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Are Tubeless Tires Worth It?

By Vernon Felton

If you’ve read my tire article in the most recent issue of BIKE, you may have noticed that we promised to do a Tubeless Tire write-up here on the web. Well, here we go.

A couple years ago I was working on an article regarding tubeless tires for the bike industry’s trade rag (Bicycle Retailer & Industry News). I was asking a PR guy at one of the tire manufacturers why tubeless hadn’t caught on with the public in as big a way as many had expected it to. His explanation was a curious one. He said that the consumer cycling publications had made too many grandiose claims about the benefits of the technology and that some consumers were considerably let-down and soured by the whole experience.

I found this explanation curious as I’d been told by this very same PR hack, back in 1999 (when tubeless first came out) that tubeless tires could leap small buildings by themselves, while reciting (backwards) the lyrics to Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Oh, and when you got home, those same tubeless tires would bake you up an excellent flourless chocolate cake and give you a back rub.

Back in those heady, pre-millenium days, we (the cycling press) were told all sorts of things about tubeless tires that weren’t exactly, ahem, true (though you never read such grandiose claims in BIKE anyway, because we decided to sit the hoopla out and wait for the results). Well, almost seven years later, the tubeless hype has died down a bit and the over-inflated list of tubeless benefits has lost some air. So, what really are the benefits of tubeless tires? Glad you asked, because there definitely are benefits to going tubeless—just don’t expect chocolate cakes and back rubs any time soon.

Lower air pressure—that’s the greatest benefit of going tubeless. Tubeless tire systems enable you to run lower air pressures without fearing pinch flats. Lower air pressures (down to a certain point, at least) provide you with better traction and a small degree of suspension over rocky terrain. Personally, I wouldn’t ride a hardtail without a tubeless system. But, hey, that’s just me.

Over the years, manufacturers have also claimed that tubeless tires are prone to fewer flats, are lighter than conventional tubed-tires, and so forth. Neither claim is true. You might not get pinch flats, but puncture flats (due to thorns and the like) are still a problem. Since tubeless tires tend to be heavier than standard tires (particularly if you add sealant to the mix) tubeless systems tend to be a bit heavier…unless, of course, you make your own tubeless system using a conventional tire, a rim strip and sealant, but that approach has its own share of downsides (which I’ll get into later).

As the name implies, a tubeless system lacks an inner tube. There are, however, a couple ways to achieve that end. The first is by going with the original tubeless system: UST. The UST standard was developed in a 3-way love fest between Mavic, Michelin and Hutchinson (oh, those crazy French!). At the heart of this system is a rim-bed that features no internal spoke holes through which air can escape. A UST-compatible tire is then mounted onto the rim, inflated to a high pressure (around 60 psi) so that the tire beads lock into the rim and create an air-tight seal and—voila—there you have it. You can now safely lower the air pressure to between 28 and 40 PSI and enjoy the improved traction and control.

Actually, this is a worthy moment to say something about air pressure. I’ve heard people say that they run their tubeless systems as low as 20 PSI. Personally, I think that’s madness (unless you happen to be a 90-pound, 11-year old girl with a really smooth riding style, in which case, you go, girl!). At 20 PSI, you run the risk of denting your rim and/or rolling the tire off the rim during cornering. Personally (and I weigh 180 pounds), I run my tubeless set ups with a PSI range between 30 and 38 PSI) as opposed to the 40 to 42 psi I normally run with a standard-tubed system. While I might be able to get away with running less than 30 PSI in my tubeless tires, I don’t have the spare cash to replace my dented wheels. Besides, I find the tire-roll sensation too severe at that low a pressure anyway.

