The most important FAQs on tubeless tyres
What is normal in the automotive industry is becoming more and more popular in the bicycle cosmos: tyres without tubes. So far, so-called tubeless tyres have been used especially for Mountainbikes, Gravel Bikes and Road bikes . Riders expect increased traction and puncture resistance with less rolling resistance. Tubeless tyres are also widely converted for touring and trekking bikes. The promising alternative to clincher, folding and tubular tyres offers a lot of potential. Here we answer the most frequently asked questions.
- What are tubeless tyres?
- What are their advantages and disadvantages?
- How does tubeless fitting work?
- Can I convert my bike?
- Which manufacturers are tried and tested?
- Who needs tubeless tyres?
1. What are tubeless tyres?
As the name suggests, tubeless tyres do not have tubes inside the casing. Nevertheless, no air escapes to the outside. This is due to the structure of the tubeless construction. With just a few components, air can be kept inside the tyre by sealing it with sealing fluid. The tubeless system consists of rims, rim tape, tyre casing, valve and sealant. Rims with a deep rim bed and raised rim flange ensure that the tyre casing fits tightly. Rims and tyres are therefore designed to seal directly against each other. A tubeless rim tape prevents air from escaping at the rim. Sealing milk can be filled into the inside of the tyre through a tubeless valve and makes it air-tight. The tyre can then be inflated using a compressor or a floor pump with a compressed air tank. At first glance, a tubeless tyre is usually indistinguishable from other types of tyres. The valve provides information on closer inspection. Basically, there are other types of tyres on the market:
- Clincher tyres contain a wire in the so-called bead. This holds the tyre to the rim. Under pressure, the tyre cannot expand and thus does not jump off the rim. The clincher version usually has a tube inside. This type of tyre is characterised by easy mounting and a low price. However, it has a higher weight compared to the other models. As a rule, it is not suitable for tubeless use.
- The folding tyre has flexible plastic fibres, also called Kevlar fibres, in the tyre bead instead of wire. These are lighter and flexible. In contrast to the models with wire, this tyre is therefore foldable and lighter. This is usually reflected in the slightly higher price. Both clincher and folding tyres are called clinchers. Folding tyres can usually also be run tubeless.
- Tubular tyres have a sewn-in or laminated inner tube and are glued onto a special rim. The advantage is that in the event of a flat tyre, the tyre remains on the rim and you can roll out without any problems. However, the rolling characteristics of a folding or clincher tyre are better. The assembly of a tubular tyre is also more complex and the production costs are higher. Caution, the term "tubular tyre" is often used for folding or clincher tyres.
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Many users of the tubeless system swear by their bicycle tyres. Even some advocates of folding tyres are gradually converting their bikes. Quite rightly. Tubeless tyres have a number of advantages due to the omission of the inner tube. Many cyclists want to save weight. This is achieved by not using inner tubes; after all, in cycling every gram counts. In addition, you can ride with lower air pressure than is necessary with the tubular versions. You do not have to accept any loss of performance. On the contrary: low air pressure in the tyre means that more surface area is in contact with the ground. The tyre thus grips better, which brings safety and comfort. When cornering, as well as in mud or on loose ground, low tyre pressure makes it easier to maintain control. In case of doubt, the rear wheel slips away later. Since there is no inner tube, there is no friction between it and the tyre. Lower rolling resistance is the result. Better rolling characteristics are especially noticeable when switching from folding or clincher tyres to the tubeless system. The tubeless system provides better traction. Another advantage is the high puncture resistance. There is no tube that could burst, even valve tears do not occur. A puncture is much less likely than with the other tyre variants, as there is no inner tube that can be crushed. Especially interesting is the quick sealing by the sealing milk in case of smaller punctures or punctures, also called snakebites. The puncture protection is worth its weight in gold, especially on MTBs. Rough riding offers a lot of potential to create "snakebites" in the MTB tyre. If a puncture occurs, you are usually ready to go again faster with the tubeless system, as sealing fluid is usually