Inner tubes do quite a lot more than just hold the air in your tyres. The best inner tubes can make your bike faster, lighter or – by preventing punctures – more reliable. Let us help you choose the best inner tubes for your riding needs.
Choosing the best inner tubes is a surprisingly cheap way to improve some aspect of your bike's performance, be it speed or reliability
If all that matters to you is going fast, the best inner tubes are made from natural latex rubber, but read on: they have downsides
Inner tubes with built-in sealant can fix punctures for you as you ride, often before you even know they've happened
Every few years a new inner tube technology pops up, usually involving high-strength exotic plastic; we discuss the latest one below
To be fair, the mid-priced tubes from the likes of Michelin, Continental, Schwalbe, Specialized, Hutchinson at al are all pretty decent. We're going for Schwalbe here because they're a very sensible price, good quality, have removable valve cores so you can put sealant in them if you want and come with a cool transparent valve cap. As with all removable-core tubes you do have to make sure the core's screwed in nice and snug or some pumps can unscrew it.
They may be expensive, but compared to a tubeless conversion – or a new wheelset – the 38g high-tech thermoplastic Tubo Road tubes from Tubolito are a cost-effective way of shedding some weight. They promise some puncture resistance benefits as well.
Compared to a random butyl 700C tube grabbed from the garage, the Tubo offers a saving of 60-70g. That's per tube. So for an outlay of about £40 you can shave 120-140g (4-5oz) off the weight of your bike.
The market for inexpensive standard inner tubes has become very competitive in the last couple of years. With a weight of around 120g, these tubes are good value at around two-fifty each (£2.99 for the longest-valve version).
They hold air perfectly adequately but their manufacturing tolerances are surprisingly wide. I bought four recently and they weighed 110g, 116g, 118g and 131g, and we've seen the occasional Lifeline tube exhibit random bulges when inflated off the bike, but for £2.49 who's really complaining?
If you want to get into latex (stop sniggering at the back), then Michelin's highly-regarded tubes are your most widely-available option.
At a claimed 75g they're a bit lighter than a standard tube, which is a good start. Being latex they're more flexible than butyl and will therefore reduce both rolling resistance and frequency of punctures.
With a payload of Slime sealant inside a butyl tube, Slime's Smart tube weighs 170g, so the very effective self-healing capability has a penalty of about 70g over a standard tube.
Our tester experienced no punctures while using the Smart tube, but that might just have been the Puncture Fairy looking the other way for a few weeks.
So he deliberately ran over a drawing pin, then took it out straight away and found the sealant stopped air escaping after the pressure had dropped by about 30psi, leaving enough air in the tyre to get you home, and of course it's rather easier to add 30psi to your tyres in the field than to replace a tube.
For around six quid these 75g butyl tubes will knock off a few grams without breaking the bank.
The lightest butyl rubber inner tubes currently available, these are amazingly thin-walled. That makes them a bit fragile — you need to be careful installing them — but if saving weight is your aim, these are the best butyl inner tubes you can get.
At just 50g each, Vredestein's latex inner tubes are as light as Continental Supersonics, but being latex will be more flexible and therefore make for tyre/tube combinations with lower rolling resistance. The porosity of latex means you're going to have to inflate your tyres every day, so these are tubes for a special pair of race or time trial wheels, to be rolled out when every second counts.
Inner tubes affect the rolling resistance of your tyres, how easily you can end up sidelined with a puncture and the rotating weight of your wheels. If you care about performance — whether you mean by that speed or robustness and reliability — it’s worth thinking about the best inner tubes you could use and not just where you can get 10 for £20.
The rolling resistance of tyres comes from the force needed to bend the tyre where it contacts the road. But the inner tube has to bend too, so if it’s thick, then the rolling resistance of the whole combination goes up.
The flexibility of the inner tube material makes a difference too. Inner tubes are made from either synthetic butyl rubber or natural latex rubber. Latex is more flexible and thinner too, so if you want to reduce rolling resistance then latex is the way to go. According to Jarno Bierman at bicyclerollingresistance.com, you’ll save 4-5 Watts using latex inner tubes over butyl tubes. That’s probably not a difference you can feel, but it’s one you can measure with a stopwatch.
So latex inner tubes are the best inner tubes? Not necessarily. The big disadvantage is that they’re more porous than butyl tubes. That means that they leak air sufficiently quickly that you’ll need to pump them up every day.
