Home
What are the pros and cons of tubeless tyres?

Your car has tubeless tyres. Mountain bikes have by-and-large moved over to tubeless tyres in the last decade. And now it’s available for road bikes. Well it has been available for some time, though it’s been slow to catch on; but there’s ever-increasing choice now and a growing number of cyclists are making the leap. Is it time you did too?

Read more: How to fit tubeless tyres

But what are the advantages to ditching the inner tubes. Just what are the pros and cons? road.cc investigates.

What is tubeless?

Tubeless is basically a clincher tyre inflated onto a rim with no inner tube. Instead on an inner tube holding the air pressure, an airtight chamber is created with a tubeless-specific tyre, developed with a special (commonly carbon) bead, and a compatible rim. The tyre bead locks into the rim and form an airtight seal and maintains the pressure.

Hutchinson Intensive Road Tubeless tyres

Road tubeless was first brought to the road market by Hutchinson and Shimano in 2006 (though Mavic and Michelin had a stab earlier in 2004) but it’s fair to say it hasn’t really been a runaway success.

Why is that? The pros don’t use tubeless, which for a lot of cyclists is enough reason not to use it. Though there have been some cases of pros using tubeless in the past. Largely, tubular tyres are still dominant in the professional peloton because it’s a weight obsessed sport, and still offers the lightest setup. It’s also because a tubular stays on the rim during a rapid loss of air. Fitting a tubular tyre is a lot of hassle though, and much more tricky than fitting a tubeless tyre.

Clincher tyres with inner tubes are still popular but it’s simple and works well, most people can easily change an inner tube and punctures can (if you’re lucky) be quite rare. There’s also no issue with compatibility. Any tyre will fit to any rim, and the market is awash with a staggering choice of both.

Mavic enters the fray

The biggest news in tubeless tyres is the recent arrival in the sector of French wheel giant Mavic, which announced its Road UST (Universal System Tubeless) wheel/tyre system in June 2017.

Mavic says Road UST is easier to use and safer than previous tubeless systems and has put its production facilities where its mouth is, with a range of 15 wheels.

The difference between Mavic’s system and others is that there’s tight control over production variances, Mavic says. Variation in tyre bead stiffness and size affects safety as well as ease of installation and removal. Keeping the tolerances small is crucial to the success of the system.

Mavic says that Road UST is going through the approval process to become a standard recognised by both ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and ETRTO (European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation) working groups.

Read more: Buyer's guide to tubeless tyres — all your options in new technology rubber

What are the tubeless advantages?

Why go tubeless at all then? The main advantage, and it’s a big one, is the largely reduced risk of puncturing. There is no inner tube to puncture, whether from sharp objects penetrating the tyre or, more rarely, pinch flats when the inner tube is squashed between the rim and tyre.

Tubeless tyre fitting - sealant

To get the best out of tubeless, and to provide the extra puncture resistance in the absence of the inner tube, there is one extra ingredient that is needed: liquid latex sealant. This sloshes around inside the tyre and then reacts with air when the tyre casing is punctured, and plugs the hole. It can seal most small holes caused by flint or thorns and while you might suffer a small drop in pressure, you can continue riding.

They’re faster. Because there aren't two layers of material (tyre and tube) pressing against each other and the tyre can deform more easily, the rolling resistance is often claimed to be lower. If German tyre company Schwalbe's claims are to be believed, its latest One Pro tubeless tyre is the fastest tyre it has ever manufactured. It could be just saying this to sell tyres of course, but it still produces top-end clincher and tubular tyres, so it’s not like it has abandoned traditional tyre technology just yet.

Review: Schwalbe One Tubeless tyres

Moreover, with no inner tube to puncture, a tubeless tyre can be run at a lower pressure. This provides increased comfort as there is more cushioning from the tyre. Tubeless tyres, in our experience, provide exceptional comfort with a compliant and supple ride that surpasses most clincher tyre and inner tube combinations.

