This article will look at the benefits of tubeless tires, whether they’re right for you, and what you should keep in mind while upgrading.
I’ll also take a short walk down memory lane and share my early experiences with tubeless tires with you; you’ll learn how tubeless tires initially flopped after being marketed as miracle workers.
How Tubeless Tires Got Off to a Poor Start
Tubeless tires are pretty commonplace these days. Back when they were first gaining traction in the early 2000s, they were praised to the heavens and reserved only for the elite.
Tubeless tires in those days seemed like a pipe-dream for the average rider. The magazines I would read back then described them as game-changers: “the most significant step forward in cycling for years”.
I remember being a bit disappointed the first time I rode a tubeless mountain bike. After I’d heard about the miracles they supposedly work, I was expecting it to blow my mind. It didn’t.
To their credit, Bike magazine sat out on the tubeless tire hype. By the late 2000s, the PR machine had died down a little, and an article in Bike magazine was followed up by an online exclusive taking a closer look at tubeless tires. In it, Vernon Felton wrote about how he’d asked a PR guy why tubeless tires never truly caught on as expected.
The PR guy replied that consumer magazines had made so many extraordinary claims about tubeless tires, buyers had felt a bit conned when they couldn’t live up to them.
Vernon remarked that the PR guy himself had been guilty of making similar claims when tubeless tires first came to market in 1999, and found the response to be baffling.
Tubeless tires flopped simply because they couldn’t live up to the hype.
Of course, since then, tubeless tires have found their feet, and are now hailed pretty much universally as the better of the two options.
Update Note: One of our readers, Anthony Wallis, dug out the article mentioned above. You see an archived version of it here. Blast from the past – cheers Tony!
This article is beginning to show my age. Let’s quickly move on and look at modern tubeless tires and how they could benefit you.
What are the Benefits of Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires?
Despite the previous section mentioning my disappointment with tubeless tires, they’re actually pretty beneficial.
Here are some of the significant benefits tubeless mountain bike tires offer over regular tube tires:
- No pinch flats. Say goodbye to pinch flats. You can run lower tire pressures with a tubeless tire and not have to worry about pinching the tire and getting that all-too-familiar “snake-bite” puncture.
- Fewer puncture flats. Modern tubeless tires are mounted with a sealant that can fare much better against punctures as opposed to tube tires.
- Better traction. Tubeless tires can run low pressures without the risk of pinch flats, meaning you can get far better traction than a tube tire would offer.
Now that you have a good idea of how tubeless mountain bike tires can benefit you let’s look at a few things those shiny magazines from years gone by wouldn’t have told you: the downsides.
The Downsides of Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires
Of course, there are two sides to every story. While I’m a definite advocate of tubeless mountain bike tires, it’s important to highlight the aspects that are less than ideal.
Here are some notable downsides of tubeless mountain bike tires when compared to tube tires:
- They cost a lot more. Okay, maybe this one was implied by the elite status of them back in those days, but even today, tubeless tires are more expensive to buy and to replace. The best tubeless tire systems will require entire new wheels, and those don’t come cheap.
- They can be a nightmare to install. Ask anyone who’s ever had to mount tubeless tires, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms how awkward it can be. You can’t use tire levers for risk of deforming the tire bead, meaning it can be really, really tricky.
- You’ll still need a tube for repairs. Are you going on a long trip somewhere? You’ll still need to carry a tube with you. If a tubeless tire goes flat, it means the sealant couldn’t self-fix the puncture. The only fix is to put a tube in the tire.
Are Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires Better for the Average Rider?
Yes. I would definitely say that tubeless mountain bike tires are better than tubed tires. Tubeless tires offer better traction, control, and a little boost in suspension due to their ability to run lower pressures.
Due to advances in the sealants used, you’re also likely to get far fewer punctures and pinch flats become a thing of the past.
Keep in mind that tubeless systems are more expensive to buy, maintain, and can be a hassle to install.
I’d recommend taking your bike to a professional if you aren’t too sure about what you’re doing. It’s not worth cheaping out here.