Road Tubeless Tires: Yea or Nay?

Pros and cons of ditching standard clinchers for a tubeless set-up

Tires Video
If you're the type that likes to venture onto rough roads, tubeless tires make a lot of sense.

If you’re the type that likes to venture onto rough roads, tubeless tires make a lot of sense.

By now most of you have a least a basic grasp of the concept of tubeless tires for road bikes. Ditch your tubes and replace them with a tubeless set-up that results in a marked reduction in puncture potential, and allows you to run lower pressure for better traction and a smoother ride. Mountain bikers have been using similar systems for years. Most will tell you they’d never go back. (I know I wouldn’t.)

Tubeless set-ups are also becoming more and more popular in cyclocross. Instead of dealing with the headache of gluing tubular tires and essentially being locked into one tread option per wheel, tubeless tires are comparatively easy to set up, still allow you to run the ride enhancing low pressure that ’cross racers desire, and they can more easily be swapped around so you’re not locked into one tread type per wheel.

But for road riders the arguments in favor of going tubeless are less definitive. Most of us don’t suffer from a rash of flats. One or two a season is commonplace. And switching to tubeless — at least for now — means accepting a small weight penalty. Something in the neighborhood of 60-100 grams per wheel. And this is the ever-important rolling weight we are talking about. Wheels are typically the last place you want to willfully add weight.

You’ll also hear arguments that current tubeless tire offerings don’t have great ride feel. Because tubeless tires have thicker sidewalls they transfer road buzz to the rider instead of soaking it up like a more supple traditional road tire. You also have to deal with set-up, which depending on the tire/wheel combination you’re using may be a hassle. You might need an air compressor to get a proper seal. And you may encounter tire-wheel interfaces that are so tight, you’ll work yourself into a sweaty mess just wrangling tire onto wheel. Never mind if you face this same problem out in the field because a puncture is too large for your sealant to handle and you have to resort back to using a tube. (Yes, no matter which set-up you chose, you still need to carry a tube on every ride.)

The upside, of course, is that converting to road tubeless eliminates the chance of pinch flats because with no tubes, there is nothing to pinch. And if you use tire sealant (which you should) there’s less chance of having your ride derailed by a puncture. Have a run-in with a goat head, for instance, and simply spin the tire until the sealant plugs the hole, then add back whatever air you lost and you’re on your way. It’s a far simpler and quicker process than swapping in a fresh tube. And sometimes the sealant works so quick you don’t even have to bust out the mini-pump.

The ability to run lower pressure (because you don’t fear pinch flats) is another significant plus. Dropping 15-20 psi will likely be enough to balance out the aforementioned lack of tire suppleness. Corner grip and traction are enhanced, and if you’re the type of rider who likes to venture off-road, this more forgiving ride can be a real boon, especially now that product offerings have caught up with the concept.

Our final verdict echoes the prevailing sentiment of our on-going poll and the findings in the informative Global Cycling Network video above. If you’re a full-fledged racer type who values performance above all else, road tubeless is probably not for you. Why pay a weight penalty for such minimal gain? Unless your next race is the Dirty Kanza of course.

As for everyone else, converting to road tubeless makes a lot of sense. There is less chance of flatting, ride quality is as good or better than tubed set-ups, and you’ll be able to venture off road without worry about getting stranded by the side of the road.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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  • RGRHON says:

    Don’t have any Goat Heads around here, but tubeless is more trouble for me than it’s worth. Still need to carry a tube, weight is higher, road feel is “heavy” and rolling resistance is high (isn’t that why I bought a good bike?). Only a few tire options (1 schwalbe, 1 bontrager, 1 hutchinson). In SoCal we have lots of glass. When I cut the tire I have to deal with sealant all over the place, clean out the tire to get all the old dried sealant out, etc. Takes forever to change a tire, and just try to get one off the rim! Performance is very poor compared to Vittoria Open Corsas or even Diamante Radials with latex tubes, especially cornering. The hassle is about the same for me as tubulars. I don’t pinch flat because I know how to mount a tire properly and put enough pressure in. This article compares tubeless to a pretty average clincher with butyl tubes. BTW I can get my Open Corsas off with my hands so I don’t carry tire levers either (0 grams). Don’t know what that tiny amount of liquid (I tried several amounts at manufacturers suggestions) does to the rolling resistance but it just feels like the tires are full of water. Apparently these are a good Goat Head tire…

  • Rob says:

    I’ve been riding tubeless (in Seattle) for 3 years and I love it. Our roads are pretty bad and I’ve suffered all of one flat with tubeless during this time and that was a razor blade I ran over that cut my tire in half.

