Tubeless Tire FAQ

Car and motorcycle tires have been tubeless for decades, but bicycle tires have continued to use tubes. That changed during the 2010s, when first mountain bikers and then the riders of all-road and gravel bikes started to experiment with tubeless technology. They reason was simple: If you could run your tires tubeless, you’d be able to ride lower pressures and not worry about pinch flats even in very rough terrain. An added advantage of tubeless is indirect: The sealant required to make the tires airtight on the rim also seals small punctures, so flats can be much less frequent with tubeless tires.

At first, tubeless bicycle tires were very much hit-or-miss: classic rims were converted to tubeless installations, but on seemingly every other ride, the tires burped or mysteriously went flat. Those problems are behind us, and tubeless technology is maturing. These days, many riders run their tires tubeless without problems.

Most Rene Herse tires are tubeless-compatible, giving you a choice of running them with tubes or tubeless. Running supple bicycle tires tubeless is a relatively new technology, and our understanding keeps evolving. When we built the tire FAQ on our web site, we talked to customers, bike shops and racers to identify the most common questions about tubeless tires:

How are tubeless-compatible tires different from ‘standard tires’?

The main difference is in the bead shape. The bead of a tubeless-compatible tire is designed to form an airtight seal against the rim. The bead of a standard tire is only designed to hold the tire on the rim.

What is the difference between ‘tubeless-ready’ and ‘tubeless-compatible’ tires?

Tubeless-ready tires are airtight, so they don’t need sealant for tubeless installation. To achieve this, they have more rubber on the sidewalls or even an extra airtight layer in the casing. This makes them stiffer, heavier and less supple. Tubeless-compatible tires require sealant to become airtight, so they can be as supple as ‘standard’ tires.

What makes a rim tubeless-compatible?

All rims have a well, which has a smaller diameter to allow the tire bead to become slack when you mount the tire. The bead needs to be slack so you can lift it over the rim wall. (Tire beads don’t stretch much, otherwise, the tire wouldn’t stay on the rim.)

On a ‘classic’ rim, the well extends all the way to the sidewalls. This allows the tire to seat automatically as you inflate it, and move back into the center of the well when you let out the air. This makes tire mounting and removal easy.

A tubeless-compatible rim has flat shelves next to the sidewall. The bead rests on the shelf and doesn’t move in normal riding. This prevents the tire from burping – a sudden loss of air when the tire deforms so much that it loses contact with the rim sidewall.

To mount or remove the tire, you have to push the bead into the well by hand. If the bead is on the shelf anywhere around its circumference, the tire becomes almost impossible to mount or remove. This means that a little extra care is required when mounting or removing a tire from a tubeless-compatible rim.

Can I run tubes in tubeless-compatible tires?

Absolutely. Tubeless-compatible tires and tubeless-compatible rims are 100% compatible with tubes. If you run tubes, you also can mix tubeless-compatible tires with ‘classic’ rims and vice versa.

Tubeless-compatible rims have the advantage that the tire usually stays on the shelf even when you have a sudden flat, making it much less likely that the tire comes off the rim and causes a crash.

What about Road Tubeless?

Tubeless technology works great for mountain bikes, where the tires are relatively stiff and pressures are low. For all-road and gravel bikes, we’ve also mastered the technology. Even with their supple sidewalls, the wider Rene Herse tires work well tubeless.

Road tires run at high pressures, and that presents a number of problems. The forces at the rim/tire interface are much greater with tubeless installation, because there is no tube that reinforces that interface.

This means that tubeless-compatible road rims must have stronger sidewalls than ‘classic’ rims. Many were surprised when Roval recently introduced ultralight rims that are not tubeless-compatible. The reason for this seemingly retrograde spec is simple: It allows the rims to be lighter than they could be if they were tubeless-compatible.

The same applies to the tires. A supple tire has much less stiffness in the casing. It relies almost entirely on the bead to keep the tire on the rim. And it’s difficult to make a bead that a) stays on the rim even at very high pressures and b) still allows the tire to be installed and removed with relative ease.

