Many mountain bikers today are making the switch from tubed tires to tubeless tires. The reason is fairly simple – tubeless tires are better than tubed tires.
Tubeless tires are designed with an innovative self-repair mechanism, which means fewer punctures, better traction, speed, and momentum, and a better riding experience overall. So, converting to tubeless tires is advised if you want to take your mountain biking to the next level.
But when determining whether running tubeless is right for you as an individual, well, it’s better to consider all the pros and cons that come with making the switch first.
Below, I’ll highlight why you should go tubeless, but I’ll also show you why you shouldn’t. You can then evaluate the options yourself and see if a tubeless setup suits your needs.
Differences Between Tubed and Tubeless Tires
Before stating why you should consider a tubeless setup (or stick to your current setup), you need to know what differentiates tubed and tubeless tires.
Tubed tires have durable rubber on the outside designed for proper running on roads. The inner tubes are made of much softer rubber to ensure that the tube fits into the tire when installed.
Though the cross-section of a tubed tire is similar to that of a tubeless tire, the presence of a tube doesn’t allow you to ride your bike on low tire pressure. If you do, you’ll get a flat.
There’s no problem with having tubed tires if you are a casual rider. But anything more advanced calls for a tubeless setup.
As per the name, tubeless tires have no tube inside.
To make up for this, they have a separate holding place for air within the tire. This results in an airtight tire that can handle situations that would have caused punctures if it was tubed.
Even without an inner tube, the cross-section of tubeless tires is similar to that of tubed setups.
To ensure the tubeless system works as it should, lock the bead of the tire to the rim. This enables you to run on lower tire pressures than you would with a tubed setup.
Why You Should Go Tubeless
There are many benefits to going tubeless. But high-quality products aren’t cheap, so it’s worth first evaluating whether the benefits of tubeless MTB tires are worth the upgrade.
1. Fewer Punctures and Pinch Flats
If you get a flat tire way more often than you should, a tubeless setup is a good solution to this problem.
The liquid sealant inside the tubeless tire helps seal and plug pinch flats caused by riding the bike on grass or dirt. This innovative self-repair mechanism is one of the major reasons why many riders today believe tubed tires are a thing of the past.
Aside from the occasional pinch flat, tubeless MTB tires also protect your bike from the consequences of a heavier impact. When you hit a hard object with a tubed setup, it causes the tire to compress and the rim gets hit, which usually results in the tube tearing.
A tubeless tire has no tube, meaning there’s little chance of the same thing happening.
2. Better Traction
Because tubeless mountain bike tires run on a lower PSI (pounds per square inch), they make more contact with the ground thanks to their larger surface area. This increases grip, enabling cyclists to ride on difficult hills with challenging corners with ease.
A safe average tire pressure is about 10 PSI.
Aside from uneven surfaces and challenging paths, increased traction is also advantageous when riding on snow and other soft surfaces e.g., rained on terrain and sand. So tubed tires allow you to ride your mountain bike in almost any weather conditions.
3. Increased Ride Quality
Because there’s no tube, you can ride with lower tire pressure. When your bike tires are running at a low PSI, they can conform more to impact i.e., if you hit an obstacle, your tire will simply adjust to the shape of the object instead of bouncing off it.
So mountain biking on a tubeless setup, with lower tire pressure, makes for a much smoother ride overall.
Thanks to the increased traction, tubeless bike tires act more as shock absorbers when cruising through hills and difficult trails. This is helpful if you own a hardtail mountain bike.
4. Speed and Momentum
If your tires don’t bounce off obstacles, it means you can ride your bike at higher speeds than before. You’ll also be able to turn faster without worrying about losing your balance.
For racers, the more torque available at the starting point allows for quicker acceleration of your bike. This helps you get to your top speed quicker and maintain a faster speed, on average, throughout a race.
The fact that your tire conforms to objects instead of reacting to the impact also helps you build and maintain momentum, which results in a steadier ride.
5. Reduced Weight
No tube means no extra weight on your tire. You can cut up to 200gm by switching to a tubeless setup.
The reduced weight of a tubeless system results in a smoother, lighter ride. This is useful for racers because to build as much speed and momentum as possible, it’s essential that there’s no extra weight dragging you down.
Even when you put the tubeless sealant into the tire, the weight of a tubeless tire setup is still less than that of a tubed one.
This helps the tires and rims spin faster with the same amount of force you would exert on a mountain bike with a tubed system. You’re also able to ride longer distances, which is what every mountain biker and road cyclist wants to hear.
Why You Should Not Go Tubeless
Now that you know the benefits of tubeless MTB tires, you need to consider the other side of going tubeless to decide whether it’s the right option.
1. Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires Are Expensive
This is the biggest disadvantage of tubeless bike tires. If you don’t have an ample budget to dedicate to biking, it’s better to stick to a tubed setup.
You can, of course, make your tubed tires tubeless-ready tires, but you’ll still incur some costs. It’s expensive to buy tubeless-ready rims; some have no spoke holes, but this also means more expense.
The cost of running tubeless tires isn’t only in the purchase of rims and tires. It’s also expensive to maintain tubeless MTB tires and tubeless-compatible rims over time.
The costs include tire sealant, tubeless valves, rim tape, and a tubeless patch kit for when you experience a tear too big for the sealant to handle. With this in mind, it’s always best to budget accordingly before committing to switching to a tubeless setup.
2. Mounting Tubeless MTB Tires Is a Long Process
If you have minimal knowledge of bike tires, you’ll have a hard time doing a tubeless conversion on your bike. The challenging bit is ensuring that you lock the tire bead to the rim.
This is not something you can do in one try. You’re likely to do it a bunch of times before getting it to work.
You’ll also have to add the right amount of liquid sealant and make sure the rim bed (where the spokes and valve stem are located) is airtight. When you’re done, pump the tires to ensure everything is enclosed well.
You will need sufficient energy and stamina to do this. If you find it difficult, use an air compressor.
3. Repairs Need More Gear
Because a normal flat tire is rare, it’s likely that the flat tires you’ll get when running tubeless are more serious e.g., a tear on the tire sidewall. This means that you’ll have to carry a bunch of gear with you when you’re on a race or a long biking trip.
This is some of the gear you’ll need:
- a tubeless valve;
- a valve core remover;
- a good high-volume pump;
- tubeless sealant;
- tubeless-specific rim tape/Gorilla tape;
- a sewing kit; and
Due to the severity, the repairs will take much longer. It’s advisable to carry some spare tubes in case the repairs don’t work out.
Because of all this gear, a bike with tubeless tires is sometimes heavier than one with tubed tires.
Even though a tubeless tire setup operates well with lower pressure, there’s always a limit you shouldn’t surpass. If your tires don’t have enough pressure, hitting a huge obstacle sometimes defies the tire’s puncture resistance.
This can cause the bead brakes and tire to separate from the rim, causing the tubeless sealant to spread everywhere. Most tubeless sealants are messy, and the liquid can get on your clothes, your bike, and your gear.
5. You Still Need a Tubed Tire
If you’re faced with the above situation, you can sometimes lose the motivation to continue biking, let alone repair the tire. A quick fix is to install your tubed system and simply ride back home to clean up and fix the tubeless tire.
If you choose to switch to tubeless setups, don’t throw out your tubed tires; you’ll still need them in certain situations.
So, should you go tubeless on your mountain bike? Well, it all depends on whether you think the benefits of tubeless tires outweigh the disadvantages.
If you’re unsure but you have the budget, you can never go wrong with having both tubed and tubeless MTB tires. Both will come in handy in many situations, helping you achieve the ultimate biking experience.