t need to be prepared for a roadside flat. You’ll still need to carry an innertube, pump and tire levers just in case a flat does happen — though it probably won’t happen as often.
TIPS FOR SETTING UP TUBELESS TIRES
Though there are plenty of excellent online video tutorials that will take you through the step-by-step process of setting up tubeless road tires, there are a few other tips you can use to make the process a little easier if you’re still having trouble.
Here are a few things you can try if you find yourself in a pinch:
- Try different wheel and tire combinations: Wheels commonly have different diameters and will mount onto certain tires a little easier. For instance, Schwalbe tubeless tires work very nicely with Easton rims, while some Continental tubeless tires can be difficult to mount on Stans rims.
- Get an air compressor: When seating the bead on the rim, air will have to be added quickly. This can be a big challenge with a regular bike pump and expensive if you’re using CO2. An air compressor makes the job much easier.
- Soapy water: When mounting the tire, avoid using tire levers if possible. Aggressively using tire levers during mounting can mess up the tire bead and cause air leaks. If you’re having trouble, try a little soapy water to slid the tire bead onto the rim.
- Keep the PSI at 40 or just below: When seating the bead, only air the tire to about 40 PSI. Going above this during the initial installation could cause the tire to blowout.
- Insert a tube: If you’re still having trouble getting the tire bead to sit correctly, try placing an inflated innertube in the tire overnight. This will help stretch the tire and make mounting a little easier.
If all else fails, don’t worry. You can always take your tire to a local bike shop and have them walk you through the initial setup.