The argument for running tubeless tyres over a traditional inner tube set up has been raging for years, with tubeless slowly gaining the upper hand, first in mountain bikes and now road. But which is right for you? For the uninitiated, ‘tubeless’ means that instead of an inner tube, the tyre itself is sealed to hold air and is filled with sealant to prevent punctures (you’ll need tubeless ready wheels and tyres – more on this later.) Let’s look at the pros and cons of going tubeless.
First, The Benefits!
Perhaps the biggest single advantage of tubeless tyres is their ability to seal punctures automatically. The absence of an inner tube means there is no risk of pinch flats or punctures caused by objects penetrating the tube. The sealant inside the tyre quickly seals small punctures, allowing you to keep riding without interruption, most of the time you won’t even notice this happening.
Tubeless tyres generally have lower rolling resistance compared to traditional tyres with tubes because there is no friction between the tube and inside of the tyre. You can also run much lower pressures without risking pinch flats on tubeless – resulting in lower rolling resistance on rough ground and a faster, more efficient bike.
Other benefits of this ability to run tubeless tyres at lower pressures are improved traction (due to a larger contact patch) and increased comfort, especially on rough terrain. This translates to a smoother ride and greater control over your bike.
For the same reason tubeless shines in wet conditions. Running lower tyre pressures allows the tyre to better conform to the ground, providing increased grip and stability. This can be a game-changer in wet and slippery conditions, giving the rider more confidence to ride harder and faster.
What About Drawbacks?
Setting up tubeless tyres is generally more challenging and time-consuming than installing traditional tyres with inner tubes. It requires the right type of rim and tyre combo, the careful installation of specific rim tape and a tubeless valve, then finally the addition of a quality sealant. It can go like a dream, but equally it can be a frustrating and messy experience.
Consider that getting tubeless tyres to seat correctly on the rim during initial setup may require an air compressor or a tubeless-specific track pump. For this reason, repairing a puncture out on the trail or road can be challenging. Whilst sealant will instantly fix small holes, it can’t always cope with larger holes or tears. Give yourself a fighting chance by always carrying a tubeless plug kit, a tyre boot and a spare inner tube.
To add complexity, some tyres may not be compatible with certain rims, meaning they are either impossible to get on or just won’t seal airtight. Before buying your desired tyre, do some research to see how others have fared when fitting them to your brand of wheels. This could be deal-breaker if you only want to use your favourite tyre and nothing else.
There is also ongoing maintenance. Sealant needs to be periodically checked and replenished, which can be a messy process. If you don't ride your bike frequently, your sealant can dry out, reducing its effectiveness in plugging holes. Regular checks are necessary to ensure sufficient sealant level so your set-up remains air tight and you have correct air pressure.
Finally, if you are thinking of going tubeless, weigh up the cost. Tubeless-ready tyres may cost a few pounds more than their tubed equivalent, but if your bike came with tubeless ready wheels, then investing in suitable tyres and a tubeless kit won’t cost you a fortune. However, if your route to tubeless involves upgrading your wheels as well then think carefully if it’s the right one for you.
As with all bike upgrades, it’s important to weigh up advantages vs disadvantages first and in the context of the type of riding you do, how often, your riding style and the terrain you ride on. Only then can you assess whether the improved puncture resistance, enhanced ride quality and greater traction a tubeless set up offers will offset any installation, compatibility and cost concerns you may have. Done right, going tubeless can be a great performance upgrade.
Want to go tubeless but not sure how? Let Bike Hero take the hassle out of set up – book your bike in for an upgrade today. We always have a great range of tubeless tyres in stock.