It’s possible to make tubeless tires and rims for road bikes, but you almost inevitably end up with tires that are stiffer and rims that are heavier than their non-tubeless counterparts.

The technology is evolving. In the future, we’ll probably see tubeless-compatible Rene Herse tires with ultra-supple casings even in widths narrower than 35 mm. (Most of our tires ≥35 mm wide are already tubeless-compatible.)

What are the advantages of road tubeless?

There aren’t any real advantages on the road. Tubeless tires don’t pinch flat, but that has become almost a non-issue on the road as riders have moved to wider tires. The sealant inside the tires also seals most punctures, but many riders use sealant inside their tubes and report good results. (However, it appears that this doesn’t always work.) Most of all, if you take your road bike on gravel, you’d probably want to set up the tires tubeless (and run the widest tires you can fit).

Why are tubeless tires slower than tires with tubes?

Tubeless-compatible tires have liquid sealant inside, which increases their resistance more than the thin membrane of a lightweight tube.

Tubeless tires that don’t require sealant have more rubber on the sidewalls to make them 100% airtight. This makes them slower than more supple tires that don’t have thick, airtight sidewalls.

It’s not a huge difference, though, and often the advantages of tubeless outweigh the small speed penalty.

Why do tubeless tires not always seal when it’s almost freezing out?

Most sealants use latex to seal the tire. Latex doesn’t cure when it’s very cold. (If you’ve ever tried painting your house when it’s very cold out, you know!) If you have a puncture on a tubeless tire during a mid-winter ride, the sealant may not work.

Are Rene Herse tires safe with hookless rims?

Most modern carbon rims are hookless because making a hook from carbon is difficult. It requires a complex mold with many moving parts, and this makes it harder to control the diameter of the rim. Hookless rims can be made with simpler molds, and their diameter has less variability. This improves the tire fit.

Aluminum rims are rolled from straight extrusions, so their diameter inevitably has greater tolerances. Fortunately, it’s easy to put a hook on the extrusion, which provides additional ‘insurance’ to keep the tire on the rim.

If you run tubes, the tolerances between tire and rim can be quite generous, and most hookless rims work with supple tires like our Rene Herse models.

When you install your tires tubeless, the tolerances have to be much tighter. If the diameter of the hookless rim is exactly to spec, there is no problem, because the bead will hold the tire on the rim. But if the rim is even slightly undersize, the risk of the tire blowing off the rim increases exponentially.

The best carbon rims have very consistent diameters and are safe for tubeless installation with all Rene Herse tires. We’ve worked with Enve and Zipp to ensure the compatibility of our tires with their rims.

Does that also apply to tires made by the same suppliers for other brands?

No. Rene Herse tires are made to our specifications and differ in many ways from the tires the same suppliers make for other brands. Basically, there are two ways to work with suppliers:

  1. You go to a supplier and look at the casings, materials, beads and other elements that they offer in their catalog. You select the components for your tire (or other product) from those standard offerings. That is how small companies without their own R&D and engineering resources make their parts.
  2. You design the parts you want and then find a supplier who can make them to your specifications. That is how engineering-driven companies like Open, SRAM and also Rene Herse do it.

In practice, this means that in the first case, the parts reflect the know-how of the supplier, while in the second case, they reflect the R&D of the brand itself. Our tires – and our other components – are using proprietary technology. That’s not always apparent from the outside, but it’s essential for their performance and safety.

Why do many riders first install a tube, before running the tire tubeless?

A tube pushes the rim tape into place and makes sure it adheres properly to the rim. This prevents sealant from seeking between rim and tape and dislodging the tape. Then air can escape through the rim’s spoke holes… (Also make sure to wipe off the rim with alcohol before installing the tape to remove all oils and residue from the manufacturing process.)

Some riders also recommended to wrap the rim tape in the opposite direction of the wheel rotation. As the tire rotates, the sealant won’t dislodge the edge at the end of the tape. Instead it’s flows over the edge. (You want a tiny waterfall at the tape edge, not a dam.)

Why do supple tires require extra care during tubeless setup?