sufficient to close the opening. In the case of very small damages, the loose sealing fluid in the tyre closes the leak so quickly that you do not notice the damage while riding. Other tyre models would need a new inner tube. If the damage to the tyre is too extensive, there are alternatives to sealing milk. With the so-called tubeless patch, a kind of plug is stuffed into the hole. Alternatively, the tubeless tyre can be converted again. You dismantle the tyre. This way, you can wipe the sealant out with a wet rag and put in a tube after removing the tubeless valve. The same procedure would be followed in the event of a puncture with a folding or clincher tyre - insert a new inner tube. If you want to be prepared for every eventuality, you don't have the advantage of having to take tubes with you on tour. The sealing milk cannot work miracles. On particularly rough MTB rides, there may be exceptions where the rim itself may become dented. This means that the tyre has no chance of staying tight. This is where the low air pressure becomes the undoing. The rim is less protected against dents. To prevent this, there is a so-called puncture protection that is applied in advance. Alternatively, after such damage, you can try to inflate the tyres several times with a high bar of air so that the casing fits perfectly to the rim again. This option will certainly only work temporarily. A disadvantage can be seen in the mounting. Very precise work is essential. Rim tape, rim and casing must be very clean. Mounting the tyre is somewhat more difficult than with other models. Mounting tubeless tyres therefore involves more work. The air pressure should be checked regularly. Every three to six months, new sealant must be added. It is worth cleaning the tyre before refilling it so that the new milk can work optimally. The old sealant dries out and may no longer seal. Despite the small amount needed, this is a regular cost. With other tyre models, the tubes also have to be renewed from time to time, so there is no real price disadvantage here. Especially if you use your MTB frequently, you may have to change the inner tube very often. This is not necessary with tubeless tyres. It must be mentioned, however, that the tyres can also be pulled off the rim flange for a short time during unclean riding manoeuvres with the tubeless system. Afterwards, the tyres must be inflated again. It is problematic not to have the right air pump at hand. You need a compressor or special air pumps to inflate. Compressed air is necessary for inflation, because with tubeless tyres the air has to be pumped into the tyre abruptly. Hand pumps are now also available to inflate tubeless tyres. For example, there are CO2 cartridges for bikers in sports shops that are designed for one-time use and are ideal for tubeless tyres.
3. How does tubeless fitting work?
Rims and tyres must be tubeless-ready. There is a marking with the abbreviation TLR or TLE on the components. This means that the parts are suitable for fitting tightly together. The tyre must later sit tightly and tightly on the rim. This is the only way to ride tubeless. Some manufacturers offer so-called tubeless kits with tubeless rim tape, tubeless valve and sealing milk.
- Step one is about the rim tape. Check whether a tubeless-compatible rim tape is already attached to the rim. These rim tapes are self-adhesive and seal the spoke holes of the rim. If not, the rim must be cleaned. The tubeless rim tape can then be applied. It should be attached to the rim, i.e. it should be exactly as wide as the rim mouth. The tyre width can vary, so you have to be precise here. When applying the tape, start at the valve opening. Under tension, the tape can now be applied all around without wrinkles or bubbles. Double stick the rim tape over the valve hole. This ensures that this area remains securely sealed. The rest of the rim is simply taped. The tape over the valve hole can now be pierced with a tool.
- Step two is about inserting the tubeless valve. It has a rubber seal on both sides of the rim. Note the strong tightening of the knurled screw on the side of the spokes. Your own hand strength is sufficient for this. In case of a flat, you risk a too tightly screwed valve when using tools.
- In step three, the tyre is pulled onto the rim. The running direction of the tyres must be observed. This is usually indicated by an arrow. For the first side, also called the sidewall, neither tyre levers nor mounting grease are necessary. The first tyre sidewall must be brought over the valve. If the second sidewall is difficult to bring over the rim, it is advisable to use some mounting grease or liquid soap. If you are inexperienced, you should not use a tyre lever to avoid damaging the tyre. This could cause the tyre to leak.
