Tubeless vs Tube: What’s the Difference

​Tubeless vs tube — that is a dilemma that every mountain biker must decide. Unless you’re new to the sport, you’re aware of tubeless tires.

​But perhaps you’re still not sure if you should make the leap and part with those balloons inside the tires.

These pros and cons of tube vs tubeless bike tires ​are ​12 key ways to help you decide.

​Tubeless Pros:

​1. Fewer Flats!

Fewer Flats

​Small punctures fix themselves

Fixing flats in the trail will let the air out of any ride. Many of these you won’t even notice because the sealant does its job and fills the hole.

​No pinch flats

Also known as a snake bite, this type of flat results from a high impact hit where you get two holes in the inner tube. No inner tube = no pinch flats.

​A large hole is a problem with or without tubeless

An internal patch might do the job or a plug kit, which you can now get at bike shops. Duct tape might also work, as a temporary fix.

​More time riding; less money spent on tubes.

2. ​Superior Ride Quality

ride quality

​Tubeless tires mean you can lower tire pressure significantly.

​This results in three main benefits:

  • ​Better traction
  • ​Better cornering
  • ​Softer ride: translated to more comfort and the wheel staying planted on the trail better. You get faster and more control.

​3. Lower weight

lower weight

​Inner tubes have weight, adding about 200 grams. No inner tube = less weight. When you factor in tubeless tire weight additions, you could save about half a pound.

​Saving weight around the wheels is more important than elsewhere.

​Why? Not only does it add weight to the bike, but it also adds rotational weight, which affects you every time you accelerate.

4. ​Tubeless Ready Tires

 UST - Tubeless Compatibility

Via parktool.com

​Look for “Tubeless Ready,” “Tubeless Compatible,” or UST tires and rims.

  • ​Tubeless-ready or compatible wheels require a rim strip to seal spoke holes
  • ​The UST standard is Mavic’s original version of tubeless. The rims have no holes and don’t need rim strips, but they are heavier. In theory, UST tires do not require sealant.

​The best tires today come tubeless-ready.

​If tires aren’t tubeless-ready, it’s better not to use them for a tubeless setup.

​The bead, the part of the tire that touches the rim, on such tires is less firm and the tire sidewalls are thinner.

Affordable tubeless wheels. ​Example:  Mavic XA Trail wheelset costs $350.

​5. Tubeless Conversion Kit - Simple to Install

tubeless conversion kit

Via bike24.com

  • ​Add rim strip to the wheel.
  • ​Put in the tubeless valve.
  • ​Many wheels come ready to go, without need for a kit.

​Tubeless Cons:

​1. The Expense

expense
  • ​Tires cost more
  • ​Conversion kit, if necessary, costs money.
  • ​Cheaper wheels may not be convertible.

​2. ​Tubeless Tires Can Burp

air pump for mountain bike
  • ​​A tubeless version of a pinch flat.
  • ​​A high impact can cause the bead to separate, at best releasing some air and, at worst, coming off the rim.

​The latter is unusual. The former occurred to a tandem riding in front of me during a race once.

​Their back wheel hit a rock. Sealant splashed in the air, including into my mouth.

So, there’s another con:  sealant flavoring is bad.

​Result:  sudden loss of some air.

​Easy solution:  add air from mini-pump or C02. If you carry no air source, then apparently air leaked into your head.

​3. Still, Need to Carry a Tube

bike tube

​If sealant won’t fill a hole, you still need to have a spare tube as a backup.

​4. The mess of On-Trail Problems

The mess of On-Trail Problems

​If you do need to remove a tire on the trail, the sealant is messy. Later, removing that inner tube you installed is even messier.

​Also, remounting some tubeless tires on the trail will not be a walk in the park. But it could result in a walk through a park.

​5. Some Sealants Not Compatible with CO2

Some Sealants Not Compatible with CO2

​Most riders use CO2 containers for air while on the trail. The most commonly used sealant, Stan’s, for example, can congeal if used with CO2.

​This creates balls or boogers bouncing around inside the tire. It also means those boogers no longer act as a puncture-filling sealant.

​6. Not the Easiest Set-Up

air compressor - bike tire inflating

​Tubeless tires tend to be harder to mount

  • ​Lubricant
  • A hair drier
  • Your musclehead neighbor’s hands
  • Tire levers (which are supposed to be a no-no with mounting).

​Soapy solution

This goes on the tire bead to make bead snap into place correctly.

​Worst of all:

A regular floor pump will not work to fill up the tire as you need a sudden big hit of air to properly inflate.

​You must either:

  • ​Have an air compressor
  • ​Use a CO2
  • ​Take a Presta valve adapter, tire, and wheel to a local gas station that has a high-pressure air hose
  • Take tire and wheel to your local bike shop and ask to use their compressor
  • ​Own a bike pump that can deliver a sudden large burst of air, such as the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger.

​Hire someone?

If it made you tired just reading through these steps, you can always pay your local bike shop to do the job for you. 

But for Heaven’s sake, bring the mechanic a six-pack as a thank you.

​7. Need to Replace Sealant Every Few Months

Need to replace sealant every few months

​​If you add sealant regularly, you should be good. A sealant can dry up faster, though, and you might not know.

​Do you really have to repeat the above mounting steps every few months when you re-add sealant?

​Fortunately, no. The bead will stay put, other than where you open it.

​It’s even easier if you get a removable valve core and inject the sealant into the tire with a special syringe, without separating the tire bead from the rim at all.

​This means a regular floor pump will work to reinflate.


Should I Go Tubeless on My Mountain Bike?

​If you’re a very casual and occasional mountain biker, tubeless is probably not worth the hassle of the set-up nor the cost, and the benefits probably aren’t important enough to you either.

​If you’re a consistent weekend warrior or a more serious mountain biker, you should probably be running tubeless tires.

​Like anything else, some are actively opposed. It’s not a must like wearing a helmet. I once rode with a friend who was pro-tube, and on the ride, I had two separate punctures that didn’t seal themselves.

​Laughing, he said, “I bet you’ll get rid of that tubeless garbage now!” I didn’t. Because that experience is rare.

Tubeless vs Tube

​The Bottom Line:

​Since Mavic brought out tubeless tires and rims for bikes in 1999, mountain bikers have wondered about tubeless vs tube.

​Although there is probably a technology of the near future that will simplify these tires, the benefits of mtb tubeless ​today still outweigh the costs.

​Your turn - what do you think their difference? Tell me below.

About the Author Keith Anderson

I’m Keith – founder of Keithandersoncycles.com, more than 50 years old and from Colorado, USA. I’m also a grand-dad of 3 kids and a great husband (I think so, lol). Web engineer is my main job but I play mountain bike at weekend.

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