The tubeless system being used in most top-of-the-line mountain bikes—sealant, tubeless-compatible tires, airtight rim tape, and valves—has been pretty well set for a while now, and now many new road bikes above a certain price point and most aftermarket wheels are available tubeless-ready. So what is the current state of tubeless tech on road bikes? Are we there yet? For a clear perspective on the state of road tubeless, we turned to Luke Musselman who heads up the Goodyear Bicycle Tires program.
Stan's: Thanks for offering us some insight, Luke. So are we there yet? How would you describe the current state of road tubeless?
Luke Musselman: I think it’s important to understand that there are some significant differences between road and off-road tubeless-ready systems. First, we need to have a clear understanding of the baseline information and language, and then the requirements on the tires. From there we can look at how ‘tubeless’ enhances the rider’s experience through improved performance. This is where it gets interesting because the performance improvement could come in the form of fewer flats, a more comfortable ride, improved traction, lower rolling resistance, and most likely, some combination of them all. To make this even more complicated, improved performance is a moving target as we consider a tire’s section width, construction, and tread design – simply put, it’s intended usage.
So, back to the basics, let’s start with using a common language which thankfully is done for us via ISO 4223-1.
Tube-Type Clincher A clincher tire that is only functional with an inner tube to maintain inflation pressure.
This is the historically standard bicycle tire which relies on the use of an inner tube to maintain inflation pressure. The inner tube serves two purposes: maintaining inflation pressure and providing physical pressure on the tire’s bead against the rim hook and sidewall to help keep it safely in place.
Tubeless-Ready Clincher A clincher tire that is functional with or without an inner tube but requires sealant to maintain inflation pressure if used without an inner tube.
A tubeless-ready tire utilizes a butyl covered bead to seal the tire against the rim. Generally, the rim is sealed using a non-porous tape while the tire’s casing requires the use of sealant to provide air retention.
Tubeless Clincher A clincher tire that is functional without an inner tube or sealant to maintain inflation pressure.
Tubeless clinchers are not very common on today’s market but were more available in the UST days with MTB product.
Now, to go back to the road tubeless ready question, yes, I believe the technology is very, very good. But if ‘there’ means no further improvements or innovations would further enhance the experience, no, we’re not there and never will be. Getting to where we are at today is the result of several developments, many not directly to do with tires themselves. The movement to disc brakes from calipers on road bikes allowed for larger tires to be used which also meant wider inner rims. Going back just 5 to 10 years, the standard road tire was a 700x23 or 700x25 (25-622 / 25-622), designed around an inner rim width of maybe 15mm. Pressures were also extremely high at 100 – 120psi. By moving to a 700x28, 700x30 (28-622 / 30-622) tire or larger designed around wider inner rim widths and going to a tubeless-ready construction, recommended tire pressures have dropped significantly. That has several benefits including improved comfort, reduced rolling resistance and improved grip. And this isn’t just seen as a benefit for enthusiasts. The World Tour team we work with have moved to 28mm as their ‘standard’ size. In fact, during this year’s Giro d’Italia, Team Qhubeka-NextHash sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo won one of the fastest sprints ever recorded in pro road racing on 700x28mm tubeless-ready tires, topping out at 78kph or just over 48mph.
Stan's: Why should someone convert to tubeless and what advice would you offer a rider who's interested in converting to tubeless?
LM: Given the correct equipment – a tubeless-ready rim (TC or TSS) with an inner rim width of at least 19mm and a tubeless-ready tire with a section width minimum of 25mm – we believe the average rider will benefit from going to tubeless. Bottom line, we are convinced that tubeless is the future for premium and/or performance bicycle tires across all categories.
While perceived by many as simple, premium bicycles these days are very complex machines and should be treated as such. I would advise the rider to speak to their local IBD to understand what works best for them and their needs. It may seem overwhelming at first, but just like most things, given the right set up and tools, it’s a fairly simple process.
Stan's: For about a million years, road tires were divided into "clincher" tires and "tubular" tires. Clinchers have beads that lock into place on rims that have hooks to keep them in place when an inner tube inside the tire is inflated, and "tubular" tires are glued onto the rim and then inflated. Average folks rode clinchers and pros rode tubulars. Now some independent testing has shown road tubeless to be faster than both of those. Do you see tubeless road tires replacing traditional tubulars and clinchers?
LM: Yes, tubeless is the future on the World Tour. Full stop. But remember, tubeless-ready tires are indeed a type of clincher.
Stan's: How is a rider to know which tubeless tire is right from them?
LM: For road riders, there are two main things that will guide someone to the correct tire, the right fit and the rider’s needs. The first key is selecting the appropriate tire. We publish both the optimal inner rim width and allowed inner rim width for all our tires on their respective product page. For instance, our 700x25 and 700x28 (25-622 / 28-622) tires are optimized around a 19mm inner rim width. This will allow the tire to have the correct shape and provide the best overall performance. This is also the rim inner width where the tire’s section width will be the marked size.
