What is a tubeless bicycle tire?

WHAT IS A TUBELESS BICYCLE

Since John Boyd Dunlop invented in 1887 the pneumatic tire for bicycles in order to end the headaches that his little son experienced when riding a bicycle, the tires or bicycle covers remained unchanged for many decades.

And you, quite possibly still use that type of tires: a tube (inner tube) or internal inflatable chamber that offers flotation for a smooth and effective driving enclosed in a layer or outer cover of rubber or rubber that provides traction and protection against irregularities of the road and when we believed that there was no further improvement in this technology, Mavic arrived in 1999 to create the first bicycle less camera tire system. That is to say: the tubeless system, which was quickly adopted for the first time by mountain bikers, but since then this innovation has expanded to other specialties within cycling such as cyclocross, gravel, and even traditional road bikes.

What is a tubeless wheel?

UST Mavic Tubeless System
Photo: Mavic

In general terms, tubeless wheels are tires or tires that lack an internal chamber. It is a design very similar to the way the tires of motor vehicles work: the tire or tire that has an open cross-section and the rim, are made in such a way that by joining them it provides a tight seal. As a result, tubeless tires are best described as a complete wheel-tire system, rather than a set of wheels and tires individually.

There are three variations of this type of systems:

  • The tubeless ready
  • The tubeless compatible, in which both, the wall of the rim must be covered with special tape to cover the holes of the rays or spokes of the ring, in addition to the use of liquid sealant to achieve a tight seal between the cover or tire and the hoop or rin.
  • The tubeless UST or Universal System Tubeless (UST) is the basic system, which consists of the pneumatic and rim assembly, prepared to fit tightly. In addition, it is built with a much stronger material, especially on the sides. It is mounted without the need for a sealant, but the inner coating makes it heavier.

In very general terms, the sealing liquid, in addition to hermetically sealing the wheel and the tire, offers protection against tears, tears and punctures.

Tubeless sealant
Photo: Singletracks

Advantages of tubeless tires

Better traction:

The main benefit of tubeless tires is the ability to use low air pressure for better traction without having the annoying punctures,

Forget the pricks

And since in this type of systems, there is no camera to pinch between the tire and an obstacle you avoid the irremediable “snake bite”. This horrific puncture and in many cases irreparable (due to the pair of holes left in the chamber), is because when you hit a hard object, such as an open log or a stone, the impact that occurs between the chamber or tube and Your deck produces the so-called bite or puncture. The situation that you avoid when using tubeless tires that will make you very, very rarely have to fix a flat tire.

In addition, thanks to the sealant applied during assembly, the tubeless tires suffer much less puncture. Which is why cyclists who use tubeless and discover a tire plagued with bright spots after a walk on a winding road can smile knowing that their sealant repaired all those thorn punctures on the fly.

Better road control

Many tubeless cyclists report that removing the camera gives them a better idea of ​​the road. In addition, tubeless tires can be mounted at a much lower pressure than chamber tires, which extends the tread contact with the ground. The result is better traction, especially when cornering. Pedaling a low PSI also helps maintain your bike’s momentum, because the tires can adapt to obstacles, instead of bouncing on them. That also allows a tubeless tire to absorb small bumps and obstructions along the way, which gives you a smoother ride.

You will save some weight

The weight you save is difficult to quantify due to the variety of ways to go without a camera. But, for starters, removing a standard camera can save you up to 200 grams. All wheels and tires without a chamber have an inflation valve and sealant inside, which compensates for this weight saving, but the net result is almost always fewer grams in general. The advantage of even minimal weight savings is that it is in a rotational component. That translates into less energy expenditure as you pedal so that your legs feel fresher for greater mileage.

Mavic Road UST
Photo: Mavic

Disadvantages of tubeless tires

You will spend more money

Tubeless tires and wheels cost more, but you will also generally get more value for your money. The most attractive offers of most brands are ready to use without a camera, so when you buy components without a camera, you are likely to see tires with advanced rubber compounds and wheels that are stronger and lighter.

