QUESTION: Should I go road tubeless? Tubeless has been a game changer on my mountain bike, but I’m hearing conflicting information from other road cyclists about it. Some love it, some hate it. – William N
RBR REPLIES: I think the reason why you’re getting conflicting information is because there are a lot of different opinions about road tubeless, so there isn’t necessarily a yes or no answer about whether you should do it.
One reason people love going road tubeless is that it is very good at preventing flats because of the liquid sealant that you run inside the tire. If there is a small puncture, the sealant typically seals up the hole before you lose much pressure and can just keep riding, rather than pulling over to fix a flat. Puncture protection is one of the biggest selling points if you’re using sealant.
Another great advantage of tubeless for road bikes is that you can run a lower tire pressure without worrying about pinch flats your tube. Lower tire pressures are generally more comfortable, and also (counterintuitively) roll faster than tires with higher pressure, which means that you get increased comfort, speed and grip with low rolling-resistance to boot.
It isn’t all wine and roses though. Tubeless setup with a new tire can be a real pain, and it’s also easy to make a giant mess with the sealant. A cyclist will also need to own wheels that are designed for tubeless tires, because you are in danger of the tire blowing off the rim if it isn’t made for tubeless. (Standard clinchers don’t work and are not safe for tubeless.)
I personally have always needed to use an air compressor during initial installation, because it’s too hard to get a high enough volume of air through the tubeless valve with a floor pump. The first step is to use the compressor to pop the tire bead onto the rim and get an airtight seal. Next, I let the air back out, take out the removable cores and add tubeless sealant, put each valve core back in and air up the tire to the proper pressure. Then I’ll spin it, ride it around the block to make sure everything is ok, and check it in a few hours to make sure it’s holding air properly.
Because of the risk of the tire coming off the rim, the tires and wheels are often designed so that it’s much, much harder to get your tire on and off. So if you do get a flat anyway, from a hole too large for the sealant to plug or from a sidewall tear, you’ll still have to put a tube in to get back home. And since the tires are so tight, it can be near impossible to get the beads on and off the rim with the potential of leaving you stranded if you haven’t practiced in advance to make sure you have the skill to do it.
It’s also a terrible mess if you do get a flat and have to put a tube in, because the sealant is inside the tire and now you have to deal with that as you put in the tube. I’ve even had one instance where my tubeless valves had frozen in place so that I was not able to loosen it and get it off so that the tube’s valve stem would fit through.
Rim tape is another issue you’ll have to deal with and worry about, because the tape needs to be perfect in order for the wheel and tire to hold air at the high road tubeless pressures. It’s often challenging to get the tape exactly centered in the rim bed, and you can knock it out of place if you aren’t careful when you’re prying on tires or trying to get them off.
And there are also issues with compatibility between some tire brands and wheel brands. As an example, I was riding a set of ENVE wheels with Specialized tubeless road tires and learned that they were not compatible and could potentially blow off the rim, so I had to remove them and replace them with different tires. Since then, ENVE has set up an entire page about tire compatibility, and other wheel manufacturers sometimes have similar pages.
For gravel riding and all road riding, where you have bigger volume, wider tires of 35mm and up with lower pressures, tubeless seems to work terrific. At most gravel events, the majority of riders will be riding tubeless tires with sealant, like with mountain biking. As far as tire durability and how long they last, it as been about the same as regular clincher tires for me.
But with small volume, small widths and higher pressure tires like 25mm tubeless road bike tires, there is so little air in the tire and at such high pressure that if the sealant doesn’t plug the hole instantly, you end up losing too much air and you have to stop. With those narrower “pure road” tires, it’s not as clear to me that it’s always better to go tubeless.
If you’ve never had to change a messy sealant flat, or never had trouble getting your tire off the rim or gotten stranded, then you’re probably going to be a big road tubeless fan if you try it. But if you ever get stuck on the side of the road after sealant has sprayed all over you and your bike and the riders around you and you can’t get your tire off to put in a tube, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Also, that means you’re still lugging around spare inner tubes, just in case.
Readers, what do you say? Am I being too hard on road tubeless bike tires? What have been your experiences?
Peter Wimberg says
I’d never go back to tubeless for road. My experience over three years was horrible. I had several flats that the sealant couldn’t seal which left me fighting with the valve stem that had to be removed, the messy sealant all over the place and then riding home with the less-than-round tire as the pressure needed to get the bead back into the rim requires much higher pressure than you can get with a cartridge or pump. Not even close to worth the trouble in my opinion. Could be fine for gravel riders or your race bike where a flat ends your day anyway.