A wrinkle to all of this is that thinner and lighter butyl inner tubes have become available in the last few years. Bierman tested a 100g butyl tube against an 80g latex tube, but you can get butyl tubes as light as 50g. Because they’re thinner, they have lower rolling resistance but won’t lose air like latex, but their increased fragility means they need more care in handling and puncture more easily.
Tyre maker Challenge cautions against the use of latex inner tubes with carbon fibre rims. It says: “Carbon rims do not dissipate heat as well as aluminium and prolonged braking, such as on long descents, may lead to hot spots along the braking surface. This increased heat can damage the latex material leading to a failure.”
Latex inner tubes have been claimed to be more puncture-resistant, because the rubber is inherently stretchier. Whether that makes a difference on the road is debatable as a tube held in place by a tyre may not be able t stretch as much as a tube being pressed against a broken bottle in an advert. For everyday riding you probably don’t want fewer punctures to come at the expense of daily inflation anyway.
Sealants are a better solution. Preparations such as Slime contain small rubber particles suspended a liquid that dries on exposure to air. It’s pretty effective at sealing holes up to about 3mm across. However, it’s hard to squeeze a sealant through a standard Presta valve so sealant makers offer tubes with the fluid already inside. If you want to roll your own, then you want tubes with removable valve cores.
Sealants aren’t perfect. If you get a big enough cut, the sealant won’t work and you’ll need to install a regular tube. Sealant-filled tubes are difficult to repair because the sealant stops the patch from sticking.
Sealants also add weight, but for the kind of everyday cycling application where you’d use them to prevent flats, you’re probably not going to mind an extra few grams.
If you’re not aiming for everyday riding puncture prevention, then a weight reduction is nice to have. A typical inexpensive inner tube — like the ones your bike probably came with — weighs 100-110g; Continental’s Supersonic tube weighs 55g (all weights for inner tubes with 60mm valves).
A 100g weight saving isn’t huge, but a pair of Supersonics is less than £20. There aren’t many places on a bike where you can get a weight saving of 5g/£. If you’re replacing a bike’s stock tyres with lighter rubber, it’s worth getting better, lighter tubes too.
Our readers are always a valuable source of information, experience and opinion on all aspects of cycling. Here's the pick of what you had to say about inner tubes in a previous version of this article.
Most important factor which is shockingly overlooked in the article, is whether the valve is one of those shit amateur looking threaded jobs that some fools screw that poxy little nut onto the rim with
Strange I have the opposite impression, the worst tubes I have had came with completely smooth sides.
Vredestein, core came out when removing the pump every time, valve body looked to be made from two bits of metal to be suitable for deep rims (like they had taken a standard valve, and stuck an extra bit on, rather than producing to the full length first time.
All conti tubes and schwalbe tubes have come thread and with a nut to stop them rattling around in the hole in the rim. Also useful for standard tubes and valve extenders.
No mention of tubes that specifically help STOP punctures - thorn proof etc.
I use 3mm thick walled tubes in two of my training bikes. They make the wheels heavy (hard work but fine for training on my own) but I've never had a puncture with them
I used to be a long time user of conti tubes but the removable cores have left me stranded before after using up all my Co2 and having to borrow one from a fellow cyclist.
I usually give the core a tightening with a pair of Pliers before i put them in my puncture kit but this time it didn't help. I now stock up on Lifeline or Planet X Vavert tubes whenever they come on offer as they don't have removable cores.
Less things to go wrong after swapping out a roadside puncture and finding out all your CO2 has been blasted into the ether instead of your fresh newly installed inner tube.
Standard Michelin Air Comps for me, mainly because they don't have removable cores and I've had one too many instances of my Lezyne-head pump unscrewing the core. Only issue is that I run 28mm tyres now so I'm stretching (literally) the limits of the 18-25 version.
The other option I use is Conti Race Wide (28-35mm) now that I've got a pump with a proper head (Topeak Mountain Morph - awesome power) but they're too bulky for my saddle bag so I carry a skinny "get home" tube and Lezyne self-adhesive patches in the event of a double puncture.
I've also got a load of stock of 42mm valve tubes which are pretty much useless now I've gone to 35mm depth rims...
In the interests of penny-pinching/recycling and because I've got time on my hands I'm going to spend a few hours at the weekend patching old tubes, I must have a dozen in the shed. That should see me through until the apocalypse, or the end of the lockdown, whichever is later...
