Myth 7: Tubeless Tires Roll Faster

When tubeless tires first became popular on mountain bikes, it was their resistance to pinch flats (above) that made them popular. Off-road, there are few nails or broken bottles that can cause punctures (and even those usually will be pushed into the soft ground rather than puncture the tire), but rims can bottom out on sharp rocks and other obstacles. So much so, in fact, that top mountain bike racers used to race on tubular tires – because tubular rims make pinch flats less likely. Eliminating tubes did the same, and while you still could ‘burp’ the tire, in general, tubeless allowed running lower pressures with fewer problems.

Many also believed that tubeless tires were faster. It made sense: an inner tube, even a thin one, added a membrane that flexed and absorbed energy. A tire without a tube had to be faster, even if only by a small amount! One big manufacturer advertised their tubeless tires with the slogan “Nothing is always faster than something.”

This turned out to be another myth. Tubeless tires have real advantages, but speed isn’t one of them. To seal the tire, you have to add sealant. Pouring liquid into your tires inevitably slows them down. Old-timers tell stories of how they put water in the inner tubes of their friends’ bikes as a practical joke. The inertia of the water made the bikes impossibly hard to pedal.

The website Bicycle Rolling Resistance (www.bicyclerollingresistance.com) measured tires with and without sealant (above). Testing on a steel drum measures only the hysteretic losses, so ignore that the graph shows higher pressures having less resistance. (That isn’t true on real roads.) But for the effects of sealant inside the tires, it’s the hysteretic losses that are important, so the drum test works in this case.

What you can see is that once you add enough sealant (40 ml) to have actual liquid inside the tire (after the tire casing has become saturated), the energy required to turn the wheel increases significantly.

Our own testing confirms this. We tested the very same tires mounted tubeless with as little sealant as possible – a best-case scenario for tubeless. Then we removed the sealant and installed tubes. The tires rolled at almost the same speed. Even with almost no liquid sealant inside, the tubeless setup rolled only marginally faster.

Riding the tires with that little sealant is inviting trouble. I set up another wheelset the same way, and the tires worked themselves loose from the rim walls when the sealant dried up a week into the experiment. (Supple tires always move slightly on the rim, and sealant is necessary to keep tubeless tires sealed on the rims.) Once you add enough sealant for the tire to work reliably, it will be slower than it was with a lightweight inner tube.

How about making the tires themselves airtight? There are tubless tires that you can run without sealant, but to make these tires airtight, they need thick rubber coatings on their casings. And this makes them less supple, so they are in effect slower than a more supple tire with a lightweight inner tube – as shown by the steel drum test of a Schwalbe Tubeless vs. Standard tire (above, from http://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com).

Most of these differences are small. A tire set up tubeless won’t be faster than a lightweight inner tube, but also not significantly slower. The simple fact is that a tube, especially a lightweight one, is extremely supple and adds very little resistance. The sealant required to run a supple tire tubeless will cancel out the gains from eliminating the tube.

What will be significantly slower on real roads (much more than the drum test above suggest) is an airtight ‘tubeless’ tire, since its stiffer sidewalls don’t absorb vibrations as well, which increases the suspension losses. Better to add a little sealant to a not airtight tire, if you want to run tubeless…

Tubeless tires have their place: They are great for preventing pinch flats, and most of Compass’ wider models, which are intended to be ridden off-pavement, are tubeless-compatible. And yet for most of us, pinch flats aren’t really an issue any longer, even on gravel roads, because we now run wide tires – mostly because they roll faster on rough surfaces, but also because they are less likely to bottom out and pinch-flat.

What about puncture resistance? The sealant inside the tires can seal small punctures. However, in my experience, the hassle of dealing with the setup and maintenance of tubeless tires outweighs the hassle of fixing the occasional flat tire. If you want the simplicity of tubes with the puncture resistance of sealant, simply pour some sealant into your inner tubes – many riders report that this self-seals punctures, too.

In the future, I will run my tires tubeless when I ride across really rough terrain – like our recent passhunting adventure in Japan (above) – but not for my normal riding on paved and gravel roads.

If you’ve been curious about running your tires tubeless, check out the illustrated how-to guide on setting up tires tubeless in the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly. With the right technique, it’s possible to seat the tire even without an air compressor. This makes it easy to set up tubeless tires at home or even when traveling.

Further reading:

Photo credits: Ryan Hamilton (Photo 1), Westside Bicycle (Photo 2), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 6 and 7).

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
This entry was posted in Testing and Tech, Tires. Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to Myth 7: Tubeless Tires Roll Faster

  1. Ari says:

    Aren’t we looking at a 100-200 gram penalty per wheel if we run tubed vs tubeless.