They take longer to ride

Installing tires without a camera can be a bit complicated. The biggest challenge is to get the tire ring or heel to seat properly on the tire: the seal must be airtight and, the process requires you to carefully add sealant, then a lot of air in a hurry.

There is still the possibility to use a camera

If you stick in the road, it means that the hole was too large for the sealant to repair only the tire, so the solution is to place a tube in your tire. Therefore, it will not be a bad idea to take a camera with you for emergencies.

Deal with the pressure

Slow air leaks are not uncommon with tubeless and, therefore, you may need to complete your preferred pressure from time to time.

You will have to deal with the sealer

Adding puncture sealant to achieve a tight seal between the tire and the wheel can be a not very clean process. And on the rare occasion when a tire is injured enough to splash components and clothing, cleaning that sealant is not a very fun matter to say. You should also add sealant to the tires periodically after it has dissipated or dried. This can occur every few months in hot climates or once a year if you live in a cool and humid part.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tubeless Ready
Photo: Schwalbe

Compatibility between tubeless tires and rims

Difference between Tubeless Ready and Tubeless Compatible

Tubeless Ready: Tubeless Ready wheels and tires have heel locks, but the actual profiles of the cross-sections of the rim and heel locks vary from brand to brand. To be tubeless-ready, the wheels of the complete sets of wheels have radius beds or rays sealed with tape. That makes them lighter and also means that they require a sealant to retain air.

Tubeless ready tire
Photo:

Tubeless Compatible: a wheel or tire Tubeless Compatible is one in which the tire has a heel lock, but the wheel bed itself is not sealed. Some companies use “tubeless ready” and “tubeless compatible” as synonyms. In any case, the components necessary to execute the wheel and tire combination as a chambers less configuration are the same: a sealed wheel bed, tire with a heel lock without a chamber and sealant.

Tire tubelees compatible
Photo: Adventure Journal

Characteristics of tubeless tires

Tubeless tire
Photo: Continental

Tubeless tires generally feature a reinforced heel or hoop that is stretch resistant and is completely smooth around its entire circumference to prevent air leakage.

Characteristics of tubeless hoops

Carbon Road Bike Wheels Straight Pull Hub700C Clincher Tubeless
Photo: AliExpress

The hoops without a camera have two basic requirements: they have to hold the tire securely and must keep the air. Tubeless technology relies on an inner edge of the steeper rim to allow the tire to settle much more securely than it would with a traditional tire configuration. A tubeless ring or rim will often have no holes and some brands, such as Fulcrum, Mavic, and Shimano, produce wheels or rings without holes for lightning or spokes on the inner wall of the wheel, which makes them inherently airtight.

How do I know if my wheels can become tubeless?

Generally, tire manufacturers will indicate directly on the tire when it is compatible with tubeless.  In the case of hoops or wheels, compatibility is usually less obvious and will be indicated in the list of component specifications. However, there are brands that offer tubeless conversion kits for standard tires. And many times only special tubeless valves and valves are required, which provide a more precise adjustment to make it easier to inflate. Either way, conversions are often unpredictable, and great care must be taken before starting a converted configuration.

DT Swiss tubeless ready kit
Photo: DT Swiss

Are tubeless wheels for you?

There is no doubt that tubeless technology is being developed and is increasingly present in the bicycle industry. But, like all developing technologies, there is still much to improve, both in high-performance cycling and for everyday cyclists. However, for cyclists who want to try the tubeless and its benefits of speed, comfort, grip and puncture protection, the conversion will be relatively simple and affordable, provided you already have a tubeless ready wheelset. The clear reduction in the risk of punctures is a definitive positive point in favor of tubeless tires, although this can be reversed – if a complete failure occurs – due to the additional difficulty of removing and installing said tire.

So, if you are a mountain biker, adventure, that you ride on very rough terrain, or you simply want to reduce the risk of punctures, of course, you must ask yourself, should I pedal tubeless? And the best way to find out is to try.

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