Question: Can you explain the difference between inner tubes made of butyl rubber versus latex? Is one choice lighter or more puncture resistant? — Bill W.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Latex tubes are usually lighter than standard butyl tubes, and their fans say they have a “nicer ride.”
They’re also reputed to be more puncture-resistant because they’re more flexible. The idea is that a thorn or other sharp object that penetrates the tire will push into the tube, deforming it but not causing a puncture.
I confess to some skepticism. On the downside, latex tubes are usually more expensive and they’re more porous. You need to inflate them before each day’s ride.
Butyl tubes, on the other hand, hold air longer, meaning you don’t have to air up so often. Plus, they’re typically less expensive and easier to find (especially in a pinch).
I have found that with the new wider rims and 25mm tires, the latex tubes have a smoother ride. They also seem to be more puncture resistant. However, if the tube gets a slow leak it is very difficult to find the hole because latex tubes cannot be inflated very much outside of the tire. I have a tube that will almost totally leak down in less than two days but submerging it in water shows no leaks.
Your tubes didn’t have a leak, that is the nature of latex, they will be leak air because latex is more porous than butyl. The higher the psi in your tires the more air will initially bleed out, they say 10 psi in a 24 hour period but my experience at 110 psi was closer to 30 psi, but as that real high pressure drops off the lower the psi gets the slower it bleeds out because it’s not being forced out as much as it was initially. When I had slightly larger tires the psi I put in those was 90 psi, and those would drop about 20 psi if I remember correctly in a 24 hour period. Now of course you can slow down that air loss and prevent some flats by using some sort of sealant but then you just increased the weight of the tube which sort of defeats the purpose of having latex, and you have to add in more sealant every 90 days to keep it active. So I never used any sealant when I was using latex, and then I heard that sealants can burn latex tubes over the long haul, I don’t know that for sure though since I never used the stuff.
As far as finding flats I never had any more problems finding flats with those then I did with butyl, yes you can inflate them outside the tire but not as much but . Also latex tubes are more prone to pinch flats, and you have to be real careful installing them so you don’t get them pinched between the tire and rim which is actually quite easy to do, but again you need to make sure you liberally apply baby powder to the tube (most come with that stuff already applied) and that the tube has just enough air that it has taken shape before installing it. In reality though you should also be using talc with butyl tubes as well and doing so reduces usage watts by a watt or two.
Latex tubes seem to have a better life span when sewn inside a tubular tire, I don’t mean better flat protection, I mean that the latex tube won’t deteriorate as rapidly as it does in a clincher. This is because the latex tube isn’t stored someplace like a hot warehouse then transported in a very hot trailer, heat shortens the life of latex a lot. So if the tire manufacture makes the tube as well and they sew the tube inside the tire the tire will actually protects the latex from that point onward.
I tried latex tubes for a short while some years back. They were noticeably smoother, but I had to pump them up 10-15 psi before every ride. This was particularly burdensome on multi0day tours when one has enough to do to get rolling in the mornings. I threw the latex tubes in the trash and went back to butyl .
Yes, I agree with most comments. Supposedly they save 2-4 watts of rolling resistance at 20 MPH, so I save them on wheels used in racing events. A compromise is thin butyL.
John Tonetti says
I use latex tubes and love them. But if you use CO2 for flats, you should carry a butyl tube as a spare. CO2 is less dense than air, so latex will go soft much quicker. You may end up with two flats.
Tom in MN says
Ever seen the fog coming off dry ice? It sits in a bowl and flows down onto the floor. Adding a C to O2 makes it heavier and bigger, so I have my doubts about this, but no personal experience.
Kerry Irons says
Science failure. The average molecular weight of air is 29, whereas CO2 is 44. It’s not about the density of the gas, it’s about the permeability of rubber to different gasses and CO2 permeates through rubber faster than oxygen or nitrogen (the major components of air). Because rubber is carbon based, CO2 has a higher affinity for rubber than does air.
That’s right. Thanks
I use Latex tubes after a flat I repair them with a Scab self adhesive patch. You can do this many times to the same tube saving the cost of a new one each time. After installing the patch I only give the tube three inflation pumps and leave it for a day to ensure it is repaired. Giving the tube more than three pumps will stretch the patch.
Chris K. says
For someone who is good at preventing pinch flats, uses talc for every install and also pumps up literally before hitting the road every time, would latex make a viable solution? I’m terrified of on-road flats–rarely ever get any–but it sounds like all the “gotchas” of latex wouldn’t really apply to me.