It works till it doesn’t. Then it is a royal pain. Tubes for road and gravel. I’m not a mountain biker. IMHO
I have never tried road tubeless tires.
To me, the hassle of dealing with a puncture that will not seal (I have watched friends fiddling with bottles of sealant on the roadside) outweighs the relative simplicity of replacing an inner tube. My riding group are not competitive, and we all appreciate the chance for a rest during the five minutes it takes to change a tube.
And you didn’t mention that fresh sealant needs to be regularly added to tubeless tires because sealant dries in the tire over time. Then there is the potential for clogged valves.
Greg Titus says
Ditto this comment: on my group rides, the pause for a clincher flat repair is actually welcomed. The extended wait for a tubeless flat that needs a tube to get home, is not. And the mess, which may affect nearby cyclists, is also not enjoyable. Not to mention the difficulty of getting a tubeless tight tire off the rim.
Good point about the sealant needing refreshing, which I imagine would be more frequent on tubeless road tires than tubeless gravel or mountain because of the smaller volume and more frequent inflation before rides (more new air in & out, drying out the sealant quicker).
Don’t know about tread wear differences between clinchers and tubless. I typically get at least 5K miles all on a rear tire for clinchers (Continental 5000s). Is tubeless that good?
The tubeless technology just isn’t ready for road cycling. It’s great for gravel and mountain, though. The point made in the article about tires at 35mm or greater being suitable for tubeless is very apt.
Jeff Wallace says
Getting the tubeless valve stem out can be a real problem if you have a flat I carry in my bike bag very small pliers to make sure I can do that. While it is well known that after you have a flat, you have to check the inside of tire for the cause of the flat, it is particularly important you do that thoroughly for tubeless tires since the sealant may be hiding other problems that will then re-appear.
I had tubeless on my gravel bike. The tyres were 650B and 47mm. I had one puncture, fixed by the sealant, in a couple of years. I always carried a spare tube and plugs, never needed them. The thought of trying to remove the tyre at some point always weighed heavily my mind. When I recently purchased my touring bike I was advised by the builder not to use tubeless on anything other than 650B. As my build was 700C I opted for the recommended lightweight tubes filled with sealant. Perhaps size does matter! Time will tell.
Tony M says
Absolutely love tubeless tires on my mountain bike…..absolutely hated them on my road bike. They rode great,..but they were impossible to work with. I had no problems mounting new tires, when everything was clean. But if I had to remount a tire, it was impossible. I could never get bead to catch and seal. I tried soapy water, special pumps, CO2, other tricks I read about….nothing worked. I had to go to my LBS and have them use their compressor, and even they had issues. Maybe it was the combination of tire and rim (Hutchinson on Shimano), but it wasn’t worth it. Went back to tubes.
larry english says
no to tubeless, carbon, disk, electric shift!
tubeless is the worst of them all
Mark Follmer says
Had a flat on the road with tubeless in spite of the sealant, etc. So I put in a tube. But after 20-30 minutes trying to get the tire back on the rim my group rode away.
Finally able to put the tire back on using two levers.
Mike Thomsen says
Tubeless road tires are great. I use Schwalbe Pro One TE. The new ones go on and off much easier than the originals. Not much harder than a clincher. I spend the winter riding in Tucson and there is a plethora of glass and garbage on the roads. I carry plugs, sealant, and a tube but Orange Sealant will seal almost all punctures. Occasionally I need a plug, Dynaplug much better than Stans.
All of that being said, the transition might have been more acceptable for me as I was riding tubulars prior to tubeless. The tubeless tires feel and handle very similar to tubulars. I do not like clinchers.
Greg Robinson says
I done ride tubeless on either my mountain or road bike. I used to get a lot of flats on my mountain bike so I used some sealant in my tubes a couple of years ago. I have not had a flat since then and my tubes stay inflated longer so I don’t need to plump them up before a ride as often. I’ll eventually do the same on my road bike, but I haven’t had the same issue with flats.
I’m in the fence about road tubeless. I have it on one bike. I had a puncture out on the road that sprayed sealant and was reluctant to seal. It eventually did after completing the ride on a soft tire. Sealant is very hard to get off the bike. On my mountain and gravel bikes, tubeless works better because of the lower pressure. Plug kits are nice and faster than putting in a tube when sealant alone doesn’t work. I get less flats with tubeless, but setup time associated with rim taping, struggling with mounting the tires, keeping sealant levels up, dealing with messy sealant, and dealing with clogged valves eats up time too, so it’s probably a wash how much time I save on the road with occasional flat vs. all the other time wasters with tubeless. Also, tubeless tires are more expensive than the tubed versions and sealant isn’t cheap either.
