No Downsides: Tubolito Tubes

No Downsides: Tubolito Tubes

In my years as a cyclist, I’ve tried dozens of different tubes. Like everyone, I started with the standard butyl tubes, which are to tire inflation what a mentor told me turkeys are to survival: They just look for ways to die. He grew up in a family that farmed turkeys, so his perspective was informed by life with them prior to late November. That butyl tubes are still so dominant is a mystery to me.

I tried latex tubes. Most latex tubes provide to be surprisingly fragile and often split along seams or where the valve was fixed to the tube. Put one in your seat bag and it was likely to be ruined after a week’s-worth of riding.

I tried polyurethane tubes back when that was a passing thing for about the length of Tiffany’s singing career in the 1980s. They were difficult to patch and prone to other issues, not least of which was the fact that they still punctured with relative ease.

Then there were the butyl-lined latex tubes, which were meant to hold air better but provide the rolling and puncture resistance of a latex tube. While they had the puncture resistance of a latex tube, they also dried out as easily as a latex tube and had the rolling resistance of a butyl tube. Not super compelling.

So when I ran across Tubolito at the Sea Otter Classic last spring, I was intrigued and hopeful, but knew to check my enthusiasm at the saddle. Everything on paper looked good, but I couldn’t help but wonder how things would go out on the road.

Let’s cover some basics. Tubolito tubes come in basically every size you are likely to need for an adult’s bicycle: 700C, 29-inch, 27.5-inch, 26-inch and 20-inch. The 29, 27.5 and 20 each come in two widths, and there are two different weights with differing degrees of puncture resistance. The 700C comes in two weights for road use as well as a width and weight appropriate to gravel use. The road tubes come in three valve lengths (42, 60 and 80mm), while the gravel width comes with two (42 and 60mm). Valve stems are removable, so it’s possible to swap out for a different length; this is also handy if you have a really tiny seat bag. They also offer sizes for city and cargo bikes.

A Tubolito “S” or spare on the left, their standard in the middle, and that thing we’ve suffered with way too long on the right. 

Let’s talk about that weight for a moment. Most standard tubes for road use with a long-ish valve stem will weigh somewhere between 140 and 160 grams. Lightweight tubes will run in the 80-100g range. A stout gravel tube can weigh upward of 180g. Now compare that with 38g for the standard weight Tubolito and 23g for the lightweight version. The gravel version? Just 54g. So when Tubolito claims their tubes weigh 2/3 what a standard one does, that’s conservative; in some instances, even at an apples-to-apples comparison, the savings can be more like 3/4.

Tubolito claims the tubes are twice as puncture resistant as butyl tubes. This is a claim I can’t verify. What I can say is that once I did flat and then realized the sealant wasn’t sealing, I popped one of the gravel tubes in the tire. The good thing about dried up sealant is that it makes inserting the tube a good deal less messy. Hooray. Maybe.

Impatience being a fault in the human condition, I took off with maybe only 30 psi in the tire. I needed to get home. My rush ended up with rewarding me with two tire-to-rim rock hits, just the sort that caused me to slow and look down at my rear tire, waiting for the inevitable hiss and ever widening casing. But it didn’t happen. Considering those hits were both as hard as the one that resulted in the flat in the first place, I considered that about as objective a measure as I was going to achieve. Tubolito’s own data suggests that a standard tube requires about 7.5Nm of force to puncture it (lightweight tubes only require about 5Nm), while a standard Tubolito tube requires more like 21Nm of force to puncture, making it nearly three times as strong.

Plus, Tubolitos can be patched.

Tubolitos hold pressure at a rate roughly equivalent to a standard butyl tube, certainly, much longer than a latex tube.

The secret sauce to Tubolito harkens back to a material mentioned earlier in this review: polyurethane. Tubolito uses a material referred to as TPU, which has been used in speaker diaphragms. Don’t get me started about what happened with speakers when high-end manufacturers began switching from basically paper to mylar and polyurethane (in short, clarity improved and speakers got louder for the same wattage). TPU is a thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer, a sub-species of the TPE family of materials.

In a world where every improvement seemingly comes with some ominous caveat, Tubolito is a nearly faultless product. Considering that there are bike shops charging $11-12 for normal butyl inner tubes, spending $34.90 for a standard tube or $37.90 for the “spare” version, I find the price to be utterly reasonable. Spending triple the cost of a normal tube to replace a fault-prone product in favor of one that is faster, weighs roughly 1/4 of the original and is at least three times as strong, plus is small enough that two tubes can be fit in the space occupied by one butyl tube, well if that ain’t a bargain, I don’t know what is.

Final thought: Stronger, lighter, faster. Pick all three.