Reader Comments 
Posted Sun Mar23, 2008, 11:23 AM — By Clement
... the �French� also invented the bicycle ... which all of us enjoy greatly ... Now, that's fair !
Posted Wed Mar26, 2008, 10:03 PM — By Dennis
The French invented the bicycle? That's news to me.
Posted Tue May 6, 2008, 9:58 AM — By Vince
You might take a look here:
Posted Tue Jul29, 2008, 10:42 PM — By Matt
your wordy comments and anecdotes within the article are a waste of any reader's time. i stopped reading your crap after paragraph 3
Posted Thu Aug21, 2008, 11:22 AM — By Shaun
Downside #4: UST tires are $20 more per tire on average.
Posted Wed Sep10, 2008, 6:46 AM — By Shezad
Is there Air in Tubeless tiers ,,
Posted Sun Oct 5, 2008, 6:21 PM — By Rob
Interesting bunch of comments. The French most definately did not invent the bicycle. Which individual invented it I can not say, but the 1st was made in a blacksmiths forge in the courtyard of Drumlanrig castle, Scotland, now a venue for a great trail centre. Can't remember the last time I had a normal puncture off road. However, every trip to the Peak District (UK) costs me at least 3 to 4 tubes for pinch flats. That's almost one on every major downhill, so I'm finally going tubeless. Personally I think this is the only reason to go tubeless i.e. low pressures and no flats. Fixing a normal puncture is a peice of cake. UST systems are at least as heavy as conventional systems, sometimes heavier and tyre choice is at present limited with Panaracer and Kenda going no larger than 2.1 for UST Tyres. Maxxis offer by far the best range of UST tyres. Guess I'll suck it and see. Next year I'm running a pair of MAVIC EX823 UST Rims and Maxxis UST tyres at the Megavalanche, Alpe D'Huez. We'
Posted Fri Nov21, 2008, 10:32 PM — By mike
I'm tired of these drunks posting these comments that don't make since. Go to bed and come join us in the morning.
Posted Fri Nov21, 2008, 10:41 PM — By steve
Hi "car wash" ,your comment sounds a lot like Borat, and there's only one Borat.
Posted Tue Dec23, 2008, 9:04 PM — By Zoltar
Nice work author! Great little piece. "Ghetto tubeless" might also be mentioned, and can be found via YouTube. I've had great success with skinny 20" presta tubes (which are hard to find though). And.... since the French invented all spoken language, the wheel, the internet, and every known form of measurement - and space - why not the bicycle? I have a 27.2"mm" seatpost right? That's proof right there. They still have really, REALLY, bad movies though (which they actually did NOT invent).
Posted Fri Feb20, 2009, 9:39 AM — By CJ
Jeez before you comment..
Posted Fri Mar13, 2009, 8:12 AM — By thomas
useful for me.
Posted Thu Mar26, 2009, 12:45 PM — By Pat
good summary, i'm not going UST anytime soon. I've always run 35-40psi on normal tubed system without problems. Thanks for the writeup.
Posted Sun Apr 5, 2009, 7:09 AM — By Doug
For anyone considering changing over to a UST setup I gotta say that the real advantages that I have felt since making the switch is better traction everywhere and maintaining tempo & momentum through the rough. The ability to run a lower pressure in your tires allows them to grip and flex over terrain without the deflection you can experience with a higher psi. UST technology has been around long enough now that it's easy to find a tubeless setup specific to your riding style and environment. My tubeless setup is essentially the same weight (+6 grams) as my old tube setup but, I am faster now and most importantly to me, the fun factor of riding my bike has significantly jumped. Nothing against tubes but, nowadays I just carry one in my jersey pocket in the case I get flat which is a rarity. Keep bikin'!
Posted Wed Apr22, 2009, 5:11 PM — By chad evans
The French invented the internet?? Are you crazy? The internet and the computers running it were invented by Americans. BTW- Nice article, thank you.
Posted Thu Jun18, 2009, 10:12 PM — By  jewelry
Posted Thu Jun25, 2009, 2:50 AM — By Idiots & patriots
Americans did not invent the internet or teh computer - the british did. I love the way people post comments as if everything they said was the truth. the piece above on UST is great, thanks
Posted Sat Jul 4, 2009, 3:57 PM — By Adam
Great article, some good info, and it cracked me up to boot.
Posted Sat Jul11, 2009, 11:43 PM — By Jasmin
