“CW asks” is a feature series where our seasoned staff answers a range of questions. The series isn’t just about delivering knowledge; it’s a chance for us to share a bit of our personality and our passion with you. As we dive into some questions, please feel free to send in some questions of your own to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question 9: Tubed or tubeless, sealant or inner tubes? Here are our editors preferences for road riding, and why.
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan, Digital Editor
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. You see, it was me, who — after a ruined ride — penned this ~1,000 word rant in favour of tubes in road bike tires. My primary point was that the tubeless sealant currently on the market just wasn’t good enough for the pressures of road riding, e.g. often over 50psi.
And I do maintain that position: when a tubeless tire fails to seal, if a dart doesn’t work then the results are messy, annoying and the ultimate solution — putting a tube in it — can certainly seem like a far superior starting point.
However, when tubeless tires are inflated and rolling as they should do, they’re just infinitely better. After several years of riding tubeless, I’ve had two ‘tubeless disasters’. One resulted in me boosting the tire with a C02 canister at regular intervals until I got home. The other required a roadside pick up. Both ruined the ride. However, on the flipside are an awful lot of unhampered, puncture-free miles.
And the pressure I’m running? Glad you ask: not a lot over 50psi.
Anne-Marije Rook, North American Editor
These days I ride off road more than I do on road. As such, I’ve become a full-on tubeless believer. Fewer flats, lower tire pressures, more traction — what’s not to like? Road tubeless, however, still remains a bit of a struggle for me.
I took this picture just last week as it was my third punctured tire that week. Two were on tubeless tires (in which neither the sealant nor the plug managed to do its job) and the one pictured, on a tubed tire. Between the rain, falling leaves and the wind blowing all sorts of debris around, the roads are just littered with objects that can interrupt your ride. I usually rely on tubeless tires to seal these little annoyances and keep me rolling, but road tubeless comes with its own problems.
Road tubeless technology has come a long way, and if it works, it’s great. If it doesn’t. it can be extremely frustrating and ride-ending. Tubeless tires with a tight bead can be difficult to set up, not to mention extremely hard to remove when you’re fixing a flat roadside. I once had a tire so stuck, it took two mechanics, a vise grip and a box knife to get it off the rim — strip by strip. Conversely, I’ve struggled with the opposite: trying to get a supple, narrow tire to seat on a modern tubeless rims with a wide inner rim diameter. This is all to say that right now, I run some wheelsets with TPU or latex inner tubes and others tubeless. I cannot definitively say that one is better than the other.
Fingers crossed that after these initial three punctures, the rest of my fall riding fares better!
Sam Gupta, Video Manager
This is a fantastic question, and up until now I’ve always been a tubed guy — be that butyl, latex or TPU. However, very soon, I’ll be building up a new bike where I’ll be adopting a tubeless, hookless set-up. This will be in the form of the 28mm Continental GP5000 AS TR tyres on the Hunt 32 Aerodynamicist wheels with Silca sealant.
A video talking about my full, honest experience will be on the Cycling Weekly YouTube channel at some point next year, once I’ve fully tested it. So stay tuned!
Stefan Abram, Tech Features Editor
For me, it depends on the situation. If it’s a race or any situation where I’m looking for peak performance, I’d go for tubeless every time. It’s much faster and lighter than butyl tubes, so an obvious decision there.
Things are a little closer between tubeless and latex/TPU tubes, but I’d rather at least have the chance of the tire sealing itself in the case of a puncture – even if the success rate of sealing is lower compared to wider and lower pressured gravel and MTB tyres (which it emphatically is!)
But when it comes to everyday training and casual riding, my choice would actually be tubes. The puncture incident rate might be higher than with tubeless, but at least it’s not such a mess when you do get a puncture! I’m not evangelical about it, though. If a road bike is set up tubeless I’m perfectly happy rolling with it. My guiding principle is muck reduction here. If it’s already in the tire, that’s where I hope it stays!
Adam Becket, Senior News and Features Writer
Here is an admission: I still do not really understand tubeless. If it is so good, why are we not all using it all the time? I would very much like to be in a post-puncture world, but then that doesn’t seem to be the thing on the cards here. If someone sat me down and properly convinced me that tubeless was the right way to go, then I would oblige, but I still remain puzzled and fearful of the new technology.
This is basically a roundabout way of me saying that I use tubes on the road, in clincher tyres. I know where I stand with inner tubes, and we get on reasonably well. I do have a billion that I should get round to fixing someday, but most of the time I don’t have a problem. Come to think of it, I think I might have had only two punctures this year, since I upgraded my tires to the reasonably puncture resistant Panaracer Agilest Duros I have on at the moment. There was one day, when I was on my old GP5000s back in January, when I had three punctures within about an hour and just wanted to give up, but mostly it’s fine.
As it is, the whole world of sealant, tape, plugs and valves seem like a long way away from my understanding, and so I stick with inner tubes. It helps that basically everyone I ride with also uses inner tubes too, so it just seems natural.
Tom Thewlis, News and Features Writer
I ride with tubes pretty much all year round. There’s no particular reason for that, it’s just something I’ve always done and never bothered changing.
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