A supple tire’s casing is less stiff, and it can move ever so slightly on the rim. This means that air can escape at the tire/rim interface unless sealant is present to stop these leaks. When you install supple tires tubeless, make sure to distribute the sealant all the way around the tire and to work it into the tire/rim interface everywhere. Simply installing the tire, pouring in some sealant and going for a ride isn’t enough. Refer to our step-by-step instructions on installing tubeless tires (linked at the end of this post).

Supple tires have sidewalls that are coated with as little rubber as possible, because extra rubber makes the tire stiffer and slower. This makes supple tires more porous than stiffer tires. It’s important to shake your sealant for a full 60 seconds (a long time!) to distribute the solids that seal the tire. Using the right sealant also helps: We recommend SmartSeal sealant, which has been developed specifically for supple tires.

Generally, Rene Herse Endurance and Endurance Plus tires are easiest to seal, because they have an added protection layer that also makes them more airtight. The Standard casing is next, and the Extralight requires a bit more care to seal. Even so, I’ve installed more than 40 Extralight tires tubeless without any trouble – using just a floor pump. It helps to work methodically, but it usually is not too difficult.

In very rare cases, the sidewalls can leak even if you do everything right, because the rubber coating is just a hair too thin. These tires are the most supple (fastest when you run them with tubes), but they don’t work well tubeless. If the sidewalls leak even after you’ve done everything correctly, that is covered by our warranty.

The ride quality and speed you get from supple tires – especially on rough terrain – is well worth the extra care required during tubeless setup.

How much sealant do I need in my tires?

More than you may think! The general recommendations are:

  • 26-32 mm wide tires: 60-90 ml (2-3 oz)
  • 35-44 mm tires: 90-120 ml (3-4 oz)
  • 45+ mm tires: 120-150 ml (4-5 oz)

Some riders report that they can get away with much less sealant. If the fit between your rim and tire is very tight, you may not need as much sealant. However, if all your sealant is absorbed by the tire casing, or if it dries out, the tire can suddenly break loose from the rim wall and lose all its air.

Also remember to top up the sealant at least once a month, because it tends to dry out over time.

If you have doubts how much sealant remains in your tires, you can unscrew the valve, then rotate the tire so the valve is at the bottom, and use a ‘dipstick’ (a long match works) to make sure that liquid sealant remains in the tire (similar to checking the oil level in a car). There should be a pool a few millimeters deep at the bottom of the wheel, not just a trace of liquid.

Is the tire pressure different when I run tubeless vs. with tubes?

Without a tube, the tire has a little less internal stiffness, so to get the same feel, you’ll have to run slightly higher pressures. In real life, this effect is too small to make a noticeable difference. Mostly, you can run lower pressures with tubeless tires because you don’t have to worry about pinch flats. Don’t go overboard, though: If you bottom out too hard, you can still destroy the tire and the rim. And if you run your tires at pressures that are too low, the sidewalls will start to break down prematurely.

There is a difference in maximum pressure: Don’t exceed 60 psi when running Rene Herse tires tubeless, even if your tire and rim are rated for a higher pressure with tubes. If the maximum pressure rating of rim or tire is lower than 60 psi, use the lower of the values.

Why do tubeless tires sometimes leak once they reach very high mileages?

Tire sidewalls flex with each revolution of the wheel as the tire compresses where it touches the road. Over time, this constant kneading can make the rubber of the casing porous, and the tire will no longer seal. You can still run the tire with tubes, or you can replace it, because it’s nearing the end of its lifespan anyhow. That is also the reason why you should use only new tires for tubeless installations – casings that have seen significant mileage will be much harder to seal.

My tubeless tire blew off the rim. What happened?

Oh no! A tire blowing off the rim is very dangerous. It’s rarely the tire’s fault – the bead diameter of Rene Herse tires is very consistent, as was confirmed when Enve tested a large number of Rene Herse tires for compatibility with their hookless rims. (They passed with flying colors.)

Usually the problem is a slightly undersize rim. Rims have negative tolerances, meaning that they can be smaller than spec, but not larger. (If they were larger, it would become impossible to mount tires.) If you end up with a rim that is on the small side, the tire won’t seat properly. You can build up the rim bed with extra rim tape if it’s just a small difference. Otherwise, run your tire with tubes on this rim.