    • A lightweight inner tube weighs between 70 and 105 g, depending on the size. 60 ml of sealant weigh 60 grams. Some of the sealant’s liquid will evaporate as the sealant seals the tire, so yes, you’ll be a little lighter running your tires tubeless. But the small weight advantage won’t make up for the resistance of the liquid sloshing around inside your tires.

      • pepper662014 says:

        Jan

        I’ve been riding on a set of Bon Jon 35 Ultralights tubeless for about a year. After getting them sealed tubeless, they were an incredible ride on and off-road, but they eventually both experienced small punctures that wouldn’t seal so I switched to tubes. My question is about your experience with tubes with these tires and pressures. I am a big guy and my riding weight is around 200 pounds, how low can I safely go with pressure? Love the ride of the tires, but the tubeless set-up isn’t ideal. Can you suggest the best tube and a safe pressure?

        Many Thanks
        Tucker

      • A good starting point for determining your tire pressure is here:

        https://janheine.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/tire-pressure-take-home/

        This is only a starting point – from there, just experiment and see what feels good. Also remember that the gauges on floor pumps aren’t very accurate. I have two floor pumps, and they show a difference of 15% for the same tire pressure!

  2. Mike Stead says:

    Hiya Jan

    Well this one’s going to be controversial 🙂

    So what I think this test showed is that adding *anything* to a tyre slows it down. In this case, 30ml of sealant per tyre required an extra 1 Watt overall to maintain a fast-ish speed.
    In your test, you compare the One Tubeless, set up with sealant, against the One V-Guard with a tube. That’s not really a fair test though, is it?

    The One Tubeless is 275g (the Pro One 28mm – as the V-guard isn’t available in a Tubeless version)
    The One V-guard 28mm is 245g, and doesn’t need a butyl liner. Budget maybe 80g for a latex tube?

    So straight away you’re 30g worse-off per wheel, before adding 30-40g of sealant and more in tape/valve, with a butyl liner to boot. Is it any wonder it appears to roll slower?

    What I’d like to see is something like a Barlow Pass, maybe the Extralite version, tested tubeless and with a tube, for rolling resistance.

    • Well this one’s going to be controversial 🙂

      New ideas (although this one isn’t really new) always are controversial. You should have seen the firestorm when we suggested that wider tires can roll as fast as narrow ones, way back in 2007.

      By the way, the drum test research isn’t our own, it was done by http://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com. When you read their test description, you’ll see that the tubeless tire was run without sealant. So it was a totally fair test – tubeless tire without tube and without sealant, tubed tire with tube…

      We did test the Switchback Hill, in the Extralight, tubeless and with a tube. We added the absolute minimum of sealant, and the tire rolled marginally faster – although not enough to make it statistically significant. And we later realized that to run the tires on the road, we needed to add quite a bit more sealant – which by all indications would slow the tire down further… So I think it’s safe to say that a) an airtight tubeless tire without tube will be no faster than a lightweight tire with a tube, and b) Compass tires set up tubeless aren’t faster than they are with a lightweight tube.

  3. Mike Stead says:

    Noting: my big miles tubeless have been on the original One 28mm – about 5000 miles and counting. In that time I’ve had maybe half a dozen punctures where the sealant (usually Slime Pro) has leaked through and sealed the cut. I’ve had another 3-4 where I used the Genuine innovations Tubeless Repair Kit, to stuff an ‘anchovy’ in a larger hole, always sealing first time. I’ve also had a few encounters with potholes that would most likely have ended in pinch flats, even with a 30mm-as-measured setup at about 55-60PSI. Yes, the One *could* have been set up dry – but that 30-40ml of Slime Pro or Orange Seal has given both instant on-the roll puncture repair, plus confidence. If that’s cost me a whole flamin’ watt, I’m cool with that 🙂

  4. Patrick Moore says:

    Yeah, but tubeless tires with sealant roll faster than tubed tires with sealant.

    On Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 5:35 AM, Off The Beaten Path wrote:

    > Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly posted: ” When tubeless tires first > became popular on mountain bikes, it was their resistance to pinch flats > (above) that made them popular. Off-road, there are few nails or broken > bottles that can cause punctures (and even those usually will be pushed > into the” >

    • You are right, but as others pointed out, all those differences are small. I run my tires with lightweight tubes and no sealant for the fastest setup, but I also don’t live in goathead country…

      • ken1putt says:

        I have lived in goathead country, and spend many months a year in Arizona where everything have thorns…. and I was turned on to a product for tubed tires by a local bike shop. It’s called Flat Attack and because it’s propylene glycol based and doesn’t evaporate. Does the rolling resistance go up? sure, but the last tube I threw away after it wouldn’t seal had a total of 23 holes in it. Ken Moum

  5. Peter Trasko says:

    The graphs are totally meaningless without error bars. Have you ever consulted a statistician? Your tests would be much more informative if they were properly designed and presented.

