Tubeless tires are becoming increasingly popular in cycling. Particularly on mountain bikes, adventure bikes, and touring bikes. To help you decide which system is best for your riding style, this guide outlines the pros and cons of tube vs tubeless bike tires. We’ll cover the frequency of flats, traction, weight, performance, tire repairs, and more. I’ll also outline how to convert your existing wheels and tires to tubeless if you want to give it a try.
I switched to tubeless tires about 8 years ago on my touring bike and mountain bike and haven’t looked back. Flats are extremely infrequent. I can ride thousands of miles without having to make any patches. That said, there are some drawbacks. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.
Tubeless tires get fewer flats. They also offer better traction and handling and better ride quality. Tubeless tires can make you faster. In addition, they are lighter.
Tubed tires are cheaper. They are faster and easier to set up and repair. Inner tubes are also widely available. Tubes are also cleaner.
Tubeless tires are the better choice for mountain bikers, those who ride in puncture-prone areas, bicycle tourists and bikepackers, and performance-oriented cyclists.
Tubed tires are the better choice for casual cyclists, those on a budget, those who prefer simplicity, bikes with non-tubeless-ready wheels, road cyclists, and those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of setting up tubeless tires.
What Are Tubeless Bike Tires?
As the name suggests, tubeless tires do not use an inner tube to hold the air inside. Instead, the tires, rim, and valve all seal airtight.
To create an airtight seal when the tires are pressurized, tubeless rims and tire beads have a slightly different shape than tubed tires and rims. Tubeless tires interlock with bead-locks on the rims. These are small ridges that prevent the tire from separating from the rim when it’s pressurized.
The rim bed, where the spokes and valve stem sit, is also sealed airtight. Spoked wheels can be difficult to seal. A special type of rim tape that forms around the spoke and valve holes is used to create a seal. Some tubeless rims have a solid rim bed. These do not require tubeless tape.
A special liquid sealant is poured into the tire during installation. This sealant coats the inside of the tires and the rim and seals any micro holes so air doesn’t slowly leak out. This same sealant also fills any holes caused by nails, thorns, and other debris that you may encounter on the road or trail so your tires don’t go flat if they get punctured. They self seal.
These days, most bike wheels and tires are sold as ‘tubeless ready’ or ‘tubeless compatible’. This means that the rim has a bead lock. The rim bed may or may not be sealed. Tubeless tires have slightly thicker sidewalls to make them more airtight.
The valve, which is usually a Presta valve, has a removable core. This allows you to add more sealant when needed. Tubeless tires and rims are often marked with UTS (Universal Tubeless System).
In most cases, it is also possible to convert your existing wheels and tires to tubeless with a tubeless conversion kit. There is also a DIY option. I’ll outline how to do this in the second half of this guide.
Tube tires, on the other hand, have an inflatable tube that sits between the tire and rim. The tube is pressurized to support the tire.
I’ve also made this short video to outline the main points of the article.
Pros and Cons of Going Tubeless
Tubeless Bike Tire Pros
- You’ll get fewer flats with tubeless- This is the #1 reason to go tubeless. Tubeless tires repair themselves when they get punctured. If a nail or thorn punctures your tire, the liquid sealant inside the tire fills the hole before the air escapes. No more stopping to patch or replace tubes. When you see a little bit of white fluid on your tire, you know that the tubeless system saved you from a flat. When you hit a pothole, rock, or another hard object, your tire can compress enough that it hits your rim. This creates enough force to tear a tube and cause a flat. This is called a ‘pinch flat’ or ‘snake bite’. With tubeless, there is no inner tube to tear. I know of bicycle tourists who have crossed continents without a single flat tire while running tubeless. Getting fewer punctures is a massive advantage. Imagine traveling 10,000 miles without experiencing a flat tire. That’s a long time without a flat.