question...i'm a bit confused about the psi u ppl ride. I mean i ride with 130 psi but obviously with clinchers. yet pat up there says s/he rides a normal tubed system at 35-40 ... please explain
Posted Wed Jul29, 2009, 11:55 AM — By ebadur
just a easte of time..........................i suggest u 2 write little not so long u just wasted my pror u and ur businesselpfull fecious time................please write small description..........listen 2 me it will b h
Posted Sun Sep20, 2009, 12:31 AM — By french kiss this
i ride my rims tireless,it works for corners it want to slide a little....i just put a foot down....and crank it,as far as the french inventing the bicycle....who gives a crap....i invented the inverted perverted lip lock
Posted Sun Oct25, 2009, 6:52 PM — By costa
very useful thank u
Posted Sat Feb 6, 2010, 3:34 PM — By Barbara Rector Hill
Came across your article which I found very interesting being I have a copy of my grandfather's patent for the tubeless tire back in 1921. When this patent elasped Goodrich patented it. His name Harlan Samuel Rector Barbara Rector Hill
Posted Thu Mar11, 2010, 10:56 PM — By Gray
Nice read! Gonna give the tubeless a try.
Posted Mon Mar22, 2010, 10:47 PM — By Andrew
I can say that one of the best aspects of riding with a true UST setup for me is the fact that I had zero flats all season. This includes DH runs at Porcupine Rim, desert riding in AZ, CO, and riding in Ontario on buff track, rocks, and roots. Running the lower pressure with the stiffer sidewalls makes a huge difference in feedback and handling mostly in the way of improved traction. The worst aspect of running UST is getting comfortable mounting the damn tires (in my opinion those that can mount the beads without a compressor might as well be wizards, warlocks or magicians. I had no luck without removing the core on the valve and using my shop compressor. I tried to mount a UST tire with the commpressor and the core left in and found it insanely frustrating. Getting good enough with adding the sealant so you don't muck up the patio or drizzle it on your tire takes serious skill. Looking down and seeing a small white dot on the tire knowing that you avoided a flat is a nice feeling.
Posted Sat May 8, 2010, 9:00 AM — By fobiomiodinee
Im pretty new to this type of website talk thing nevertheless Im enthusiastic to help and learn a whole lot, I hope. Particularly in regards health and also the certain areas of nourishment and in my instance working out. At any rate, just saying hi and wish to get along with for some time.
Posted Fri Jun11, 2010, 10:18 PM — By Jim
It is interesting with all the new tubeless systems on the market, using the true UST rim with a UST tire will make your life much happier. I find it interesting that new tires come out every year that are not a UST system - but a standard version that everyone wishes that manufacture would include at UST also. The big tire brand conti. to dissapoint every year with not the exact rubber compound associated with a UST based tire. Ghetto tubeless is great if you are 150 pounds and ride XC, but if you do any jumping or more techinical style riding blowing a tire off a rim is no fun. Best set-up UST Rim + UST Tire with some Stan liquid.
Posted Sun Jun13, 2010, 10:37 PM — By dwt
This is definitely the most realistic and accurate article on tubeless I've seen. My own $0.02: I run tubeless on and off road with UST tires and various non-UST rims sealed with tape and sealant - and NO rim strips. Use presta valves with removable cores cut from old tubes. Either Stans yellow tape (expensive but light) or Gorilla tape (cheap but heavy) work great. I weigh close to 180, and run the off road @ 25 psi and the on road @ 85 psi with no burps, leaks, or problems. I use tire levers + soap to mount tires with no problems. HIGHLY recommennd Topeak Shuttle 1.2 levers. I mix Stans with Multi-Seal auto tire sealant because the latex in the Stans seals the rims, but by itself is not so good at sealing punctures. Auto tire sealants contain particles of various sizes which clog punctures. Pure Stans can leak like a sieve even with a pintprick hole. I have a compressor because it's easier, but you can seat UST tires to any rim with a floor pump with some effort and patien

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