    • Agreed, but those graphs aren’t our research. When we test things, we always do a statistical analysis – one of our contributors has a Ph.D. with a minor in statistics. The graphs come from http://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com.

      That said, tests on steel drums tend to be easy to replicate, thus the error bars are small. As mentioned in the text, there are other issues with drum tests: They don’t replicate the full setup of a bike and rider on a real road, so they don’t measure suspension losses. As a result, they show that higher pressures roll faster, which we now know isn’t true.

  6. Dang it, I just got all my bikes converted to tubeless, now I find out it can be slower. Maybe I should just walk.

    All joking aside I am glad for your research.

  7. randallisom says:

    I would question the claim that “What you can see is that once you add enough sealant (40 ml) to have actual liquid inside the tire (after the tire casing has become saturated), the energy required to turn the wheel increases significantly.” as the bicyclerollingresistance test shows the change in rolling resistance from 0 sealant to 40 ml sealant is between 0.6 to 0.8 watts depending on the pressure, from 60 psi to 120 psi. Is <1 watt considered significant?

    Here's the link to the full test: https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/specials/road-bike-tubeless-sealant

    • You are right, the differences are small, no matter which system you run. An inner tube also adds almost no resistance. Consider how supple an inner tube really is. It takes almost no energy at all to flex it. Please note that I am not saying that tubeless is slower, just that it isn’t faster. The data so far shows that it’s probably a little bit slower, but as you point out, the difference is too small to be significant.

  8. Dr J says:

    The only good reason not to go tubeless is when you have one wheelset and need to frequently swap tires. That’s why my commuter bike still runs tubes (I need studded tires for winter). Other than that, the 2 Watt penalty of being slower doesn’t apply to most of us since we don’t race.

    • Matthew J says:

      Many bicycle owners live in apartments where messing with tubeless fluids is not all that convenient.

      I suppose I could do the work out in the alley. Given how few flats I get with my tubed Compass tires (Chicago area streets must be the holy grail of clean, natch) can’t see any benefit in doing so,

  9. jeff parker says:

    That test was with a tubeless road tire. He found significant efficiency advantages for both tubeless setup and latex tubes on an MTB tire, and some further advantage for tubeless over latex at lower pressures. https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/specials/tubeless-latex-butyl-tubes

    • On an mtb tire with knobs, you are introducing more ‘noise’ into the testing, and I’d really like to see the results of multiple test runs, rather than a single result.

      When we test anything for Bicycle Quarterly, we always think about the basic demands of scientific tests: reproduceability and repeatability. The first means that anybody must be able to do the test, the second one that no matter how often you do the test, the result must be the same. A third one is to validate your model, meaning to show that what you test actually is happening on real road. The last one is how we figured out that wider tires and lower pressures weren’t slower on real roads, even though they are way slower on steel drums.

      • IAmHolland says:

        Testing methodology from the site. You really need to understand what your posting, rebutting, and summarizing, without jumping to conclusions.

        “After a warm-up period of 30 minutes, three measurements are taken. We then calculate the average of these three runs. After a correction for the electric motor efficiency and subtraction of the power required to spin the drum and wheel to the set speed, the result is the rolling resistance of the tire.”

      • Taking the average is better than using a single run, but we need to know how much the different test runs vary from each other. A rigorous statistical analysis is necessary to show whether the observed differences between tubes and tubeless are just noise in the data, or real differences.

      • Balor says:

        While I admire your gumption to go against the grain with ‘unconventional’ theories (and be right more often than not!), what you are doing right now is called ‘cherry picking the data’… as in – his data is fine to you when it confirms your hypothesis, but when it does not – you suddenly seem to find flaws. That’s not how it’s done.

        Anyway, I kind of agree that ‘road tubeless’ might indeed be more hassle than it is worth compared to MTB applications, because pressures are great and sealants don’t work nearly as well as in low-pressure tire.

        Also, road tires are run with low tire drop for better rolling resistance, and (as that very BRS article shows) tubeless starts to really shine when you run your tires ‘half-empty’ for best traction and float.

        And by the way, have your revised your assumptions about latex tubes not being faster than butyl ones yet? (Whether they worth the added hassle of pumping up your tires daily is an unrelated question).

      • I am sorry, I did not mean to cherry-pick my data – I wasn’t aware at all of the mtb tire test when I wrote the blog post. When I found out through the comments, I was at a loss of how to these inconsistent results. Why would an inner tube in a supple racing tire make almost no difference, but in a stiff mtb tire, a similar tube suddenly adds huge resistance – at roughly the same pressure of 55 – 60 psi? It makes no sense, and I am surprised that the author of the rolling resistance web site didn’t point out those inconsistencies in the posts.

        Regarding latex tubes, our testing showed that (relatively thick) Michelin latex tubes rolled slightly slower than butyl tubes on real roads. We tested two or three different tire/tube combinations multiple times, and the differences, while small, were statistically significant. However, several other tests have since shown that latex tubes roll faster. While I have great confidence in our testing, it’s quite possible that thinner latex tubes – which we haven’t tested – are indeed slightly faster than butyl ones.

