Going Tubeless: What You Need To Know- Why Tubeless?

The tubeless tire discussion really can not begin until we cover the “why” of the tubeless tire choice for cycling. While it may seem obvious to some, this may enlighten a few first timers and there may be a few surprises along the way.

First of all, the cyclists worst enemy is a flat tire. Nothing ruins a rides flow like a flat tire. Tubeless tires can puncture, rip, and leak, of course- so does a tubeless tire help in regards to the flat tire problem? Is it worth setting up your tires tubeless for this reason?

The short answer? Yes! Tubeless tires, while vulnerable to flatting, are far less likely to flat, and if you use sealant in them, they are even less likely to lose all the air in your tires. Here is why: A tube in a conventional tire is not part of the tire casing, obviously. Because of this, the tire casing can pinch the tube between it and your rim edge, or “bead”. This can happen when you strike an object hard enough that the force applied overcomes the pressure in the tube to withstand that force, allowing the tire carcass to pinch the tube against the rim. This is commonly referred to as a “snake bite” due to the usual pattern of two punctures on each rim bead directly across from each other which reminded someone of a snake’s bite, thus the name.

november08testing 049Geax Saguaro TNT tires: Tires that can be tubeless or tubed!

A tubeless tire has no tube, so nothing to pinch against the rim means no pinch flats……usually! One still can pinch the sidewall against the rim beads, but this is very unusual.

But what about punctures? Well, this is where sealant comes in. Sealant- some substance that seals punctures and seals up non-UST tire carcasses so they can be air tight, is a product that comes in many forms. Usually some form of latex sealant is most popular, however glycol based sealants are also somewhat popular for cycling. At any rate, the sealant seals up punctures, small tears, and holes….sometimes…and allows you to finish out the ride.

So, sealant combined with a tubeless tire greatly reduces the chances for flat tires. This is perhaps the single most popular reason for average mountain bikers to run tubeless tires, but there are other benefits.

Tubeless tires, since they do not pinch flat very easily, can be run at slightly lower pressures, enhancing traction. Also, since there is no tube to cause rolling resistance, this makes lower pressures even more attractive. A tubeless tire run at a slightly lower pressure than a tubed tire can get better grip, ride smoother, and have similar or less rolling resistance than the tubed tire. Reduce the pressure on the tubed tire to match and generally you will increase the likely hood of a pinch flat and greatly increase the rolling resistance.

Weight was an early reasoning for going tubeless, but this is not necessarily the number one priority of off road cyclists. Tubed tires, if the tire is a very lightweight folding type, can weigh less by far than a similar model that is tubeless. The extra butyl rubber necessary to make the casing air tight is the culprit. Now days though, there are a vast number of cyclists who convert standard tires to tubeless use by way of sealant. This has met with varying degrees of success and should be approached with caution. We’ll cover a few of the techniques used to do this in a later post. At any rate, tubed tire to tubeless tire weights are very similar these days, especially with conversions to tubeless type set ups.

To recap- Tubeless tires are a great way to avoid flat tires, get better performance characteristics, and may save some weight over a standard tube and tire set up. Now that you know why, we’ll delve in to the “how” of tubeless tires next time. Stay tuned!


No Responses to “Going Tubeless: What You Need To Know- Why Tubeless?”

  1. Willie Says:

    GT-Wouldn’t the decreased rolling resistance benefit also apply to road and cyclocross tires?
    I know of road and cyclocross sew-up tires. I have not heard of road or cyclocross tubeless.
    Why? Good work as always…..

  2. Guitar Ted Says:

    Willie: Yes, there are road and cyclo-cross tubeless systems out. Hutchinson does road tubeless tires with UST beads and they work with Shimano, Fulcrum, and other UST compatible road pre-built wheels. This is an expanding category. Interestingly, I hear that the performance is great with riders using sub 100 psi pressures with no rolling resistance penalty. Cyclo-cross tubeless tires are already being produced by Hutchinson and Stan’s NoTubes.

  3. MG Says:

    Willie, You’re right on with the tubeless thing on ‘cross tires. I can’t speak to road tires, but I finished TransIowa earlier this year on a converted ‘cross tire on the front of my bike. I was running getto-converted Continentals. The front Speed King worked perfectly, and continues to work perfectly today. The Double Fighter 2 that I was running on the rear was a bit too thin over the tread area, and it developed scary humps in the casing as the tread wore thin (very quickly I might add, due to the abrasive Iowa gravel roads)… Not good. I had to pull it mid-race and pilfer a fellow racer’s tire (who was dropping out of the race) to finish the race myself. But I digress…

    The Hutchinson tubeless tires work good, but the rubber wears very quickly… Not good on gravel. I can’t speak to the durability of the Stan’s offering… no direct experience.