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31 comments

  1. Quentin

    I’ve seen these mentioned a few times on cycling-related blogs over the last year or so, and I’ve been hoping to eventually read about your experience with them, so thank you. I’m old enough to have developed a healthy skepticism anytime someone tells me that by paying a bit more for my cake I can both have and eat it, but it sounds like this is indeed the real deal. I think this would be worth the price to me, and I’ll probably consider buying some of these in the near future.

    I am inexperienced with tubeless tires because I’ve been mostly a roadie my whole life, but it seems like the existence of this product with its weight savings and puncture resistance just might alter the tubes vs. tubeless equation a bit. I have 40mm tires on my gravel bike, and I know many are running tubeless at that diameter, but I’m still using tubes. I’ve resisted tubeless because it is unfamiliar to me and sounds like more maintenance, and the tubes are working fine for me where I ride. Tubolito might get me most of the weight savings and puncture resistance without the extra maintenance.

    Lastly, I’m curious whether these tubes hold pressure sitting in the garage any better or worse than butyl. Holding air longer would also be a selling point for me.

  2. Aar

    When I used Tubolitos, I loved the weight, ride, puncture resistance and ability to maintain inflation. They lasted as long as my tires! What I didn’t like is that the TPU valve stems did not like to hold onto the valve as well as a threaded metal valve stem. Pumping them up with a Lezyne (threaded head) pump was always fraught with the concern of “will the valve like the valve stem better than pump head this time?”. Good thing I didn’t need to pump them up very often. All told, though, I’d have kept using them if they were easier to procure. Sounds like they have finally decided to distribute broadly in the US. Mine shipped from the manufacturer in Europe.

    I’m actually mighty happy on road tubeless these days. Time to replace the dried sealant for the first time. Might change my tune after that….

    1. Aar

      Oh, yeah. The TPU of Tubolitos isn’t nearly as likely to adhere to tires as butyl or latex. So, no talc to deal with!

    2. Neil Winkelmann

      Those Lezyne threaded pump heads are useless. I have had 100% failure in trying to get the valve core to stay put. It was borrowed pump.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      Those Lezyne pumps can be frustrating that way. One thing I’ve done with valve cores that a Lezyne pump loosens is to wrap the threads in Teflon tape, like plumbers use. And yes, they are much easier to get here than they were a year ago.

    4. Ray

      I tried a pair of these on my road bike for about two months. I punctured once and it was incredibly easy to patch with their patch kit. I had to stop using them because not only did I have the same problem you did with the Lezyne threaded chuck, but I also deformed the plastic part of the valve stem when using the tight push chuck on my home track pump. In both cases, I could never get the metal valve stem to produce an airtight seal again, even with plumber’s Teflon tape. To their credit, the company mailed me a replacement tube for free for the deformed stem issue so customer support seems to be good. If they can figure out how to bond the plastic to metal in a reliable way and therefore have the entire stem be metal, I’d switch back to these in a heartbeat.

    5. Aar

      I used Michelin tubes with non-removable valves other than the Tubolitos. Now that I’m on tubeless, Loctite blue thread locker, carefully applied, takes care of valve core challenges. Still, I make certain to release pump hose pressure before removing the Lezyne threaded head. Even Loctite red and releasing hose pressure was not always enough with the Tubolito/Lezyne combo.

  3. Jim

    I haven’t tried these tubes but I am wondering about the 2x puncture resistance claim. I would say there 3 types of punctures with tubes: pinches, rapid cuts, and slow cuts. Regarding slow cuts, these are when you get some small glass or rock embedded in your tire and it eventually wears through, cutting the tube. I would say these are the majority of my punctures and the condition I’d be most interested in seeing how these tubes perform under.

    I’ll probably try a set. Until recently, I was sending old tubes the dump. Since switching to 28 and 32mm for the road and running lower pressures, I’ve started patching butyl tubes again and have a few grocery sacks full that I am working through. When those are gone, if the tubolitos don’t prove to be an improvement, I’ll probably be interested in switching to tubeless.

    Thanks for the review.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      My sense is that they will decrease flats in all three ways you mention. The TPU is really strong material and I suspect that if you check your tires for embedded detritus you’ll have a chance to remove it before it causes a flat.

  4. Jim

    I use them in big quantities for my customers. I have had customers there are done with that brand. Still failure rate is still quite high since many tubes come out of production with leakage between metal valve and plastic tube. This is not a good solution at all.
    Otherwise if they work as claimed they are quite good.

    1. Rodrigo Diaz

      not to be crass, but “some materials have lower resistance, some have higher”.

      Latex seems to have lower resistance than conventional buty, no idea about polyurethane. Check bicyclerollingresistance for specifics.

    2. Max

      That may be the hidden downside. Not important if it’s only a spare to insert when your tubeless tire goes flat, but crucial for the everyday use.

      I’m curious too.

    3. Richard Wilson

      Hm, I did find this one schwalbe-one-tubeless-clincher on bicyclerollingresistance (thanks Rodrigo) which has data showing a rolling resistance that doesn’t correlate with overall wheel weight. So… I guess it’s a thing, but I’m baffled as to HOW it’s a thing?


    4. Author
      Padraig

      This gets into engineering (and physics) territory quickly, but the way tire engineers have explained it to me in broad strokes is that the more supple the material, the more easily it deforms to allow the tire to flex as it rolls over a surface, the lower the rolling resistance will be.

    5. Ransom

      Forgive my hubris, but I think I can get the crux down to a few sentences…
      An air-filled tire & tube is like both a spring and a damper (shock absorber). As the rolling tire/tube comes in contact with the ground, it is deformed. As it leaves the ground at the trailing edge of the contact patch, it returns to its original shape. Any resistance to those changes in shape from lack of suppleness in the carcass is energy lost to heating the tire material, just as shocks turn excess kinetic energy into heat in their oil. To go further down the rabbit hole, search “hysteresis damping.”

    6. Logan VonBokel

      The Tubolito tubes are far more efficient in terms of rolling resistance than butyl tubes, but not as efficent as latex… Though, still much more durable than latex.

  5. Dan Murphy

    Anybody have actual experience patching these? Do you use regular patch kits like Rema for butyl tubes, or is there something special?
    If I can’t patch a $35+ tube, forget it.

    1. ChrisL

      No, you need a special patch kit for these. Regular patch kits are for butyl tubes and won’t stick to polyurethane. The kit costs $5 and comes with enough material for 5 repairs.

    2. Damian Donckels

      You have to use a special patch from Tubolito. Due to the tube material you cannot use standard glue and patches and sealant does not work either. The patches are super easy to use and hold up really well.

  6. TomInAlbany

    Having only ridden butyl rubber tubes, never having ridden tubeless or tubulars, I’ve got no measuring stick. All tubes and will be susceptible to the rub or scratch element of something embedded into a tire poking through to the tube. (Can I get a #[email protected]$%@ to those teeny wires that always are the bane of my existence?)

    I patch when it makes sense. I try to inspect my tires often. My main causes of flats are those wires and pinchflats due to laziness in the morning! (Really should pump up my tires more frequently…)

    I’ve also not played around a lot with tire choice to really understand the impact of suppleness etc on road feel. I’m probably guilty of over-inflating, anyway. But, t his allows me to go longer between pressure checks/adjustments.

    All this to say I’m probably not dropping that much money on these tubes.

  7. Chris

    Padraig–I saw a review from an early European user that mentioned an issue that I have not seen mentioned. The TPU is highly elastic. But where the tube is joined together there is an overlap–so twice as thick and half as elastic. For this particular user, it created a low spot in the tire that could be felt while riding. Perhaps just an issue with that particular tube or early production batches, as I have not seen anyone else mention it. Curious as to your experience while riding the tubes.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s funny, I’ve had that very problem with some butyl tubes, but did not have it with Tubolito. I’m going to imagine that there is a little bit of variance in manufacturing precision between tubes and if one has more overlap than another, I could see that being a challenge. Most of the time, when I encounter an issue, what I see are wrinkles in the sidewall, not a dip in the tire tread.

  8. bacmapei

    I was very happy to read your review and read some feedback from users. I have my eye on the S version (with 60 mm stem) for my saddle roll. I think the change will free up space for a 2nd CO2 canister. I have considered buying the regular Tubolito for my commuter wheels, but it’s not on the top of my planned bike stuff spending list yet.

  9. Ken

    Haven’t used it yet but carrying a Tubolito S as my spare. Have entered a super manorexia phase and have pushed my bike a bodyweight down to see how low I can go. The “S” weighs 25 grams and it is listed as for disc brake only – assume the manufacturer doesn’t think it can handle the heat from braking. Of course, I have rim brakes on my 13-pound bike so when my tubeless fails I sure hope the Tubolito S gets me home (with my 25-gram iPump)

  10. Milen

    I used to ride them with Panaracer Gravelkings 700×32. Terrible experience, meaning I ran out of patches- should have bought more. 7 xrides- 5 pinctures. Now I am back with Onza 700×28-32, relatively light. I carry one patched Tublolito tire as a spare on my out-of-city rides.

  11. chuck

    These look cool but pricey. I know that narrow road widths still use plenty of tubes but these have to be a tougher argument for “gravel”/cross (i.e. wide) version since tubeless + sealant seems to be the standard there, plus really effective. I suppose a pricey lightweight race spare is the only rationale I can think of. Or if you don’t like messing with sealant and are willing to drop $70 (plus tax) on a pair of tubes.

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