The Tubeless Enigma

The Tubeless Enigma

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There must still be a few readers out there who have not followed the Dutch Monkey down the merry tubular path; for them I offer an update on an alternative. Road tubeless has been lauded as the best thing to happen to cycling since the introduction of seatpins. These have been around for years but the road version has not gathered the expected momentum. Michelin made them then discontinued, Continental* is not interested, Bontrager said they were coming out with a model or two, Maxxis has a model. Hutchinson has a nasty little near-monopoly on the road tubeless market. Basically, there are maybe six models total and Hutchinson makes three of them. The tyres are different from regular clinchers in two ways: their square carbon bead  snugs into square extrusion in the tubeless specific rim and they have a butyl inner-wall layer. The bead makes an airtight seal. The addition of latex sealant inside the tyre prevents almost all air loss and self-seals.

For unexplainable reasons I was advocating for them long before I actually used them. I liked the idea of no pinch-flats but moving to 25mm tyres mostly solved that. I liked the idea of using lower tyre pressure, which also was solved by going to 25mm inner-tubed tyres. It is claimed tubeless ride like sew-up tyres due to the lack of inner-tube but the tubeless tyres have a butyl coating on the inside to keep them airtight so they can’t be as supple. They may ride better than clinchers but they are heavier than sew-ups. Tubeless require forty grams of liquid sealant, there’s some more weight.

Pros

  • No inner-tube means no pinch flats.
  • No pinch flat worries mean lower tyre pressures.
  • No inner-tube also means better ride and improved cornering.
  • Sealant seals tyres automatically.
  • An inner-tube can still be installed if sealant fails to work or has dried up.
  • An inner-tube and regular clincher can always be installed on tubeless rims if one wants to go back to regular set-up. No harm, no foul.
  • Tyre stays on rim even when deflated.

Cons

  • Very limited selection of tubeless tyres and only one 25mm model.
  • More expensive than most clinchers.
  • Sealing process is messy, to put it politely.
  • Post sealing clean up of bike is necessary.
  • Periodic maintenance of tyres/sealant required.

Debatable misconceptions

  • Tyres don’t seat on the rim without CO2 cartridge.
  • Installing inner-tube roadside is impossible.
  • Tyres are very hard to install and remove.
  • Tyre stays on rim even when deflated.

I’ve been using Hutchinson Intensive tubeless tyres on Campagnolo Eurus 2-way fit wheels for nine months. I’ve had a total three punctures, all resulting in latex spew, sealing and riding. So the good news is I haven’t been sweating on the side of the road replacing inner-tubes. That never was a big problem, I can do that in seven minutes, I’ve been doing that for many years. Seven minutes is less time than it takes to clean the bike from the latex after-party. What I don’t know about are the slow leaking punctures that the latex handles without messy fanfare. Seven minutes is also about a tenth of the time one will spend fixing a flat on a sew-up tyre. Even if “fixing” means peeling it off, putting in a pile you will never touch again and installing a new sew-up tyre.

I can dispel some misconceptions. The tyres do easily seat with a floor pump. I’ve installed the last resort inner-tube in my shop for practice but not in the field. Installing an inner-tube with the sealant covering everything roadside would be nasty. If one keeps the bead at the center of the rim and finishes at the valve, most can install a tubeless tyre with cycling gloves on, no tools. They will also come off easily if the bead is kept in the center of the rim and one starts near the valve. It is no harder than clinchers. I haven’t tested the claim that they stay on the rim while riding deflated, nor will I.

Do they ride better? That is the Question. We would happily put up with the lack of tyre selection and latex cleanup if the ride was a lot better than inner-tubed clinchers. I wish I could proclaim right here, right now that they rule but I can’t. I find it very hard to qualify those differences without some real testing. My inaugural ride on road tubeless was also my inaugural ride on my new Eurus wheels. The bike did corner much better, that was obvious and I assumed it was the Eurus wheeels not the tyres. Maybe that assumption was wrong but there is no way to tell unless I had two wheelsets to test one after the other, which I don’t. If the ride improvment was definitive, should it be the tyre of the future? If more tyre manufacturers jump into the pool the technology would improve and remove a few of the problems.

What the world needs is this: three wheelsets, a clincher, a tubeless and a tubular. All built the same except for rim/tyre choice. Have a group ride where wheels are swapped and tested, blindfolded! It is the only way. We await the offers.

Are we all confused? Are you sorry you just read an article with no definitive conclusion? You are welcome.

*Continental won’t manufacturer a tyre unless it stays on the rim at double it’s maximum pressure. I can’t imagine clinchers perform better than tubeless for that particular test.

