Pros and Cons of Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires

Surprisingly, more than 10 years after tubeless has become almost a given in the world of mountain biking, I still know and hear about many riders who still have not made the jump to tubeless. 

I have listened to many of my mountain biker friends complain about how their ride or race was ruined because they got a flat during a mountain bike race or had to stop several times during a ride to fix a flat.  I have a friend who did a three hour mountain bike race and succeeded in getting three flats during the race due to the harsh rocky terrain and thorns in the area. 

This pretty much halted her race and she ended up not finishing, having to DNF. This is surprising to me because the initial investment in going tubeless is worth it compared to the headaches and ruined rides from running tires with tubes.

Pros of Going Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires

1. You can run a lower psi which makes the tires more supple and they grip much better.  This means that you can get maximum performance, response and control out of the tire.

2.  There is no worry about thorns, pinch flats or snake bites. An inner tube can get pinched against the rim and cause a “snake bite” puncture in it but with tubeless since there is no tube, there are no pinch flats.

3.   The ride with tubeless is so much smoother due to better trail contact and a softer tire, almost like adding extra suspension.  Sharp bumps become softer and trail debris such as rocks or roots don’t cause as much vibration and shaking when you ride over them.  Washboard feels less harsh and the end result is a smoother ride.

4.  Lighter rotational weight.  Tubeless set ups are generally lighter than a tube and tire configuration but UST tires themselves are heavier than non UST tires.  So with Stan’s it probably evens out the weight reduction of not using tubes but many riders (myself included) use a standard tire on a standard rim with tire sealant.  This can shed over 50 grams per wheel depending on your setup, reducing rotating weight.

Cons of Going Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires

1.  Cost – Can be big if you go with UST rims when converting to tubeless and with a set UST rims running anywhere from six hundred dollars up to fifteen hundred dollars which is unnecessary and costly.  The cheapest way to do tubeless is with a conversation kit using standard rims and tires.

2. Too little air – If you corner or hit a rut or rock hard it can cause the tire to burp:  when the bead becomes unsealed for a moment, releases a small amount of air and sealant but then seals back up.  Also it can be easier to dent or ding the rim itself as a sharp object can impact it hard with not as much protection as a harder tire pressure would provide.

3.  Time consuming – It takes longer to change your tires when you run tubeless.  It’s not as quick as swapping out tires as when you are using tubes.  There are several steps you need to do in order to mount the tire properly.

4.  Messy –  The NoTubes conversion requires sealant for tire mounting and it can be quite a messy process especially when you are new to the process.  The sealant can get everywhere and you can end up head to toe in white sealant.  Putting on new tires is now a longer, messier and more complicated procedure.  The sealant can make changing a tire a pain in the butt and it can be a long and tedious process when first learning how to do it.  However, the more practice you get with the tire changes, the less messy it becomes as you learn to control the sealant during the install.

5.  Repairs – You still have to carry a tube while riding.  Most of the time if you get a flat the sealant will seal the puncture back up and you can keep riding but sometimes there will be cuts or slits that are too large for the sealant to seal up and then a tube becomes necessary.  Also while on the trail converting the tire back to a tube is a bit messy and more complicated then with a traditional tube setup.

6.  Powerful air required – In order to seal a tubeless tire against the rim, you need a sudden burst of air pressure.  A floor pump can sometimes be used depending on how tight the tire sits on the rim, however using a floor pump is not advisable as it does not have enough force.  The best method for a burst of air is a CO2 cartridge.  If you have access to an air compressor then use that but otherwise you don’t need a compressor to do the job.  Just keep a few CO2 cartridges around for tire changes.  Some CO2 systems fire the gas more quickly and abruptly than others, and those are the ones that do the best job.  It’s the BLAST of compression which forces the tire to seat.

7.  Maintenance – The sealant itself needs to be replenished on a regular basis.  The sealant does “dry out” slowly on it’s own, especially in warmer climates.  In Arizona I was surprised to find out that two scoops of sealant would disappear only after a couple weeks during the height of the desert summer heat.  Also, if you get a lot of punctures that the sealant has self-repaired you will need to top off the sealant as needed.  Luckily, there is an injector available from Stan’s which you can use to add sealant to your system without removing the tire.  It is basically a syringe which can inject sealant into the air valve after removing the presta valve core.

Also read: Cycling First Aid Tips – Basic Treatment on the Trail

Some tips for mounting tubeless tires with a conversion kit

Using a standard or existing rim

Converting your existing rim to tubeless is pretty straight forward by adding the rubber rim strip that comes in the conversion kit.  The rim liner has a valve that comes through your valve hole just like an inner tube.  The rubber strip hooks into the tire bead and provides an airtight seal against the rim.  It also seals off the spoke holes in the rim.

Non tubeless tires

You can use a regular, (non-tubeless) tires with a conversion kit or you can also use the tire liner from a conversion kit on a UST tubeless rim, which makes it easier to seal a standard tire on your tubeless rim.  Either way though you may need to experiment with different tires to find the one that seals the best.  Some standard tires leak when using sealant but the Stan’s website has a pretty comprehensive list of tires they recommend.

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Blast of air

Always have an air source that provides a blast of air.  If you use CO2, have a good supply of cartridges on hand in case you need to change tires or top off your sealant.

Lubricate the bead

Get a bucket of soapy water and a brush.  After you have mounted the tire on to the rim then take the brush and rub the tire with soapy water.  This helps the bead to seat onto the rim.

Take your time

Most importantly take your time and follow the directions carefully.  It is time consuming and can be frustrating the first time you attempt a tubeless tire conversion but it is well worth your time and effort!  With practice it becomes much easier and faster.  Of course if you do not feel like doing a tubeless conversion yourself, you can have a shop do it but doing it yourself gives you the advantage of being able to change your tires whenever you want and saves you a few bucks because a shop will charge you for this service. 

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