- Tubeless tires offer better traction, allowing you to corner better and climb more easily- Because you don’t have to worry about pinch flats, you can run tubeless tires at a much lower air pressure than conventional tube-type tires. Usually, about 10 psi lower is safe. The reduced pressure allows more of the tire’s tread to contact the ground. This greatly improves traction. This is particularly helpful while riding on loose or slippery surfaces like gravel roads, sand, snow, ice, or in the rain. You can corner harder without your tires washing out. You can also climb steeper hills without your tires spinning out. Your off-road performance greatly improves when you ride tubeless. If you ride soft or slippery surfaces often, a fat bike with tubeless tires is a great choice. If you plan to ride in the winter, you can install studded tubeless tires for even better grip on snow and ice.
- The ride quality is better with tubeless- When you run your tires at lower PSI, the bike has a softer, more comfortable, and smoother ride. This is because the tires absorb some shocks and vibrations from the trail instead of bouncing around. When you hit a rock, rut, or pothole, the tire absorbs the impact and forms around the obstacle rather than bouncing off. You won’t feel the bumps as much. This is particularly useful if you’re riding a hardtail mountain bike without suspension. Most mountain bike tires are tubeless for this reason.
- The tubeless system is lighter- Whether or not this point is true depends on your setup. Removing the inner tube cuts about 200 grams from each tire. You add some of that weight back with the tubeless sealant that you put into the tire. Tubeless tires also tend to be a bit more robust with a stronger bead. This increases the weight slightly. Where you can save weight is in the rim. Modern wheels come with hookless rims. Standard wheels have hooks around the inside that help to hold the tire in place so it doesn’t blow off under higher pressures. These days, tires are getting wider to increase comfort and speed. This means they don’t have to be run at such high pressure. Tires are also more are also being made more robust around the bead. This allows for hookless rims to be used. Hookless rims are lighter than rims with hooks because they use less material. The weight savings of hookless rims can be significant. The wheels are the best part of the bike you could remove weight from. The less rotating mass, the better. Lighter wheels spin up faster and easier using the same amount of energy. You can ride a bit longer and further without tiring out. It’s important to note that not all tires are compatible with hookless rims. Be sure to read the specifications so you choose the type of tires that are compatible with your rims. Tire choice is important.
- Tubeless tires maintain momentum better- When running a lower tire pressure, the tire deforms when it contacts an obstacle rather than bouncing off. This allows the wheel to keep rolling instead of slowing you down. This improves efficiency while riding on rough surfaces.
- Flats are usually easier to repair- If you get a large hole or tear in your tire and it goes flat, you can usually repair it without having to remove the tire from the rim. Tubeless tire plugs can repair most punctures or tears. If a rock makes a large gash in your sidewalk, you can sew it up with a large needle and dental floss. Put some super glue on it to help it seal. If all else fails, you can install a tube.
- Almost any tires and wheels can be set up tubeless- With a tubeless kit or a little bit of DIY, you can go tubeless with your existing wheels and tires. There is no need to buy any new parts. The initial setup can be a bit challenging but it’s doable. I’ll outline the process later on.
- Tubeless makes you faster- Because you get better traction, you can take turns faster without washing out. You can also power up steep hills faster without spinning out. When you start from a stop, you can use more torque to accelerate faster without your rear wheel coming loose. This allows you to reach high speeds. This is important for competitive riders. They can maintain faster average speeds with tubeless tires.
- You can easily switch back to tubes– If, for whatever reason, you don’t like riding tubeless, you can just wash the sealant out of the tires and put tubes back in. This is also nice if you run out of sealant or can’t find any while touring in a remote destination. Just pull over to the side of the road, put a tube in, and hit the road. Be sure to check your tire for debris before installing a tube. Otherwise, you might get an instant flat.
- Going tubeless is more modern- If you like to use the newest and best gear, tubeless is the way to go. Tubeless tires use high tech rubber compounds. Tubeless rims are engineered to be lightweight and very strong. The auto industry switched away from tubes decades ago. Now the bicycle industry is following.
