Tubeless Tires

A little more than a year ago I made a major shift in my road bike configuration. I switched from standard tires with tubes to tubeless.

I did this based on recommendations from my friends Steve, Larry, and a few others.

I also upgraded my gravel bike to tubeless at the beginning of the year.

This weekend, however, I switched the road bike back to regular tires with tubes.

There are many advantages to using tubeless tires …

  • Fewer punctures: When you are running tubeless tires you have to put liquid sealant in the tire to help prevent air escaping. The sealant will plug most small punctures before you even notice them.
  • Smoother ride: Since there is no tube, you can put less air pressure in the tire. This results in a much smoother ride. When using regular tubed tires, I would normally put 90-100 psi in the tires. With tubeless, I only put 80 psi in.
  • No chance of pinch flat: Since there’s no tube, there is no risk of the tube getting pinched between the tire & rim.

There are also some disadvantages …

  • They need special rims: In order to tubeless tires to work, you need to be able to get a air tight seal between the tire & rim. This means the rim has to be designed specifically to accommodate tubeless tires.
  • Mounting the tire is difficult…
    • The tires have much tighter beads along the edge, so they will hook into the edge of the rim. This makes it harder to get the tire on the rim.
    • The tire needs to seal with the rim: In order to initially get air to stay in the tire, you have to get the bead & rim seated. This can be difficult with a normal bike pump. I’ve even see bike shop mechanics struggle to get the bead to seat correctly.
    • You have to add sealant: This isn’t so hard, but it can be messy.
  • Unmounting the tire is difficult:
    • The tires bead fits very tightly in the rim. It can be difficult to get it out.
    • The sealant tends to act as glue … so if if you want to remove the tire, you’ll have to work harder to get the tire out of the rim.
    • Unless the sealant has solidified (which isn’t a good thing), it’s going to be messy once you’ve got the tire off.
  • Remounting the tire has all the problems as mounting, but you also have to completely clean the old sealant from the tire & rim, otherwise it will be difficult to get the tire to seat properly.
  • The sealant has to be replaced, or refreshed, periodically. I was told that the sealant should be replaced yearly and additional sealant should be put in the tire every few months.
  • When you do get a puncture it’s a big pain…
    • Sealant gets sprayed out of the puncture. Often on your leg or parts of your bike.
    • Unmounting the tire is difficult (as mentioned above).
    • You need to remove the valve stem from the rim.
    • You will then need to install a tube (hope you brought one with you)
  • Road tubeless tires are somewhat harder to find in bike shops. They also tend to be more expensive.

As I mentioned, I just switched back to regular tube tires. This was because, in the last 4 months, I’ve had to deal with 3 issues with my tubeless tires.

Don’t get me wrong … I loved the tires. The ride was much smoother and had almost no punctures.

However ….

  • When I tried to replace the sealant, I struggled for a long time to get the tire reseated on the rim. I ended up taking the wheel & tire to a bike shop and had them do it. Even with their air compressor, it took them a while. Turns out I failed to completely clean the old sealant off the tire & rim, causing the tire to stick in the wrong places.
  • Earlier in the year I suffered a catastrophic blowout of my rear tire and had to replace it. Even with a brand new tire I couldn’t get it to seat properly. Again, I had to take the tire & wheel to a bike shop to get it installed.
  • Just recently I experienced a puncture. The sealant couldn’t handle the damage and I had a flat. Granted, the tires had more than 3200 miles on them, so they were probably due to be replaced anyway. Based on my previous two experiences, I decided to switch back to regular tubed tires. I was able to get both tires & tubes replaced in about one hour with very little fuss.

Some people will tell you that tubeless tires are easy to install & maintain … that’s no my experience.

My gravel bike is still tubeless … and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.

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