AN ODE TO ROAD TUBELESS TIRES
by Joshua Parks
Read this if you are considering road tubeless, as it distills about a year of research and experience into a concise buying/user guide - "Things You Should Know about Tubeless".
Expect fewer flats = more time training
Slightly heavier system
You still have to carry tubes and if you flat you may not be able to fix it in the field (AAA, spouse, friend call in your future)
If you install yourself, some learning curve (well worth the investment of time though)
For me the Pros far outweigh the Cons. After all there are flats with regular clinchers where you have to get a ride home, unless you’re carrying a spare tire…
Last year I had a 5 or 6 flats. I had pinch flats, rips in the sidewall, you name it. I had so many flats that I always thought about flatting while on rides. Bryan Magnus (who’s also gone tubeless by the way had a similar number). This was affecting my training and annoying - so looked into what I could do.
Update: (touch wood!) this season I have had zero flats. I’m now running 1 ghetto tubeless (which means the rims are not meant to be tubeless but are converted - thank you High Gear for the help there - more on this set in the appendix) and one proper fully tubeless wheelset. Thus I’m writing this to share the good word and explain the pros and cons. There are at least a full handful of MAPSO riders rolling road tubeless on their training bikes.
Technical: From a certain perspective it’s amazing that the majority of serious road bikers ride tubed tires. After all none of our car tires have tubes. It’s a legacy issue and one that’s changing pretty quickly. Only time will tell if Tubeless is a Fad or is here to stay. Here’s a video from Peloton Magazine extolling the virtues of Road Tubeless.
Yes, there are an order of magnitude fewer road tubeless tires to choose from than there are tubed clinchers - that said tires are kinda like spouses, once you find one that works why do you need more than one good one (per wheel of course!). I will get into tire choice below.
Briefly, road tubeless tires work in much the same way as tubed tires - the pressure inside the tire keeps the tire on the wheel. What’s different is that there are special ridges inside of specifically designed road tubeless tires to hold the tire on the rim. This is a very good thing -
These bumps add to the safety of road tubeless as the tires become much harder to fall off the rim. Thus if your front tire goes flat around a corner (as we saw in this year’s Tour de France a number of times) you should be in a much safer position than if you were riding a regular clincher, which might then fall off the rim. Additionally most riders also put sealant inside their tires, further cementing the tires to the rims. Additionally, some of this sealant stays liquid within the tire, and can quickly fill small holes or punctures in the tire, while you ride.
But it’s extremely difficult to mount road tubeless tires’ some say - I’ve had mixed results. Frankly with a new, supple tubeless tire and my HED C2+ rims I had no trouble. With a bad tire on the same rims I struggled. Lennard Zinn provides very clear and helpful instructions here. Zinn provides another couple of thoughts and a list of instructions here. The only trouble I had was mounting an older tire that had been folded too long, and I probably should have returned as it never went on…(maybe not the place to buy from a discounter!) “But wait,” you say, “you said you still have to carry tubes in the summary. How does that work?” All road tubeless tires CAN be run with tubes. If you flat or if you lose your seal on a ride, you can use a tube, just like a regular clincher to get home. It will be more difficult to get the tire back on relative to a regular clincher, due to the carbon fiber in the tire bands, but with some patience it can be done. I still bring tubes with me though the chance of a flat is a lower probability event than a regular clincher due to the sealant and the system.
Technical Part 2 (the basics)
With Tubeless you need:
Tubeless ready or tubeless designed wheels (or you can go ‘ghetto’ in which case you really want a sealed rim like my Mavic Kysrium SL (link to newer version, I got mine with the bike)
Road Tubeless Tires (of critical importance - this is a safety issue, do NOT mount regular clinchers as Tubeless, they will not work, you might crash and get hurt)
Required! Tubeless rim tape
Optional, but really recommended/necessary, sealant
Tubeless stems - required, you need to get the sealant into the tires and this is one way to do it. More importantly, you won’t have tubes with stems anymore!
Optional, but really helps, an air compressor (MAPSO members have them or take to High Gear for installation, they’re happy to help)
Since I’ve provided the link to the instructions I will let the keen click through for the ‘how to’ - plus I’ve done this twice so I’m no expert…
Wheel Selection and Recommendations:
Before I go into this section, which I believe to be the most valuable section, let me state my assumptions and key use scenarios:
While I like light kit, weight is NOT the primary driver of my training wheel choice, durability and not being on the side of the road changing flats is
Plus truth be told I could lose some kilos from me first before worrying about the bike
Same time rolling weight really matters, a lot. So pick the best/lightest wheels you can afford, you’ll appreciate it
As described, with a couple of notable exceptions, this list is for TRAINING WHEELS, not race wheels, though I’m starting to think I’d like to race on tubeless too
There’s always a trade off on performance and price and I’ve tried to balance that in my recommendations
I’ll note where I came down, though timing and availability had a lot to do with it (you should know my bias, it will be stated)
Before purchasing any wheels do talk to High Gear or your local shop where you have relationships, you could get a custom built wheel at the right time of the year for less than the sources listed here.
I’m providing a ball park with the links and not the definitive place to buy:
Here are but four options that I found very attractive during my search. I expect that more and more manufacturers will launch tubeless ready wheels in the coming year to two years. There are really solid products from Stan’s Tubeless et al. But they don’t offer the price/value proposition that I see from these wheels or they are also narrow, or both.
