Tubeless Explained and Demystified
What is a Tubeless System?
Tires that mount directly onto rims and hold air without the need for a separate inner tube are so common in automotive and motorcycle circles that trying to explain their use on modern bicycles hardly seems necessary. Simply put, bicycle tire and rim technology has evolved. What worked for John Dunlop in 1888 isn’t necessarily the best choice today. Tubeless systems are an evolutionary step forward from the outdated inner tube and glue-on tubular systems of the past.
As you’d suspect a “tubeless” system simply eliminates the tube. Because bicycle tires are thinner and lighter than those on cars and motorcycles, sealant is used to help make tubeless bike tires airtight. Our NoTubes sealant is not only lighter than an inner tube, but also capable of sealing punctures and of letting your tire roll faster and corner more effectively. Reliability is one of the best things about today’s tubeless system. I ride and race road bikes, mountain bikes and cyclocross. In the past three years I have carried a spare tube but not used a single one. I have given plenty to my friends who have flatted on rides, but I’ve not needed a single tube myself.
Some manufacturers, such as Mavic, Fulcrum and Shimano, offer airtight rims specifically designed to be used without tubes, but almost any rim can be used without a tube, provided sealant is added and all holes for the spokes are covered with a tubeless conversion kit.
While tubeless systems can be lighter, better riding and more reliable than conventional tube systems, creating a tight seal between the tire and rim is very important. While some tire manufacturers offer thicker, heavier “UST” tires designed only to work on airtight “UST” rims, the majority of tubeless systems out there today are designed to work with lighter “Tubeless-ready” tires that rely on sealant, a valve stem and a rim strip or tape. Tubeless systems continue to become lighter, more reliable and easier to use.
Reliability is one of the main reasons to consider a tubeless system. Yes, they are often more complicated to set up initially than a conventional tube system, but the payoff is peace of mind. I have not had a flat on my road bike in 4 years. I will repeat that I have not had a flat in the four years I have been riding tubeless. I have not had a training ride interrupted, I have not frozen by the side of the road, and I have not had to call for a ride home. I have stopped many times and helped people I have been riding with fix their flats (I recall one guy who flatted three times on the same ride), but I have not had a flat with my tubeless system.
It is possible to flat a tubeless system. Failing to keep up with standard bike maintenance and allowing your sealant to dry up inside the tire is one potential problem. It’s also possible to cut the sidewall of your tire and damage the tire to severely that even the sealant can’t patch the hole. All things considered, though, a tubeless system is designed to get you home faster and more reliably than a conventional tube.
Tubeless tires also roll faster. By conforming more readily to the ground and absorbing impacts instead of ricocheting backward off of them, tubeless systems offer less rolling resistance for a faster overall speed. The compliance found in a tubeless tire also improves control and handling, for better cornering and climbing traction. I will always remember loaning my bike to friend so he could experience tubeless. I was unable to ride the same rock garden on his bike that I had just ridden on mine. The rock garden bounced me out at his high pressure.
Tubeless systems are also lighter than conventional tube systems, and because the weight savings is rotational, it’s a difference most people can feel instantly in the acceleration and overall speed of the bike. Losing wheel weight counts more than losing weight from any other part of the bike.
So why should you run tubeless? It virtually eliminates flats. The tires roll faster. It makes the bike perform better. And it’s lighter.
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