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Almost £30 for an inner tube may seem extremely expensive, but the Tubolito Tubo CX/Gravel tubes are made from thermoplastic elastomer (TPU) and offer incredibly low weight with a claimed increase in strength and puncture resistance. Ride quality compared to a butyl tube is improved, although for off-road use on a gravel bike I'm not convinced they beat a good tubeless setup.
Designed for cyclo-cross or gravel riding, the tubes are compatible with a wide range of tyre widths, from 30mm to 47mm in both 650B and 700C wheel sizes. I tested them on a gravel bike with 700C wheels and 40mm tyres, a common wheel and tyre size.
They would also fit and suit road bikes with wider (30mm+) tyres (there are Road versions, too, for 18-28mm tyres). The Tubo CX/Gravel is suitable for use with both rim and disc brakes.
Weight is likely to be a major factor for choosing a Tubolito inner tube, in either this 'standard' version weighing in at 61g or the even lighter S-Tubo at 33g, which is only suitable for disc brake bikes (full review to come).
Typically, a butyl tube designed for 35-45mm tyres will weigh in the region of 120-170g, so with these Tubolitos you'd be making a saving of 50-110g. That's a far more cost-effective way of reducing weight than many other options. Butyl tubes aren't usually able to fit as wide a range of tyre sizes either.
Latex tubes offer some reduction in weight compared with butyl – Challenge Tires produces an inner tube designed for tyres up to 38mm that weighs a claimed 81g – but latex tubes suffer from poor air retention and will typically need to be inflated every day.
This CX/Gravel version is available in two valve lengths, 42mm and 60mm. The valve cores are glued in; should you need longer valves, Tubolito says valve extenders that screw on top are compatible.
Fitting and inflating is a little different to a butyl tube, as I found out to my peril when testing the Schwalbe Aerothan tubes. The thin material feels a little stickier, and the tube can be caught in the tyre and fail. This is something latex tubes can be prone to as well, so I'd advise taking extra care and time when fitting and, if possible, don't use tyre levers.
What does help with the Tubolito tubes is the bright orange colour, which helps you see very easily if the tube is caught under the bead when installing.
Once they were installed I chose to run the inner tubes at the same pressure as I would my tubeless tyres: 30-35psi for my weight of 65kg. This is for all riding on a gravel bike, on and off-road.
While testing I chose some tough, rocky routes and didn't hold back on the descents. On several occasions I could feel and hear that I had hit the rim, but despite this I didn't suffer any snakebite punctures. In total, I have tested them for just over 300km, but I did have one puncture.
That single puncture was on the inner circumference of the tube, and despite checking I was not able to find any imperfection on the rim that might have caused it, so the cause remains a mystery.
The puncture also started incredibly slowly, losing pressure overnight, but did gradually reach a point where I had to stop mid-ride to add air.
I patched the hole using the Tubolito patch kit (full review coming) and it has remained perfectly airtight. The only point to note is that the patch repair takes 30 minutes to dry fully, and I found it best done at home, not on the trail.
Ride quality is good compared to butyl tubes and on a par with latex tubes or a tubeless setup, feeling supple and not dulling the ride as thicker butyl tubes can.
Air retention is far superior to latex inner tubes, with no need to add air daily.
A major benefit of TPU inner tubes is that they are less likely than butyl tubes to have a catastrophic failure that results in sudden air loss; even in the event of a major puncture, which happened to me during testing of both the S-Tubo CX/Gravel version and the Schwalbe Aerothan inner tube, the air loss was slow enough that I was able to stop safely.
If you are absolutely set on inner tubes and do not want to move to tubeless, the Tubolito tubes give superior performance to butyl tubes, with low weight, low volume, and reasonable puncture resistance, although that comes at a high price.
For larger volume, 30mm+ road bike tyres where the risk of punctures is likely to be lower than riding off-road, the Tubolito tubes are an attractive option compared with butyl tubes, but for gravel bikes and riding off-road, the benefits compared with a good tubeless setup are less pronounced. Tubeless with sealant will be a little heavier but potentially more puncture resistant, while providing excellent ride quality.
Compared with butyl tubes, the Tubolito tubes are considerably more expensive but do offer a good ride feel, lower weight and reasonable puncture resistance. At £27.99 each, the cost will put many off, and for me a good tubeless setup will offer at least the same advantages and potentially even more. For die-hard inner tube fans, though, these are worth considering.
For inner tube fans these are an improvement on butyl, light with a good feel, but they are expensive
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Tubolito Tubo CX/Gravel
Size tested: 700x30-47mm, 60mm valve
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Tubolito says: 'All widths, all terrains: Tubo-CX/Gravel All is made for tires from 30mm to 47mm width and thus covering all tires commonly used in Cyclocross and Gravel Bikes. Besides 700c tires it is also ready for 650B wheels. Ready for disc brakes as well as rim brakes and offering double the toughness compared with standard rubber tubes it is the perfect all-rounder. Available with 42mm (60 grams) and 60mm (61 grams) Presta valves.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Designed for CX/Gravel tires with 30mm – 47mm width
Can be used in 700c and 650B tires
Compatible with rim- and disc brakes
Double strength of standard tubes
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's a lightweight tube that has stood up to some riding conditions I am convinced would have punctured normal butyl tubes. I did have one puncture, although very small and slow. Overall performance was better than I expected.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Very light and low volume. The strength and durability seem good.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Difficult to install, and in the event of a puncture the patches take 30 minutes to dry fully.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's similar to the Schwalbe Aerothan in terms of strength and improvements, but costs £3 more. You do get a wider range of sizes with the Tubolito versions, and the bright orange colour can also make installation easier.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, compared to a butyl tube, but I will go back to tubeless.
Would you consider buying the product? As a spare tube for an event perhaps.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, if they were set on using inner tubes.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Tubolito tubes certainly offer an improvement over butyl tubes. Care is needed to install them, and they are expensive, but the ride is good.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is: Cannondale SystemSix
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, sportives, mtb, Lots of gravel style riding