Option A: HED C2+ Rims
Products include the Ardennes+ line and custom wheels based on the C2+ rim
Reasons to buy/build this wheel: Widest tubeless specific product on the market enables wider tires to be run - this means lower pressures, less rolling resistance, and a better ride.
Concerns/Issues: Relatively expensive.
HED requires you to buy a complete set if you want a low spoke count. Note that only the C+ rims or Ardennes+ 2014 wheels are tubeless ready - so the discounted 2013 wheelsets that are out there will probably work, but they won’t have the bumps…something to consider
Option B: Shimano TL Wheelsets
Products include the Dura-Ace C24 TL and Ultegra 6800 TL
Reasons to buy: Fair pricing - Dura Ace for ~$1,000 with additional discounts and the Ultegra set for $750. Relatively light for the Dura Ace and a good reputation
Concerns/Issues: Narrow - only 17mm internal diameter.
A great solution if you get a deal, but perhaps only half way there if you’re going for it. Without discounts probably not worth it versus HED (width, durability?) but with a deep discount, especially for the AWESOME quality Dura Aces, I’d go for it! Save the extra coin for race entries, or a power meter.
Option C: Bontrager TLR Wheelsets
Products include the Race X Lite TLR or the Aura 5 TLR
Reasons to buy this wheel: Well, you didn’t - it just came on your Trek bike. That’s good! Welcome to Tubeless. Or, someone else bought a bike where these were the wheels on it and you bought them from them, or High Gear had a pair lying around because the customer who bought the bike with these as original equipment didn’t value them. They’re new so it’s hard to say yeah or nay, but I’d gladly ride these, especially at the right price.
Alternatively, you bought the Aura 5 TLR to race on because you can’t stand the thought of flatting during the tough IM Lake Placid bike but you still want to be aero. Bravo to you, wise triathlete.
Concerns/Issues: Narrow. Long term durability not established like with HED or Shimano.
Fulcrum 2 way fit. Campangolo 2 way fit
Reasons to buy these wheels: You ride Campangolo. You agree with me that these wheels are the sexiest road tubeless out there
Concerns: None, less the price is/can be steep. But then again see ‘reasons to buy’ there’s often a high price for beauty.
Another option - consider a custom build if you want to treat yourself.
It’s an affordable luxury and you can get some pretty unusual wheels out of the deal (another post for another time). Art’s Cyclery has a solid review of the HED wheels that I bought that get into the value of the factory wheels versus custom build, well worth a read if you’re interested in the HEDs or custom.
Good. If you’ve gotten this far you know that you need Tubeless Tires to go with your tubeless system. First off, all of these tires are expensive. But they last a long time (perhaps a season for those of us who ride about 2,000 km or so) - I think I’ve put around 1,000 miles on mine this season and they literally look brand new. Tubeless tires, especially with sealant, are going to be heavier than regular clinchers. But not much. You are training, pedal harder. Plus, let’s say they slow you down; I’d bet they slow you down much less than if you had to fix a flat, even once over the course of the season.
Hutchinson: Safe to say they have the broadest line of tubeless tires, and the widest with the Sector at 28mm. I have Fusion 3s on my Kysrium and front of my HEDs and an Intensive 25 on the rear HED.
Schwalbe: I’m fascinated by the Schwalbe One Tubeless and may switch to this for next season.
Bontrager: As mentioned Bontrager makes TLR rims, but they also make what looks like pretty good tubeless tires. I wouldn’t mind trying out a pair of these soon too.
Sealant: Not much to say here. Use it. There are a bunch of choices including Hutchinson, Cafelatex, Stan’s, and Bontrager. Stan’s is the most popular followed by Cafelatex, I believe.
Appendix: Currently I own the following:
Kysrium SL rims
HED Ardennas+ LT 2014 edition - link up above in the Ardennas+ C2+ section
Commentary: perhaps it’s all mental but the HEDs just ride better. I run 80 front and 85 psi with the wider rims. I run 95 front and 100 to 105 rear with the Kysriums and the difference in pressure is noticeable. It’s particularly true descending and I find that I’m much more in control and feel safer this year versus last year on clinchers with tubes at higher pressures. I also have a year of riding as well.
HED has moved the Jet line of aluminum/carbon clinchers to the C2+ rim. This means that I could race on the same rim, with an even more aero profile, tubeless.
They also make a disc
Given John Bye and David Trager’s challenges at NJ State 2014 having a wheelset like this (or the 60/90 combo) sounds attractive. The price of these, however is pretty prohibitive, though I wonder if the price will come down at the end of the season. I have heard nothing to suggest it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see our wheel sponsor, Flo Wheels, come out with a road tubeless option in the future. They already run real wide (25mm) for the current wheels they sell - so it’s not so much of a leap…
Finally, for those of you who prefer all carbon options - there is ONE all carbon road tubeless option that I know of:
According to EASTON these are the cat’s pajamas, kinda like the Giro Synthe of wheels. Again these are brand new. I’d like some time to go by to demonstrate their durability, even for a lightly ridden race wheel. They’ve also redesigned the hubs…so a lot of moving pieces to get right in the first outing. Remember that Giro owns Easton, so I’m sure they’ll get this wheel right. I’m just not sure I want to be a beta tester after plunking down hard earned money while they go through the growing pains. Not to mention the fact that they are super expensive…
- Josh Parks