 

 

// Technology

  1. @Oli

    @Ron No, he was talking about using a needle to actually puncture the tyre and tube to add some sealant if the valve core isn’t removable – I have the Stans injector too, which gets plenty of use.

    Never tried the hypo solution, but it makes sense and I have some on hand for injecting glue into stringed instruments. You can force sealant through a non removable valve with the bit of tubing Tufo includes with their goop (or with other tubing/goop). Can gum up the valve, but we all store our bikes/wheels with the valves topdeadcentre anyway right?

    I flatted this morning for the first time in months. A bit of sealant fixed it, but I apparently jinxed myself just by talking about it here. “The first rule of Flat Club…”

  2. I like the tried and true clincher with inner tube set up. Though, I only ride with 25mm tires and big ones at that. I like the Michelin Optimum tires; you can get them from outsideoutfitters.com for $80/pair, they last forever, are optimized for front and rear so you never have to rotate them to compensate for wear, and best of all michelin tires are almost always large in volume than stated. The optimum is stated to be a 25mm size but measures more like 27mm. When mounted to a Velocity A23 rim or a Hed Belgium rim these tires ar sublime (especially with latex intertubes). Another awesome tire is Challenges Paris Roubaix; they call it a 27mm, but the tire is straight up 30mm wide and has the gum side walls. Wide widths are the way to go. Not too much alteration or investment required, and best of all this subtle change is requiring frame manufactures to produce bikes that provide ample clearance. The All-city Mr. Pink frame is a great example of this. It’s Columbus Zona, ED rust treated, has a BB30 pressfit (perfect for Campy Chainset installs), has steel crowned lugged fork, and has clearance for 30mm tires.

     

  3. I’ve had two straight seasons with no flats on Hutchinson Fusions and Dura Ace C24s. No way would I ever go back to tubes.

  4. Good write-up Gianni, And good discussion all. Here are my data points. Two seasons with Fusion 3s on Campa Shamal Ultra 2-Way FiTs. Awesome ride quality and handling with the lower pressures. I never rode tubs, so no comparison there, but far superior to tubes, no question. The Fusion 3s perform well, but certainly are not super durable.

    No flats last season with ~7,000km. Two flats this season in 10,000km. First was due to my laziness in riding on a rear tire that was worn way past its useful life. Warm summer day, and the fix took a bit longer than with a clincher due to the tightness of the bead, but really no big deal. Much better than I had expected. Second flat was last weekend on a very rainy day at the tail end of a major storm that left the roadways super gritty and filled with debris. I heard the sealant trying to do its thing but the cut was just a bit too big. Fix was much more difficult with everything wet, gritty and slippery. Had it been colder, things would have really, really sucked.

    For me, tubeless is the way for all but winter. The higher probability of a flat from all the crap on our mountain roads and the added difficulty of fixing it in cold and wet out weigh the performance advantages. But outside winter, tubeless rocks.

  5. @Nate So that was a great breakdown because you managed to crystallize the issue.  I went in big and early on the road tubeless after a particularly unlucky stretch of flat tires.  This was about 2 years ago.  I used a Stan’s conversion on a few different wheels including carbon, all worked well.  If you think that not getting a flat/dealing with it on the side of the road is really important, these are awesome.  Otherwise, it’s another choice that may or may not appeal to you.  They are heavy, that is certain.  They are smooth, that is certain.  Ride quality (and all product testing) needs to be dealt with as you suggest.  Blindfolded and compared to it’s competitor and a placebo.  They can be made rules compliant except for the stem nut, which is unfortunate but not tragic and compensated for by the fact that you not longer need a spare tube/levers/CO2.

  6. @Steve

    @Nate So that was a great breakdown because you managed to crystallize the issue. I went in big and early on the road tubeless after a particularly unlucky stretch of flat tires. This was about 2 years ago. I used a Stan’s conversion on a few different wheels including carbon, all worked well. If you think that not getting a flat/dealing with it on the side of the road is really important, these are awesome. Otherwise, it’s another choice that may or may not appeal to you. They are heavy, that is certain. They are smooth, that is certain. Ride quality (and all product testing) needs to be dealt with as you suggest. Blindfolded and compared to it’s competitor and a placebo. They can be made rules compliant except for the stem nut, which is unfortunate but not tragic and compensated for by the fact that you not longer need a spare tube/levers/CO2.

    Yeah right!