The P word is definitely an inner tube word (and very much "flat"), there has to a different word for pulling multiple thorns out of your tubeless setup and seeing the holes seal themselves within seconds. Still technically a P, a sharp object has penetrated the tyre, but somehow it doesn't convey the disappointment, the crushing effect on the soul of a deflating inner tube.
And maybe realising that you might have been riding with added thorns for several days.
Smugness does convey some of the feeling...
Continental Race 28 light (up to 25mm tyres only) are a halfway house weight wise between the super fragile supersonics and a normal tube.
They also pack up real small compared to normal tubes which is a big bonus in my book.
Was so excited when I discovered the Tubolites, that I immediately bought 4 of them, 2 Road and 2 Road S, from two different sources.
Three of them were leaking at the valve core straight out of the box, one held up for three days before the same happened. Inflated at max 80 psi (I ride 28mm tires).
Big waste of money.
did you get a refund on them?
I have used Tubolito on both mtb and road bikes for almost two years now. Never experienced anything like that with any of my tubes. Must have been a bad batch you got yours from.
Bought 6. Used 4. No problems at all at first but 3 different tubes punctured in a month. I used to go several 3 between punctures in butyl tubes. The Tubolitos were easily repaired with their specific patches. But the repairs worked great for about a month and then suddenly gave up going from 100psi to 0. Luckily overnight: then the next repairs did the same except for 1. And 1 tubo hasn't punctured after a few months (probably tomorrow). So for me, OK only for a hill-climb bike or to carry a lightweight spare tube. BTW, Decathlon here in Spain sells them at a reasonable discount.
After experimenting with various tubes over the years, I ended up with latex - they just feel so good. The porosity isn't a problem at all since maintaining the correct tyre pressures is just part of the 'pre-flight check' you should give the bike before every ride (or daily).
I carry a Tubolito (plus C02) in case of punctures - never had to use it (but, then again, I do ride on Swiss roads).
Aaaaand, I've given up on latex and gone back to bog standard. I fitted some new tyres to my winter bike recently and the latex tubes were un-reusable. The actual circumference had mysteriously grown about six inches and would under no circumstances go back into the new tyres.
I now avoid anything by Lifeline, I've used a few of their products and have ben let down each time, especially tubes.
Conti Supersonics - found they punctured more easily as well as a few split seams
Slime tubes / Slime in a tube - fine for a penetrating puncture but not for pinch flat / snakebite as the sealant gets spun away from the inner and leaks air, plus the slime seems to stop puncture patches sticking as well.
Conti Race tubes are great.
Latex might be fine for some but not worth the hassle for me.
I acquired 30-35mm latex tubes to put in my 38mm slicks, 92g and that's with a 60mm valve. The tyres are only 360g and give a very cushy but quick ride. A bit of talc on the rims can help not knackering the tube when fitting a tight tyre.
Does a bit of talc on the tubes help crr, maybe, maybe not but it'd be really difficult to prove definitively one way or the other, there is a bit of science behind why t will in terms of tyre/tube not being 'stuck' together giving one thickness of tyre and tube together to deform, hence why thinner tyres/tubes roll better than the same compound if thicker. if people want to do it, why does it matter if it's not going to affect safety.
Also, not everything Jobst Brand says is accurate or true, same with Sheldon Brown.
If you fancy giving latex a go on the cheap just ask around for tubs that might be discarded and just remove the tubes.
I tried the Conti supersonics, the valves were the weak part but inside a pair of Maxxis Xenith Equipe Legeres, it was like having a push all the time, problem is you'd only have to look at them the wrong way and they'd puncture, got 500 miles out of a rear!
I've just fitted some Vittoria latex tubes after reading this thread. I went out and did my local 25 mile ride today and I'm never going back to butyl! Amazingly supple feeling and when you stop pedalling at speed it feels like you don't slow down at all, almost like you're being pushed.
I tried latex tube various times over the years and I'll never use them again. I've found they actually flat more frequently than butyl tubes, and they don't last as long about one season vs 3 to 5 seasons for a butyl tube. Faster? I don't know and I don't care since I'm not racing! Besides if you use baby powder liberally on a butyl tube before installing the watts usage will drop to within 1 watt of latex. The only thing I liked about latex tubes is that they rode a tad more comfortable, they felt like you were riding on butyl tubes inflated to 75 psi instead of 100 psi. But latex isn't worth the extra money and hassles.