- In step four, the sealing milk can be fed through the valve into the tyre using a syringe or a small hose. For a road bike tyre you need approx. 40 ml per side. For an MTB tyre, 60 ml or more per tyre can be poured in. Then distribute the sealing liquid by turning it. Take care to wet the entire interior of the tyre by swivelling it. This is the only way the milk can seal the tyre securely.
- In the last step, the tyre is inflated with the help of a compressor or a floor pump with compressed air tank. The tyre must be filled with air abruptly. The tyre sits loosely on the rim until this step. A normal air pump would not be sufficient to inflate the tyre quickly enough. By inflating quickly, the tyre sits in the right place on the rim and is tight. You hear a cracking sound as soon as the tyre presses into the rim band and is thus correctly positioned. If the tyre is inflated with sealing milk via the valve, the valve may be sealed and clogged. No air gets into the tyre when it is inflated. If necessary, remove the valve insert again and inflate the tyre with air.
4. Can I convert my bike?
Folding tyres can usually be converted without having to purchase new tyres. Clincher tyres are usually not suitable for tubeless conversion. Conventional road bike tyres are also not suitable. A normal tyre bead cannot withstand the force that has to be applied by air pressure during mounting. Thus, the tyre jumps out over the rim. Whether the tyres are suitable can be determined from the TLR or TLE markings on the tyre casing and rim. If these are missing, the components are not suitable. Rims where the rim base runs on one level are also not suitable. Once you have the right components, proceed in the same way as for a new mounting. With used tyres, it is particularly important to clean the tyre and rim beforehand. Neither dust nor dirt should be present as residues. They can mess up the seal. It may make sense to wet the cleaned inside of the tyre with sealing milk before mounting. The effect of the milk can close any pores in advance. Newer wheels often already have the appropriate rim tape. If the rim tape is not firmly glued to the rim or if it has a fabric-like material, it must be replaced. A residual risk always remains that rims and tyres cannot be made tight despite the tubeless-ready marking. Tubeless tyres can be retreaded. To do so, wipe the sealant out of the tyre with a little water and fit a new inner tube. By the way, e-bikes can also be converted to the tubeless system. Many bikes are even supplied with tubeless valves as accessories.
5. Which manufacturers are tried and tested?
Schwalbe manufactures excellent tyres. Schwalbe Tubeless Ready or Tubeless Easy tyres feature the manufacturer's special tubeless technology. Thanks to their special tyre bead, they seal directly with the rim during mounting. This means that no compressed air is needed for inflation. The Schwalbe pro one, for example, are high-end road bike tyres. Continental is also a tried-and-tested tyre producer, and not just for motorsport. The Continental Grand-Prix tyres are the counterpart for road bikes to the Schwalbe version. There is a list of other well-known tyre manufacturers such as Michelin, Maxxis or Kenda that offer tubeless-ready tyres. There are also great tools for mounting and converting. Companies like Mavic, Notubes, Mac-Off or SKS offer good tubeless kits or also individually available sealing milk. Schwalbe and Continental also have their own kits, compressors such as the Schwalbe Tire Booster and sealing milk specially adapted to their tyres.
6. Who needs tubeless tyres?
The tubeless system is worthwhile for every cyclist, whether for races on asphalt or long jumps in the bike park. Everyone can benefit from increased traction, strikingly improved rolling behavior, weight savings and the plus points in case of punctures. Tyres with inner tubes are a tried and tested system. There is nothing wrong with sticking with it. However, if you like to optimize your bike, you will not get around the tubeless system and will probably stick with it. Tubeless tyres will sooner or later be the future of tyre technology. At least until more innovations surprise us.
If you have any specific questions about tubeless tyres, the buycycle team will be happy to help.
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