To go tubeless or not, that is the question.
Many mountain bikers:
(a) Aren’t sure why they ought to go tubeless. (What’s the point?)
(b) Aren’t sure whether they should be running tubeless. (Isn’t it something only bike dorks do?)
(c) Find the prospect of setting their tires up tubeless to be daunting at best, and a huge, messy hassle at worst.
(d) Wonder if it’s really worth the trouble – cf. (c)
(e) And so … they just stick with inner tubes.
Fact is, tubeless tires outperform tubed tires in pretty much every way.
They are lighter (and we’re talking about rotating weight so this matters a lot!), they offer better grip, and they flat less often.
Simply put, if you already have tubeless-ready rims, converting to tubeless is one of the best bang-for-your-buck upgrades you can make.
The only downside to tubeless is that it does take a little bit of effort to get set up. But good news: while it used to be really challenging, given the improvements to both rims and tires over the past few years, going tubeless has become much, much easier.
But should everyone really go tubeless?
When weighing the pros and cons of ditching your inner tubes, we see a tipping point. If you are someone who only rides every couple of weeks and isn’t worried about pushing hard, stick with tubes.
However, if you are riding once or twice a week, or have been frustrated by too many flat tires in the past (that weren’t caused by starting out on a ride with insufficient air in your tires), going tubeless makes sense, and you should consider making the transition.
Tubeless is a pretty simple concept once distilled. Instead of holding air in a tube, you make the tire and rim airtight so they can hold the air needed to keep your tire inflated. That is a bit easier said than done, but engineers have done most of the hard work.
Essential to making a tubeless system work is having the right combination of tire, rim, and sealant—then knowing some of the tricks to getting them set up.
To make a tire and rim airtight, the following is needed:
An air-tight tire – this can be a UST (Universal Standard Tubeless) tire, or a select few other tires with a sealant used to coat the inner surface of the tire to seal any pores that exist.
An air-tight rim – either a solid rim surface that spokes don’t protrude through, or a rim with tape covering the spoke holes.
An air-tight connection between the tire and the rim – this has been approached a number of ways; the first standard was UST and it describes a rim shape with a specific hook and an internal ridge:
Stan’s uses their own unique shape:
While Specialized, ENVE, and a few others are using a hookless bead:
Additionally, sealant can be used to fill in any gaps and fix small punctures that occur as you ride. It is typically some kind of latex mixture with a particulate mixed in to help plug holes. Best of all? That “particulate” is sometimes … glitter! (As in, actual glitter. Your tires will be fabulous!)
We’ve asked our bike reviewers to share their experiences with tubeless tires and rims, and to offer some of their tricks for making them work.
If you’ve never run tubeless tires, we hope this article will give you the confidence to give it a shot.
And even if you’ve been running tubeless tires for years, there may be a trick or two in here that might be new to you.
NEXT: Recommended Rims & Tires, and Our Best Tips & Tricks