  10. Andy Stow says:

    Good info. I’ve been preparing to set my fatbike up tubeless, and was hoping for less rolling resistance, but had also wondered about the work of flowing sealant around inside the tire.

    I wondered if at speed, it becomes more of a thin circumferential layer due to centripetal acceleration, and ceases to flow.

    • I wondered if at speed, it becomes more of a thin circumferential layer due to centripetal acceleration, and ceases to flow.

      We’ve wondered about that, too. My hypothesis is that at high speed, the sealant ‘atomizes’ and becomes a fine mist. We haven’t found a way to test this yet, and we don’t know of anybody else who has.

      • Kevin Smith says:

        I too have wondered about the state of sealant liquid at higher speeds, but ‘atomizing’ was not an idea I could envision. With absolutely no data or evidence, I suspect it gets highly distributed around the tire by centripetal forces and liquid surface tension. “smear” might be what it looks like. We need a portable x-ray machine.

      • I think your hypothesis is more likely, thinking of how a centrifuge works. I was envisioning the liquid being at the bottom of the tire, and being churned, but realistically, it would just be ‘centrifuged’ outward.

      • Rick Thompson says:

        I don’t think there are any transparent tires, but there are clear inner tubes : https://www.unicycle.com/nimbus-clear-inner-tube-26/
        You could put sealant into one of these, spin it up on a wheel and see what happens.
        If just the tube doesn’t work, maybe cut windows into the sidewall of a tire with a clear inner tube.

      • Scott Arenz says:

        I agree with the “centrifuge” hypothesis, with the sealant forming a shallow longitudinal “river” along the inner surface farthest from the hub, the apex of the tire’s cross section.

        To help visualize what’s probably going on inside that bike tire here’s kind of a humorous example: NASA’s 70’s-era research into wheel-shaped space stations. The artistic imagery of these proposed stations is quite striking, and even includes liquid pressed against the outermost interior surface of the wheel. In this case, an actual river.[1][2]

        One could conceivably model the forces acting on the sealant in a tire using the equations for calculating the artificial gravity experienced by occupants of a wheeled space station. Thanks NASA! [3]

        [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_torus#/media/File:Stanford_Torus_interior.jpg
        [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_torus#/media/File:Stanford_torus_under_construction.jpg
        [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotating_wheel_space_station

      • Ray Varella says:

        Could sections of a sidewall be removed and patched with some sort of clear film? It would make windows in the sidewalls. You could then set up a high resolution video that films at high speed and plays back in super slow motion. A few years ago a friend came out to film our birds in flight. He used a Phantom Flex 4000. It shoots 1,000 frames per second. Something like that might work for such a test.

  11. While the nominal differences in rr may be very small, to me the major advantage of a tubeless setup, apart from pinch flat resistance, is ability to run a faster, less puncture protected tyres for the same riding conditions.
    Additionally punctures that cannot be sealed by the sealant, can be fixed in a second with a plug.

    • Agreed, flats are a nuisance, and if you can avoid them, it makes cycling much more pleasant. One nice thing about the trend toward bigger tires and toward riding on backroads (rather than the shoulders of highways) is that flats are much less of a problem than they have been in the past. In the BQ Team, the riders rolling on tubeless setups have at least as many issues with their tires than the rest of us have flats…

    • IAmHolland says:

      Agree as well. I run compass tires in the city, tubeless, at 25psi. Small punctures are saved by sealant, but gashes need a boot anyway, so tubes or sealant has no win there. I would run armored tires, otherwise, at high psi.

  12. phr3dly says:

    I’m pleased that this conclusion matches my intuition (that the tube adds very little resistance).

    I’ve resisted this fad claiming the above, though in reality my real objection has been to the seeming complexity of dealing with tubeless. Even on my MTB; I get /maybe/ one flat every couple years. Meanwhile a riding buddy who rides tubeless frequently deals with leaky tires and dried-out sealant. And he still gets flats, for which he has to carry a tube anyway. Not to mention, dealing with a flat tire full of sealant is a mess.

  13. Andrew Suzuki says:

    The bicyclerollingresistance test with a 2.2″ mountain bike tire shows a much larger gap between butyl tubes and tubeless/latex: https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/specials/tubeless-latex-butyl-tubes
    About 14 watts total at typical 2.2″ mtb pressure (~20psi)…pretty huge compared to the road test (~4 watts latex vs butyl).
    Obviously, this is a single tubeless tire, unlike the road test. I think the take-away here is that if you’re using a typical tubeless tire, you should probably run it tubeless due to sidewalls designed for tubeless use (except for Compass maybe). Were the Switchback Hill TC results closer to the road or MTB test?