Tubeless Bike Tire Cons
- Running tubeless is more expensive- Tubeless tires and wheels are more expensive than those designed for tubes. If you can’t convert your existing gear to tubeless, you’ll have to buy new. You’ll probably want to buy tubeless designed tires and wheels when you need replacements. There are a number of small costs that add up when switching to tubeless. For example, you have to buy sealant, rim tape, and a tubeless valve. You’ll also need a tubeless patch kit to fix large holes or tears that are too big for the sealant to fill.
- Mounting and setting up tubeless tires takes longer and is a bit tedious- The hardest part is making sure that the tire bead seats properly on the rim to make an airtight seal. This can take a bit of trial and error. You also have to carefully add the right amount of sealant. Once everything is in place, you have to add a lot of air quickly to make sure everything seals correctly. This may require compressed air if you can’t pump fast enough by hand. If the tire doesn’t seal properly and there is air loss, you’ll have to take everything apart to find it. There is a little bit of a learning curve setting up tubeless bike tires.
- Tubeless requires more maintenance- The sealant in the tire dries up over time. Sometimes a bit can leak out when you get a puncture. At least once per season, you’ll have to top up the sealant to make sure there is enough for the tire to seal itself if it gets punctured. If you ride often or in a hot climate, you may have to add sealant every few months.
- Tubeless gear isn’t available everywhere- If you’re touring in developing countries or remote regions, finding tubeless sealant, rim tape, patches, tires, etc. may be impossible to find. Some small bike shops don’t stock tubeless equipment. In this case, you’ll have to bring your own in your tool kit. Worst case, you can always switch to tubes if you can’t find sealant or decent rim tape.
- You have to carry more gear to repair punctures and tears- If you’re touring or riding somewhere remote, 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.
- You still have to carry a tube just in case- If you get a large puncture and your tire goes flat, this means that the puncture was too big for the sealant to fix. Your sealant will just leak out. In this case, you need a tube as a backup so you can get back home.
- You need to add air more frequently- Tubeless tires tend to lose air more quickly than tubes. You’ll have to add some air around once per week. Some riders need to top up their tubeless tires before every ride.
- Tubeless sealant is messy- It is basically a type of glue. The sealant can spill and get all over your gear, clothes, and hands. It can splatter out of the tire if it gets gashed. The stuff is just messy and unpleasant to deal with.
- You need a high volume pump- When you’re setting up tubeless, you need to move a lot of air into the tire quickly to get the bead to seal properly. Mini pumps might not cut it.
- Valves can get clogged- Sealant can coagulate and dry up in your valves. This can create a blockage and even ruin the valve. Usually, you can remove the valve core and clean the blockage out. Check out my Presta Vs Schrader valve guide for more info.
- Burping- Burping is when the bead brakes and the tire separates from the rim. The tire deflates and sealant sprays everywhere. This can happen when you’re running your tires at lower pressures and you hit a sharp rock just right. It also happens on road bikes running narrow tubeless tires at high pressure.
Pros and Cons of Tubed Bike Tires
Tube Bike Tire Pros
- Running tubes is cheaper- Tubes are compatible with all rims and tires. You don’t need to buy any new parts. Spare tubes and patches are incredibly cheap. A decent tube costs just a couple of dollars. You can buy a patch kit for less than $5 that will keep you rolling through many flats. Plastic tire levers are cheap as well. That’s all you need.
- You can buy bicycle tubes and patches anywhere in the world- Even when touring in the most remote regions of the world, you can go to a market and buy a replacement tube. It may not be the best quality, but it will get you back on the road. You can even use tubes that aren’t the right size. For example, you could use a 700c tube in your 650b tire if you had to. Some tubeless gear, like sealant and plugs, isn’t available everywhere.
