To Tube or Not To Tube? That is the Question.

At any Bike North coffee stop, if anyone raises the question of tyres you will get ten different opinions from 5 different riders. The fact is that most modern tyres are very good quality and very few, if any of us, are riding hard enough to judge different rolling resistance and handling characteristics that impact on speed or safety of various tyres.

With more bikes being delivered standard with tubeless, or tubeless-ready tyres, riders are faced with the question of why run tubeless tyres and are they any better? Whilst there is a difference between tubeless and tubeless ready, most manufacturers just use the term tubeless to describe their tyres that run without a tube. Cars have not used tubes for decades.

The main benefit of tubeless tyres is their tendency to get fewer punctures and, when they do, the tyre does not necessarily go flat. We have all experienced a tube exploding when punctured, and the tyre rapidly deflating, leaving us on the side of the road doing a repair. With tubeless tyres, small punctures of up to around 6mm from glass, stones or debris, release liquid latex from inside the tyre through the puncture, sealing it. You need to keep the wheel moving to force the latex into the hole, and you will lose tyre pressure to around 85psi, but it will get you home. You may not even know you’ve had a puncture unless the latex sprays onto following riders or you find it all over your bike.

Holes of more than 5-6mm will be too large for the latex to seal, although one suggestion is to add glitter to the latex, which bulks it up and assists with larger holes. There are a number of different puncture repair systems, for use roadside, that either allow you to patch the inside of the tyre or insert a plug from the outside. Otherwise, you can also fit a tube to get you home. It’s always necessary to carry at least one spare tube, tyre levers and a pump and/ or gas cartridges, even if you do have tyre plugs, as they don’t always work first attempt.

No matter whether you run tubed, or tubeless tyres, it’s always advisable to have a $5 note in with your spare tube to “sleeve” the tyre in the event of a major cut to the tyre. (It’s also useful when you get to the coffee stop and find they only take cash!).

Given the closer fit of a tubeless tyre, it may be a bit more difficult to remove the tyre and you will need to contend with the messy residual latex. These are good reasons for getting new tyres fitted at the bike shop.

Tubeless tyres are slightly heavier than tubed tyres but, considering the savings on the tube weight and the extra few grams of latex in a tubeless tyre the difference is not significant for most of us to notice. Cost is also line ball and, given you won’t be going through a lot of tubes, it may even be marginally cheaper to run tubeless tyres.

Conversion from a standard tubed tyre to tubeless depends on your rims which should indicate if they are suitable for tubeless tyres. If in doubt, consult your friendly bike shop rather than buying those low-cost tubeless tyres over the internet and just winging it. Taping of the rim is also important and special valve stems are required.

My personal experience with tubeless tyres covers around 12,000km of road riding. Initially I had a couple of punctures but made it home. The back of the bike was a bit of a mess, and I had to apologise to another rider in the group, but it was preferable to having to do a roadside repair in the heat. Since then I’ve travelled over 10,000km on tubeless tyres without a problem, including a few three eyed jacks 40km from Cowra, but rode out the weekend without needing to repair the tyre.

Everyone has their opinion, or two, but I wouldn’t go back to tubes again.

Brian Lynne