Road cycling has changed greatly in the past decade. We have the majority of bikes now using disc brakes with wider wheels and tires, and we are seeing bikes get lighter and even more aerodynamic than ever before. One thing that has taken the road bike world by storm is tubeless tires, and in this article, we're going to tell you what it is and break down the advantages and disadvantages of this new technology.
In bringing together the real science around tubeless wheels we have taken a great deal of information from Bicycle Rolling Resistance. If you want to get comprehensive data around your tire choices and set up, this website is invaluable. A pro membership, which gives you access to more comprehensive data is only a few $$ and the information is priceless!
Note we are talking about hooked tubeless here, we do not believe the very low pressures required for road hookless (to stop the tire blowing off the rim!) are of any benefit to road riding.
What is a Tubeless Setup?
Like many other things, such as disc brakes, tubeless technology has been passed down from mountain biking. Tubeless is a system where you have sealant instead of an inner tube filling your tire. This sealant allows your tires to self-heal while riding and also means you can run lower pressures without the risk of pinch flats.
As a carbon wheel company, a question we get asked often is what are the advantages and disadvantages of running tubeless. In this article, we're going to tell you everything you need to know so when it comes to riding your road bike you can pick the right system for you.
What are the Pros of Tubeless TiresTubeless has a lot of advantages, and if you're considering them, here are the advantages you can expect to get.
Lower PressuresA tubeless tire can run at a much lower pressure than a typical tire with an inner tube. This can improve the traction on the road and off-road without the risk of getting pinch flats. Running lower pressures can also increase the comfort while riding your bike because it's much better at absorbing bumps and rough roads. (But, see note on performance below)
Self HealingOne of the best things about tubeless is the tires have the ability to self-heal when you get a puncture. Providing that the damage isn't too bad to the tire, you can continue rolling, and the sealant will block the hole. Then you can either carry on with a slightly lower pressure or stop and pump your tire pressure up.
Easy to RepairLet's say you have a puncture and the sealant isn't able to fix it. Instead of having to change a tube, you can use what they call a tubeless plug. This is a small device with small strips of rubber which you push into the tire to help it seal. After plugging, you pump it back up, and it should be ready to go. If the hole is too big and you can't plug it, you can still throw a tube in.
LighterWhen you take into account the weight of a carbon wheelset, you don't often think about the tires and the tubes. You can't ride without tires, but you can ride without tubes. The average weight of a road bike inner tube is roughly 120g, and the sealant is roughly around 30g. This saves you roughly 90g per wheel, so 180g in total on your wheels which is incredible weight saving.
Less Rolling Resistance
Another incredible feature of a tubeless system is that you get much less rolling resistance. When you use inner tubes, you get friction between the inner tube and the tire's casing, creating rolling resistance. You don't get this when using a tubeless system, so you eliminate a decent amount of rolling resistance, making you faster.
What are the Cons of Tubeless TiresAlthough on the surface, tubeless might seem like the best idea ever, there are some things we would recommend thinking about before going out and buying all the parts you might need. These are the disadvantages of tubeless tires.
PriceTubeless setups save you money on replacing inner tubes, but they are not cheap to set up. The first thing you will need to consider is whether your wheels are tubeless-ready. If not, you will need a conversion kit. Secondly, are your tires tubeless compatible? If not, you will need to invest in some, which are typically more expensive than a regular tire. Then there are other things to worry about, such as tubeless valves. You will also need sealant, which needs replacing if it runs out or dries up.
Set upUsing inner tubes is a very simple process, and setting up a set of wheels doesn't take long. When it comes to tubeless tires, they are a little more complicated to get going. Firstly you will need a boost pump with a chamber for most tubeless tires. Then you will need to seat the tire, insert the fluid through the tubeless valve and ensure that air is not leaking. Even after all this, they might still lose air and will need a good ride to seal completely.
It can get messy
When you have tubeless tires and get a puncture, it doesn't always seal. Although incredible technology, the system can't take huge gashes in tires. In this scenario, you will need to put a tube inside wherever you may be. This is quite a messy job, and when you get sealant all over yourself and your hands, it starts to dry and gets sticky. Note also if you travel by plane and have to deflate your tires things can get very messy, very quickly and re inflation can be a problem at the other end.
How much does it cost to go tubeless?
Going tubeless, as mentioned before, isn't the cheapest system to use, but it does come with many benefits. A question we are often asked is how much does it cost to go tubeless? Here's our breakdown for going tubeless if you already have tubeless compatible wheels or tubeless rim tapes already installed.
- Tires $160
- Tubeless Valves $20
- Tubeless Sealant $20
- Plug Kit $15
- Boost Pump (Optional) $100
Is Tubeless Faster?
If you're going to invest in a tubeless conversion, is it going to make you faster? Well, most people say it does feel quicker. Statistically, it should be because you have slightly lighter wheels with less rolling resistance. There's a lot to take other factors that come into it, but generally, compared to a typical clincher with an inner tube system, yes, it should be. But this comes with one huge caveat. We are going to go against popular opinion here and tell you that lower pressures, that tubeless allows to use ARE NOT NECESSARILY FASTER. What we have said above is valid assuming you are running the same pressures, e.g. around 80- 90psi in a 25-28mm tire. Referencing the website listed above, dropping from 100psi to 60 psi on the same tire increases rolling resistance 20-25% on a smooth road surface.
Running a tubeless system is a good way to go. It's going to make your bike lighter, save you from punctures, and it's very easy to fix if you have any issues. It does cost more, but we do see it as an upgrade to a traditional inner tube system. Do we recommend it? Yes, on balance we do, but have a tube around just in case!
It is vital that you have the right carbon wheels for your riding style. With so much hype out in the market it can hard to know which wheels are right for you. At Wheelscience we are riders too, so we want to make sure you have the right tools for the job. You can be a crit racer, a climber, a cruiser, a triathlete, a downhill specialist or an all-mountain adventurer. Whatever you are, we can help you pick the right tools for the job. We have compiled a questionnaire to help you make the right choices with your wheels. Interested? Fill out the below form.
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