Over the last year I’ve transitioned from the girl asking all the questions to finally being the one who can answer them (okay, at least a few of the basics!). A few of the questions I get a lot are, “Why go tubeless?”, or even better, “What the hell is tubeless?”
I’ll start with, “What the hell is tubeless?”
Remember when, before you started shredding on your mountain bike, you had that old town cruiser that seemingly always had a flat tire? So you’d go to the bike shop and buy a new tube, throw it into your tire, air it up, and toss your bike back into the garage for another year. Next spring: lather, rinse, repeat.
These days, most avid riders use a tubeless setup, which is one of the few things in the MTB community that we can almost all agree is rad. Tubeless means they’ve tossed their tubes to the side and instead allow the rim of the tire to seal with the rim of the wheel (a lot like your car!). This process involves taping up the rim with special tape to keep the seal airtight, filling the tire with a few ounces of tire sealant, and then pumping your tire full of air really, really fast—and voila! Your bike is tube free.
Advantages to going TubelesS:
There are loads of GOOD reasons to go tubeless.
Tubes are fragile
Tubes get punched, deflate, pop, and tear. That means more time doing maintenance and less time getting shreddy on the trail. When you ride over a cactus, nail, sharp twig, whatever, with a tubeless setup the fluid sealant in the tire patches the hole for you, so you can keep on riding. It’s like magic! Or science.
Tubes need a high PSI
If you ride with tubes, you probably ride with a PSI around 30-35. That means that you have enough air in the tubes to keep from getting what’s called a “pinch flat” or “snakebite.” When this happens, because of a low PSI in a tube the tube has become compressed against the rim and the tire, making two holes in the tube. With a tubeless set up, you can run lower PSI and gain more traction. The average tire pressure for a tubeless setup is closer to 20-25.
Tubes are heavy
So heavy! Ditching tubes can take serious weight off your ride. If you’re a fatbiker, it can take a full pound off each tire! That’s a huge benefit when so much relies on your rotational mass.
All the surface area created by a lower tire pressure is good news. When you ride over a rock, climb a steep section, or descend through loose dirt, the more traction the better.
I refill my tubes with sealant about once a year. What’s recommended is to check them periodically throughout the riding season. But a few ounces here and there will really help! Other than the occasional refill, once setup a tubeless system requires almost no maintenance (which means more time riding! Yay!).
REASONS NOT TO GO TUBELESS:
There is only one reason not to go tubeless: if you don’t plan on riding your bike.
I’m not being snarky! That really is the only reason. If you can’t ride your rig more than a few times a month, tubeless might not be for you. All that sealant needs to rotate around in your tire every so often to keep the seal tight. When tubeless setups are left in the garage and to their own devices they have a tendency to go flat.
If you’re interested in converting to tubeless, ask your local bike shop if your rims are tubeless compatible. If they aren’t this can be an expensive conversion and it might be worth waiting until your next big bike purchase to make the switch. Most modern mountain bikes now come with tubeless ready rims and tires.
Completing a tubeless set up at home can be a fun way to feel more involved with your bike maintenance! Stay tuned, as we will soon be posting an article about how to set your wheels up tubeless!