    I have used Hutchinson’s a bunch but I just switched to Specialized’s tubeless tire and these are far, far superior. They are much more supple than even the Atom and they have much better traction too. They don’t seem to wear as well but honestly that isn’t as important to me.

  • Brian Nystrom says:

    The amount of sealant pictured (60ml) is really excessive for road tires, IMO. I’ve found that in 25mm road tires, I need about half that amount (despite the manufacturers’ recommendations). Also, since I run sealant in clinchers too (I don’t want flats with them, either), there is no weight penalty when going tubeless. How about we compare apples to apples?

  • Jeff says:

    Jason left off another reason for riding tubeless. We have steep descents in east Tennessee, and after having an overheated tire/rim combo blow the clincher completely off the rim going 25 mph on a 25% descent, it was time to go tubeless. The tight fit is great protection from losing the tire. I never want to try to stop on a steep descent again riding on the rim.

  • David Webber says:

    I agree with Brian – I’m really skimpy on sealant – and just carry some extra in my flat kit in case I need it road side. I’m running Schwalbe ZX tires and they are phenomenal fast. I race them at 110psi for crit’s, and group ride at 90psi. I notice that on rougher roads – big advantage being able to absorb road rumble and keep pedal down to max.

  • RGRHON says:

    2 watts out of 10 in Crr is about 20%. That’s about what current measurements say for Open Corsa clinchers with latex over schwalbe tubeless. Also, most tubeless rims are heavier than standard clincher rims, most tires and sealant are heavier as pointed out in the video. But if it feels faster to you and you’re winning…go for it! I Only hated them for 4000 mi. before I gave up. Maybe your experience is better. Only real advantage I noticed was my LBS guy rubbing his hands together with a smile on his face after I wasted 2 Benjamin’s to get them.

  • Tim says:

    @RGRHON

    “2 watts out of 10 in Crr is about 20%. That’s about what current measurements say for Open Corsa clinchers with latex over schwalbe tubeless.”

    Last set of figures I saw for Schwalbe (IM) vs Open Corsa (Slicks) was 0.0033 vs 0.0031, so about 2 in 33 then. Given that the Schwalbe One tubeless is supposed (according to Schwalbe admittedly) to be their best rolling tyre as far as Crr is concerned I would be surprised if that gap is the same – who knows, it may even go the other way.

    If they didn’t work for you, fine. They do for me (Hutchinson Fusion 3) and I use them alongside Open Paves and Open Corsas. All told they are more comfortable than the Paves with butyl but not quite as nice as the Corsas (also on butyl) – but there’s not much in it and there’s times I much prefer the flat protection over the marginal gains. Each to their own I guess.

  • Tim says:

    @RGRHON

    ..nearly forgot, couple of other points…

    Good point about glass – long cuts can prevent sealant working in tubs and tubeless and can even be enough to prevent a tube patch or new tube working (tube bulges).

    You don’t necessarily need to carry a tube (can use patches internally) but it’s probably worth it – 80-100 grams and a couple of cubic inches extra is going to make zero difference to nearly anybody.

    Tyre choice comment is wrong and has been for years – there’s most certainly nowhere near the choice you have for clinchers or tubs, but the ones there are a nearly all very good.

    Some tubes are easier to put on than others e.g. Bontrager R3s and Schwalbe Ultremo ZX and One are supposed be able to be fitted by hands. I’ve personally found the Hutchinson Fusion 3 in a 23mm a right sod to fit without a bead jack (which I could carry with me as it’s small, but I never used to bother).

    On the subject of Crr, there’s a lot of variables that effect the results and the efficiency of the tyre/tube setup that make the figures from a clamped wheel on a smooth roller a little hard to interpret into real world behaviour. From the point of view of efficiency of transferring power from the pedals to the road, i’d wager that unless you’re travelling on silky smooth tarmac then the loss of power from wheel bounce due to over-pressure is significant compared to the differences in Crr between the top tyres – whether clinchers, tubs or tubeless. In particular i’d suggest that inflating your tyres to a sufficient pressure to avoid pinch flats might not be the optimal way to go – at least if you’re not made of balsa wood or have potholes more than a mil or two in depth 😉

  • Max says:

    There is one other drawback to the sealant… it has a life span. Typically 6 months. It simply dries up. It does coat the carcass of the tire, and getting it off is virtually impossible. So when you add more to renew the effectiveness of the sealant, the weight penalty goes up.
    For cross, I think you’d be crazy not to be tubeless, but for the road, I think I’ll stick to nice clean powdered tubes. No mess in my clean roadie gear.
    Put an S-Works Turbo tire and tube on, and you’ll have all the grip and ride quality you’d want and a big reduction in weight. I’ve had all my friends switch from many other brands after just a spin on my bike. They are really great.