But I’ve run other, less supple tires on the same rim without problems. Why doesn’t this rim work with supple tires?

Supple tires have a much lower casing stiffness. That means that they rely almost entirely on the strength of the bead to stay on the rim, and the fit must be much better than with tires that have stiff sidewalls.

Most riders who run their tires tubeless have only good experiences. Others have only bad luck. Why?

It’s important to work methodically when installing tires tubeless. That is why we provide detailed instructions. Beyond that, much of it depends on the fit between tire and rim. If the fit is good, tubeless installation usually is easy, and the tires are safe on the road. If the fit is bad – if the rim is undersize – the tires are very difficult to seat, and they can blow off while you ride.

Is there a way of knowing whether my tubeless installation is safe?

When you mount the tire, it should be a slightly tight fit. If you need huge blasts of air from a compressor, the fit is probably too loose because the rim is slightly undersize. You can build up the rim bed with additional layers of rim tape – or you can run your tires with tubes to be on the safe side. Don’t insist on running an undersized rim tubeless and risk a blow-out. A pinch flat is far less dangerous, so we recommend using tubes if you have any doubts.

What about tubeless installations of tires that aren’t tubeless-compatible?

Maybe you’ve seen Ted King run Stampede Pass 700C x 32 tubeless. It’s doable, and can be safe if you know what you are doing. Officially, we cannot recommend it, and you are on your own if something goes wrong. Make sure not to exceed 60 psi with any tubeless installation.

Do you run the tires on your own bikes tubeless?

It depends. On most rides, I run my tires with tubes, mostly because I don’t like to worry whether the sealant has dried up. However, when I head into truly rough terrain – like the road to Odarumi Pass in the top photo – I run my tires tubeless to avoid pinch flats. I am glad the technology exists, and once mastered, setting up tires tubeless isn’t difficult. I am also glad tubes are still around. I’ve found that both work equally well, and I can’t say that I feel a difference in speed or comfort.

Other resources:

36 Responses to Tubeless Tire FAQ

  1. PK June 18, 2020 at 3:32 am #

    Bicycles should be affordable, comfortable, durable and simple. Tubeless is another bike industry Complicated and Expensive solution to a non-existent problem.

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 8:32 am #

      Both technologies have their place. The cost difference isn’t huge – $ 20 of sealant will last most cyclists a year or more. Of course, an inner tube can be fixed almost indefinitely for pennies… Use whichever you like best – the good thing is that tubes work just as well (or better!) with modern tubeless-compatible rims and tires.

    • Nick J June 18, 2020 at 12:18 pm #

      @PK Tubeless is neither complicated nor expensive and it definitely solves problems. For instance, my wife’s commute to work includes a dirt path to avoid a narrow and busy section of road. Along the path she regularly picks up goat head thorns in her tires. It’s simple for her to stop, pull out the thorns, and let the sealant in her tubeless Naches Pass tires seal the holes. If she were running tubes, she’d be forced to ride the sketchy road section instead.

  2. Vince June 18, 2020 at 3:34 am #

    As always, excellent and very clear article.
    It helps build up my opinion on substantiated facts and experience rather than marketing lingua or “internet knowledge” (which can be sometimes difficult to tell apart).

  3. Monty Richardson June 18, 2020 at 3:51 am #

    Thank you Jan. This is the 1st time I have seen comprehensive explanations that I can understand. Really well done.

  4. AR June 18, 2020 at 4:08 am #

    “more than you think”
    That explains a lot of the problems I’ve had in the past.

    Thanks for making this guide!