Hutchinson Sector 28 tubeless tyre

Hutchinson Sector 28 tubeless tyre

However, while this ability to run lower pressures is obviously appealing to mountain bikers, where it brings about increased grip and eliminates pinch flats, traditional road cyclists are unlikely to be interested in dropping pressure in narrow tyres. If your track pump only knows 120 psi, then the advantages of tubeless might be lost on you.

In our experience, a tubeless tyre is best run 10-20 psi lower than an equivalent clincher tyre with no degradation in performance. As the trend moves towards wider tyres though, being able to safely run reduced pressures makes a lot more sense, and the prevalence of endurance bikes with 28mm and wider tyres, and gravel and adventure bikes with even wider tyres, will make a strong argument for tubeless.

Read more: 141 tubeless wheelsets — the most complete listing anywhere of your choices in new technology hoops

Are there any downsides?

Unfortunately, there are a few downsides to converting to road tubeless. Simple wheel and tyre choice is one obstacle, but matters are improving all the time. Many wheel manufacturers now offer tubeless compatible wheelsets, with some providing dual compatibility with regular clincher tyres, providing an ideal upgrade path. If you’ve bought a new bike recently, it might very well have tubeless-ready rims.

Stans NoTubes Alpha 340 Wheelset

Stans NoTubes Alpha 340 Wheelset

Review: Stans NoTubes Alpha 340 Wheels

While wheel choice has improved, tyre choice is currently severely restricted and is really the big hurdle to converting to tubeless. The tyre company showing the most interest, and commitment, is German company Schwalbe. I’ve been really impressed with their recent tyres, and there’s very little weight penalty or difference in ride quality. Other choices include Vittoria, Bontrager, but so far Continental, Michelin etc have shown little interest in offering tubeless tyres.

Most critically, installing a tubeless tyre isn’t quite as straightforward as popping an inner tube in. It’s not helped by a lack of one standard that all tyre and rim manufacturers are adhering to, leading to some compatibility issues between certain combinations of rim and tyre. As well as a tubeless tyre, you need a compatible rim which might involve fitting a special rim strip, a tubeless valve (and it needs to be long enough and threaded so you can get the pump onto) and a bottle of sealant.

Schwalbe One Tubeless

Schwalbe One Tubeless

If you’re upgrading, it’s quite a costly exercise. If your bike has tubeless wheels when you’re in luck as you just need the tyres, valves and sealant. Some manufacturers are starting to sell bikes with tubeless-ready tyres and even supply the valves, so making the tubeless conversion is much less costly. The benefits however might outweigh the initial outlay - and you’ll save money on inner tubes!

A tubeless tyre isn’t invincible. The latex can deal with most smaller holes but anything big, like a slash or cut, will require a replacement inner tube. So you still need to carry a spare tube (or two) with you. To be fair to tubeless, any cut of a reasonable size would also cause a puncture in a tubed setup.

Converting to tubeless: a brief guide

If you like the sound of tubeless, what do you need?

Read more: Reviews of tubeless tyres, wheels and accessories

You need tubeless compatible rims. There is now a lot of choice (Shimano, Campagnolo, American Classic, Stan’s etc) and they either come with a rim bed that doesn’t have any spoke holes, or a rim strip ready fitted. With some tubeless ready wheels you need to remove the basic rim tape and install a special rim strip. This makes the rim airtight.

Reynolds All Terrain Road Tubeless wheelset - rim bed

Reynolds All Terrain Road Tubeless wheelset - rim bed

Review: Bontrager Affinity Elite Road Disc wheelset

Then you need a tubeless tyre. Schwalbe is arguably leading the way at the moment, with the One Pro race tyre but also wider options for the emerging gravel market. Vittoria, Bontrager, Hutchinson are some of the tyre brands that offer tubeless ready tyres.

