Tubeless mountain bike tires aren’t exactly new but still at one point you’re going to wonder if they are better than regular tires. Truth is, both have their pros and cons but so let’s find out if going tubeless is something for you.
Tubeless tires have no inner tube and utilize a different rim bead and sealant system. They are lighter, offer better puncture resistance, and generate less friction. All of these provide a significant boost in the performance and comfort of your cycling experience. However, installing the tires is harder, they are more expensive. Large punctures can’t be fixed so you still need a spare inner tube.
So, should you upgrade to tubeless tires? It seems like a no-brainer. If you’re thinking about overall improvements, then tubeless tires are perfect. Of course, there will always be cons to consider, such as pricing and difficulties in setting up. Switching to tubeless tires may or may not be what you need, depending on your personal preferences and type of terrain you ride.
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of using tubeless tires, check the different types of tubeless tires, and see how tubeless tire maintenance works.
Pros of Tubeless MTB tires
Going tubeless will provide benefits that can significantly improve your overall riding experience. Let’s talk a bit about the benefits.
Your ride will be smoother
Here’s the thing about the typical tubed set-up:
They tend to create a lot of friction because the tire and inner tube are very close to each other. So as you’re traveling, your tire and its inner tube generate friction which increases your rolling resistance noticeably. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride.
But without an inner tube, you won’t have that problem of ‘inner’ friction, meaning less resistance and a smoother ride.
Along with this, going tubeless means operating at a lower pressure, allowing more tire-ground tread. This allows you to have better traction and control over your ride, such as with your momentum and turning corners. It will also allow your ride to absorb bumps better.
Less Flat Tires
The typical tubed riding system has another significant drawback: it is prone to pinched flats. These are flat tires caused by the tube being pinched between the rim and a rock. This can make quite a bad flat tire.
But without the inner tube, that problem will basically be eliminated. Pinched flats and flat tires overall will happen noticeably less often. “Snake bites,” which are small punctures that can be caused by tubing, will also be avoided by going tubeless.
And because tubeless tires are treated with sealants while mounting, that pretty much gets rid of flat tire problems almost altogether.
So if you decide to switch to tubeless tires, then say goodbye to those flat tires!
You Will Be Riding Lighter
One obvious thing about having an inner tube is the weight it adds to your bike. Getting rid of that tube means getting rid of that weight! The standard tube weighs around 200 grams, so just consider how much lighter your bike can be.
By having a lighter ride, you can increase your efficiency by exerting less energy to reach the same speed. It also means that carrying your bike around can be a less tiring ordeal.
Although tubeless tires indeed use sealant and an inflation valve, the end result is still a noticeably lighter ride. Along with that, lighter tires means less energy spent on rotations. So your energy to distance ratio will definitely increase as well!
Cons of Tubeless MTB tires
Unfortunately, despite all the great benefits that going tubeless has to offer, there are still drawbacks that might make some think twice about getting tubeless tires for their ride.
It’s more expensive
Although going tubeless has plenty of benefits, here’s the main drawback, it’s going to cost more.
A tubeless set-up does involve more components, increasing its overall cost. Tubeless systems, in general, are priced higher. It also depends if you’re rims are tubeless-ready or not.
Despite this, you do get more bang for your buck since these more expensive components and alternatives are more advanced and built better.
Mounting Is Tougher and Takes Longer
Mounting a tubeless tire is trickier and needs more care than a tubed tire. You have to ensure everything is tightly sealed. This will also require rim tape, and maintaining airtight valve seals in general.
This can be a bit difficult to do at first since you will have to add sealant followed by adding compressed air in a very short amount of time.
Using sealant for first-timers, in general, can be a difficult and messy learning process. Sealant also requires regular maintenance, typically every few months depending on the climate of your country. Warm climates will dry out your sealant faster, requiring replacement every few months.
Thankfully, many bike shops can help you out and provide all the required components, as well as help with installment.
You Might Still Carry Around a Tube
This drawback might seem a bit odd, but it makes sense. Although tubeless tires are already immensely sturdy, they still can get nasty tears and such. Sometimes, these tears are too big to fix with just sealant.
When this happens, you have no choice but to repair it with a tube. Even though you’re riding tubeless, it’s still a precaution to care around either a tubeless repair kit of tire plugs and a plugger or an emergency tube with you. You probably already have an emergency repair kit but if you don’t get one. It will save you a long bike hike.
Applying the sealant that fixes punctures can be a messy chore. This isn’t something your average rider wants to go through. It smells bad, is sticky and gets everywhere. People report when it’s all over your tire, mud and dirt will stick to the sealant.
