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.