We’ve been extensively discussing road tubeless tire technology these past few weeks. And, just when we thought we’d covered the issue pretty well, reader Greg Meyer wrote:
“I read Mike Tierney’s article Tubeless Revisited in RBR Newsletter Issue No. 676. I also read what John Marsh and you wrote regarding tubeless tires in the same issue, and I am confused and hope you can help. I think I understand what the terms “tubeless” and “tubeless compatible” mean, but I also see the term "tubeless ready." Can you explain the difference between the terms “tubeless compatible” and “tubeless ready?”
“Also, I currently use the Maxxis Radiale 24c TL tire on a HED Belgium + rim. When I need to replace my tire, do I replace it with a tubeless tire or can I use a tubeless-ready tire like the Maxxis Padrone TR? I did not originally set up this tire and rim combination so I’m not 100% sure what I’ve got. I do use Specialized tubeless-ready tires on my mountain bike along with rim strips and sealant, but I’m concerned with the higher pressure used on road bike tires.”
Thanks, Greg. Your question made me realize that we didn’t explain the terminology and differences in road tubeless technology very well. I’ll do that here. It should help everyone, because tubeless technology is getting even more confusing.
Let me start by answering your specific question. Assuming you already have your HED Belgium rims set up for tubeless with a sealing rim strip and valve stem (I’m assuming this because your tire is a tubeless-ready model, according to their website), you can use that new Padrone tire just fine. Or, you could use any other tubeless, tubeless-ready or tubeless-compatible tire, too.
The key thing is having the sealing rim strip and valve stem in the rim, and enough sealant inside the tire (recommended amounts are usually printed on the side of the sealant bottle).
Now, I’ll try to explain the differences in tubeless tires and wheels and provide some surefire ways to tell what you’ve got for others who aren’t sure.
TYPE 1: Tubeless-compatible and tubeless-ready. These terms mean the same thing. I’m going to abbreviate these terms as TC and TR in this article. But note that tire companies may use other nomenclature and tire markings, too, like TLR.
Unfortunately, some companies are even now labeling their tires as “Tubeless,” and you only find out they’re actually TC/TR tires by reading the fine print. The thing to look for on their website is the mention of using sealant, which tells you the tire is a TC/TR.
Kind of like those “batteries sold separately” disclaimers on electronics, the terms “ready” and “compatible” are the tire companies’ way of saying that the tires are not tubeless until or unless you’ve spent more money for the special rim strips and valves and sealant required to set the tires up as tubeless.
Another way of looking at it is that you can use these tires the standard way – with tubes – if you like. Or you can upgrade and go tubeless if you get the extras (the sealing rim strip and valve stem, and sealant) and modify your wheels so that you can use the tires without tubes.
These “ready/compatible” tires are a little heavier than the same models that aren’t TC/TR, in order for the sealant to seal well and, just as important, in order for the tire sidewalls to hold fast and keep the tire on the rim. TC and TR (and other abbreviations for this) are common terms in mountain biking, and I believe that’s where they came from.
In fact, it was tubeless becoming so popular with mountain bikers that drove the road tubeless development. Roadies wanted the freedom from pinch flats and a smoother ride, too -- especially those who already enjoyed it off-road.
TYPE 2: Genuine Tubeless. The other type of tubeless tire is a genuine tubeless tire made for use on a genuine tubeless wheel. This is the “Road Tubeless” system that Hutchinson and Shimano invented in 2007 that I wrote about last week (and reviewed back then).
With a genuine tubeless tire and wheel, nothing extra is needed. It works exactly like car tires work. The wheel and tire together form an airtight seal on their own. Tubeless wheels come with proprietary valves.
Like car tires, the difference between genuine tubeless wheels/tires and TC and TR tires/wheels is a mechanical bead lock between the tire and rim that seals the system and keeps the tire in place. Genuine tubeless tires are heavier than TC and TR tires because of this and from having even heavier sidewalls.
Lighter weights were promised, but it hasn’t happened yet, except if you want to use Hutchinson’s lighter tubeless tire, the Atom, which has a very low profile and a harsh ride, in my opinion. I would only recommend them to flyweights.
If you don’t have a Hutchinson brand tire with “Road Tubeless” printed on the label, there’s about a 99% chance that if you’re running the tire as tubeless, it is actually a TC/TR tire.
I said 99% because it’s possible that someone has just introduced a genuine tubeless tire and I just couldn’t find it. However, every tire I found that claimed to be tubeless required sealant and did not feature the bead lock. If you know of a new genuine tubeless tire, please share and I’ll pass it on.
Interestingly, you can also use true Hutchinson tubeless tires on standard wheels by using sealant, special rim strips and special valves. That’s how the whole TR and TC phenomenon started on the road side. People didn’t want to buy new tubeless wheels, but they figured the tubeless tires would work on standard wheels if they could seal the wheels, and they were right.
Stan’s No Tubes was quickest to the market with a rim strip and valve and sealant to do the job. Once other tire makers saw that, they knew they could produce TR and TC model tires and didn’t have to produce genuine tubeless tires. That’s another reason there’s still such a limited selection of genuine tubeless tires.
Knowing what wheels you have helps you know what type of tubeless tires you can use, too. Hutchinson lists the following wheels as genuine tubeless, which means the wheels are sealed, have bead locks and include proprietary valves. Note that this list includes some models no longer available, but you might still have them on your bike or purchase a used bike with them.
The defining feature of a genuine tubeless wheel is a sealed rim. If you look inside you won’t see the holes for the spoke nipples. And, because they’re sealed, no rim strip is needed.
• Campagnolo Eurus 2Way Fit
• Campagnolo Zonda 2Way Fit
• Corima Aero + Carbon
• Corima Aero + Winium
• DT Swiss RR 1450
• DT Swiss R 1700
• Easton EA90 RT
• Easton EA90 SL
• Easton EA90 SLX
• Easton EC90 Aero 55
• Easton EA90 XD
• Fulcrum Racing 0 2Way Fit
• Fulcrum Racing 1 2Way Fit
• Fulcrum Racing 2 2Way Fit
• Hutchinson RT1 Carbon
• Shimano Dura-Ace WH- 7850SL
• Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7900-C24-TL
• Shimano Ultegra WH-6700
Sticking with the percentage from my previous bold comment about tires, if you don’t have one of these wheelsets and Hutchinson Road Tubeless tires, there’s about a 99% chance that you have a TC/TR setup, like Greg. That’s by far the more common setup because buying a new wheelset is so expensive.
Jim Langley has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached 7,871.
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