QUESTION: Should I go road tubeless? Tubeless has been a game changer on my mountain bike, but I’m hearing conflicting information from roadies about it. Some love it, some hate it. – William N
ANSWER: 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.
Another great advantage of tubeless is that you can run a lower tire pressure without worrying about pinch flatting 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 and speed.
It isn’t all wine and roses though. Setting up a new tubeless tire can be a real pain, and it’s also easy to make a giant mess with the sealant. You also have 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.
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 them 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 valve stem had frozen in place so that I was not able to loosen it and get it off so that the tube’s stem would fit through.
For gravel riding and all road riding, where you have bigger volume 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.
But with small volume, higher pressure tires like 25mm, 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.
Readers, what do you say? Am I being too hard on road tubeless? What have been your experiences?