- Tube tires are faster and easier to set up- With a bit of practice, you can install a new tube and tire in just a matter of minutes. There is no need to mess around with sealant. You don’t have to worry about getting a perfect seal. It takes a bit of elbow grease to put a tire on a rim but tubes are simple to install.
- A tube repair kit is small and light- All you need to repair a flat is a spare tube, tire levers, and a patch kit. You don’t have to carry plugs, a sewing kit, super glue, or sealant. For bicycle tourists, running tubes is probably slightly lighter because you don’t need to carry a bunch of bulky tire repair gear.
- Patching an inner tube is easy- As a cyclist, you should probably know how to patch a tube. If you don’t, finding someone who knows how to do it is easy. If you need help with tubeless tires while you’re in the middle of nowhere, fewer people know how to set them up or make repairs. You may be on your own if you suffer a major tear or catastrophic tire failure.
- All tires and rims are designed to use tubes- Even if they’re designed to be tubeless compatible, they are also designed to use tubes. You don’t have to DIY anything to make it work.
- Tubes are better for road cycling- With high pressure tires, pinch flats are unlikely because you don’t need to run your tires at lower pressures. Punctures are less common on the road as well because there aren’t as many sharp thorns. There is really no reason to go tubeless for road riding. Plus you don’t have to worry about your tire blowing off the rim with tubes.
Tube Bike Tire Cons
- You’ll get a lot more flats- This is the biggest problem with tubes. It’s easy to get a flat. A tiny staple, a shard of glass, or other sharp object can puncture your tube. If you ride in desert environments where thorns are common, getting a puncture flat can be a daily occurrence with tubed mountain bike tires. You can reduce the frequency of punctures by using a tire with puncture protection. The drawback to puncture protection is the fact that it makes the tires heavier and harder to put on the rim. Another solution is to put some kind of sealant, in your tubes. This works similarly to tubeless sealant. It seals the puncture so you don’t have to stop and patch the tube.
- You can’t run your tires at low pressure- While riding with your tire at a low PSI, you run the risk of getting a pinch flat. This happens when you hit an object and your tire bottoms out and hits the rim. This usually causes two small holes with a ‘snakebite’ pattern. The only way to prevent this is to make sure that there is enough air in the tube so the tire can’t pinch the tube and hit the rim. Generally, you have to run your tires about 10 psi higher when you use tubes.
- Tubes are heavier- An inner tube adds around 200 grams to each wheel. Rims designed for tubes are also heavier because they have hooks. This adds a bit of weight. On average, a wheel with a tube is slightly heavier than a tubeless wheel. There is more rotating mass. Heavier wheels take more energy to spin up. They accelerate a bit slower.
- Handling isn’t as good with tubes- Because you can’t run tubes at as low of pressure, traction isn’t as good. This is because less of the tire makes contact with the ground. Traction is particularly important when cornering and climbing hills. Your tires can slide out from under you if you turn too hard while riding on a loose surface. Your tires can spin out if you apply too much torque. For this reason, most mountain bikers don’t use tubes.
- You’ll ride slower with tubes- Because you can’t run your tires at lower pressures, you can’t take turns as fast. You run the risk of your tire washing out. You also can’t climb as fast in low traction environments because your rear wheel can spin out. Acceleration is also slower because you can’t pedal as hard without your rear tire spinning out.
- Tubes are outdated- If you are the type of rider that likes to have the newest and most modern gear, tubes are a bit dated. Tubeless seems to be what the industry is pushing these days. Less engineering goes into designing tubed rims and tires. They may be a bit weaker and heavier.
More Cycling Pros and Cons Analyses from Where the Road Forks
- Drop Bars Vs. Flat Bars
- Carbon Vs. Aluminum Wheels
- Disc Brakes Vs. Rim Brakes
- 1X Vs. 2X Drivetrain
- 700c Vs. 26 Inch Wheels
- Belt Vs. Chain Drive
How to Convert Your Bike From Tubes to Tubeless
If, after reading through the pros and cons, you decide that you want to give tubeless tires a try, it’s time to decide how you want to make the conversion. There are a few different tubeless set ups you could go with. There are 2 different ways to go about converting a bike to tubeless.
Method 1. Get Tubeless-Ready Wheels and Tires
This is the more expensive option because it requires you to buy new wheels and tires. The main benefit of tubeless-ready wheels and tires is that they are much easier to mount and set up than converting your existing wheels to tubeless.
Tubeless tire beads are specially designed to lock onto tubeless rims to create an airtight seal. The rims usually come with airtight rim tape installed on the rim bed. For this reason, you can typically use less sealant. Tubeless-ready tires and wheels just work because they are designed for the purpose. The system is reliable, simple, and easier to set up.
There are three different tubeless systems available:
- UST (Universal System Tubeless)- This is the original tubeless system that was patented by Mavic in 1999. UST uses a square-shaped bead lock for the tire and rim. The tires include an impermeable rubber casing. This allows the tires to hold air without any sealant. UST is a standardized system. A handful of companies make UST tires but Mavic is the only company that makes UST rims. The main drawback of this system is that the tires are heavy.
- Tubeless-Ready- This is the most common tubeless system today. The tiers and rims have bead locks that vary slightly from brand to brand. In order to be considered tubeless ready, the rims must come with the spoke beds sealed with rim tape. The tires are lighter because they don’t have a casing.
- Tubeless Compatible wheels- These rims have a bead lock but the rim bed does not come sealed with rim tape. Some companies use the terms ‘tubeless compatible’ and ‘tubeless ready’ interchangeably. They are not standardized. Before buying rims or tires, you’ll want to make sure that they are compatible. Compatibility varies slightly from brand to brand.
In addition to tubeless tires and rims, you may also need tubeless sealant, valve stems, and rim tape depending on the type of tubeless components that you get.
Before going out and buying new wheels and tires, check to see if your current gear is tubeless-ready. Some modern mid-range and high-end bikes come from the manufacturer tubeless-ready but are shipped with tubes installed. This is done to make the bike easier to ship or set up for the showroom.
Method 2. Convert Your Existing Tires and Wheels to Tubeless (DIY or ‘Ghetto Tubeless’)
Pretty much tires and wheels can be converted to tubeless. Even vintage wheels from the 70s and 80s work. The difficulty of the conversion varies depending on the combination of rims and tires that you’re working with. The condition also plays a role. The reason is that air is more likely to leak from non-tubeless-ready rims. They just aren’t as airtight.
To convert your existing rims and tires to tubeless, you’ll need tubeless sealant, rim tape, and valves. You’ll probably also need an air compressor or air tank to get the tire’s bead to seat on the rims.
The main benefit of converting your existing wheels and tires to tubeless is the cost. You can make this conversion for $20-$70.
The drawback is that the job is time-consuming. It can take a couple of days to get everything sealed up tight. The job can get frustrating pretty quickly as well if your tires and rims turn out to be leaky. You’ll need to use more sealant than you would with a dedicated tubeless system.You can buy a kit with everything you need including tape, sealant, and valve stems.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can put together everything you need for much less if you buy the components separately. You can even use the valves from your old tubes to save more money.
If you’re on the fence about tubeless, I recommend you attempt a DIY conversion first to see how you like it. This gives you a chance to get familiar with the tubeless setup without spending a bunch of money on new gear. Once you get it set up right, converted tires and wheels perform about the same as dedicated tubeless gear.
For more info, check out this guide to DIY tubeless conversions.
Things You’ll Need to Go Tubeless
- Tubeless rim tape– This seals the rim bed and prevents air from leaking out of the spoke holes. Make sure you choose rim tape that is designed for tubeless tires. It can save you a headache of leaky rims. While Gorilla Tape usually works, it’s not quite as reliable. Rim tape comes in a range of widths for different sized rims.