    Oh, BTW… I haven’t had a single puncture that my sealant hasn’t been able to seal up yet this season (knocking on wood). That includes a nasty rock-induced center tread pinch/casing cut on Porcupine Rim, which actually sealed with a little work and patience. It used all the sealant, but I was able to ride it out after pumping it back up. Incredible…

    Sealant mixture was 2 Tbsp Mold Builder liquid latex mixed with 3oz Ace Hardware store brand windshield washer solution. That’s MG brand getto solution. Don’t use it on non-coated aluminum products. It’ll eat ’em over time… You’ve been warned. Anodized stuff is good to go.


  4. MG Says:

    BTW… was just reading my post above wanted to clarify… I was on my Big Mama during my Porcupine Rim experience… not my ‘cross bike. The tire was an ExiWolf, and it’s still in use today as a tubeless tire.

  5. Steve-O Says:

    First went tubeless back in 2000/01 (can’t remember exactly when I got the Klein), Klein Adept Pro that came with Rolf Propel Tubeless wheels. Decided well I got the rimstrips I just need some tires, went and got some Michelin Jet S tubeless tires and LOVED the feel. Had my best finish in my second year as an expert in the first race of the year. However in the early pre-sealant days with UST tires you had to patch the tire and that was a pain in the you know. Went to Stans the year after and ran no tubes for like 6-7 more years with great success. My only warning to wannabe tubeless converts is be careful of your tire/rim choice if you are over 190 lbs. Bigger dudes and low pressures can peel tires pretty easy at race speeds. When I went to 29 I had more issues with this than I ever had on 26. Either run a tubeless rim (Stan’s which I will never run again, or some other tubeless rim) or get a tire with a tubeless ready bead. Smaller peeps should not have as many issues.

    PROS: Almost no flats ( cut sidewalls will ruin you day no matter tubes or no-tubes ) LOW pressures which aid in traction, bump absorption, slight weight reduction and less (supposed) rolling resistance.

    CONS: Messy at times until you know what you are doing. Fewer tire choices (for now) Tire companies not using there best tech on 29er tires (for now), Bigger contact patch in 29 equals bigger chance to rip a standard tire converted to tubeless off the rim.

  6. Rob from Ottawa Says:

    Does anyone else feel bad about the possibility of spraying sealant all of the trail? :/ I don’t know if I’ll ever go tubeless, I don’t want to leave a streak of that stuff on the trail.

  7. CheifRock Says:

    Why is the puncture resistance the first argument always made for going tubeless? I ride tubeless now that the proper rim strips came back into stock for my Bonty Rhythm Elites, and use Bonty XDX tires, and I rode them tubed before that with Stan’s in the tubes and never flatted, so the argument is moot. The ride quality on the other hand is vastly improved, the traction and cushioning of a tubeless tire for me is a much larger why and the first thing I always bring up.

  8. JeroenK Says:

    @CheifRock, that might not be an argument for you, but generally, GT is spot on. I think he describes what tubeless does for the tradeoff between traction, comfort, rolling resistance and puncture risistance really well.

    Sure, some riders never flatten in the first place, because they put a lot of air in big, knobby tires, because they ride in places without roots or rocks, because they ride very clean lines, because they use DH inner tubes, you name it…

    Tubeless allows me to ride my skinny XR1’s at pressures that result in reasonable to good comfort and traction levels. Without it I would be running unreasonable risk of puncturing, or I would have to put in so much air, they would be unrideable for me.

  9. CheifRock Says:

    @JeroenK: Sure flats can be avoided, thats not what I’m saying. I ride tires at 28-32psi in Northern Colorado where there are many a rocky trails and hellish thorns and cacti that will ruin a ride, I’m not a careful rider, maybe I’m just lucky.

    The biggest advantage of a tubeless tire is allowing you to actually take advantage of the casing of the tire, this is why a road tubular rides better than a clincher, and why an auto bias tire rides differently than a radial tire. By removing the tube you allow the tire to flex and move in ways that it couldn’t before, which is where the better traction, cushioning and lower rolling resistance come from. Riding any tire tubed and then tubeless at the same psi will show a night and day difference, especially over rooted and rocky terrain.

    The sealant that is needed to make non-tubeless tires or TNT/tubeless ready tire air tight is just an awesome by product of going tubeless.

  10. UnitedWeRide Says:

    My expierience this far with tubeless is limited. I do know that my 2.4 MK on my Stans Flow w/ Cafe Latex mounted flawlessly but that darn 2.2 TNT Saguaro I couldnt mount to save my life, or some tire levers, or my Stan’s Tape. Any tips to mount a tight beaded tire without tearing up the Stans tape??

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