feature article by ENVE Composites
Tubeless wheels and tires on any bicycle can greatly improve the ride experience. The primary benefits are simple: Lower rolling resistance, better traction, and reduced likelihood of flat tires.
This is by far the most common misconception. It is simply a different process than installing a tire on non-tubeless rims. We hear from customers who struggle with this simply because they often have 10-30 years’ of experience installing tires on non-tubeless rims with inner-tubes, and they haven’t adapted their technique to modern tubeless compatible rims.
A tubeless rim has a deep center channel and two shoulders.
The shoulders are the surface on which the tire and rim create the air-tight seal. The center channel reduces the rim’s diameter, effectively allowing the tire to be installed. It is absolutely imperative that as much of the tire’s bead is in that center drop-channel when installing a tubeless tire, and the installation is finished at the valve, not the opposite. If not, you’ll fight it until your fingers are raw, and no tire lever will help you. While tire diameters will vary, even within the same model, you should be able to install a tire with nothing but your hands and in some instances a plastic tire lever. The tire lever should only be needed for tighter than normal tires and usually only needed for that last couple of inches of bead. Same goes for removing a tire. You must first push the tire’s bead off the rim’s bead-locking shoulder and into the rim’s drop-center channel. Pushing the bead into the channel all the way around will make tire removal possible with hands alone and quite easy with the help of a tire lever.
In summary, installation and removal of tires on a tubeless compatible rim is easily managed if the proper technique and steps are followed.
An inner tube can always be used in a tubeless wheel or with a tubeless tire. While you will lose your rolling efficiency, and resistance to flats, it is possible, but should be used as a backup in the case of the rare but unfortunate tubeless flat tire. Should you experience a flat while running a tubeless setup, you can absolutely use a tube to finish your ride and get you home by simply removing the tubeless valve stem and installing an inner tube, just as you would on a non-tubeless setup.
One exception – If you are running an SES AR or G Series hookless rim, you may only run innertubes with a tubeless compatible tire. It is equally important to adhere to each rim’s maximum tire pressure rating. This ensures that the tire will remain safely seated on the rim.
This misconception stems from many myths, but simply is not true. To the contrary, tubeless, when done properly, is the pinnacle of reliability. Yes, there are many elements to a tubeless system, and all of them must be installed properly or maintained – but that doesn’t equate to the system being unreliable. If the appropriate amount of time and care is taken during your tubeless setup – it can last you seasons of trouble-free use without needing attention. During initial setup, it’s important to remember that the entire system, as well as the tires, need a 24 hour period to settle and absorb sealant. You will often find that after first setup, both tires will go flat overnight. To combat this, a ride immediately after set-up will do wonders for sealing the rim and tire. As with a normal tube setup – it’s still important to refill your air pressure before every ride. Modern tubeless ready tires are porous, and will lose anywhere from 1-5psi overnight. After initial setup, you will want to top off your sealant as much will be absorbed into the sealing of the system. To ensure continued reliable use, check and top off your sealant at regular intervals. We find that every 30-90 days is a good interval depending on where you live, and how often you ride.
While a tubeless setup is capable of reducing nearly 50% of your flats – it cannot remove pinch-flat situations. Too low of pressure, and striking an edge will pinch the tire between a literal rock and a hard place and pierce a hole into your tire, just as it would a tube. Fortunately, sealant within the tire is often enough to fill this hole or holes. Simply spinning the wheel to put the hole closest to the ground will force sealant to this area to seal. If the pinch creates too large of a cut, sealant alone will not work, and you’ll have to resort to inserting a tube. Fortunately, as we learned previously – putting a tube in a flat tubeless system is an option.
To combat the dreaded tubeless pinch-flat, wheels like the SES 3.4 AR, G23, G27 and M Series feature anti-pinch flat technologies that are built into the rim. Each technology aims to dissipate energy from impacts across a larger area to prevent cutting the tire against the rim. The “Wide Hookless Bead” is a lightweight technology for road, gravel, and mountain bike applications and reduces tubeless pinch-flats by 50%. The “Protective Rim Strip” is found on M7 and M9 Series wheels and completely eliminates the possibility of pinch-flatting. Each technology is created to best meet the needs of riders in their specific discipline.
One of the greatest benefits of running a tubeless setup, besides removing friction inducing inner-tubes from the system, is the ability to maximize comfort, traction – and ultimately, confidence – with proper tire pressure. While it’s still possible to pinch flat a tubeless setup, it’s far less likely than if you were to run tubes. Over the years, many riders have simply run too high tire pressures in order to prevent pinch-flatting. Put another way, most people would rather reduce traction, and sacrifice efficiency than get a pinch-flat. We can’t blame them. Nothing is more inefficient than being stopped on the side of the road or trail fixing a flat tire.
What tubeless allows is for riders to run the right tire pressure. The right tire pressure maximizes traction, comfort, and rolling efficiency. To help riders consistently achieve proper tire pressure, we’ve created the ENVE Air Pressure Station and a page all about tire pressure where you can view charts that will help you find your proper tire pressure.
Sure, there are a handful of misconceptions surrounding tubeless and proper setup. It is true, however, that each of these misconceptions can be remedied with some education around how tubeless works and with some hands-on experience. On the road and trail, there are no misconceptions – tubeless technology delivers the ultimate ride experience.
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