  5. Fabian June 18, 2020 at 6:35 am #

    Hi Jan,
    I’ve run my Barlows and Snoqualmies (both extralight) Tubeless on Mavic rims. It worked well. But I just went back to tubes. this is why: I’m a bit heavy (85+ kg) so I always have to run a bit higher pressures. Maybe that’s the reason why even small punctures weren’t sealing. With not that big chainstay clearance, I’ve had issues with small pebbles punctured the sidewalls. These also weren’t sealing. I’m running Schwalbe tubes with a bit sealant and tubolitos on the barlows for a light wight gravel setup 🙂 And the feeling is still the same. It’s still that supple that it almost feels flat even with 3-4 bar. 😀

  6. Andy Stow June 18, 2020 at 6:58 am #

    Great write-up. I went tubeless for the first time with the Black Mountain Road Plus bike I built this year. I bought a “tubeless ready” adventure wheel set from Hunt, which came with tubeless tape installed, but I could not get them sealed even with an air compressor until I put one more wrap of Stan’s tape on there. Then it was easy!

    So far I have 1400 flat-free miles on my Switchback Hills with standard casing, including a lot of gravel and nasty road shoulders. Touch wood. I don’t track my flats, but this is definitely better than average. I do have to top up the air about once a week.

    I carry a Tubolito as a spare in case of a leak that won’t seal. Have you done any testing with those? They’re a lot thinner and lighter than a standard tube, but may not be more supple.

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 8:28 am #

      We haven’t tested the performance of Tubolito tubes… Generally, we found that tubes don’t make a big difference in tire performance.

  7. Conrad June 18, 2020 at 9:01 am #

    Very nice write up. One thing I have noticed is that all other things being equal, tubeless rims make for a less reliable wheel. The cross section having that deep well with a relatively sharp transition to a level shelf makes them more prone to movement with the pressure of an inflated tire, especially when tubeless tires often have to be inflated to high pressure to make them seat properly. Final truing absolutely has to be done with an inflated tire when building them and even then they move around more after riding them a while if you are measuring the spoke tension. Im curious if other wheel builders are noticing this. Its probably less of an issue with an Enve or Zipp that are being hand built by well trained people but I would be careful with the lower quality OEM wheels.

  8. Paulin June 18, 2020 at 9:29 am #

    Thanks for the write up, Jan. One question though: you do not recommend running Stampede Pass 700C x 32 tubeless.
    Is there any structural difference between these and your larger tires, or is the recommendation solely based on the size of the tire?
    For the record, I run Hutchinson Sector 700×32 tires tubeless on my daily commuter, without any issue. I could be tempted to try the Stampede Pass, when time comes to change the tires.

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 9:54 am #

      The bead shape is different, so the tire is harder to seal. The tubeless bead is shaped so that the air pressure closes the gap between tire and rim. With all our tires, you shouldn’t exceed 60 psi if you run them tubeless. Basically, we can’t officially recommend running the Stamped Pass tubeless, but many people are running them tubeless without problems.

  9. James Thurber June 18, 2020 at 10:40 am #

    Both my sons run tubeless and swear by them. They continue to harass (hound?) me to “try ’em”

    I’m old and slow and at the moment run tubulars on all my (three) bikes. Love ’em. Usually log between eight and ten thousand miles a year. And fortunately you can still get tubs.

    But one of these days – perhaps the upcoming Race Across Oregon (beginning July17th this year) . . .

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 11:41 am #

      There’s definitely an element of fashion to tubeless tires on the road. Tubulars are better than ever – you should try the FMBs we’re now importing. I wish I had those when racing! (The old Clements were nice, but we ran 21.5 mm tubs at 115 psi. Ouch!)

  10. Jeff Loomis June 18, 2020 at 12:03 pm #

    Your statements on tubeless tires for road use don’t agree with my experience or that of people I ride with regularly. Running tubeless with sealant I don’t get flats. Period. They all seal. I know a big hole is possible but it hasn’t happened to me yet. I used to get a lot of flats from tire wires or small pieces of glass, especially using Compass / Rene Herse tires with no puncture protection built in.

    I have tried using sealant in tubes on my tandem running Rene Herse Switchback Hill tires. It is not usually effective. When a puncture occurs, the sealant exits the tube and fills the space between the tube and tire, making a mess but not sealing. I tested these tires tubeless but they blew off at 60PSI during a test mounting. I know the max rating for these tires is 55PSI but I want a bit more margin of safety on the tandem because I have to run at 50PSI or even 55 if carrying a touring load. For now I will enjoy the ride, use tubes, and fix flats.