- Valves- Tubeless valves have a rubber grommet and Knurled nut that holds the valve in place and seals the valve hole. They also have removable cores allow you to pump sealant into the tire without unseating the tire. You can also use Schrader valves if you prefer them. If you’re on a tight budget, you can cut the valves out of an old tube.
- Tubeless sealant- The sealant is made of some solid fibers or particles that are suspended in a thick liquid. This solution coats the inside of your tire and plugs small punctures to prevent leaks. Tubeless sealant can seal up punctures up to 1/4 inch.
In addition, you’ll need scissors, paper towels or a rag, dish soap, and rubbing alcohol. The scissors are for cleanly cutting the rim tape. The paper towels and rubbing alcohol are for cleaning your rims before installing the rim tape. The dish soap can help you get the bead seated on the rim.
How to Install Tubeless Bike Tires
Whether you’re converting your old gear to tubeless or installing new tubeless tires and rims, the process is much the same. This section outlines how to install tubeless tires, step-by-step.
- Prepare the wheels and tires- Inspect the rim beads for knicks, cracks, or warping that could prevent an airtight seal. Check the tire beads for small tears or missing rubber that could harm the seal. If everything is in good condition, clean the rim bed and bead as well as the tire bead with rubbing alcohol to make sure there is no dirt, dust, grease, or other contamination that could prevent a seal from forming. Let everything dry completely before proceeding.
- Apply the rim tape- Your goal here is to make sure that the spoke holes are completely airtight. You also don’t want the tape to interfere with the bead where the tire and rim meet. When you install the tape, stretch it and press down hard on each spoke hole to ensure that there are no air bubbles. Make sure there are no wrinkles where the sealant could get under the tape. If you can, use one continuous piece of tape for the whole rim. Leave a few inches of overlap at the end to ensure a good seal. Once you have the rim taped, poke a hole through the hole for the valve stem. A pen or knife works fine for this.
- Install the valve stem in the rim- Presta stems usually have a nut that holds the valve in place on the rim. You can also use the valves from old tubes. Simply, cut out the valve stem, leaving enough of the old inner tube around the stem so it doesn’t pull through the valve hole in the rim. About .25-.5 inch works fine. You just want to make sure that the rubber doesn’t get caught between the rim and tire or else you won’t have an airtight seal.
- Mount the tire- Use tire levers to mount the tire on the rim, just like you would with a tubed rim. If you plan to pour the sealant in, leave a bit of the tire unmounted so you have space to pour. If you plan to inject the sealant through the valve, completely mount the tire.
- Pour the tubeless sealant into the tire- The bottle tells you how much to use. Usually 2-4 ounces depending on the size of the tire. Once you get the sealant in the tire, put the tire back on the rim. If your valve stem has a removable core, you can remove it and pump the sealant into the tire with a syringe.
- Seat the bead- Quickly pump air into the tire to see if you can get it to inflate. If it’s holding air, go ahead and fill the tire to its maximum pressure. For a tubeless conversion, you may need an air compressor. Usually, a floor pump works for tubeless-ready tires and rims. If the air quickly leaks out, you may need to reapply the rim tape and try again. If it’s holding air, you’re all set.
- Shake and roll the wheel- You want the sealant to coat every surface inside. This step helps to ensure that the wheel and tire are sealed up airtight. Depending on your components, this could take hours or even days. Check the pressure every couple of hours and top up the tires if they are low. When the pressure holds consistently, your tubeless tires are ready to ride.
A Few Tips for Mounting Tubeless Tires
- Inspect your rims and tires before you start- This is particularly important if you’re using old or used parts. Look for knicks, dents, cracks, or warps in the rims. Look for kinks or missing rubber on the bead of the tires. For the tubeless setup to work, the seal between the tire and rim needs to be airtight. If you spot any imperfections, your tubeless tires might leak. A quick inspection can save you a massive amount of frustration.