    @Steve

    @Nate So that was a great breakdown because you managed to crystallize the issue. I went in big and early on the road tubeless after a particularly unlucky stretch of flat tires. This was about 2 years ago. I used a Stan’s conversion on a few different wheels including carbon, all worked well. If you think that not getting a flat/dealing with it on the side of the road is really important, these are awesome. Otherwise, it’s another choice that may or may not appeal to you. They are heavy, that is certain. They are smooth, that is certain. Ride quality (and all product testing) needs to be dealt with as you suggest. Blindfolded and compared to it’s competitor and a placebo. They can be made rules compliant except for the stem nut, which is unfortunate but not tragic and compensated for by the fact that you not longer need a spare tube/levers/CO2.

    This is right without yeah.

  7. I’m planning on riding 30mm Dugast tubular slicks for KT2013. Will be plush on the cobbles at 60psi. Any objections?

    It’s what Lars Boom rides.

    http://m.cyclingnews.com/features//pro-bike-lars-booms-rabobank-giant-tcx-advanced-sl-1

  8. @G’rilla

    I’m planning on riding 30mm Dugast tubular slicks for KT2013. Will be plush on the cobbles at 60psi. Any objections?

    It’s what Lars Boom rides.

    http://m.cyclingnews.com/features//pro-bike-lars-booms-rabobank-giant-tcx-advanced-sl-1

    What bike are you riding, an R3? Those 30’s won’t fit in the R3, matey.

  9. @frank I was thinking of bringing my new ti cyclocross bike with a road crank if it’s ready by then.

  10. @G’rilla

    Bold move, I like it!

  11. @G’rilla

    @frank I was thinking of bringing my new ti cyclocross bike with a road crank if it’s ready by then.

    Nice!

  12. @VeloVita

    If you want to try latex inner tubes go for natural latex inner tubes.Avoid all those pigmented ones-red and green.Pigmentation is not good for natural latex hence they rip more easily and are less stretchy.Looking at current production of latex inner tubes you don’t have much choice of the natural latex ones and the easiest to find are probably Vredestein.I’d recommend those first and only if you don’t like them move to others.


    They have different valve lengths and removable valve core.Don’t bother with anything else.Don’t forget to use them with worthy,supple casing tires like Veloflex or Vittoria otherwise it would really make no difference.Be careful whem mounting them.They are much more fragile than butyls.Some of them might fail for no reason especially by the valve however it happens so there are no better brands here.I’m not working for Vredestein or having a deal with them but from my experience when I opened the best handmade tubulars to patch them the quality of vredestein latex inner tubes is very close to those found in Dugasts and other handmades.

  13. I am a long time MTB convert to Mavic/Stans Tubeless, can’t ever see going back.  I picked up a set of Dura Ace Tubeless 2+ yrs ago, and have riddden all 3 versions of Hutchinsons. I add a small amount of Stans liquid.  No problems with installation and seating, using the Stans valves. I do use an air compressor in garage.  I have had to install a tube on the road after a nasty slice, and a dollar bill boot. This did spew Stans everywhere, my riding buddies were very amused.  I would say I have 10K miles now road tubeless.  I do like the ride, much better.  I traded wheels back to my spares, which are tubed GP4000’s, and could immediately tell the difference. I like the wider Intensives the best of the Hutchinsons.  I just ordered a set of IRC Road Tubeless from Japan.  I ride mine about 10 lbs pressure lower than tubes. I feel, since I don’t track, that I have less tire issues than I did with tubes, so from a overall time comparison, it seems to be equal. I would say overall it is about equal for cost and weight. 

    I am really happy with the ride.  Very much like a sew-up, which I had previously ridden for a few years. I have done some low effort crit time on them, and they corner very nicely. In my view it is like gruppo’s, once you get it, and are familiar with it, and it works, you never really think too much about it.

  14. @Phx rider  A happy customer!

    I finally cracked. After three latex spewings on my new chorus gruppo and carbon frame and the final one needing the inner-tube, I’ve said stuff it. I think the old puncture was re-opening so it was fine in the man-cave but once out for a ride it would leak again. The most recent one was at the start of a long fun ride and that always pisses me off, the mechanical early on a long ride.

    Does one have to patch the inside after every flat? That would suck. I’m going back to inner-tubes for now. If they figure out a quicker sealing solution I might get back on that nag.

  15. I continue to soldier on with tubeless. Though I learned first hand that it’s a poor idea to ride on them flat because you can’t corner.  Once you’re over a certain angle, the bead will detach from the rim, and down you go.  And then the light bulb moment.  Of course it won’t stay attached when it’s flat.  What holds it in the bead is the air pressure, dope.

    No, I didn’t test this on purpose.