    For me, the flat sealing benefits of tubeless make it a boon on the road. On my bike running 32mm tires I stopped using Rene Herse tires in favor of some others that don’t ride quite as well, but work reliably tubeless. I went from a flat every few hundred miles to zero flats in 2500 miles. Perhaps it isn’t possible to have a 32 mm tire that can run safely tubeless at 60PSI with the ride of a Rene Herse tire. If such a tire existed, I would definitely use it.

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 1:34 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Flats really depend on where you ride. Shoulders of busy highways are littered with debris, and flats are inevitable unless you have some sealant or use tire wipers to clear the debris off the tires. When I raced on 21.5 mm tubulars, I went from a flat in every other race to 1 flat in 4 years when I installed tire wipers. Tire wipers obviously have the advantage that you don’t need stiffer sidewalls, so you can enjoy the ride quality of supple tires. That said, we hope to offer supple tubeless-compatible tires in narrower widths in the future.

      I’ve had two flats this year so far. Both were pinch flats (front and rear), and the impact was so much that the rim cracked, so even tubeless wouldn’t have helped. (I was descending a gravel road loaded with camping gear. A small tree had fallen on the road, and I didn’t manage to lift the bike enough, as I had forgotten to account for the 40 lb of camping gear!) Last year, I had one flat – on a bike set up tubeless, in the snow, where the sealant didn’t work.

      Your experience with sealant in tubes is interesting. Many others report better results. I wonder what the difference is. Perhaps it depends on tire pressure – higher pressures should push the tube tightly against the tire and not allow air and sealant to get in between. We’d have to do more experiments to figure this out, but it’s hard to do this in the lab, since the tire rolling and deflecting on the surface plays a role, too. And I doubt any tire maker wants to mess up their beautiful roller test rig with sealant!

    • Drew Devereux June 18, 2020 at 3:25 pm #

      When running tubes with sealant inside, I have also had a well of sealant gather between the tube and tire. Air would bubble out of the puncture hole of the tire and along the casing. The event was always caused by a cut in the tube that was too big for the sealant to seal, like 3mm or more.

      Sealant in tubes with punctures caused by wire bits or goat heads have always sealed for me, and left a small plug that persists. I remember 6 or 8 of them in one tube that remained airtight.

      Mostly I have used slime. Always worked great on punctures. It does dry out though after several months, just like a tubeless set up. I have been using Flatattack for the last year, which is advertised as a sealant that lasts for 5 years. No flats yet, although I have yet to venture into serious goathead territory to give it a good trial. I have also used Stans in tubes (worked well).

      There is lots of great test information on slowtwitch.com. They ran a sealant test using butyl and latex tubes, and many types of sealant.

      http://www.slowtwitch.com/Products/Things_that_Roll/Tires/Sealant_Test_-_Part_1_4147.html

      • Rick Thompson June 19, 2020 at 8:58 am #

        This problem also happened to me when I tried using sealant in tubes. After multiple thorn punctures the sealant would pool between tire and tube. Then it was not effective, probably because it was not distributed properly around the circumference. I wonder, if the sealant cures on exposure to air, how does it seal a puncture that goes through both tire and tube? Does it just close the hole in the tire, but not the tube? A tube is usually stretched under tension, I imagine the hole in the tube would expand as well.
        In any case, wide supple tires run tubeless with sealant is one bit of new bike tech which really works for me. The ride is wonderful, and tubeless completely solves the frequent flatting caused by goathead thorns. The thorns are an issue on paved roads here in N Cal, but much more so on gravel and trails. This tech has opened up a whole range of riding that was just too much hassle before.

  11. Alex June 18, 2020 at 12:23 pm #

    Hi Jan,

    Do you happen to have any contact information for Rene Herse? I’m trying to follow up on an order with no activity for 3+wks and there doesn’t seem to be any contact information of the Rene Herse website. Thanks!

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 1:44 pm #

      Go to “Where is my order” under the Support tab, and you’ll find how to track your order and also a form to contact our customer service, so we can investigate.

      Having just reviewed all our orders, I know that all orders older than a few days have shipped, so in your case, it’s probably just an issue of the USPS tracking system not working properly right now. We’re sorry about that – in these Covid days, tracking often shows an order only when it’s delivered, not when it’s picked up.