Should You Go Tubeless?
Now it’s time to get back to the question, should you upgrade to tubeless?
All things considered, going tubeless has plenty of pros and plenty of cons. when it works, it works. When it doesn’t it can be a nightmare.
Despite being a little more expensive and requiring higher maintenance, it has grown into the leading tire technology for mountain bikes. It has even spread to other types of bicycles such as road bikes. Most who have converted to tubeless have found no regrets in it, and even call it “life-changing.”
But here are some more need-to-know info about tubeless tires one of them is There are a few types of tubeless systems.
Universal System Tubeless
The first is the Universal System Tubeless or the UST. It has a square-shaped lock on the bead for the rim. Its tire can be inflated and maintains air without a sealant through a butyl rubber coating. These two factors make mounting and maintenance easier. It is also true, though, that the UST components are heavier. This is causing it to go down in popularity despite it being the original standard.
Then there’s the Tubeless-Ready, which is the more popular type in the industry. These types also use bead locks for security and ease, but they vary from brand to brand. The wheelsets also have sealed spoke beds. Another difference from UST is that they don’t use as much sealant, making the tires inherently lighter. This, of course, means that you have to be more careful about maintenance.
Tubeless Compatible Wheel
The third kind, the Tubeless Compatible wheel, has a rim that utilizes a bead lock but does not have a sealed rim bed. Companies often use “Tubeless-ready” and “Tubeless-compatible” to mean the same system. Regardless, both systems require a sealant, a tubeless bead lock, and a rim bed preferably sealed.
Upgrading to Tubeless
You can start with tubeless tires and rims. In fact, your bicycle system might already be tubeless-ready! We recommend that you confirm whether it is or not before going straight to purchasing a new system. Plenty of high-end bikes are actually tubeless-ready but are displayed or shipped with inner tubes for their showroom.
Your second option is to convert your rims and tires to tubeless using a kit. Kits generally cost less than replacing each and every component. What your current system is will determine how large of a conversion kit you will need and how easy it will be to do the conversion, but the least you will need are a valve, sealant, and rim tape.
The last but most expensive alternative is to replace your whole system completely. This isn’t ideal, but if you’re ready to commit to tubeless, the expense will be worth it!
How to Repair a Tubeless Flat
Although one of the advantages to a tubeless system is that it’s not prone to pinched flats and snake bites, flat tubeless tires can still happen! If this does happen, remember to keep yourself together and follow these steps.
It’s Better to Use a Tubeless-Ready Tire
Some riders try to convert standard-tube-types into tubeless-ready just by using sealant, but that’s not the best way to convert to tubeless. If you want a reliable tubeless tire, be smart with what you’re converting.
Learn the Basic Steps
When it comes to a tubeless flat tire, some protocols seldom fail when repairing. First, remove the valve stem. Then, insert a tube, and this will make it stable enough for you to fully fix the tire later on. If there’s a hole, it’s best to have a patch-kit at the ready. There are tubeless patch kits available. But if you only have a standard-tube kit, you will have to force the patch to stick to the tire by sanding past the sealing rubber layer.
Maintain the Sealant
Sealants are essential for tubeless tires because they help the tires retain their air as well as full microholes while you’re en route. Sealants do require regular checking and maintenance, however, because they can dry out after months or even just weeks. If you want info on sealant compatibilities, you can ask your tire manufacturer.
Check Your Valve Stem
These have to be regularly finger-tightened. Otherwise, the valve stem may leak. If this happens, then you should also check up your O-rings and seals! If these are already secure and the leaking does not stop, then simply apply more sealant and re-install the components.
Begin and End Your Installation at the Valve Stem
When you’re installing your sealing, ensure that you’ll begin and end with the tire’s valve stem. Failure to do so might make the tires’ opposite side to not drop completely within the rim.
Don’t Use Levers for the Sealing
Using levers can incur some damage for the tire’s sealing edge. It’s better to use your hands. This way, you can ensure that there’s a lot of space for the rim edge and the tire, and so that the rim’s middle can fit the bead properly.
Use Air Compressors and Soapy Water
People will rarely encounter seating difficulties tubeless tires when they’re using hand pumps. If you do though, consider using an air compressor to blast air inside. Just be careful not to go beyond the tire pressure rating limit. For easier seating, you can use soapy water on its beads.
So, you now know the pros and cons of going tubeless, as well as the types of tubeless systems you can choose from. The choice is yours, some will love it and others not so much.
Should you ever encounter any difficulties and problems, make sure you’re ready. Installing and repairing tubeless tires can be a bit of a pain but if you’re prepared it won’t be that difficult.