- Install a tube, inflate it to the maximum pressure, and leave it overnight- This can help in three ways. First, the inner tube applies pressure to the rim tape, helping it to adhere to the rim. This way, the sealant won’t penetrate under the tape and cause it to peel off over time. The tube also pushes out any air bubbles. This helps to seal any potential leaks in the spoke holes. Next, the tube seats one of the tire’s beads. Third, the tube can help to reshape the tire so the bead seats properly. This is necessary if the tire had a kink in the bead from being stored folded. If you don’t want to wait all night, you can set the wheel out in the sun for a couple of hours if it’s warm outside.
- Properly tape your rims with tubeless specific rim tape- The spoke holes are the most likely spot for a leak to form. Before applying rim tape, clean your rims with rubbing alcohol or degreaser to ensure that the tape sticks. Be sure to use rim tape that was designed for tubeless tires. Use the widest tape that will fit your rim without interfering with the tire beads. Tape the wheel in a clockwise direction with the disc brake rotor facing you. This ensures that the sealant won’t work its way under the seem as you brake.
- Be careful when using tire levers- If you kink the bead of your tire or knick a rim by prying too hard, you might create a leak. This is particularly easy to do if your tire has wire beads. You should use plastic tire levers for this job. Better yet, don’t use tire levers at all.
- Use soapy water to help you get the tire on the rim- The soap acts as a lubricant to help the tire slip on the rim.
Tips for Inflating Tubeless Tires
The trickiest and most frustrating part of the whole tubeless tire installation process is getting the tire to seat to the rim and inflate. You want to inflate the tire as fast as possible to give yourself the best chance of success. If you’re having trouble, try a few of the following tips:
- Take the wheel off the bike and hang it while inflating the tire- This takes the weight of the bike off of the bottom of the tire so it isn’t deformed. This helps with making the seal.
- Spray or sponge soapy water where the tire and rim meet- The soapy water can help seal up any micro-holes that might be preventing the tire to seat properly.
- Remove the valve core when inflating the tire initially- This allows you to put more air in the tire more quickly, which helps the tire seat on the rim more easily. After you get the tire seated properly, you can replace the valve core and inflate the tire normally to the proper PSI.
- Use an air compressor or air tank to inflate the tire- Usually, you can get the tire seated with a simple floor pump. With some rim and tire combos, a floor pump can’t inflate the tire fast enough. An air compressor or tank allows you to put a lot more air in the tire much faster than pumping by hand. Sometimes there is a small leak that seals itself when the tire is inflated quickly. If you don’t have an air compressor, take your tubeless wheels to the nearest gas station. Remember to bring an adapter if you’re using Presta valves. You can also use a CO2 inflator.
- Tie a strap or old deflated tube around the outside circumference of the tire- This pushes the tire bead toward the rim, which can help to make a seal. While you’re inflating the tire, bounce the wheel gently to push the bead into the rim. This trick is worth trying if all else fails.
A Few Tips for Repairing Tubeless Tires in the Field
One of the main benefits of tubeless tires is the fact that the majority of punctures seal themselves. Most tubeless sealants can seal holes up to 1/4″ in diameter. You won’t even know that you had a puncture unless you spot a small white spot of sealant on the tire.
If you get a larger puncture, a gash, or a sidewall tear, you’ll need to make a repair. It’s important that you carry the proper repair gear and know how to use it.
A Tubeless Tire Repair Kit Includes:
- Tubeless sealant- How much you need to carry depends on your tire size and how far you’re riding. For a day ride, 2 oz is probably sufficient. For a tour, you’ll want 4-8 oz.
- Tubeless plugs- These plug up holes that are too big for the sealant to fill.
- Needle and thread- You can use an upholstery needle and nylon thread to sew up large sidewall tears. Dental floss also works as thread. You can also use this to sew up your bikepacking bags or panniers if they get torn.