I use 650B/48mm with tubes. With just one puncture in three years, tubeless strikes me as a solution looking for a problem.
William Kennedy says
When I first converted to tubeless, I had a flat and had to deal with the mess. I can’t remember the brand, but it had come with the wheels. I switched to Continental 5000T and have had no problems since (4000+ miles). I think not all tubeless tires are created equal. I like tubeless for the reasons cited; smooth ride and better handling.
Sounds like most of the roadies are vehemently against tubeless, as am I for the plethora of reasons given by other contributors, so no need to add my gripes.
Definitely one of the weakest links in the bicycle’s mechanical chain is the tires and threat of puncture issue. Tubeless tires seemed poised to address this problem, but has failed rather miserably and has created myriad new problems if using the this system. But how about the ‘run flat’ system made by a few manufacturers.? I think Vittoria was making such a thing for road tires as well as the initial MTB offering. Maybe others can comment on this.
David Lindsay says
Greetings from Wales, home of rough roads, thorns, flints and occasional broken glass. I use Schwalbe G One Speed tubeless tyres on Hunt Four Season Disc wheels and love the increased comfort, speed and amazing grip, wet or dry. Recently I replaced the worn 30mm rear tyre and it was a 10 minute task, including adding fresh sealant.
When I received the new tyre I put it onto an old wheel, overnight, with an inner tube fitted. I find this helps to shape the tyre after it has been sent in a folded state. Fitting the tyre onto the rim is then as straightforward as a clincher tyre and I find that some rapid strokes with a track pump are enough to seal the tyre onto the rim with a loud snap. It’s then a simple task to deflate the tyre, unscrew the valve core, add the sealant and reinflate. I may be lucky with the tyre/wheel combination but as it works so well I’m a fan. The combination of the supple tyres, Brooks B17 saddle and 20 year old Litespeed titanium frame meant that my recent century ride was the most comfortable in a fifty year riding career.
I have been using tubeless road tires almost 7 years. All the messy issues are true, however I have only been
stranded with a hole too big to seal twice. I rely on my local bike shop for most tires changes once the tires are worn. Flats are just not an issue anymore. I can remember finishing a century without stopping after having the rider behind me tell me I was losing air at the 70 mile mark. The tire self sealed and I never stopped. I ride 28mm Schwalbe Pro One tires with Stans sealant. Comfortable ride with great handling and road grip. Until something better comes along I’m sticking with tubeless.
Mr. Versatile says
I purchased a new bike that came with DT Swiss 1800 tubeless ready rims & Conti 4000s with tubes installed in them. When I got my 1st flat I couldn’t even remove the tire from the rim, never mind reinstalling it. Fortunately, a friend I was with returned with his car to give me a ride home. I’m in my 58th year of post high school riding, so you’ve got to figure, OK, the guy has probably changed a tire or two. I got home, experimented, tried again, did native dances, chanted, burned incense, & lit candles, all to no avail. I took the wheel to my LBS to have them install a new tube. I watched them struggle A LOT before getting it done. Then I removed the DT rims & relaced the wheels. with non tubeless rims. Ta-Da…problem solved. I have several friends who did the same thing.
I had the Hunt wheels with WTB Byway tubeless. Excellent combination. My LBS used the set-up as a reference for people new to tubeless. I now have DT Swiss rims, can’t like them as much as I did the Hunt. Will return to them when I can convince my appropriate higher authority that I need to spend more money on bike 😄
I have tubeless specific rims/tires on one of the road bikes. Once the tires are worn out, I will go back to tubes.
I just don’t think the mess is worth the effort.
Lady Cyclist says
I have been riding tubless only for about 3 or more years. I had only used tubes before but instead of changing a tube taking 5 or 10 minutes it always took me at least 20 or more. I found it very, very difficult, especially when on the side of the road. Most of my punctures have been the wire or thorn type and the sealant works perfectly and I am always able to get home. I probably would have had about 40 or more flats using tubes, but with tubeless I just kept peddling and the puncture seals. There is a definite learning curve to going tubeless. If you are not willing to do that, it isnt for you at all. If I had a huge gash or something where it didn’t seal I would have to call for assistance but (knock on wood) that hasn’t happened yet. So for me, I will never go back to using tubes. One additional note…we live in the desert and for mountain biking you have to be tubeless. You wouldn’t get 30 feet otherwise. Again, these comments are just my opinion as a woman cyclist.