All I use is glueless patches, last time I tried latex tubes I tried a glueless patch and it didn't hold, but I had glue patch kit just in case the glueless ones didn't work. I've never had a failed glueless patch (except on latex) and my Park glueless patches will hold for the life of the tube. Glue-on patches do work reliably on latex but you have to put a thin layer of glue on the patch and on the tube. There is another option for patching if you find that glue-on patches are not working and that is to cut up 1 inch round sections of an old latex tube, than use tubular tire mounting glue and coat both the patch and the tube and apply.
I use Specialized Turbo tubes only because I haven't had any issues with the tubes and they're sold locally. I did try the Slime tube but the Slime crud wouldn't seal a tire once the pressure got above 65 psi it would just blow crud out the hole, also I found them to have crappy valve stems.
Not sure where you got that figure from? Because putting talcum powder on inner tubes does absolute nothing to affect rolling resistance. It's a total myth that it has any benefit.
I can't find the article now where they actually tested talcum powdered tubes vs non powdered, but the idea was (before their test proved it) that latex tubes decrease rolling resistance by decreasing internal friction between the tube and tire, talcum powder does the same thing with butyl tubes.
Talcum powder is made up of talc, a mineral consisting magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It is used in industries, plastic, paints, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The idiosyncratic property of this talcum powder is that it absorbs moisture well and cuts down the friction. when an object is made to move on a surface, the microscopic cavities are responsible for increasing the frictional force but this talcum powder fills the cavities present on the surface. Thus it provides an even surface and levels the surface, this alleviates the friction of the surface.
I did find this to confirm what I've said: https://www.roadbikerider.com/should-i-powder-an-inner-tube-d1/ (link is external)
If you still think that this is not true then stop wasting money on latex tubes because they do supposedly the same thing, reduce internal friction, and if Talc doesn't do that then neither does latex.
I use latex tubes and talc them a great deal, to get double the benefit and double the fun. Latex does like to stick to stuff, and without talc seems to want to bond with the inside of the tyre, and the carry around spare if not talced and wrapped in paper and the bagged likes to destroy itself.
I have always used feather edged patches with standard vulcanised rubber adhesive and never had a problem, and quick patches to get me home.
i use slimes on all my X/Gravels. love them.
The only thing better than a latex tube in a good quality clincher is a tub. Porosity means they aren't first choice for commuting, but for your "good" bike, buy latex tubes.
I had a bad experience using Michelin Air Comp Latex. They are made in such a way that they do not inflate evenly and have a small narrowing which feels like a bump when riding. At the valve two ends of tube are glued together, so that they overlap and tube there is twice as thick for about 4-5cm. This segment of thicker latex does not inflate as much as the rest (single latex layer) of tube. And I could see from outside that bit of tire (GP 4000 II) around that segment is slightly narrower. Vibration caused by this is so slight that you probably would not notice it on regular roads. It was noticeable only on very smooth surfaces.
P.S. Challenge latex tubes do not suffer from this.
Quote: The big disadvantage of latex tubes is that they’re more porous than butyl tubes.
Well, the biggest disadvantage is that you can not repair puncture, mid-ride, on a latex tube with a simple self adhesive patch like butyl tube. To my knowledge there is no way to path latex tube reliably.
Interesting. I've used an old latex tube to make latex patches and then glued them with rubber adhesive, and had no issues. Not sure it makes a difference, but this is in tubulars not clinchers.
Some of the time it just comes down to luck - like they say, correlation does not imply causation.
Latex tubes used in tubulars is the same material that latex tubes used in clinchers, thus your method of cutting patches out of an old latex tube is indeed the best and only effective way to making a long lasting patch for a latex tube.
Ideally the patch should be cut round, not square so as to equalize the pressure when inflated. like any other patch the patch needs to be larger than the hole. I also used Pastali tubular rim glue because I found that standard butyl patch glue did not last, and some old guy told me about the Pastali glue way back 40 years ago when I use to use tubulars, and it works the same back then with tubulars as it does today when I use to use latex tubes.
The only problem is, if you start using latex tubes for the first time you won't have an old spare to cut, so you may have to buy a third latex tube to sacrifice for patches. Or you can carry a new tube in your seat bag and then when one does go flat replace it with the new tube and cut the old one up to make patches.
The other problem with latex is that I found them to actually increase the number of flats I got vs butyl, plus they don't last nearly as long as butyl, and since I don't race my days of using latex or virtually over.