Review: Hutchinson Sector 28c tubeless tyre

While it is possible to make a regular clincher tyre and non-tubeless rim tubeless, it really isn’t recommended and could be potentially dangerous. Tubeless tyres are designed to ensure the tyre bead locks securely into the rim so it can't dislodge at high pressure, which is something you definitely don’t want to happen. This is the critical element of a successful tubeless setup and is why some companies haven’t developed a tyre yet. So you might get away with regular rims but you definitely need proper tubeless tyres.

A regular tyre uses an aramid bead, and without an inner tube, can blow off the rim at high pressure. Tubeless tyres use a non-stretch carbon fibre bead - this was the big breakthrough by Hutchinson - and prevents the tyre blowing off the rim.

American Classic Road Tubeless Wheelset - valve

American Classic Road Tubeless Wheelset - valve

Tubeless valves. These are standalone valves with a rubber bung on one end that butts up against the inside of the rim, and a locking nut that tightens the valve onto the rim. There are many different makes of tubeless valve, our recommendation is to get one that is compatible with your rim. Look for a removable core - this can make inflating and adding sealant easier, and a lots of thread to screw a track pump onto. Obviously the valve needs to be long enough for the depth of your rim.

And don’t forget a bottle of sealant. There is plenty of choice on the market and it’s more or less the same stuff. The sealant should remain liquid in the tyre for up to 6 months, provided you have no punctures that allow it to escape during that time. Some sealants are 100% free of ammonium so is environmentally harmless.

Bontrager offers an upgrade kit (it’s pricey though) that includes everything you need to convert to tubeless, bar the wheels. It includes tyres, rim strips, valves and sealant.

Slime Pro Tubeless Ready Kit

Slime Pro Tubeless Ready Kit

Another option is the Slime Pro Tubeless Ready Kit, which provides a bottle of sealant, a roll of rim tape, tubeless valve, tyres levers and a CO2 canister for inflating the tyres. It aims to allow you to use a regular non-tubeless rim but you must use a proper tubeless tyre.

See our in-depth guide to fitting tubeless tyres

Should you convert to tubeless?

With the issues highlighted in this article, tubeless has some way to go before it is as universal as it is in the mountain bike world. For tubeless to really take over from conventional clincher tyres, that installation process needs to be much easier, as at the moment it requires an investment of time and expertise. It’s also costly, especially if you need to factor in the cost of new wheels and tyres.

Tubeless also needs commitment from other tyre and wheel manufacturers to widen the choice, and there needs to be a common standard to provide the compatibility to eliminate the current installation woes that can create a sour first experience of road tubeless. One thing is for sure, people that have converted to tubeless have become fans, as once you experience it, it’s very hard to go back.

There are clear benefits to tubeless (reduced flats, lower pressures, ride quality and they’re faster) but it won't’ save you any weight, but, if you’re prepared to invest the time, and money, in converting to tubeless, you probably won’t look back. It won’t be for everyone, but tubeless is here to stay and its future looks bright if our experience is anything to go by.

[This article was last updated on August 2, 2017]

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

22 comments

Avatar
Nick0 [181 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Excellent informative article, and sorry to be pedant of the day sir, but I don't understand this "While it is possible to ghetto tubeless a regular clincher tyre, it really isn’t recommended and could be potentially dangerous"

Avatar
herohirst [75 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

He thinks he's Pedant Of The Day? May I highlight, "....Because there isn’t two layers of material (tyre and tube) pressing against each other...", so that the Sub' responsible may hang their head in shame.

 3

Avatar
harragan [202 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Well, if this is the game, how about this?

"If your bike has tubeless wheels when you’re in luck as you just need the tyres, valves and sealant."  

Happy to help!  1

 

Avatar
musicalmarc [107 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

If you use standard tyres, they are cheap to replace and if you get a big cut you can repair a pucture with a small pack of patches.  Tubeless are expensive to replace and if you need to carry a tube in your pocket the gains seem pretty marginal.

