I wrote few times about tubeless or about tyres which I use in tubeless system – for example Schwalbe X-One on CX rides, Schwalbe Pro One on road (road tubeless), and Panaracer Gravelking SK as gravel allround tyres. After more than I year, I decided to stop this madness and go back to inner tubes. Why? Because tubeless isn’t perfect, and on real, amateur usage, can be very problematic. Read more to see why.
Tubeless advantages should be clear for all who know this system: we can create very light set, because we don’t use tubes, we use only sealant, but it’s lighter than most of tubes; we have very good puncture protection, because small or sometimes medium punctures can be “automatically” fixed by sealant; we can decrease rolling resistance, because only air and sealant is better to do this instead of inner tubes; finally, it’s also something “exotic”, something interesting, primarily on road bikes (MTB riders know and use tubeless system very often). So, why I decided to stop?
First thing: it can’t help us in every situation. Yes, tubeless can fix small punctures, but if we have bigger issue like dissected tire, it will now work. We can then try “quick fix sets” for tubeless, but it doesn’t always work as it should work (my opinion: it doesn’t work in most cases). Solution: bring a spare inner tube! Hm… is it right? We decided to use tubeless to stop using and throw away tubes… Now we should use it to be safe? In my opinion, it isn’t ok and tubeless doesn’t change anything in this matter. Of course we can don’t do that and leave spare tube in home, but it can be annoying to call someone looking for help 100 km from home. Really.
Second: costs. Standard tyres can be expensive, but tubeless compatible tyres are always expensive because of special construction – they must be more solid and better to seal. We can you standard tyres to create tubeless system, but only on MTB, not on gravel, CX or road bikes – it’s dangerous because on that bikes, we use higher pressure. About pressure: tubeless allows us to use lower pressure without snakebites, but it’s matter only on CX, why we really need low pressure. On gravel with wider tyres (35c, 38c or more) it doesn’t matter because we don’t drive on difficult terrain with a lot of rocks. On road it doesn’t matter, because we need higher pressure for smaller rolling resistance. Also, pressure should be always set according to bike + biker weight, not ot tyres. But tyres it isn’t the only cost in tubeless. We must also replace rim tape to tubeless compatible, we must buy special valves, we finally must buy sealant and refill it from time to time. In effect, tubeless are much more expensive than very good standard tyres with very light inner tubes.
Third: mess. A lot of mess! Non-tubes system can be very clean, but it’s only UST – special rims, special tyres and only minimal of sealant. But UST is very heavy and leaves from cycling. With tubeless, we must use more sealant, and it can be terrible adventure. All sealants that I tired had unpleasant smell, all were difficult remove from tyres, all could muddy everything, in particular, my clothes during installation. I really don’t like such mess. With inner tubes, it isn’t a problem, even when we use patches and glue. I had two big issues with tubeless during races. In one time, tyre could not stand the bumps and dropped from the rim… With tubes, I could use anything, for example grass. With tubeless and sealant it wasn’t possible, because a lot of mess – sealant worked like a glue, but for ground, sand… In effect, I must run about kilometer with bike on my shoulder.
Finally, tubeless requires a lot of time. When it works, everything is good, everything is under control and we are very happy (and maybe fast, but only a little). But if you have any issue with tyres… Oh my god… it’s real catastrophe and time waster. See an simple example: tyre damage that can’t be fixed by sealant. You must dismount tyre, remove sealant, clean tyre, clean valve, clean tape and rim, fix tyre, seal it, fill tyre using new sealant. A lot of work and requires much more time than only pull off inner tube, fix tyre and then pull on inner tube. Also, seal again: it doesn’t always work, because used tubeless tyre is “curved inward” and need more force to seal.
All these disadvantages, a lot of lost time and money convinced me: it’s time to back to inner tubes. Yep, they are not perfect, they can be heavier (but can be lighter than tubeless – see latex inner tubes), they can have higher rolling resistance but… is it really matter? 1-2 watts for only amateur rides? It’s nonsense, and also inner tubes are just simple – and on long trips, we always must have all things required to fix/replace inner tubes. With tubeless, it isn’t sure. So, use tubeless or not? I think if you didn’t try, you should do this. I tried tubeless on MTB, on road, gravel and CX and decided to go “back”. By the way, see this funny-sad video: