Friday Group Ride #453

Friday Group Ride #453

I’m there, trailside, down on my haunches, trying to peel sweaty gloves off my hands. There’s a thin stream of latex spraying at me, telling me I maybe shouldn’t have pulled that thorn out of my tire. I cover the hole with my thumb and wait. sweating, swearing softly. My friends are pulling CO2 cartridges out. We all just want back in the flow.

A minute later we’re rolling, the puncture sealed, a quick hit of air, my tire firm again.

Mountain bikers embraced tubelessness years ago, and whatever slightly higher upfront labor it costs in setup is far surpassed by its convenience out in the world. I have ridden a full season without having a ride meaningfully interrupted by a flat. I have ridden lower tire pressures, as I needed to, without any great fear of flatting. It just seems better.

But I still run tubes on my road bikes. Why?

Road tubeless came after the trail variant, but its adoption has seemed slower and more begrudging. In part, maybe that’s because the tires are narrower, and it’s harder to manipulate them on narrow rims. Maybe it’s that running lower pressures isn’t a thing on the road, or maybe roadies are just set in their ways.

Mountain bikers seem so much more eager for new technology. There was a time when road groups drove innovation, but that paradigm has flipped over the last decade, with mountain components leading the way. Tubeless is only one example. See also disc brakes, clutch derailleurs, ultra-wide cassettes.

This week’s Group Ride asks, do you go tubeless? If not, why not? And if you’ve tried it and don’t like it, what was it that convinced you tubes were a better way to roll?



  1. Kimball

    Still running tubes on the road for multiple reasons. First up, current tubed road tires (Continental GP 4000S II) are an amazing combination of low rolling resistance, light weight, and toughness. I just don’t get as many flats as I did 10 years ago. Secondly, 2 fellows in my riding group run tubeless and they flat as much as anyone else. The high pressure of road tires makes it harder for the sealant to plug the puncture and the low volume makes for a short time window for the sealant to do its thing before the tire is flat. Once flat, the tight fit makes inserting a tube a real chore. Lastly, adding sealant occasionally to maintain proper viscosity adds weight and at some point (6 to 9 months) you have to remove the tire, scrape out the old, gelled sealant and start over.
    For me its not worth it.

  2. Christopher Constantino

    Tubeless on my mountain bike, tubeless on my commuter, tubed on my road bike

    Tubeless on my mtb for all the reasons you mentioned. I can run low pressure without worrying about a pinch flat (very important in Tallahassee, where there are more roots than trail on our trails).

    Tubeless on my commuter because I used to live in Memphis and commuted through inner city and industrial areas that gave me frequent flats. Switching to tubeless greatly reduced the flats I got. Often the puncture would seal. Even when it didn’t seal properly, I could still make it home because it leaked slow. Since switching to tubeless, I haven’t had to change a tire on the side of the road.

    Tubbed on my road bike because my rims aren’t set up for tubeless and I’m cheap. Also, I tend to ride the road bikew on back or country roads that tend to be free of debris. I’ve only flatted on my road bike a handful of times.

  3. Scott M.

    I have a love/hate relationship with tubeless tires/carbon rims. I initially ran GP4000s (clincher/tubes) on tubeless rims but then those tires blew off the sidewall, slicing and destroyed two rims (luckily while parked). So, for safety, I now exclusively use tubeless tires that lock into those (warranty replacement) rims.

    When broken glass slashed a sidewall of a tubeless tire on the road, I used all my water to wash sealant out of the tire and off my bike. Get it now or it’s there for good. I also found that rim tape ages, cracks, and leaks, and that valve stems can clog and fail too.

    It was about this time that I abandoned tubeless and began inserting tubes into the tubeless tires. Eureka!

    Not so fast. The tube uses so much space that I’ve literally torn skin from both thumbs while attempting to mount the last three inches of tire. Also if you leave a tube installed in a tire that’s held sealant, the tube will permanently bond to the tire. So next time you flat, you basically have to throw out the tire. God forbid you flat in the field!

    So I decided to return to tubeless. I figure if the tire is too tight to fix a flat on the road, I may as well run tires with sealant. Despite the gross fit issues I have with this rim/tire combo, I run Bontrager R3s. They offer a good compromise between price, handling, durability, and road feel.

    I also run with my fingers crossed. I’m still not a true believer because I know that I’ll eventually have to call my wife for a ride home.

  4. Quentin

    I still haven’t tried it. I haven’t had a mountain bike for a number of years, and my predominantly road background led me to put tubes on my first gravel bike. The gravel bike has had exactly 1 flat in 4 years. If thorns were a bigger problem around here, I’d probably consider it, but they just aren’t. I don’t run the pressure low enough to worry about pinch flats. Every time I read about the installation and maintenance associated with tubeless, I decide I’m in no rush to try it. I really would like to eventually, but not now.

  5. Dan

    Tubes. They are too easy to change and repair. My hesitation with tubeless is the mess involved with putting a tube in and then when I get home I have to go back to tubeless. With tubes I just put the new one in, patch the flat one and then it becomes my spare. In over 600 miles of Emporia gravel over the past two months I have had no flats, no cuts on the tires, no sidewall issues, no nothing. I’m running Challenge Gravel Grinder Race, 700X42, I am very impressed. For racing, sure go tubeless, if you save a flat or two that time adds up but for training give me tubes.

  6. Neil Winkelmann

    Road tubeless solves problems I don’t have. So I don’t bother, It’s as simple as that. Gravel wheels? Tubeless for sure.

  7. Fred

    As a 95% road rider and 5% or less on pretty smooth gravel, I have become a Luddite. Not only tubes, but cotton Vittoria tires on my clinchers, and I went back to tubulars in the summer (May – Nov in Northern California). Last year I finally went from 700×23 to 25, wow!

    I’m starting to put more miles on an 82 Colnago that I have with tubulars, friction shifting and all that. It’s more fun than the carbon race bike.

  8. martin

    Tubeless for 12 months. Works for me. Schwalbe G-One Speed 30mm are fuss-free tires to set up – the very occasional spray of sealant on my seat tube when I get home reminds me it all works as it should.

  9. Rod

    Mostly tubeless. Anything over 30 mm width is tubeless. TT bike has latex tubes (supposedly faster and that thing rarely sees bad pavement). Still using tubulars for CX racing, but training on tubeless.

    I have one “normal” sized road tire set – 25. It’s setup as tubeless now, but probably not worth it. At those pressures there’s very little chance sealant will plug a hole without needing a major re-top. And it was a bear to get those Pro1 on the carbon rims. You do avoid most of the pinch flats, though.

    I will probably try the Continental GP5000 tubeless on those rims when these tires wear out. If they are still insanely tight to set up I’ll just go back to tubes. I normally don’t flat the road or TT bike that often; they don’t see many demanding surfaces.

  10. Jeff vdD

    Fat, adventure, and CX are all tubeless.

    – FAT: A no-brainer. Saves a lot of weight, sets up easily. I’ve had one problem out on the trail … a plug kit and pump fixed it. Once a year, I take the tires up, clean out the old sealant, and set it up again.

    – ADVENTURE: Before my current adventure bike, I used my 33mm tubed CX bike for mixed terrain. The sometimes sharp-edged nature of that terrain wasn’t kind and flat resulted. I’ve now been on 40mm tubeless for a year with zero trail problems. As with fat, once-a-year service. For the road, I’ve got a backup set of wheels mounted with 30mm slicks. One puncture that didn’t seal, put in a tube and was good to go. Thanks @Scott M. for the point about changing out the tube ASAP once I’m back home to avoid “sealant bond.” This setup gets changed 2x per year, as I use these wheels with mud tires for CX. When I remounted the road slicks earlier this season, gettting the tires on the rims was harder than I remembered–I’m a bit worried if I have to do a fix out on the road and the plug kit doesn’t work.

    – CX: Tubeless 33m file treads. Easy setup. Once a year service. And CX courses are generally pretty smooth, so I’m not worried about flats in action, and even if I get one, the pit and the car are an easy distance away.

  11. Lyford

    The largest tire I can fit on my current road bike is a 25. I rarely flat. As other folks said, at those pressures the benefits don’t seem worth the hassle.

    My bikes with bigger, lower-pressure tires are tubeless.

  12. Lucien Walsh

    I’m on the fence. My Allied Alfa Allroad, Padraig’s review of which was a major influence in my purchase decision, arrived with tubeless ready rims and tires (Schwalbe G One) and tubes. That’s how I’ve been running it since its arrival in September. I’ve had one pinch flat but that’s it.

    I’m on the verge of going tubeless on this bike but remain only a little leery of the extra maintenance. Once I need new tires, I will more than likely make the leap.

    FWIW I had my wife’s new Checkpoint set up tubeless on 700×40 tires. Honestly I don’t know what I am waiting for.

  13. Maxwell

    As a mountain biker at my core, I have tubeless on bikes of all categories except my wife’s trainer-only bike. I went road tubeless in 2011 after 2 flats in 2 days on my way to work. I don’t think I’ve had a flat on the road since. The tires and wheels for road tubeless have improved greatly. Just use as directed, don’t push the envelope with a ghetto tubeless setup. I also dropped my pressure from 110 psi to 85 in 25c tires and like it.

  14. Rick Tan

    Tubeless since Jan 2018 on both Schwalbe 25 and 28.
    My very brief foray away from tubeless was due to inability to seat a tubeless setup using a floor pump in the eve of a long ride at the hotel room. The tire was worn. I ran tubed on the new rear tire and was promptly rewarded with 3 flats in the ride.
    Its now back to tubeless and no punctures anymore.

  15. Seano

    Have yet to run road tubeless, but have been 100% mtb & fat bike tubeless since 2013. I’ve had some tire rim/combos that were a bit difficult, but have settled on tires & rims that mate very well together: I’ve even mounted a brand new tire tubeless while rest of the crew was suiting up in the driveway!

    I am committing to road tubeless (Allied Alfa Allroad being built up) and while I know there may be a little learning curve with that particulars or the wheel/tire setup, I’m very much looking forward to it: rough roads, gravel stretches & too many goat head flats to count.

    FWIW, I recently pulled a set of mtb tires off due to riding the tread right off the tire and there were more than 20 thorns embedded in the rubber and sticking through on the inside – never even knew.

  16. Marshall Ellis

    For me, tubeless tires, like disc brakes; like electronic shifting; like power meters; like black, over-the-calf socks; like $300 sunglasses….solve a problem that doesn’t exist in my world. Sure, the lure of better flat protection is a draw, but we’ve been squirting latex sealant into tubed tires for many years, so how, exactly, is tubeless so different? As for flats, I’m fortunate to ride in a place with decent roads, and even when I lived in places with shitty roads, flats were never a big deal. And given the hassles of installation – which are legion and, apparently, never ending – it’s not something that even remotely interests me.

    I’ve grown weary of the horror stories about installation, rim and tire incompatibility, burp flats (which, it seems, usually lead to surgery-inducinf face plants), and the rest of it. Just this week came another cautionary tale in Lennard Zinn’s tech column at VeloNews about someone blowing tubeless tires off of rims that were believed to be compatible. Riding on the open roads is already enough of a roulette game. Worrying if my tires are going to blow off is not something that tempts me.

    Sorry, no sale.

    Except for a period of temporary insanity during which I trained on clinchers, I’ve been training and racing on tubulars since the 1980’s. It’s the only system I’ll even consider using. There is much whining and gnashing of teeth about how much easier tubeless wheels are compared to tubulars, but I’m not buying it. Let’s compare the systems:

    Tubeless: special rims (and good luck figuring out if you need tubeless, tubeless ready (whatever the hell that is….), a hook-bead, or hookless. Oh, and don’t forget about the proper internal width for the tires you want to use). Then you’ll need special tires, special rim tape, special valves, sealant, and an installation system. Oh, and maybe an air compressor or a special pump, since some standard floor pumps won’t get it done. But you won’t know that until it’s failed to seat for the 20th time. Oh, and maybe a weekend to dick around with it before making that sad trip to the local shop to get the things installed after taking multiple showers in latex sealant.

    Tubulars: Tubular rims. Pick a rim – ANY rim. They all work the same, first time, every time. Pick a tire – ANY tire. They all fit any rim, first time, every time. Tubular glue or tape. Or go old school and go to the local auto parts store and get a tube of 3-M Fast-Tack. Oh, and a standard floor pump (which also works first time, every time).

    Because, you know, tubulars are so much more complicated than tubeless.

    Gluing a tire takes some practice, but we’re not splitting the atom here. If you can suffer through the vagaries of tubeless setups, then you can glue tubulars. (And you can probably glue them a lot faster). You’re not prepping for some balls-to-the-walls Belgian kermesse on cobbles, so stop with the hand-wringing about how it takes three days to glue tubulars. It’s a couple of hours, tops.
    I’ve glued tubulars in hotel rooms the night before more races than I can remember, and in 35+ years of racing, I have never rolled a tubular.

    This is what industry standardization gets you, and it’s something the that tubeless manufacturers seem willfully ignorant about solving. You want to know why the Pro Tour guys aren’t on tubeless? Because the tires and rims are so damned unpredictable.

    Fixing flats on the road. Please……. As a test, yesterday I stripped off a well-glued tubular and had a replacement on and aired up in less than 100 seconds. It’s true that you gotta tiptoe through the corners with a replacement tubular, but please – can we just stop with the crap about how hard tubulars are to fix on the road? And don’t start in with that crap about how light tubeless tires are. The weight difference counts for nothing (the data say so). I had a guy smugly ask me one day how much the spare tubular under my saddle weighed, as if I had opted to drag an anchor behind me. So I said “about as much as the combined weight of your $400 sunglasses, your $300 GPS watch, your $400 power meter, your $500 smart phone, your $40 over-the-calf business casual (but aero) socks, and your special aero water bottle – none of which – unlike my spare – will actually get you home when you flat on your tubeless wonder wheels.”

    Ride comfort….why do I care about the imagined luxury of riding around on 70 psi when I’m already riding in the lap of luxury at 95 psi on tubulars, which have unrivaled riding characteristics and which can be installed in a fraction of the time that’s required to install tubeless? And – bonus – I don’t have to worry about blowing them off the wheels or cracking my carbon wheels when I hit some unexpected bump.

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