 

 

 

Avatar
Tony Farrelly [2897 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

musicalmarc wrote:

If you use standard tyres, they are cheap to replace and if you get a big cut you can repair a pucture with a small pack of patches.  Tubeless are expensive to replace and if you need to carry a tube in your pocket the gains seem pretty marginal.

 

 

I've been riding tubeless for pretty much two years now - almost every day over really terrible roads. I've had one puncture and that was the day that the back tyre wore out. I only carry a spare tube if I'm going a long way.

That's not the reason I'd never go back to a conventional set up though - it's because the ride feel is so much better because of the lower rolling resistance. I was extremely sceptical until I rode some and now I wouldn't ride with anything else.

Avatar
musicalmarc [107 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

which tyres do you use and what's what kind of milage do you get from them?  Do you have to top up the sealant often?

Avatar
horizontal dropout [296 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Teehee! And this: 

"Tubeless tyres are designed to ensure the tyre bead locks securely into the rim so it can dislodge at high pressure, which is something you definitely don’t want to happen."

Uh "can't" I think : -)

 

And "ghetto" refers to various methods of DIY tubeless, mostly in MTB's. Eg http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-repair/tech-how-to-ghetto-tubeless-...

 

 

Avatar
dottigirl [765 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Nick0 wrote:

Excellent informative article, and sorry to be pedant of the day sir, but I don't understand this "While it is possible to ghetto tubeless a regular clincher tyre, it really isn’t recommended and could be potentially dangerous"

Danger is it could blow off the rim at any time. That's apparently why Conti haven't jumped on the bandwagon - something to do with tubeless needing thicker/heavier (?) rubber to prevent blowoffs, which impairs performance, and this not being worth it for any cost/weight saving on the road.

Avatar
billsukhbir [28 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I've used the Schwalbe One tubeless on my Campy Shamal two-way fits.  They got sliced by road debris twice.  The latex solution I had installed couldn't cope and the deeper and more secure bead recess seating required of tubeless meant that removing the tyre and fitting an inner tube was very difficult (had to call my other half out to rescue me on one of those occassions).  I was willing to put these incidents down to experience and continue with tubeless but worst of all was the impossibilty of sourcing replacement Schwalbe One TL tyres (at c£50 a throw!).  On balance, the performance gains, which were noticeable but marginal, weren't worth the downsides and the insecurity of the system for a road bike set up (IMHO).  I'll be happy to revisit the system as it evolves.

Avatar
djfleming22 [40 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

 

As the writer was saying cars, motorbikes etc have been tubeless for many years so why has it not taken off for bikes well for me its price ..i.e. Motorbike front tyre approx price £70 know this is a good quality sports bike tyre giving roughly 6000 miles, now in the say in comparison say a Schwalbe One TL tyre cost £50 now there is nowhere near the same amount of rubber or the same amount of money gone towards the technology and I get nowhere near the same mileage so why is the such a huge price on the bike tyre, we could also go on about car tyres as well but I think we will just stop there….. is it supply and demand or is it a good money making technique who knows but I will stay with my cheaper tyres for a good while yet until the price comes down.

Avatar
SteeveB [24 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I put Schwalbe One Pros on my DT Swiss wheels at the beginning of the year. They went on easily and inflated with my track pump. Wasnt much of an effort really. They stay up really well. Run at  low pressures now. the ride is definitely cushier than with my Conti's.

Have had one puncture  - on the Dragon Tour this year. Tyre held up fine until i got back home (happy with that because the weather was terrible) but did go down overnight. There was quite a big hole in the tyre. I put a tube in for the next day due to time constraints in the morning before we rode again. Then went back tubeless when i got home. the tyre actually just sealed itself when i put more gunk in.

I really like the tubeless setup. Not sure I save much weight as i still carry a tube with me to be on the safe side.

Avatar
logomomo [7 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I've been riding tubeless (currently Hutch Sector 28s, previously  Bonty R3s) at weekends now for 4 years and have only had a single non self sealing puncture due to a 1cm side wall cut - that's in around 12k kms. Booted it and fitted an inner tube and cycled 50km home - no problem.