I've patched Michelin latex tubes with Park Tool GP-2 Super Patches, plain old Rema Tip Tops and with pieces cut from old latex tubes. All with success. One tube fixed with a self adhesive patch started to leak a few months later but that is to be expected.
I would not buy Conti Supersonics again. They seem to be fine at first but they are the ones I've had most trouble with. The Michelin Ultralights are a much better buy IMO.
If running high quality open tubular tires like Challenge, Veloflex or Vittoria then latex tubes really provide the benefits; incredibly supple, fast rolling, grippy, resistance to punctures. Install with talcum powder, inflate daily, remove debris and wipe tires with vinegar.
If riding vulcanised tires you might as well run butyl tubes.
I run tubeless with Stan's sealant on my MTB, and open tubs with latex on my road bike.
Many happy kilometres....
Running tubeless or latex on all my bikes. Life is way too short to not splurge out on what i consider a much more supple and less puncture prone tube. As for needing regular air, unless you are touring, it's really not a hassle to do this every ride.
Since running latex, I've had 2 punctures in about 4000km, and one of those was a pinch flat.
I've yet to see any tube rot or brittleness.
Latex sounds like a bad idea for bicycles because it will rot if lube gets on them or get brittle like rubber bands do eventually.
I use Continental inner tubes with threaded, car type valves, filled with Slime, on Mavic wheels (with decent bundled wheel tape), in Kevlar containing tires, with pressure indicator valve caps from ebay, so that I can see when they rarely need more pressure gauged, track pump air. I rarely have to do inner tube replacement* despite cycling over drinkers glass and bits of vegetation etc. while commuting, and I've seen Slime work for months after a thorn puncture.
* inner tubes are cheap, so I have plenty spare, and a replacement is much faster than hopefully repairing an inner tube puncture.
Latex rocks. I've a pair of Air Bs from approx 1999 still going strong. Yes, they need a squirt every day or so, but I always check tyre pressure before a ride no matter what tyres/tubes I'm using.
I've used Conti Supersonics in my "good" summer wheels for years with perfect success. They weigh 50 grams (half of my other tubes' weights) yet don't puncture any more often than my heavier tubes.
If anyone is puncturing them during installation they should adopt proper fitting techniques and use no levers. Apply talc to them, inflate them by mouth first and then insert them into the rim and not just into the tire. This way, there is no tube stuck under the bead of the tire while trying to get the bead over the edge of the rim.
I'd pay extra money for inner tubes with valves that aren't made from cheese. I've had valve heads break on several occasions, and I expect we've all had inner tubes where the valve separates from the tube body.
I used Conti Supersonics. Got 2x punctures on the first two ride compared to one or two punctures for an entire year on normal butyl tubes.
Spent £20 on them then quickly filed them in the bin.
I'd avoid the lifeline like the plague, they seem to explode for a pastime.
One brand I have found really good - are Halfords basic "5 for a tenner" tubes - really good, last for years, I think they are actually Kendas.
Love latex tubes! No big deal having to inflate them before a ride. No more of a hassle than putting water in your bottles! It actually makes me more aware of my wheels and I find I tend to quickly roll the wheel over and check out the tread, any cuts, any bits of glass or gravel... lost count of the number of times I've found and flicked out a bit of glass before it's had more time to make it's way through to the tube and cause a punture. Be One with your Wheels, Luke!
I've been using the AirComp - considerable difference over standard tubes but is a bit annoying pumping them up for every ride!
+1 for the Conti Supersonics - awesome tubes.
Before tubeless, I ran them for a couple of years without issue, I can't think of one puncture incident, but there MUST have been one....
(FYI I'm 75kg and I'd have ridden them at them at 95PSI+)
However biggest hassle is fitting them, as being thin walled they get caught on tyre levers moreso and you'll get pinch flats before you actually getting onto the road.
I've got some puncture proof jobbies in the winter bike. They're not puncture proof, but the air evacuates slowly enough that I'll be able to get home and change/repair in the warmth of the kitchen rather than on the side of a cold, wet and windy road. Perfect for the commuter bike too.... available in all sizes.
Does it matter much what size Latex inner tube you use? ie the Vittoria inner tubes are 19-23c, 19-24c and 25-28c all for 700 sized wheels. I have 25 Contis on HED C2 rims.
How often should you swap the innertube? I'm using latex tubes and have been told to change them once a year at least because they could "explode"… (though I've never had a puncture or any kind of bouum!)
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