  • Tim says:

    Sealant isn’t “virtually impossible” to get off – or at least Stans isn’t. Takes very little time to get nearly all of it off, the tiny amount left after that you might as well leave in and will accumulate very few times assuming you’re using the tyres and not leaving them hanging around (and you presumably wouldn’t be topping up in that case).

    There’s a few reasons you might not want to use tubeless – but this really isn’t one of them.

  • JimmyDee says:

    Decreasing the pressure will necessarily increase the size of the contact patch – this means better traction. But it also means higher area of deformation. More deformation means more rolling resistance. Period.

    That’s how it works.

    As an MTB rider primarily, I understand how this tradeoff works in terms of terrain challenges. Road just doesn’t have those terrain challenges.

    Get your pressure as high as you can before it becomes too much vibration and the vertical deflection starts to approach the road texture height variation.

    No need to go lower.

  • Kevin says:

    I’ve been using Hutchinson Fusion 3 tubeless tires with Fulcrum Racing Zero tubeless rims for 5 years. I have about 20,000 miles with only 3 flats. I would never go back.

    I’ve learned over the years that about 25ml of sealant is all that’s needed. I’ve run the tires without any sealant and that works too, but you do lose more air overnight and need to top-off every ride.

    Building a new bike now with carbon tubeless rims. Looking forward to the new ride.

  • Tim says:

    @JimmyDee

    I agree with much of that but in the real world of tarmac (at least in the UK) the pressure required to avoid pinch flats is unfortunately much too high to avoid bounce and white finger let alone allow comfort (at least over non-trivial distances) – the difference in height between average texture variation and typical potholes/surface breakup/patches/level changes and so on that cause pinch flats, is large.

    There’s a ton of stuff to be done for a more efficient ride (mechanical and physical) before necessitating stupidly high pressures unless you’re on the track or on plan flat tarmac (parts of Germany spring to mind). Synthetic Crr values alone are a poor proxy for speed and efficiency over distance IMO.

  • Ron says:

    Surprised someone has not mentioned one additional issue with road tubeless( in addition to the ones already mentioned). That is cost. With std clinchers I can find top end tires (. Vittoria cx) for mid $40s. Unless things have changed since I tried the tubeless, the tires were ~$75 or more. Also, I thought the tubeless cut more(very small sample size here). My conclusion, if your going to go to cost and hassle, just go straight to tubulars.

  • RT says:

    I have been riding on my fusion 3 tubeless tires for 2 years now and love them. I did not at first but with the right equipment and experience, they have been great. There is a learning curve. First, buy a compressor. It makes mounting a breeze and you will use it on your car tires too. Make sure your valve stems have removable cores. Sometimes tires won’t get the blast of air needed to mount with the cores in place. Learn to patch the tire if you get a hole too large to seal (I can do such a repair it less than ten minutes). Buy plastic tire levers with metal cores. Most riders could easily handle tubeless road tires and would enjoy being virtually flat free, but you do have to learn new skills for a new technology.

  • DG says:

    On non tubeless-specific rims, Easton SLX, for two years and about 5k miles I have run Hutchinson Fusion 3s. No flats. Many PRs here on mountain roads in the Rockies. Set up with 3 revolutions of Gorilla Tape for rim tape. Have just replaced them with Schwalbe 1 Tubeless and I already like the Schwalbe’s better. The Schwalbes inflated without fluid, without removing the valve core – that impresses. They hold most of 110 psi for 24 hour period without fluid. I would have tried the Schwalbe 1 Pro Tubeless but can’t get them yet. http://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/road-bike-reviews

  • GM says:

    I just replaced 23c Maxxis Padrone tubeless tires with 25c Contenental Grand Prix 4000s IIs. The improvement in smoothness and ride quality is amazing. I ran both sets of tires at the same pressures (70psi front, 80psi rear). The bike feels like it has had a major upgrade! Tubeless tires are a good idea if you encounter frequent flats or ride off road, but for me, the ride quality of a supple tire with a light butyl tube is amazing.

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