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  18. I’ve been running Schwalbe One Tubeless on Easton EA90 RT rims since March, about 3200km done. 
    So far they’ve been fanstastic. I had one puncture that wouldn’t self seal, a small piece of flint was embedded in the tyre, I pulled it out by hand and it was all good. I may have had other punctures and not noticed them. 
    The ride is very comfortable at 6.5bar (~90psi) and not carrying tubes, levers, pump and the bag they go in is quite nice too.
    There is, admittedly, not a lot of choice in tyres but I’m very happy with Schwalbe Ones and have found a source at a reasonable price (~£30 per tyre).

  19. @LouBad form replying to my own post but to address some of the points made at the top of the article (of course they were made nearly 2 years ago, so things have moved on).

    Installation

    Simple, I had the tyres fitted on the rims inside 20 minutes and used a standard track pump.
    There was no mess as I had valves with removable cores, once the bead was seated I removed the core and poured in latex sealant then refitted the cores and re-inflated.

    Removal

    I removed the tyre from the rim last night as it would no longer seal and I was curious to see what it looked like inside. The process was very easy; with no tools I was able to work the tyre off the rim and clean up the rim. The small amount of latex on the rim peels off very easily (it’s quite satisfying).
    I didn’t bother cleaning the latex on the inside of the tyre. There was a small amount of water inside both the rim and the tyre, I dried that up too.
     

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  21. i have been running Stans Alpha 340 team Wheels   with Hutchinson Alpha tyres for 2 years   2500 miles on them second set mind.   this is not a Stans plug but they inflate perfect

    i carry a small Stans sealant bottle and a valve extractor and air canister

    iv had his his isssss noices but never missed a beet

  22. @Lou

    I’ve been running Schwalbe One Tubeless on Easton EA90 RT rims since March, about 3200km done.
    So far they’ve been fanstastic. I had one puncture that wouldn’t self seal, a small piece of flint was embedded in the tyre, I pulled it out by hand and it was all good. I may have had other punctures and not noticed them.
    The ride is very comfortable at 6.5bar (~90psi) and not carrying tubes, levers, pump and the bag they go in is quite nice too.
    There is, admittedly, not a lot of choice in tyres but I’m very happy with Schwalbe Ones and have found a source at a reasonable price (~£30 per tyre).

    I have been testing out the new Bontrager R3 tubeless. It’s lighter than most, especially the Hutchinsons as Bontrager does not put a butyl liner on the inside. I have the 25mm tires and they are great. I’ve also switched to some orange sealant with NANO particles or some such bullshit. It actually works better than the cafe latex, seals very quickly.

  23. @Gianni

    @Lou

    I’ve been running Schwalbe One Tubeless on Easton EA90 RT rims since March, about 3200km done.
    So far they’ve been fanstastic. I had one puncture that wouldn’t self seal, a small piece of flint was embedded in the tyre, I pulled it out by hand and it was all good. I may have had other punctures and not noticed them.
    The ride is very comfortable at 6.5bar (~90psi) and not carrying tubes, levers, pump and the bag they go in is quite nice too.
    There is, admittedly, not a lot of choice in tyres but I’m very happy with Schwalbe Ones and have found a source at a reasonable price (~£30 per tyre).

    I have been testing out the new Bontrager R3 tubeless. It’s lighter than most, especially the Hutchinsons as Bontrager does not put a butyl liner on the inside. I have the 25mm tires and they are great. I’ve also switched to some orange sealant with NANO particles or some such bullshit. It actually works better than the cafe latex, seals very quickly.

    Also running Schwalbe One and like them a lot.  Though today had an unrecoverable one.  In fact double punctured but the front sealed.  Previously used the original Bontrager R3 and found them suspect.  They would lose 5 psi min overnight and when washing the bike found they had a number of what I would call micro punctures bubbling the soap on the  tyres that would not seal.  Switched to Schwalbe Ultremo and was amazed at the improved ride vs Bontrager.  Now running the One in 25mm and  like them a lot.

    What is the “orange sealant”.  I see in my LBS that Continental has a sealant out that supposedly does not “go off” as fast as the others on the market.  Will be trying some as will need to refresh mine after today.

  24. @Teocalli

    Orange Seal Tubeless Tire Sealant- good stuff, I watched it seal my front tire in a few revolutions. And my R3s never lost any air or had any micro-leaks, who knows, it may be a sealant issue.

  25. @Gianni

    @Teocalli

    Orange Seal Tubeless Tire Sealant- good stuff, I watched it seal my front tire in a few revolutions. And my R3s never lost any air or had any micro-leaks, who knows, it may be a sealant issue.

    Ta, looks like it is not available in the UK.

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