25 Jun 2013

Road tubeless conclusions

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If you follow my blog and/or Twitter you’ll know road tubeless has been on my mind this season. After a brief hiccup my feelings have clarified: I love it. With the conclusion out of the way I want to share a few unvarnished thoughts on the pros and cons as I see them.

Arguments in favor

1. The ride benefits of road tubeless derive from lower air pressure. Lower pressure produces a definite improvement in comfort and increase in stickiness. This stickiness is noticeable when cornering and braking — both of these improvements are attributable to a larger contact patch. My non-scientific basis for comparison is a race bike setup 700×23 tubeless compared to the same bike with 700×25 clinchers. Subjectively the comfort is on par with my 700×32 touring bicycle.

2. Tubeless also provides flat protection, which mountain bikes have long proved. With no tube there is no risk of pinch flats (thereby enabling lower pressures). Small tire punctures, which generally foul tubes, are quietly plugged with sealant. And if these layers of protection are breached, tubeless tires are ultimately backwards compatible with tubes. I still carry a tube for emergencies.

3. One less mentioned advantage of tubeless tires is the failure mode. Vendors claim road tubeless tires are likely to stay on the rim in the event of total deflation, which was my experience exactly. When I sliced a tubeless tire, the beads remained perfectly fixed as I came to a stop.

Arguments against

1. Road tubeless tires fit tighter. At first I found it difficult to mount my Ultremo ZX tires. I found it helpful to use a toe strap as a sort of fourth hand but otherwise managed to mount the tire without tools. Separately I tried my Kool-Stop Bead Jack, which made quick work of the job. In any event it seemed I got better with practice and/or re-mounting tires gets easier. I have considered I might need to borrow the attachment strap from my saddle bag for field repairs, which says something.

2. Tubeless requires new skills. You need to add sealant to your tires and top it up periodically. If you lose focus, you’re liable to make a mess and spray a bit of sealant around. Also depending on your tire/rim combination you may need an air compressor to seat a new tire. (I mounted the Ultremo ZX on my Alpha 400 rim several times with only a floor pump.) How do you feel about change?

3. Finally I have been critical of tire selection for road tubeless. If you need a tire outside the 23-25mm range, choices are slim. If you use a rim size other than 700c, choices are nil. That said tire selection is improving all the time. I put together a little survey of road tubeless tires with links to jumpstart your own research. I don’t sell tires and have no vested interest here.

Tire Size Weight
Bontrager R2 TLR 700×23 280g
Bontrager R2 TLR 700×25 295g
Bontrager R3 TLR 700×23 265g
Bontrager R3 TLR 700×25 280g
Hutchinson Atom 700×23 270g
Hutchinson Fusion 3 700×23 290g
Hutchinson Intensive 2 700×25 320g
Hutchinson Secteur 28 700×28 290g
IRC Formula Light 700×23 240g
IRC Formula RBCC 700×23 290g
IRC Formula X-Guard 700×23 310g
IRC Roadlite 700×23 310g
IRC Roadlite 700×25 345g
Maxxis Padrone 700×23 300g
Schwalbe Ultremo ZX TL 700×23 295g
Specialized Roubaix TL 700×23/25 295g

Getting started

Is road tubeless for you? I can’t say but it’s definitely for me. If you’re interested in a wheelset for road tubeless, get in touch. Some riders have had success converting ordinary rims for tubeless but I recommend using rims designed specifically for the application. I offer compatible rims from Stan’s and Velocity. I build with tape, sealant and valves from Stan’s.