    • Agreed – if you have stiff sidewalls anyhow, an inner tube will add more resistance. But then, why run stiff sidewalls in the first place, if you are concerned about performance?

      The difference in performance between tube and tubeless for the Compass Switchback Hill was too small to be statistically significant. And once we realized that so much depends on how much sealant you add, we didn’t repeat the test, since it wouldn’t show us anything new. We already knew that even under optimal conditions (almost no sealant), the tubeless setup wasn’t significantly faster.

      • Mikael says:

        I think that this is a key takeaway here. When comparing supple tires, there is little difference in the rolling resistance between a tubed and tubeless tire. However as most tires sold today are decisively not supple at all, the average tire will be faster if set up tubeless as opposed to tubed.

        It’s good to get the principles of the matter straight, though. It is now also evident that you should never go for a more rigid tubeless tire (perhaps like the original Schwalbe One Tubeless) expecting gains in CRR.

  14. jPrichard10 says:

    If bicycle tubes really had that much of a stiffening effect, then tubeless tires would need to be made “stiffer” than tubed tires, no? Or in other words, tubed tires could be made more supple, because the tube would add a little more stiffness….

    That’s obviously not the case, so clearly tubes are not having a huge effect on the suppleness of a wheel setup.

  15. ryanfrancesconi says:

    Hi Jan! This is a great topic to dig deeper into! I will add my perspective: Bottom line – for off road riding, tubeless is definitely better than not tubeless. Tubeless is far from perfect, it’s a hassle to setup, a hassle to maintain, and a hassle when it fails. One thing you didn’t note, is that running tubeless you can run a lot lower pressures than you typically run in your tubed tires. I remember you referring to 40psi as “gravel pressure”. For me, 40psi is road pressure. I go down from there.

    So for example, running 20psi in a 40mm tire is a fine thing to do, especially if you are riding trails. This would still be a pressure range of pinch flatting with the larger compass tires and tubes. (Which I have done) Obviously the 18-25 psi range is where you’re at if you’re racing CX as well. Gluing tubulars is toxic and way worse than tubeless. So this is another area where tubeless will take over.

    When tubeless does seal something (And this is a pretty rare occurrence in my experience), It does feel like a huge advantage and timesaver.

    The final advantage of tubeless is that you aren’t carrying 4 tubes (2 in your tires and 2 extras). Just 2 spares. So there is this weight advantage as well.

    And now the other side – when tubeless fails to seal the hole and you have sealant spurting all over your bike and ground, and you sit there hoping it will seal – but eventually put a tube into a goopy tire. Well – that makes you hate tubeless. My new policy is that if a tire flats and doesn’t immediately seal, I put a tube and don’t waste any more time. The other disadvantage of tubeless? You have to keep buying new tires to keep them strong. But I figure you’d like this point…. 😉

    • Thanks for the added perspective.

      I remember you referring to 40psi as “gravel pressure”. For me, 40psi is road pressure. I go down from there.

      Probably a misunderstanding – we were having this conversation as we were racing across the gravel roads of the Pacific Crest during the Volcano High Pass Challenge – I run my tires at about 40 psi on pavement, and somewhere between 23 and 30 on gravel, depending on the tire width.

  16. Craig says:

    Mavic just released their road tubeless set-up and their tests indicate tubeless offers lower rolling resistance. https://youtu.be/ALVtgcY1YeM

    • When you compare an airtight tubeless tire with and without a tube, it’ll be faster without. But if you take a supple tire with a tube and compare it with an airtight tire run tubeless, the advantage is gone.

      I wonder whether tubeless tires will become like run-flat tires on modern cars – to gain the advantage of being able to drive with a flat tire – which rarely happens – you give up comfort, grip and probably fuel efficiency as you drive – all the time – on tires with super-stiff sidewalls. As tire developers focus on tubeless tires, they’ll become less supple, less comfortable and slower.

  17. John C says:

    in my experience the hassle of changing a flat on the side of the road outweighs the hassle of setting a wheel up tubeless, which I can do from the comfort of my home

    • Matthew J says:

      As I note above, for the many cyclists who live in apartments, hassles setting up tubeless are magnified to the point where the two times I’ve had a flat on my Compass tires in the last 5 years proves an easy risk to accept.

  18. Monty Richardson says:

    Hi Jan,
    I love your work. One thing I like about tubeless, although it’s not of much significance, is that on very long or multiple day rides I find they hold pressure better, although that could simply be the tires I have used.