Richard Andrew says
Just passed 10,000 miles on tubeless tires. Maybe half dozen minor punctures that sealed themselves. One big puncture that was to big to self seal. Used my Dynaplug device to repair. No need to remove tire. Just inserted the plug and then added a little air. Probably took less than 5 minutes to complete the repair. Finished my ride without any further trouble. Yes, the initial setup can be a bit challenging, but once you understand the process it’s really not that difficult. I am so confident with tubeless that I carry only a Dynaplug and a mini pump. No more bulky spare tubes or repair kits. I really don’t understand what all the moaning and groaning is about. So keep on taking those rear wheels off and spending your afternoons sitting by the side of the road.
There’s also the problem of hook or hookless rims. Not all tires and wheels are compatible and there’s not a lot of information available that shows which rims and tires are a safe combination.
Dave Champlin says
Well, I’m on the fence. New bike came set up tubeless so I’m in the learning curve, 50+ years of riding/racing so I have have dealt with tubulars, clinchers of many varieties and a few flats on the road. And, I have repaired sew ups myself (not on the road!)
The new bike has had issues with sealant clogging the valve (could not even add air!) I have practiced taking the tires off – pretty straightforward since the Bontrager tires/wheels ARE compatible. And, the sealant has stopped multiple leaks on the rear – but those were so tiny they would not have punctured my previous GP 4000’s.
While the potential for lower pressures does increase comfort, contrary to earlier comments, lower pressures DO NOT decrease rolling resistance (plenty of test data on this). There is a sweet spot depending on how you ride..
I’m not looking forward to an actual flat/cut although I think I’m prepared.
Dave H says
I believe you are mis guided kn fhe rolling resistance issue. I ride chip and seal roads all the time and definitely find low pressure makes a difference in rolling resistance. Need to check your sources for rolling resistance tests. New testing data is pretty clear!
I’ve been using tubeless on my road and MTB since they were available. MTB tubeless is significantly more advanced and reliable on all aspects than road, and are highly recommended. You need to think of road tubeless as a high end performance vehicle to love them. That means they are difficult to get right, but when you do, they ride fast, smooth, and grip the road. The biggest problem of late is that the sidewalls are porous and sealant isn’t fixing the issue. I have Vittoria Terreno Zero on my gravel bike, and Conti 5000 TL on my road. Both leak leak out the sidewalls. I’ve been using Stans and it slows the leaks, but doesn’t stop it. The previous Schwalbe Pro One TE never leaked, but were a pain to install and inflate.
Robert Ray says
On the fence. I’ve transitioned from all tubes on my six bikes to currently: tubes (4: mt, tt, 2 road ) and tubeless (2: cross and road). Tubeless is a lot more equipment and “fuss” to switch over, and initially left me pretty frustrated. So far, flats on tt, road, and tubeless. I have concerns about tire carcass cuts w/ tubeless and being left with no good solution. None-the-less, tubeless has my current “choice”, but if I were a “newbey” it’d be so much cheaper and easier to deal with tubes, hands down. I’m pretty convinced the tubeless system was designed by the industry to get you to spend more money!
I will not use road tubeless on 25mm or smaller tires. Volume is too low and pressure is too high for sealant to work for any puncture bigger than a pin hole.
Road tubeless had been working good for me with 28mm and larger tires. With these size tires I use a max pressure of 75psi. For the riding I do, and the road conditions in my area, I like 32mm tires.
Hutchinson and Shimano rims do not seal easily once the tire has been used and removed for cleaning. I had to discard a tire that wouldn’t seal even using a compressor. The tire was not worn, and many more klm to it.
Lots of comments on this question! My experience is yes to tubeless on MTB and Gravel, no on road tires. Tubeless set up is a hassel, and makes switching tires and/or wheels for conditions (if you do that sort of thing) a major hassel. Managing my tubeless gravel set up is bad enough when I adjust tires for a 90% gravel/10% road event vs a 50%/50% gravel road event. Tubeless road advantages are not enough to overcome the negatives. Clincher 25 or 28’s on a wider rim are plush and fast enough.
What they don’t tell you about tubeless is the weight, they say it’s lighter than tube tires but the reality is that by the time you add in your second sealant dose in 3 months or so you now have eliminated any weight savings, and by the time you have gone to your third dose you have exceeded the weight of a tube tire.
Of course the sealant cost money and requires more maintenance of the tire.
Then of course you have to have a special pump to get the PSI up fast so as to seal the bead which you can’t do on the road so you have to carry a spare tube…so you’re back to using a tube!