Commute is on inner tubes though, mainly due to wanting bulltetproof archetype rims - probably had 5 punctures in the last couple of years but that's over a much higher mileage and some pretty nasty conditions. 

The tubeless setup feels so much smoother that i certainly wouldn't go back to tubes on my weekend bike. Will probably swap over the commuter at some point when the rims need replacing.

Yes they need the sealant topping up every few months but as far as i'm concerned, that's a small price to pay for the additional comfort, nicer rolling and reduction in punctures.

Each to their own.

Avatar
Stinkers [33 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
billsukhbir wrote:

I've used the Schwalbe One tubeless on my Campy Shamal two-way fits.  They got sliced by road debris twice.  The latex solution I had installed couldn't cope and the deeper and more secure bead recess seating required of tubeless meant that removing the tyre and fitting an inner tube was very difficult (had to call my other half out to rescue me on one of those occassions).  I was willing to put these incidents down to experience and continue with tubeless but worst of all was the impossibilty of sourcing replacement Schwalbe One TL tyres (at c£50 a throw!).  On balance, the performance gains, which were noticeable but marginal, weren't worth the downsides and the insecurity of the system for a road bike set up (IMHO).  I'll be happy to revisit the system as it evolves.

 

Have to agree on the Schwalbe Ones. Found them to be very fast and super comfortable but too delicate and suffered cuts.

Switched to Hutchison Sector 28s. They don't feel quite as quick as the Schwalbes but are wonderfully comfortable. Far more so than the Michelin tubed tyres I replaced when switching to tubeless. 

Recently completed the first 9 stages of this year's Tour de France course, without a puncture and with the tyres still looking like new.

Each to their own but I love'em.

 

Avatar
step-hent [725 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I ran road tubeless for a couple of years. At the time, I was convinced the ride was smoother - I could run the tyres at lower pressures without fear of pinch flats and I rarely punctured. I found a few issues though:

- if a puncture/cut was too big for the sealant to seal it, it sprayed latex all over my mates. Not a regular occurrence, but not something easily forgotten either...

- once I'd helped them peel the fast drying latex from their bikes and faces, I was left with the job of trying to fit a tube to a tire with a seriously strong and stiff bead. It was always a pig to get a tube in and inflated without pinching it. Doable, but took a lot longer than a normal tube change.

- fitting new tyres was a hit and miss affair: the aforementioned very stiff bead meant they were hard work to get on the rim. Then sometimes they'd seal easily, other times not. When they didn't go first time, it could be quite difficult to get them to go up at all.

When I eventually went back to clinchers, I got wider clincher rims which meant I could run lower pressures and get some of the comfort advantage I had on the tubeless. I also didnt notice a difference in rolling resistance between a good standard clincher and a good tubeless tyre - a bit of talc on the tubes helps to keep the friction low anyway. All in all, I didn't feel like it was worth the expense or the (admittedly occasional) hassle. I doubt I'll go back to tubeless unless the standard clincher dies a death...

Avatar
nniff [177 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Mixed feelings - when it's all working they're brilliant, but if you've got a hole that's just a little bit too big, or just the wrong shape they're a PITA.  However, that is easily fixed once you recognise the problem and stick a patch insiode the tyre.

So back off two weeks' hols: was getting seriously fed up with being covered in a fine spray of rubber solution every ride and so patched the offending rear tyre.  Note that while everything was sticky, the tyre never became too soft to ride.

All good, so off I went on hols.  First ride out, front tyre goes - sealant everywhere, but seals OK.  Finish ride, top up sealant and reinflate.  Next ride - repeat - same hole.  Finish ride, patch tyre.  Next day, same again.  Different hole, sealant everywhere but still able to ride.  Learning now, so test inflate to full pressure and it goes again.  Patch tyre and all good for remaining hols. 