      • alexgomp June 19, 2020 at 4:26 am #

        Thanks so much for taking a look and for the information!

  12. Andrew Cohen June 18, 2020 at 12:24 pm #

    I’m no mechanical whiz, and I have been using tubeless (on my clincher wheels) for years. Have installed many RH extralight tubeless tires and used them roughly with fantastic results. Bemused that so many are tubeless-averse or have horror stories.

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 1:41 pm #

      I think the horror stories are mostly when rims aren’t to spec. If your wheels are perfect, tubeless setup usually is a snap. But not all rims are…

  13. Peter Thorsness June 18, 2020 at 2:51 pm #

    Does tubeless decrease the mileage I can expect from a RH tire? My wife and I have happily run Bon Jon Pass tires on our road/gravel bikes for several years. As we do a lot of mtb riding, our gravel bikes don’t rack up the miles particularly quickly. So while the tires were maybe 3 years old, the mileage was not large and I was disappointed to see significant leakage via the sidewall and, more concerning, contusions (protrusions) on the running surface of my rear tire. A less than stellar interaction with customer service concluded with “seems like your tire is just worn out”, but I maintain that based on the tread alone I’m only halfway through the life span of a normal tire — but the contusions/protrusions in the tread means the tire is finished. That hasn’t happened with my mtb tire setups and nor do I recall a similar issue on a tire using only tubes. So…is the quick wearing out an issue with supple tires and tubeless? Is the casing of RH tires sensitive to tubeless fluid? I really appreciate the ride of the tires, but should I consider replacing the other three tires? I’ve fixed far too many flats when using tubes to give up that advantage of tubeless tires.

    • Jan Heine June 18, 2020 at 3:31 pm #

      I think I remember looking at your tire – assuming it was yours – when you sent the photos to our customer service. The lines in the center portion of the tire were completely worn off, and the tire was visibly getting thin. So it’s not that big a surprise that at some point, it loses the ability to hold its shape.

      Tires, like all rubber parts, age even when they aren’t ridden. We don’t have much experience with old tires and tubeless sealants, since we usually wear out our tires within a year or two. Sealants contain solvents that could attack the tire over time. The rear tire sees the biggest torque from pedaling, which would allow the deterioration to happen fastest.

      So I’d keep an eye on the other tires, too, since they probably are affected, albeit to a lesser degree. At some point, all tires aren’t safe to ride any longer, just like old car tires become hard and lose their grippiness.

      Fortunately, you don’t have to worry if you buy tires that you don’t intend to use immediately: Rene Herse tires come in plastic bags that slows down the aging. As long as you don’t take a tire out of the package, it’ll last a very long time…

  14. Douglas Ankrom June 19, 2020 at 11:03 am #

    Jan Excellant article. I am still trying to understand the advantage of tubeless over tubular tires. With the use of tape the instillation of tubular tires is greatly simplified ( and usually much easier than removing a taped tire when it is time for replacement ! )

    Best Doug A

    • Jan Heine June 19, 2020 at 11:47 am #

      Tubulars are great, and they also eliminate the risk of pinch flats – that’s why cyclocross racers used to run tubulars. But if you get a flat, the repair of a tubular tires is more involved. I haven’t ridden with tape (rather than liquid glue) in many, many years. Back when I was racing, tape was not allowed, as it was said to increase the risk of ‘rolling’ a tire off the rim during hard cornering.

  15. Grant June 20, 2020 at 7:06 am #

    One benefit of tubeless-road is that their proliferation opens up the sport to more “normal people”. there are an uncountable number of potential cyclists who are never going to learn how to change a flat. they don’t want to. so in my opinion, there is a place in the market for a tire/rim paradigm that prioritizes no-flats above riding performance, and it’s great that articles like this exist because it’s not like we can rely on the marketing department of a major corporation to genuinely explain the compromises.