The second thing is the tire’s intended usage. For road, it’s fairly simple with two main categories – ‘Race’ and ‘All-Season’. Road racing tires are optimized for low rolling resistance while all-season tires have improved puncture protection, better wet grip, and a longer lasting tread cap.
Stan's: What tire pressure guidelines does Goodyear offer riders new to tubeless road?
LM: This is where things get a bit tricky. Unlike automobiles, which have the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressures inside the driver’s door, there are variables for bike tire inflation, such as the total weight of the bike and rider. For a bike that weights 20 lbs., the total bike-plus-rider weight may be as little as 110 lbs. or as much as 270 lbs. This means that tires need to support a massive range in total weight and thus a very wide range of pressures. Our tires have a maximum recommended pressure. However, there are instances such as usage on a Straight Sidewall Tubeless rim, where the maximum pressure is limited to 72.5psi / 5 Bar. Another caveat is when the rim itself has a lower maximum pressure indicated on it than the pressure indicated on the tire’s sidewall. If a maximum pressure is stated for both the rim and the tire, always default to the lower of the two.
Additionally, rider weight, type of riding, bike weight, wheel diameter, tire label width, inner rim width, rim type, and surface / conditions will all affect optimal tire pressure. Because of this, we're working on a tire pressure calculator that will be available online.
Stan's: There's some confusion among consumers out there about "hookless" rims and their compatibility the different types of tubeless tires. Goodyear seems to have developed a technology that simplifies this for everyone and just works. Can you tell us what's up with Dual Angle Bead?
LM: For tubeless-ready (and tubeless) clinchers, two types of rims can be used for a tubeless setup: Tubeless Crotchet (TC) or Tubeless Straight Sidewall (TSS) (aka “hookless”). TSS rims are easier and less expensive to manufacture and are generally lighter in weight. However, you do lose the crotchet (“hook” in French) which improves the mechanical retention of the tire. With TSS rims, the tire relies on the bead not stretching, the bead shelf and air pressure. This is why the maximum allowed pressure for tires mounted on TSS rims is 72.5 psi or 5 bar.
Our Dual Angle Bead was developed to provide a better initial seal against the rim bed for initial tubeless set up while also providing superior air retention at full inflation pressure. Looking back, one of the most frustrating aspects of tubeless, especially on the road, was the initial installation. Our goal was to improve this, and our Dual Angle Bead does just that with material around the aramid bead itself having multiple angles to provide a seal during initial set up when the bead is in the trough, and then once in place on the rim’s bead shelf.
Stan's: Goodyear is still relatively new to the premium cycling market but seems to be all in on tubeless for road and mountain. Can you speak to the decision-making and strategy behind your approach?
LM: Goodyear premium bicycle tires have been on the market since 2018, and from the beginning there has been a focus on tubeless. This was a no-brainer with mountain and gravel, but we believe we were being aggressive on the road. In 2020, we launched our full range of Road UHP tires in both tubeless and tube type. While the tube type market is certainly larger overall for road tires, the trend continues towards tubeless for new product introductions and development across all brands.
Bottom line, yes it was a business decision, but as a group of enthusiasts and racers, we want products that perform at the highest level and that means tubeless. We also understand that not everyone will agree with us or have the tubeless-ready wheels. This is why we will continue to develop and offer both tube type and tubeless options of our road tires.
Stan's: For someone using Goodyear tubeless road tires, do you recommend any particular maintenance and what would you recommend they carry with them on rides?
LM: With all tires, and especially tubeless, we recommend checking air pressure prior to every ride. Not only will this help ensure ride performance but is also a great indicator of a possible issue, such as a puncture. Even though most punctures seal quickly with sealant, you’ll still experience some pressure loss as the sealant does its job. This is a good indicator to take a closer look at the tire to check for damage or debris. In addition, make sure you check the sealant every 4 to 6 months to ensure that it’s still in liquid form.
As a personal example, I noticed following a ride that I had punctured as there was some sealant spray on my downtube. Thinking it was no big deal and that it was behind me, I topped up the pressure the next day but less than a mile into the ride, I was seeing a bit more sealant leakage. It turns out that a small piece of glass was still in the puncture site but had been incased in the sealant preventing me from seeing it. Once removed, the hole (about 1mm) fully sealed and I’ve maintained the 65 psi since.
Currently, I carry 2 CO2 cartridges, a Stan’s Dart, and out of habit, a tube just in case something catastrophic happens. While I’ve never personally needed it since going tubeless, I’ve used the tube to help someone on the side of the road maybe 2 or 3 times a year.
Stan's: Going back to your own racing days, if you had to choose a tire setup now, would you choose tubeless or clinchers with tubes?
LM: While I still maintain a Category 1 license, I am nowhere near as competitive as I once was and these days it’s the local master’s races for me at most. Every single wheelset I have across road, gravel, mountain, and cross is set up tubeless. Specifically for the road, I’m on nothing but 28mm and larger tires, all set up tubeless whether racing or simply riding. Since going tubeless on the road in 2015, I’ve experienced exactly 2 punctures, both of which I didn’t know happened until I finished my ride.
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