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What are Tubeless Bicycle Tires and Should You Switch?

December 19th, 2017

The topic of tubeless tires (whether to switch, and if it’s worth the time and the money to go tubeless) has been a big point of debate in the cycling community for the past few years. But does anyone really know for sure which tires are better? Some riders swear by tubeless tires and some say it’s a waste of time -- It’s impossible to know who’s right. Let's take a look at the details and leading opinions on bicycle tires to learn more.

Conventional Bicycle Tire Models:

Before the new tubeless systems entered the picture, cyclists traditionally only had two main types of tire-wheel setups to choose from: clincher and tubular. Here’s a little rundown.

Clincher (standard)

The clincher tire is the traditional, standard tire used for most bicycles. It is called a clincher because the wire bundles in the tire bead keep the tire from expanding with pressure, essentially allowing it to “clinch” to the rim and preventing it from coming off.

Tubular

In a tubular tire, the tire is actually sewn directly onto the tube, after which the tire is glued onto a specialized rim. Tubular tires are used primarily by professional road racers because of their performance qualities in cornering and run-flat capabilities. A tubular tire will not come off of a rim, even in the event of a flat tire. This allows a racer to safely exit the track, or even ride along slowly before their repair team arrives.

Unfortunately, a tubular tire is much more difficult to repair than your average clincher. While small punctures can be handled with a tire repair sealant, a larger gash will require the entire tire to be replaced.

What Does “Tubeless” Mean?

Unlike the setup you would see in a standard clincher tire, the tubeless tire system comes with no inner tube. This type of tubeless system has been used in car tires for decades, so it’s no wonder that as road and mountain biking becomes more competitive, the tire systems have begun to evolve as well.

In the tubeless system, the tire and the rim are designed in a way that when they are fitted together, they function to provide an airtight seal. So, rather than thinking of the tires and the wheels as separate parts, think of the tubeless setup as an all-inclusive wheel-tire system. This airtight fit comes as a result of a shoulder that is designed into the inner rim, creating a recess that allows for the tire bead to sit in the rim much more securely than would be found in the regular clincher wheels.

So, Should You Switch?

It’s honestly up to you and your riding preferences. Experts claim that top tubeless tires can outpace clinchers, and yet other’s claim the exact opposite. But it is clear that the movement toward tubeless tires is certainly growing. In our next blog post, we will explore the benefits and pitfalls to setting up, maintaining and riding with a tubeless tire system. The best advice we can give you is to not be afraid to try something new. Ride on!

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