Removing a tubeless tire can be a real pain to do.
Valve cores can clog up from the sealant.
Setting up a tubeless tire onto a rim is very tedious to do.
If you are touring tubeless tires and or the sealant isn’t available everywhere.
In regards to touring you may need to carry extra sealant, tubeless plugs, a sewing kit, super glue, and a high volume pump to repair a large puncture or sidewall tear. You’ll also need a spare tube or two in case you can’t make the tire airtight after making the repair. All of this gear adds weight. Because of the extra gear that you need to carry, riding tubeless while touring is often heavier than just riding with tubes.
Of course the sealant is messy.
Doug Kirk, Madison, WI says
I went to tubeless a year ago for my recreational bike; not touring and not commuter bikes. I love the ride, but the reason I went tubeless is that my arthritic hands can’t remove and replace my good lightweight tires any more. The choice was stiff, harsh ride of something like a Gatorskin, or go tubeless. I patronize my LBS for those wheels and all is good.
I switch to tubeless one year ago. I love them. I run Hutchison tubeless on my Festka and Cervelo RCA. The ride comfort, control and handling is fantastic. I don’t worry about flats. I carry Dyna plugs. I flated once , I made it home and plugged and pumped in under 5 minutes. The tires have gone on and off super easy. Descending I don’t worry about a catastrophe front blow out. The downside: steep learning curve. You tube videos have really helped. In the beginning everything that could go wrong did. And I actually enjoyed the challenge of solving the issue. For example never put sealant through the valve. It always gums up. I use Stans Race sealant. One year later no flats. Also think through removing tire in a way that you preserve the fluid. Also I use paper towels for the clean. Very easy. And not messy. And if I get a flat on the road I just hit it with compressed gas filler and it reseals. So far the Hutchison tires have worn well. They are really good in wet conditions. Converting to tubeless takes patience. And the tires are super fast ran at low tire pressure. I even train with them on my TT bike. Make sure you have tubeless high pressure pump or compressor. My pump works great. Now when I change a tubeless tire it seats and holds pressure perfectly and for days at a time.
I would never go back to inner tubes. Riding tubeless, lower tire pressure adds a magical quality to the ride. Just be prepared to work at and learn new skills.
I switched to tubeless about three seasons ago. I run 25mm Yksion Pro UST tires on Mavic Ksyrium Pro UST rims. I have had great success with tubeless. I have never been stranded. I have had multiple self sealing punctures. I had one larger puncture that sealed and unsealed. So I stopped and got my plug device out and inserted a plug in the hole added a little air and continued on my way. Probably cost me 3min to fix problem. Completed my ride with no further problems. End of story. Now if this had been a tubed tire I would have stop and dismount my wheel and then dismount the tire and then find the hole in the tube and then had to seal the hole in the tube and then had to remount tube and tire on rim and then remount the rim onto the bike and then pump up the tire. 15 or 20 minutes maybe? Get the idea? I agree mounting or dismounting a tubeless tire can be difficult. The sealant isn’t messy if you think about what you are doing. I do install a new valve core when adding sealant at a cost of .89. What is messy is chain oil on your hands from changing your wheel for the rest of the ride. So if you get yourself a Stans or Dyna Plug plug tool you don’t even need to remove the wheel from the bike. Oh i forgot I run 75 lbs pressure instead of 100 plus with tubes such a comfy ride and better road grip. So I don’t get what all the crying is all about.
Don Quering says
I’ve been riding tubeless 3 years now. 6000+ miles per year. Yes, I get flats and yes, they are a bugger to boot and tube.
First of all, I get 1 or 2 flats a year! While everybody is fixing a flat because of goatheads, I’m there to help.
Depending on the sealant you use, it’s not that big a mess.
I run lower pressure by 20 psi.
The flats I do get would equally flat a tubed tire.
Agreed; lower pressure on bad roads is not only more comfortable, but may also be quicker. But I ride fantastically smooth paved raods 99% of the time and on these, lower tire pressures simply go slower – a LOT slower – feels like pedalling through mud. So it depends solely on the road surface. I don’t see track cyclists using 28mm tires @ 8o lbs pressure.
I’ve been riding 32m tubeless tires on hookless rims for over two years and will never go back to tubes. They feel like they are faster, handle better and I have fewer flats.. There is a learning curve so you just have to be patient. Verify that any tire you buy is proven to work well with your rims. The tires fit tighter on the rims but thats a good thing so just keep working it on., More often than not you will need to use a burst of high pressure to seat them, so you should invest in a control tank.