  19. Rick Thompson says:

    Well, now you have me more confused about the best way to avoid goathead flats. A couple blogs ago you were arguing that tubed tires with sealant did not work well for punctures because the sealant would migrate to any existing holes in the tire and not seal the tube leak properly. If that is true then tubeless is better against both pinch flats and punctures. Now you are saying tubeless is more trouble than tubed, and tubed with sealant is fine for punctures.
    My tubed Snoqualmie Pass tires are still handling goatheads OK when protected by Orange Seal. I just pulled 3 thorns out, saw the sealant coming through, then spun the wheels and they sealed fine. Goatheads make a lot of holes, but they are all very small so maybe that is why sealant works well for them.
    I am still planning to try tubeless, if Pacenti manages to ship any of the Brevet rims in 700c (delayed now until April).
    On sealant amount: Orange Seal recommends 2 to 4 oz per tire (60 – 120 ml). That seemed like a lot, and is way more than the 20 to 40 ml you are talking about here. 120 ml probably would increase rolling resistance considerably.

    • 120 ml is a lot, but what surprised me when I delved into tubeless first is how much sealant you need for a truly trouble-free installation. I think 60 ml is more likely, but even that is a considerable amount of liquid. The idea that you can run your tires dry once they are sealed doesn’t seem to hold true – the beads will separate from the rim due to the vibrations, even on pavement.

  20. Jim Langley says:

    Jan, the only “official” people that I know of that said road tubeless tires have lower rolling resistance, were Shimano and Hutchinson – the first companies to join to make the first road tubeless wheel and tire combination. And their system did not require sealant. The tires sealed perfectly without it. As far as I understood from their press briefing back then, it was their tubeless tire without any sealant that was what they said outperformed standard tubed tires. So, if you want to prove tubeless tires don’t have lower rolling resistance, I think the test would be comparing the latest genuine tubeless setup (not “tubeless-ready” setups, which require sealant to work at all). It would be interesting to see if Shimano and Hutchinson were right – it’s hard to believe with the engineers and budget that they have, that they were making that up.
    In cycling,
    Jim Langley

    • So, if you want to prove tubeless tires don’t have lower rolling resistance, I think the test would be comparing the latest genuine tubeless setup.

      That is exactly what http://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com did with the Schwalbes. I suspect Shimano and Hutchinson were comparing the same airtight, stiff tires with and without tubes. In that case, eliminating the tube makes it faster, but a supple tire with a lightweight inner tube probably is faster yet.

      • Conrad says:

        Thats the thing. The fastest tires are the ones with the supple casing. Until Compass tires came along, the only wide clincher with a high end casing was from Challenge, and those are not tubeless compatible. So if you can’t deal with tubulars, then next fastest option is a good clincher with tubes- not a mediocre clincher run tubeless. The other thing to consider is flats. Most the time I feel that personally, all things considered, tubes are less work. There is usually a week or two in the winter when I can’t seem to make it down east marginal way without flatting that I start to reconsider and then the city finally gets around to sweeping that stinking road and its okay again.

  21. Matthewpisano says:

    I have been riding and racing gravel on tubless for years. Kenda small block 8s. There are alot of great tires for tubless. They work flawless. No problems what so ever. Ride your bike have fun.

    • Glad tubeless is working so well for you! The problems with tubeless are usually the rims. Some rims are undersize, and the tires blow off very easily. The tolerances for rims must be much tighter to run tubeless, because there is no tube reinforcing the seam between rim and tire.

  22. larryatcycleitalia says:

    Thanks for busting yet another myth. Tubeless road for riding on pavement seems an answer to a question nobody asked, unless it was how to make a bunch of perfectly good equipment instantly obsolete. But the bike biz is a mature market and industry bigwigs know the only way to growth is to get all the current cyclists to throw away their old stuff and replace it with new. I’ll pass, thank you.

    • Mike Stead says:

      You clearly don’t ride on roads covered in flint and thorns then. It’s an option, that works very well for many. Choice is good.

      • Choice is good! That is why we have made new molds to make our wider tires tubeless-compatible. But these days, many in the cycling media make it sound as if tubes were an anachronism that slow you down and will leave you stranded. The reality is that tubeless works fine in 98% of cases, but the lack of standards and a poor understanding of the technology mean that 2% of users have trouble with everything from tires not sealing well to blowing off the rims.

      • marmottz27 says:

        Choice is good, but ‘innovation’ in the bicycle industry usually doesn’t work that way. E.g. I’m wary about seeing good lightweight rims with brake faces disappear because of the disc brake fad.

      • Mike Stead says:

        @Marmottz27: disc brakes aren’t a fad. They are evolution away from a poor design that has no doubt contributed to injury and death. Consistent performance in all weathers, for any level of hand strength, immune to corrosion or freezing, or rim wear, is not a ‘fad’. Rim brakes are for dry-weather aficionados and retro-grouches. Disc brakes are for the real world.

      • Many of us ride with rim brakes daily, and they work fine even in the rain. I’ve had more trouble with disc brakes than I’ve ever had with rim brakes – everything from no braking power (early Avids) to pad adjustment screws backing out on their own until the pads no longer touched the rotor even with the levers pulled all the way to the bars (TRP Spyre). It’s not like anybody still rides chrome-plated steel rims – now that was indeed dangerous in the rain!

