To tubeless or not to tubeless!?
In this weeks tech post we plan on discussing Tubeless tyres/wheels, their Pros and Cons (yes there are some).
In the cycling world tubeless systems gained notoriety in Mountain biking. The benefits are clearly evident, due to the frequency of punctures received when riding trails, but more of that later on. The basic principle of tubeless for those of you who haven't seen such a system, is as follows. There is no requirement for an inner tube, and your puncture protection is provided by a fluid that is poured/injected into the tyre cavity. If you get a puncture, the hole in the tyre is sealed by the fluid with minimal air loss. This processes happens often without you even knowing about it. Great right! But before you all go out and start ripping inner tubes out your wheels, all your components need to be tubeless compatible/ready* . Why you ask? Standard wheels and tyres have not been designed to create an airtight seal, which is required to run tubeless. Tubeless read tyres have a beefed up tyre bead that help create this seal, in addition, the wheel rims are designed differently to accommodate this bead and some wheel designs have got rid of spoke holes in the rim (see picture). This means air finds it really hard to escape...a big tick for running tubeless.
Due to its success in the MTB world, tubeless began to sneak into the road bike world. For a number of years some of the larger tyre companies (continental) resisted this development, as there was seen as minimal need for it. Punctures on a road bike are often few and far between, and the conversion of standard wheel/tyres to tubeless is nearly impossible due to the high pressures. This means you have to buy dedicated components to run tubeless.
The industry has tried to convince consumers that running tubeless, reduces rolling resistance, allows for lower tyre pressures without performance loss. This is true to a point, however, these are really small marginal gains and some of the cons need to be discussed in order for people to form a balanced view.
Self sealing puncture protection.
Can run lower pressures without fear of snake bite punctures.
Some find the ride smoother (usually a mechanism of tyre pressure and wheel design).
Cons: (mainly aimed at road bike systems - reason? Higher pressure required)
Fitting of tyre can be (technically) difficult and requires a tyre booster or compressor.
If you get a puncture that won't seal, you will still need to carry a spare tube on a ride and it can be very messy on the roadside.
Fluid needs topping up every 2/3 months
The clotting agent in this tyre had coagulated into a ball and meant the tyre had no puncture protection. The owner was non the wiser.
Equipment needed if you wanted to set up a tubeless system from scratch:
Tubeless ready tyre
Tubeless ready wheel
Tubeless rim tape
Tubeless tyre valve
Compressor or Tyre booster (possible with CO2 on some systems)
In summary, tubeless is a great once installed and if you are technically minded to maintain the system, I highly recommend it. If you are not super confident with changing tyres and being able to top up the fluids, it can a bridge to far for many, with regards to what you gain from it. There are other solutions, that give you the same level of protection without the fuss. On my Winter bike, I simply add tubeless fluid to my inner tubes. The only downside is a little extra weight, which does not bother me for my winter steed.
Many new bikes come ready installed with tubeless, which solves the issue of setup for many people. However, If you want to change a tyre at home, you will need to invest in some equipment to facilitate this. Hopefully, this blog post has highlighted areas for people to consider. Please contact us if you want any more information.
*(some MTB tyres can be converted)