Tubeless tires are the new go-to for fast-rolling high-performance fun on the bike.
We’re going to give you the lowdown on what you need to know about the new tubeless trend, including what are the benefits to this tire technology, how to use it, and some considerations.
Firstly, what is a tubeless tire?
Tires fall into two main types, tubular and clincher.
Tubular tires have an inner tube that is stitched into the tire, and the tire is then glued onto the rim of the wheel. These offer an amazing ride quality; however, they are extremely difficult to install, and flat tires are all-but impossible to fix.
Clincher tires are the most common type in use. These tires are a semi-circular shape and contain a removable inner tube inside. Air pressure in the inner tube pushes the beads of the tire onto the rim of the wheel. While this is a heavier set-up than the tubular option, it is easy to install and repair.
There is also a sub-category of clincher – the tubeless clincher. In this case, the shape of the tire is the same, and it is held onto the rim of the wheel with air pressure, but there is no inner tube inside. In the absence of an inner tube, air is held inside the tire by liquid sealant
What are the benefits of tubeless?
The main benefit of tubeless tires is their ability to resist punctures, and that is why they’ve been widely used in the mountain bike and cyclocross worlds for so long.
The sealant inside a tubeless set-up acts as a bung that seals any small holes made in a tire due to a stone or thorn, meaning you don’t lose air and get a flat tire like you would do in a traditional clincher with a tube. Sealant contains flakes of material that clog up any holes in the rubber of your tire and prevent loss of pressure.
However, that’s not to say a tubeless set-up is totally puncture-proof – a large hole or gash in a tire is unlikely to be sealed by sealant as the particles within it are too small to create a bung.
The good news however is that you can also use a traditional tube inside the tire if you need to solve a puncture problem. Or even better than that, we stock tubeless repair kits to give you a fast fix without messing about with a tube (more on that below!).
Greater comfort from running low tire pressures.
One of the central reasons why a clincher tire with a tube needs to be run at reasonably high air pressure is to prevent pinch-flats. A pinch-flat is caused when a stone or pothole causes the tire to compress so much that it pinches the tube and punctures it.
With a tubeless set-up, there is no inner tube to pinch and so you can go as low as around 50psi on a road tire or 10psi on a mountain bike tire.
But why would you want to run lower pressure? Firstly, it’s a lot more comfortable, as you won’t be bouncing off every little stone you ride over, but secondly and more importantly, it offers far greater grip, even in the wet, due to the increased contact area of the tire on the road or trail.
By running a lower pressure inside a tire, you minimise bumping and bouncing on the road surface, and by giving yourself a smoother ride, you get a faster ride too.
As well as this, believe it or not, an inner tube inside a traditional clincher set-up makes it slower. The added friction of running a tube inside a tire adds friction and so increases rolling resistance – which slows you down. With no tube inside, that friction has gone, giving you the most marginal of gains.
How to install tubeless tires
Installing tubeless tires is a little trickier than doing so with a standard clincher, but it’s still easy enough to do at home.
- Install a tubeless-specific valve into the wheel’s rim.
- Seat the tire on the rim of the wheel as you would any other clincher tire – be warned, it may be a little tighter than what you’re used to.
- Remove the core of the valve and pour sealant inside.
- You now need to pressurise the tire to get the beads of the tire onto the rim and allow the sealant to ‘stick’ the two together. You need a maximal burst of air to force the connection together. You can do this with a regular track pump, CO2 inflator, or you may need an air compressor.
- Leave the tires for at least an hour. During this time, the sealant ‘glues’ the tire and rim together.
- As tires seal, it’s likely they will lose pressure, so inflate them again with a pump or air compressor – do not use a CO2 inflator this time as the gas is more likely to leak out of the set-up than normal air.
- Ride off and have an awesome time!
Rims / Wheels
If you have a ‘standard’ set of wheels they may not be instantly ready for a tubeless set-up, and will require some converting. Many wheels that are currently under production are tubeless-ready however.
To convert a set of ‘standard’ wheels to be ready for tubeless, you just need to use rim tape to cover the spoke holes in the rim. If these aren’t covered, the sealant will escape through them and it will all go wrong! We recommend you use two layers of tubeless-specific rim tape for this to totally minimise the risk of leakage.
Co2 and Bike Pump
The great news is, most CO2 inflators and pumps are compatible with tubeless set-ups. The CO2 inflator is a great way to perform the initial pressurisation of the tire (step 4 above) as you can get a high pressure, fast. This fast burst is the best way to pop the tire onto the rim and get the sealant working.
If you do get a puncture as a result of the sealant not working, you can use our Tubeless Repair Kit to plug the hole. The kit essentially comprises of a rubberised piece of rope and a needle, and you simply use the thin needle to ram the rope in the hole and create a plug.