Key tips - always travel with sealant, a ghetto inflator and a track pump of some description (I've got a folding zefal one). I would not have fancied patching tyres and replacing sealant without an inflator.  I just make sure it's behind me and wear glasses, so that if it fails I'm not going to lose an eye.  Frankly, I don't think it would make much of a bang anyway - the air comes out as a loud hiss just like pushing the valve in on a tyre that's inflated to 100 psi.  If the top comes off, it might shoot off for a foot or two at most I think.  Still, better safe than sorry.

On balance, I'm sticking with tubeless, but it was a close run thing at the beginning of the hols.  Done a year with them now on one of my bikes.  Schwalbe Pro One.  Had to replace two because they were no longer round (markedly so) but the current set are fine.    At 100 psi, they are seriuosly slippery in damp or wet conditions (compared to Michelin Pro 4 at the same pressure). They run happily at 80 though and are more comfy at that pressure.  If they've deflated, they will still bowl along happily at 40 psi

 

Avatar
schlepcycling [71 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I'm definitely a tubeless convert, I'm using IRC Roadlite 25mm tyres fitted to a pair of handbuilts from Malcolm Borg at the The Cycle Clinic.  So far the tyres have covered 6300km with absolutely no issues and I run them at 70psi and they are fantastic.  I no longer bother to carry a spare tube with me as there's no way one will fit, so I take an Innovations Tubeless repair kit and a tube of flexible super glue to deal with anything that the sealant can't handle and as the IRC tyres have a butyl layer they can be patched inside just like a regular inner tube.

Avatar
Dicklexic [70 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I've been running Schwalbe Pro Ones and S-Ones on Hunt 4 Season wheels for over two years now. They were all dead easy to set up and have been superb.  I don't actually know how many punctures I've had. I only know about the ones that have lost a little more air pressure because they have always sealed themselves. A couple of times I've gone to the garage to find the bike with a flat tyre from the last ride. Quick spin of the wheel to distribute the sealant and pumped up again to let it do it's thing. Then gone out riding as normal. The added bonus of increased grip and comfort is the icing on a very lovely cake in my experience. Never going back!

Avatar
pwake [423 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

It's a shame that a whole tyre system, tubular, is pretty much dismissed with the statement "Fitting a tubular tyre is a lot of hassle though, and much more tricky than fitting a tubeless tyre."

This is simply incorrect. I run tubulars on all my bikes, use Jantex tub tape for glueing them and Conti latex sealant inside. I can fit/remove a tubular without any tyre levers; NO HASSLE. Still the best ride characteristics, with the sealant I've got added flat protection and if worst comes to worst tubs can run flat and get you home.

And I've never had a tub roll off using the Jantex tape.

And my wheel rims are lighter than the equivalent clincher/tubeless model.

Fact not opinion.

Avatar
themartincox [553 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

if you have a hole too big to self seal then Genuine Innovations make an awesome product called a a bacon strip - it's a plug for holes (similar in idea to cars/M-bikes), you simply drive it into the whole, pull the handle out and the plug sits in place sealing it up.

i just road 2,000km with one in my front tyre, only needing to inflate slightly after about 800km

 

really useful product!!

http://road.cc/content/review/183575-genuine-innovations-tubeless-tire-r... <-- reviewed last year!

Avatar
Thelma Viaduct [57 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

My tubeless setup is 45g per wheel lighter than tubes, including sealant.

Avatar
mike the bike [939 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Thelma Viaduct wrote:

My tubeless setup is 45g per wheel lighter than tubes, including sealant.

 

I'm sure you're right but if you're not carrying at least one tube how will you fix a flat that won't respond to the sealant?

Avatar
jterrier [115 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I have 3 bikes in regular use, all with schwalbe tires on stans rims. All 3 setups are 3 years old now. In all cases i have never had a failure or puncture, never carried a tube, never changed sealant (!), And they all were a cinch to fit and get seated. A lot of the stuff that people seem to be worried about just dont really seem to be issues.