    • Jan Heine June 20, 2020 at 8:41 am #

      I think it’s a great idea to make bikes as maintenance-free as possible. However, even when running tubeless, you’ll need to know how to fix a flat. Tubeless sealant won’t stop all punctures, and it doesn’t work when it’s very cold. I’ve heard of more than one ride where riders on tubeless tires flatted and didn’t carry a spare tube… Fortunately others came to the rescue.

      I think wide tires and wide rims have done more to open up the sport to not-technically-minded riders. Wide tires have far, far fewer flats, and wide rims make it possible to change the tire without needing much force. There’s still a learning process, and I do think that as a culture, we have a problem that instead of valuing the joy that comes with mastering a craft – even if it’s as simple as fixing a flat tire – we prefer to buy books called “Cycling for dummies.”

  16. Al June 20, 2020 at 8:07 am #

    Tubeless I consider near essential on my “mountain bike”, a rigid 29+ tire bike for lower pressures and less rotational weight than a heavy 29+ tube.

    Road/gravel, I just switched to a tubeless setup after moving to Arizona last year. I don’t have enough long-term testing yet, but there are lots of plants with spikes, both off and on-road, that sealant is helpful for.

    I ran tubes with sealant for awhile in the PNW, and completed some rough gravel races without any flats. Then, I’d get on my usual gravel loop and had a few occasions with pinch flats (after smacking into rocks) that sealant couldn’t fix, and ended up with sealant all over the tube, rim, tire, etc. that now a tube patch couldn’t stick to repair. Prior to that, I rode tubes for years in the northeast, before even knowing what “tubeless” meant.

    Personally, I always liked the assurance and simplicity of being able to patch a tube, or quickly swap it out, without having to deal with breaking/remounting a bead, as well as getting sealant all over. Since running tubeless tires for 4+ years on mtn bikes, however, I have rarely encountered flats. I’m curious to see how this translates to my gravel/road bike. Now in the desert it seems that sealant is near mandatory for dealing with cactus spikes and goatheads that otherwise I’d have flats with tubes every few miles, so perhaps much of this debate between tubes vs. tubeless really depends on where one lives and the conditions being ridden in.

    • Jan Heine June 20, 2020 at 8:42 am #

      I think that is a good point. I’ve ridden in Arizona, but probably never during goathead season… For those of use who can count their annual flats on one hand, it’s hard to imagine what it means to ride through that kind of environment.

      I’ve updated the post to reflect the user experiences reported here in the comments. Thank you to everybody who has shared their real-road experiences!

  17. Craig Dempsey June 20, 2020 at 11:32 am #

    I would be interested in knowing about your tire repair kit for tubeless on long remote rides. Especially interested in your thoughts on sewing up slashes too big for sealant or plugs.

    • Jan Heine June 20, 2020 at 1:33 pm #

      I know people who’ve sewn up tires that were cut, but I’ve never had to do that. I don’t carry a repair kit beyond a piece of tire casing to boot the tire (and two tubes and a glueless patch kit). If the tire gets cut and I have to boot it, I’ll need to put in a tube, but that is fine – I’ll just have to be a bit more careful when I ride.

      I’ve never used the boot, since I haven’t cut a tire in more than a decade – long before we even made tires. I never saw what I rode over, but it sliced the tire almost in half. Back then, I booted it with a Clif Bar wrapper, and it worked for the 150-mile ride home and lasted a week after that until I could get a new tire.

  18. Drew June 20, 2020 at 6:55 pm #

    Looks like the Muc-off will soon release a sealant specifically made for inner tubes that should seal cuts up to 4mm. Sometime in July. Tubeless improves over time, but if this stuff works it could be a big deal to those who don’t like the tubeless stuff.

  19. chris June 20, 2020 at 8:29 pm #

    I bought a pair of Junipe Ridge tires and Panaracer sealant (large size) through my LBS who had a really hard time using an injector for the sealant. After a couple of months I tried adding some fluid with a Stan’s injector and it just got clogged and blew off. I made sure I thoroughly shook the bottle. Anyone had a similar experience?

    • Jan Heine June 21, 2020 at 8:07 am #

      I usually use a syringe that is sold by boating supply shops for applying epoxy. It’s big enough to work with gooey stuff, yet fits into the valve stem.