  23. Kevin Smith says:

    This is a great discussion and challenging idea. I’m trying your Bon Jon’s tubeless on my commuter/winter/light gravel road bike. I actually rode them for a short period on my regular commute route both tubed and tubeless and I can not tell the difference in terms of effort. Going into my little experiment, I was thinking the tubeless setup would ‘feel’ faster or ‘take less effort for the same speed’. But honestly, if you swapped my tires and didn’t tell me, I would not be able to tell you which set was tubed or not. I’m on the fence about what it better for me, but trying tubeless for a while to get personal experience. In the end, it might be the benefit of sealing small leaks during my commute that I find most advantageous – and worth the other hassles of tubeless setup/maintenance. That said – once you figure tubeless out – maintenance is really not that much of a hassle versus tubed.

    I’ve actually started to wonder why pro’s don’t go toward tubeless more given that many seem to lose out on late race winning opportunities because they get a flat. (but Pro issues are not our real concern!)

  24. Rick Harker says:

    My take.
    I previously tried a Pro One on a sealed Shimano rim. Installation was easy, even with a frame pump. They held air and ran smoother and faster than any tire I’ve tried before, except. There is no puncture protection layer and for this you need sealant. At the time I didn’t test for rolling resistance until recently when using 40mm Maxxis Rambler tires. I fitted them to no name rims (undersize) and wasn’t going to try tubeless until I had appropriately tubeless ready rims. Again these tires had no puncture protection and punctures occurred way too frequently.
    When installing the tires on WTB i19 rims I had to seat the beads first with a tube. For my passive home rolling resistance test I spun the wheels without sealant and they ran for several minutes, smooth as silk. With the sealant I was extremely surprised they spun slower and for only half the time. I need to run these tires with sealant for flat protection but will be more careful choosing my next tires and wondering if tubeless is really the best option. Particularly if you are a long way from any service.

  25. LK says:

    Your anecdotes about the rarity of flats with tubed Compass tires perplexes me. In my experience, Compass tires are only really viable when run tubeless. When running my Snowqualme Pass tires with tubes, I got a flat at least weekly. I then built up a tubeless ready wheel set, converted them to tubeless, and have had not a single problem since. The same characteristics that make Compass tires a dream to ride also make them extremely susceptible to small debris, wires, glass, etc. Because of this, they are really only robust enough for real world riding when setup tubeless. The fact that you have not experienced the same issues with a tubed setup is surprising to me.

    • I am glad tubeless is working well for you, and has solved your problem with flats.

      How many flats any of us get depends on many factors. It’s not just me, but the riders on the BQ Team as well. I don’t even recall when we last stopped during a ride to fix a puncture. Certainly not in the first three months of this year…

      I guess we are lucky, in Seattle, it’s accepted to ‘take the lane’ and not ride in all the debris that accumulates in the gutter. Out in the country, we usually ride on small backroads, where we also ride in the lane that gets swept clean by the (infrequent) traffic. It’s a different story if you ride on the shoulder of busy highways that are littered with wires from exploded truck tires, or if drivers in your city force you to ride in the gutter. Beyond that, we get far fewer flats on wide tires because they run at lower pressures, making them less likely to puncture.

    • HaloTupolev says:

      I flat tubed Rat Trap Pass ELs less often than I flat skinny racing tires. If tubed wide Compass tires were problematic in some circumstance, then I’d expect just about any tubed high-performance road tire to be problematic in the same case.

      • gcziko says:

        My experience has been that motorists will not “force you to ride in the gutter” if you are pro-active and ride near the center of traffic lanes that are too narrow to safely share. We’ve taught lane control as the default cyclist behavior in CyclingSavvy in about two dozen states now (including Seattle) and it has never failed to work.

        I’ve ridden L.A.’s streets now for almost five years almost always in lane-control position and I get good passing distances, along with a honk every few months (which means the motorist has seen me, which is good). And most of this on extralight Compass tires without a single puncture that I can recall. You still have to watch out for potholes, but the road surface is is virtually guaranteed to be free of flat-causing debris if you ride where motorists have swept the lane clean for you.

        Hm, maybe we’ve discovered another cycling myth here–that there are some cities in the U.S. where motorists will force you into the gutter. If such cities do exist, I’d like to know which ones.

      • Whether to take the lane or not is a different discussion, and also depends on many factors. If you ride at almost the speed of traffic, it feels totally natural. But if the cars are significantly faster, it is uncomfortable for most cyclists to hold up many cars. As so often in cycling, ‘one size fits all’ recommendations don’t really work.

    • Sam Krueger says:

      I’ve been running Compass extra light tires for 3 years or so and ride in an urban environment as well as back roads and have only gotten one flat the whole time, which was a pinch flat when I slammed into an unseen obstacle, so I can’t imagine how you get so many flats. It just seems very strange.

