Tubeless tyres seem to be gaining popularity with cyclists. While clinchers are still the dominant force in tyres and tubulars are still favoured by pros with service cars, the upstart tubeless tyre is taking ground steadily. So what are tubeless tyres and should you bother with them?
As the name suggests, tubeless tyres don’t use an inner tube. Neither are they glued onto the rim like a tubular. Instead, they work like a car or motorcycle tyre. They are built like a clincher but with a hardier bead that can effectively hold it onto the rim of the wheel without losing air.
To make them work, you will need tubeless compatible wheels too as the rim profile is slightly different. Unlike clinchers which are a basic u-shape, tubeless wheels have a lip that holds the tyre in place under pressure. There will also usually be a second inner rim to keep spokes separate from the tyre to help maintain an airtight seal.
Tubeless wheels also needs to be constructed so it can remain airtight during use. More and more manufacturers offer tubeless options for their best-selling models.
What are the benefits of tubeless tyres?
Those who use them regularly say tubeless tyres are faster, more comfortable, grippier and offer much higher puncture protection. I have ridden a bike with them a couple of times and must say I couldn’t really tell the difference. It was more the kind of difference you experience when you change tyre brands rather than anything else.
However, proponents of tubeless tyres say they are faster because there is no friction between tyre and inner tube. This lack of inner tube also negates the risk of pinch flats. This has the added bonus of enabling you to run lower pressures safely, which can make a ride more comfortable. Although lower pressure and higher speed usually don’t mix.
So why doesn’t everyone use them?
Tubeless tyres have been around for years on mountain bikes. I used to ride them on my Commencal Meta 5. Even back then, tubeless wheels and tyre options were plentiful. That isn’t yet the case for road cycling. Currently, only a few tyre manufacturers produce tyres, those like Panracer and Schwalbe. So choice is limited.
Tubeless compatible wheels are growing in number too so it won’t be all that long until you can buy something suitable off the shelf or have a wheel built that will work tubeless.
Then there is the problem of fitting and maintaining tubeless tyres. You will need a tubeless compatible wheel, tyre and sealant to run inside. You will need to fit the tyre, make the seal and keep everything tight in order to maintain pressure. Fitting a tyre can be tricky, often needing a shock of air or CO2 to make the seal. Track pumps have been known to not work in creating this seal, which would cause problems for those of us who use them.
So at the end of the day, are tubeless tyres worth trying or not?
In my humble opinion, if you’re planning to invest in a new set of wheels and they come tubeless compatible, then yes. A set of tubeless tyres don’t cost much and a bottle of sealant costs even less. Otherwise, the investment required to buy new wheels, tyres and that sealant is too much for what is as far as I can tell a perceived improvement in the ride rather than a more tangible one.