Cars all have tubeless tyres, and now it’s becoming more and more popular for bikes, we are even seeing them now as standard on some bikes from new. Road tubeless was first brought to market by Mavic and Michelin in 2004, but it didn’t take on. It wasn’t until 2006 when Hutchinson and Shimano brought it to market it started to catch on. So what exactly is tubeless, and what are the pros and cons of going tubeless?
What are tubeless tyres?
A tubeless tyre is exactly what it sounds like, there is no innertube present at all. The tyre seals against the rim and creates an airtight chamber. The tyre is specifically tubeless and is developed with a special (generally carbon) bead that locks into a compatible rim forming the airtight seal that then maintains the pressure.
What are the advantages of going tubeless?
The main and largest advantage of going tubeless is the reduced risk of punctures. There is a special liquid sealant that stays inside the tyre, this moves around and reacts with the air caused by an object piercing the tyre and seals the hole. It can seal all small holes caused by thorns and small shards of glass or stone, a small amount of pressure may be lost, but generally is negligible and won’t stop you from continuing on the ride.
A tubeless tyre can also be run at lower pressures, with no innertube to get caught you can’t get a pinch puncture. Lower pressure means more comfort and more grip, most tubeless tyres are run at around 10-20 PSI lower than a normal clincher equivalent with no degradation to performance. As tyres are getting wider and wider it does make sense to be able to run at lower pressures safely.
There is also an argument that tubeless is faster, as there is no tube within the tyre, there aren’t two layers of material pressing against each other, making the tyre able to deform easier, reducing the rolling resistance.
What are the disadvantages?
Expense; tubeless systems are more expensive than their normal clincher counterparts. Tubeless tyres and wheels cost more than standard and fitting them is also a messy process, one that you may need a bike shop to do for you, as it’s not as easy as just fitting a new innertube.
Tubeless tyres won’t stop every single puncture, large holes or splits in the tyre won’t seal and you’ll need to then fit a tube, meaning you still need to carry a tube or two with you on every cycle.
How do I go tubeless?
There are a couple of ways to do this, you could buy the tubeless wheels, tyres, sealant and fit them. You could also do a conversion, there are a few companies that make special kits to convert your existing wheels to tubeless. You get a special rim tape, valve and sealant in the kit, you will however still need to get specific tubeless tyres.
Once you have decided which way you want to go with it, full system or conversion, you now need to get it all setup. Make sure the rim tape is sealing all the spoke holes and the valve is properly in place, next start to seat the tyre until you have the tyre nearly all the way on. At this point you will now need to add the sealant, correctly measure the amount needed for your tyre size and pour it in. Finish seating your tyre and now you will need to inflate it. To properly inflate the tyre it needs to seal onto the rim, so a blast of air is required. In most shops this is done with an air compressor, however if you are doing it at home you can get special pump heads and air cartridges, that once pierced will fill the tyre fast enough to hopefully seal the tyre, alternatively there are special pumps with air cylinders attached, you pressurise the cylinder and then release it all in one go into the tyre.
It is not uncommon for the tyre to lose pressure overnight and it could need pumping up again, spinning the wheel to ensure the sealant is well distributed and forming seals at any porous point of the tyre.
Should I go tubeless?
Ultimately this is your decision based on the pros and cons, it will also depend on where you ride and the type of punctures you regularly are getting. If its all small holes from thorns etc then going \\tubeless makes perfect sense. However if you are constantly slicing the tyre then you are possibly better staying with the tubed system as large slices will not seal again.