      • Gert says:

        I must admit, I also experience a lot more flats on Compass Stampede Pass and Bon Jon Pass, than I do on the heavier and slower Schwalbe Kojak tires.
        It is almost only on wet bicycle paths due to small flint stones.
        It is not always wet, and averages are difficult to assess. But a loose assessment is 1 to 2 punctures more in 1000km (Kojaks 0 or 1 flat, Compass 1 to 3 flats)
        The Compass tires are at least .5km/h faster at 24-25km/h
        That means the Compass tires will give me an advantage of aproximately 48 minuttes in speed, and it take 8 minuttes to fix a flat, so even with 2 more flats it is half an hour gained on Compass tires
        After 1500-2000km the frequency of flats increases a lot for both Kojaks and Compass tires, so I use the Compass tires for specific events due to the price.

        I do not have wheels for tubeless, I have only had 3 pinch flats in 20 years, and there is no guarantee that the sealant will seal the holes created by flint stones.
        So for me tubeless is almost up there with disc brakes, ceramic bearings, and aero frames

      • Matthew J says:

        Same here. Been riding Compass tires on my road and city bike primarily in Chicago and surrounding ‘burbs and credit card touring in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa once.

        I’ve had two – count ’em two – flats in five years.

        When I read people saying they get a lot of flats on their Compass, it makes me wonder whether all the complaints about Midwestern roads may be a lot of huey.

    • Leo says:

      Equally strange to me is your lack of flats. I guess the lesson here is that every rider’s experience is different. That being said, I have enough friends who’ve experienced similarly the limitations of tubed supple tires to know that my experience is far from anomalous.

      • marmotte27 says:

        Whatever the tires I ride (cheap trekking bikes tires with stiff sidewalls, lightweight skinny racing tires, and now supple, wide tires for a few years – I don’t ride tubeless), I get very few flats. Maybe once a year on average.
        I have to say, I hardly ever ride on any cycle paths, but I now do rides on gravel backroads. On the road, I ride in the “track” of the car tires (secondary position, as it’s called in Cyclecraft). Debris there is swept away by the cars.
        I could imagne, bike paths are the worst of all worlds, Debris that doesn’t get swept away one way or another and tarmac, so the debris will be pushed into the tires.

  26. Rustilicus says:

    Actually the real reason for tubeless is thorns, not pinch flats.

  27. Noel Hoffmann says:

    I don’t have a dog in the fight and don’t really care about tubeless one way or the other. I am amazed, though, at the emotional investment people make in this sort of thing.

    • Mark says:

      Noel, I’m with you: can’t understand the fuss. I don’t get many flats with tubed 32 mm Compass tyres; am not interested in experimenting with tubeless, but all power to those who are.

  28. Sam Krueger says:

    And thank you for saving me the hassle of needing to convert to tubeless. It felt like there was this mounting pressure to change over and if I didn’t I’d be missing some amazing performance benefit, but for my riding – mostly road with some gravel paths – it clearly isn’t worth it.

  29. Riggo Deezil says:

    Choice is good and experienced cyclist can pick what works best for them. It’s tubes over goop for me, however, I’d still like to see tubeless proliferate. The Big Boys in the industry need to force some “trickle down” on tubeless so that these things start showing up on their entry-level bikes. The #2 fear of would-be cyclists: “what if I get a flat tire?” Promoting tubeless as a “virtually flat free” experience might get some of these reluctant folks to take the plunge and get started in the sport. The #1 fear, of course, is motor vehicles and that is a whole ‘nother kettle o’ fish.

    • If tubeless was as easy on bikes as it is on cars, it would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the tolerances for bikes are much tighter – the overlap between a car tire and rim is 17.5 mm, or three times that of a bicycle tire, plus car tires are much stiffer and run at much lower pressures. At this point, tubeless bicycle tires can be a great choice for experienced cyclists, but recommending them to beginners is inviting trouble. It seems to work fine in 90% of the cases, but having 10% of customers who have trouble – usually because the rims aren’t to spec – is far more than any manufacturer can accept.

  30. canamsteve says:

    I’m another tubeless convert. My rides involve encounters with many tiny flint slivers. They are as sharp as razor blades and vary in size from almost invisible to fist-size. When it rains, they are washed out onto the roads and while traffic will eventually clear them, it depends on the traffic and the weather. Two punctures in one 20-mile ride is not unusual. You actually fgo “Oh good, it’s the front again” (so much easier to sort).

    Since switching to tubeless for most of my riding, I’ve had fewer punctures (at least that I’ve noticed) and never had to remove a wheel to get home. Even a relatively large hole sealed well-enough (on 42mm tires) to ride home. I’m using Orange sealant these days

    flint

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