- Patches- To repair sidewall gashes. These can be made from an old tire sidewall, duct tape, neoprene, leather, or any other durable material. Your patches should be large enough to fix 2″-3″ cuts.
- Superglue- You can use this to help seal up a patch, plug, or tear that you sewed up. Glue provides extra support for pretty much any repair.
- High volume pump- If you need to unseat your tire to repair it, you’ll have a strong pump to reseat it.
- Valve core removal tool- You can fill the tire faster with the core removed. This can help you seat the tire.
- Spare valve– In case your original one gets broken, lost, or clogged with sealant or debris.
- Rim tape or gorilla tape- To re-tape your rims or repair cuts in your tires.
- Tube(s)- In case of a puncture that you can’t repair, you can always install a tube. Make sure you remove any old puncture from your tire before installing it or you’ll end up with an instant flat.
- Tube patch kit- To repair your tubes if they get punctured. Remember, your puncture protection is gone if you installed tubes.
A Few Common Tubeless Repair Techniques That You Should Know
- Punctures or small cuts in the tread (up to about 1/4″)- If you get a puncture that is too large for the sealant to fill, you can usually repair it with a tubeless plug (bacon strip). To make this repair, you use a small screwdriver-like pronged plugged tool to push the sticky plug into the tire to fill the hole. Clip off the excess so it doesn’t get torn out.
- Sidewall gashes or tears (up to about 2″)- Sidewall damage is more common on tubeless tires than on tubed tires. Particularly in desert environments where sharp rocks are common. To repair small gashes or tears in the sidewall without unseating the tire, start by sewing the cut with your needle and thread. Dab some super glue over the thread to create a seal. After letting it dry, inflate the tire.
- Large gashes or tears (up to about 3″)- You’ll need some kind of patch to fix a big sidewall gash. A piece of old tire sidewall works well. Start by removing the tire from the rim. To make the repair, first sew the cut up with your needle and thread. Next, clean the area then glue your patch to the inside of the tire with shoe glue or super glue. Reinstall the tire with a tube. Inflate the inner tube and let the patch dry overnight. The tube will put pressure on the patch so it makes a good seal. Before placing the tube, make sure you remove any thorns so you don’t puncture it.
If your patches won’t hold, your best bet is to just switch to tubes until you get home or you can get a new tire.
My Experience With Tubed and Tubeless Tires
I upgraded my touring bike to tubeless tires to reduce the number of flats I was getting. I was a bit hesitant because setting up tubeless tires is a bit of a hassle. After making the switch, I’m really happy with my decision. For touring, commuting, and mountain biking, tubeless is great.
I have had several punctures that the sealant filled. This saved me from having to stop and apply patches. On one occasion, a large piece of glass cut a large enough gash in my rear tire that the sealant couldn’t fill it in. I was able to patch it up and ride home. overall, the tubeless system is really reliable.
What About Tubular Tires?
A tubular tire is a tire with an inner tube built in. The tire is glued to a rim that is specifically designed for tubular tires. These are really only used in competitive road racing. They are a bit of a hassle to deal with so most recreational cyclists don’t use them. Tubular tires can offer a number of benefits. They provide good grip and control. They also allow you to use more of the sides of the tread.
The main drawback is that they are a hassle to repair if you get a flat. There are also fewer wheel and tire options.
Final Thoughts on Tube Vs Tubeless Bicycle Tires
I had no idea how many nails and glass shards are laying on road shoulders until I went on my first bike tour. I was constantly dodging sharp objects. Eventually, I picked up a staple and my tire went flat. After applying a patch, I found a second hole. In the end, I just put a new tube in. This ordeal took a good half hour out of the middle of my day.
On my next tour, I decided to go tubeless to avoid this type of hassle, and haven’t looked back. Being able to ride for thousands of miles without getting a flat is like a dream come true. In my experience, tubeless tires are incredibly reliable.
Where do you stand on the tube vs tubeless debate? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.