If it isn't broken, don't fix it, right? That might ring true for pro peloton cyclists. But for us weekend cyclists, we always want more, from innovative disc brakes and bicycle casings to tubeless bicycle tires. Should you switch to tubeless bicycle tires? That's the big Q. Why doesn't Chris Froome use tubeless tires, and why do we recommend them to you? We have put up an explainer article to answer all your questions. We'll help you determine whether you should switch to tubeless tires.
What Are Tubeless Bicycle Tires?
Tubeless bicycle tires, as the name suggests, have no tube. The tires have been a mainstay for cars, and the shift has come to the bike world, predominantly a favorite for elite gravel racers. A tubeless bicycle tire has beads and rims that form interlocking profiles. A sealant is paramount for the tire to be impermeable to air. A tubeless bicycle tire enables you to run on low pressure and still get a comfortable ride with a low risk of tire flats development. However, tubeless tires are not very popular among pro racers like the clincher tube tires are. Pro cycling is a weight-dependent sport, and most tubular tires are lighter than the tubeless ones. But the setup for a tubular bicycle tire is much more demanding.
Pros of Tubeless Tires
Reduced Flat Risk
Imagine cycling for 20,000 miles without having to patch a tube. Tubeless bicycle tires have a sealant that quickly seals off any pinch or snake bite as you cycle. The white fluid seals off the punctured area, and you can continue on your ride. Tubed tires crumble after hitting a rock, glass, or thorn, or if the impact is significant enough to hit the rim and tear the tire. Tubeless bicycle tires enjoy immunity since they perform just fine under low pressure. But they are not invincible to flat pinches all the time. If you bottom out your rim on the tire, you may want to carry a tube and a patch kit, especially for gravel cycling.
A weekend cycler's number one friend is comfort. When riding into the sunset, you do not want the impact of stones transferring from the tires to your derriere. Tubeless bicycle tires can be run at lower pressure. That means the tire tread has more contact with the ground and improves traction, particularly useful in navigating corners and climbing. Ideally, you would want a fat bike and a tubeless tire for cycling on soft, slippery surfaces. In addition, you also get a tire that isn't prone to flatting—no more carrying additional luggage in the name of tube patch-up kits. More comfort for you.
A tubed or tubeless bicycle tire can almost exclusively determine the rush of the wind in your hair. Tubeless tires have less rolling resistance, which translates to straight-line speed. Tubeless bicycle tires generally have faster speeds than their tubular counterparts. Although the apples-to-apples comparison is not so clear cut as other factors such as the cycler's technique determine the overall momentum. The reduced rolling may be why pro athletes and tire manufacturing juggernauts such as Michelin have entered the fray. The benefits of tubeless bicycle tires are more pronounced on gravel and mountain cycling but nuanced on standard road cycling.
Cons of Tubeless Tires
You didn't think it would be all beer and Skittles for tubeless bicycle tires, did you? For the extra comfort you get from tubeless tires, You have to spend some time setting them up. You must consider the wheel compatibility with the tubeless tires even if you purchase a tubeless-ready setup. Messing with the sealant is no fun as it can gash and spray on your clothes and is extremely hard to clean. Overall, the setup isn't as complicated if you know how to do it the easy and fun way.
Limited Wheelsets Options
The downside to tubeless bicycle tires is there aren't many options for compatible wheelsets. It is possible to port a tubeless bicycle tire with a standard clincher tire setup, but it won't serve you for long. The challenge to the wheelset incompatibility is Maverick's UST standard that works with UST-conforming tires. Other tires have to be custom cut to suit your tubeless needs. The UST tires are heavy, which gives a bad rep to the lighter tubeless tires. Recent developments by Schwalbe and Michelin are geared toward producing tires compatible with clincher tire setups that are an ideal avenue if you want to upgrade.
Tubeless bicycle tires are more costly than tubular ones. A tire costs more, and you also have to buy the sealant and probably a tubeless compatible wheelset. Reputable bicycle tire brands are cost-cutting by producing tubeless-ready tires with valves and adhesives at an all-in-one cost. Despite the high upfront cost, you get value for your money. You get a comfortable and faster riding experience. Purchase two or more tires if you need them (and you will). Also, you may have to change your sealant every five months or if it dries up. Sealants are not costly.
They Are Not Puncture-Proof
Yes, you have reduced the risk of pinch flats. But significant damage to the tire's sidewall will necessitate a replacement. Generally, a cut or damage large enough to puncture a tubular tire will damage your tubeless tire too. You may need to carry a spare and sealant if you plan to attempt a Tour de France mileage race. Carry two just in case the odds aren't in your favor, and you suffer a double tire puncture.
There is no doubt tubeless bicycle tires have made massive inroads into the bicycle tire industry. Michelin has released tubeless versions of the Power Series; Continental has tubeless versions of the Grand Prix 5000 and other Universal System Tubeless (UST) manufacturers have their brands. Tubeless systems are the go-to option for amateur cyclists who enjoy low-pressure zones. Should you switch to tubeless bicycle tires? For mountain cycling, an unequivocal yes. For a weekend cycler, absolutely. For gravel cycling, yes, if you want to really go off-road. Hopefully, you can purchase a tubeless bicycle tire and ride away into the sunset without worrying about snake bites.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson