Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Drawbacks Of Road Tubeless

I recently wrote about the advantages of road tubeless tires.  As much as I love road tubeless tires, they are not perfect.  Here are some of the disadvantages I have noted:


Road tubeless tires retail for around $80, but I have occasionally found them on sale for as little as $50 each.   That is still far more than you would spend on a budget clincher.   Furthermore, you will probably need too convert your wheels to tubeless, which can cost about $50.    Finally, if you are really plunging in, you should buy a compressor.   While a decent compressor will cost over $100, it is nice to know that they have all sorts of other household uses, so like a good adjustable wrench, it is not a bicycling only tool.   I plan on writing a future blog post on the joy of compressors.

The costs are offset somewhat by not having to purchase tubes and patch kits, so once you get your rims converted and have the tools you need, the cost difference is minimal.

Learning Curve

Unless you are new to cycling, you probably have a wealth of knowledge on how to install and maintain clinchers or tubulars.  With tubeless, there is precious little information out there on all the little tricks you may need to set it up and get it working just right.   If anything, their reliability means that you will ride tubeless for months without having to remove and reinstall them, so you won't gain much experience quickly.   With this blog, I am hoping to correct that gap, but it will remain for some time.   Your local bike shop mechanic will have little experience, and your friends will be confused, but hang in there, the advantages are worth it.

Installation Time And Effort

I have to be honest and say that it will take you longer to install road tubeless tires, especially the first time.   It can be a bit of a struggle to get the tire on the rim.   If you don't have a compressor, you will probably need to visit a local bike shop or even a gas station to get the tire seated.    The good news is that it is unlikely that you will have to remove the tire throughout it's life.   Once inflated, I tend to put thousands of trouble free miles on my tires before removing them and replacing them with new tires. 


I am hesitant to mention this, because I haven't added any weight to my bike.   I am a weight weenie, and I always rode lightweight tires.    Nevertheless, I simply could not ride lightweight tubes without getting flats very often, so I stuck with standard tubes.   I think that the Hutchinson Atom Tubeless is lighter than most tire tube combinations, but probably not all.  I know for sure that there are plenty of super lightweight tubular tire and rim combinations, but that is offset by having to carry around an entire spare tire, unless you are tailed by your team car on every ride.

I don't think Stan's the rim strip weighs more than a standard strip, and I really don't think the sealant weighs that much.  It is a lightweight liquid combined with latex, so I think the weight is minimal.  I have seen the Fusion 3 weighed in at 312 grams, with the Atom at 290.    A standard tube generally weighs 100-130 grams.  It is a pretty expensive and fragile clincher and tube combination that will come in below the weight of the Atom.  Between the increased rolling resistance, and the time you will spend on the side of the road changing flats, I am convinced tubeless road is faster than any clincher, but it might be slightly heavier than some.

Lack Of Tire Selection

One day, we will have dozens of road tubeless tires to choose from.  Today, only three are in production and being sold.   They are the Hutchinson Fusion 3, Atom, and Intensive.  You may also find some Fusion 2 tires still for sale.   Specialized has announced a tubeless version of their S-Works Turbo tire, but I have not seen it for sale yet.  Their web site currently shows it as out of stock.  I have experience with all the Hutchinson products, and I hope to post reviews soon.

Notably absent from the existing tire choices are good, commuter tires, however it appear that there will be many more racing and training tire options in 2011.


  1. To say that it can be a bit of a struggle is a severe understatement. At one point I seriously questioned whether I had a 600c tire. The 30 minutes I spent wrestling a Hutchinson Fusion 3 on a rim was no fun. At one point I seriously questioned my manhood, and debated whether my lack of grip strength was a sign of some aging disease. I managed to get it on, which at the time seemed a miracle, and had sore (and stained) fingers for the weekend. Of course none of that mattered as no amount of soap suds, tire sealant, and frantic pumping would seat the tire. I could not get the bead to seat near the valve stem, it seemed the rubber seal on the end of the stem got in the way. I may try yet again, on a separate rim (alas, not a Mavic UST) but am already contemplating an eBay sale to recoup my losses. I would pay a shop to mount the tires, but as you suggested, all my local mechs look at me as if I am asking to have a live rattlesnake installed on my rim. If you like the Fusion 3, watch eBay this summer as a pair of Hutch Fusion 3 are going to go to the lowest bidder.

    1. Prior to inflating try to push the valve up by hand into the tire cavity....essentially forcing it up past the tire beads.

      Then prior to inflating tighten the valve nut which will push the rubber valve seal down past the beads and seat it firmly into the valve opening.

      I had a hard time inflating my Hutchinson Intensive tubeless tires until I discovered this little trick.

  2. Brian, Don't give up! I will be be creating a post to address this issue shortly. Please keep checking this blog.

  3. TUBELESS. Need a rim that can be set up with STANS or the "Ghetto-Tubeless" method. Polo players HATE bike flats.

    Wheels and Tires

  4. Hi Jason,
    The need for an air compressor was NOT needed at all for me when I installed my Atoms. I think this is a major fallacy with installing tubless. I simply made sure the valve was very tight and it immediatley started filling with up my floor pump. Yes, the tires are difficult but I didn't find any more so than some clinchers. Simply use a plastic lever if you have to. Brains's problem with filling was he was not working the valve up and down to get it properly inside the tires and seated. It's not difficult to do. I found the experience of installing my tubless overall to be pretty esay. As for the sealent, well that's another story...

  5. OK, just purchased Fulcrum (Campagnolo) Racing Zero 2-way fit wheels and Hutchinson Atom Tubeless. I never needed to use a tire lever to install a clincher and am pretty accomplished at changing flats. I NEEDED to use a tire lever to snap the tire on. It was insanely tight. I used q-tips with soapy water to wet the tire bead. I couldn't inflate using a floor pump and had to use my compressor with a $1 Presta to Schrader adaptor. I was going to install a cassette and go for a ride but the next day, the front wheel was soft while the rear was fine. Now I need to go figure out where the leak is coming from and either fix the valve or remount the tire. I am also really nervous about being able to change a flat on the road. Campy doesn't recommend sealant but I will probably go that route since I can imagine that simply taking out the valve and installing a tube will be difficult which was my fallback. I was also thinking of using glueless patches on the inside of the tire but the thought of resealing the bead on the side of a road scares me since I will only have a CO2 cartridge and no compressor.

  6. I have been using road tubeless (hutchison fusion 3) for a year. Love the feel and not a single flat!

    I have Shimano tubeless wheels. My first try mounting tires I nearly gave up! I was determined not to use levers on my spanking new wheels. I finally got the tires on but my 60 year old finger joints hurt for two weeks and the skin was nearly gone from my thumbs!

    I have discovered some useful techniques and can now mount a tire and load the sealant in about 10 minutes with no distress.

    These are my steps:

    1. change out the valve stem to one with a removable core. This lets you use an injector syringe to add sealant and saves a lot of time and mess!

    2. mount the first bead - that part is easy.

    3. Soap down the second bead and start working it onto the wheel from the side opposite the valve stem.

    4. You will get to a point where there is about 6" of bead left and it seems impossible to get on the wheel - don't panic!

    5. First make sure the bead is setting in the deepest part of the rim on the other side. This gives you more "slack" in the tire.

    6. This is the key to mounting the tire! Put on a pair of gloves to save the skin on your palms.

    7.Sit in a chair and the tire upright in front of you with the unmounted portion of bead away from your body and at the top of the wheel.

    8. Wrap both hands completely around both the tire and wheel.

    9.Grip the wheel and unmounted tire section with the tire in your palms and "twist" the tire inward towards your body with all your might.

    In a couple of twists it will pop on the rim. No levers -- No lost skin!

    10. Make sure the tire is ready to seat by working around the wheel and sqeezing it with your hands. Be sure it is properly situated on either side of the rubber inside fitting of the valve stem.

    11. Soap both beads one more time - the lubricant and soapy water help a LOT seating the bead.

    12. Use a compressor or fairly high volume hand pump and pump for all you are worth.

    My tires "grab" with a hand pump, but a compressor is nice!

    13. Pump the tire up to 120 psi and let it sit for a couple of hours to get formed to the rim bead grooves.

    14. Let out the air - the beads will stay in place. Remove the valve core and inject sealant, then replace the core and inflate the tire.


  7. Well, I filled my sink with water and rotated my new leaky front wheel around until I found the leak. Just to verify, I smeared some dish soap so I could see the bubbles form as the air leaked out. It was coming through the brand new Hutchinson Atom Tire. I had never even put the wheels on the road bike. I was going to but the tire was flat after mounting the day before. Well I am sending the tire back. I purchased 3 tires so I will see how the next one does.

    Also I learned a trick so that I didn't have to get my compressor out and filled it with a floor pump. I pushed down on the center of the tire to force the sidewalls out against the rim edges. If the tire is not against the rim edge, you can pump all you want and will never get it to fill. A compressor has enough force I guess to blow the sidewalls out. I actually rolled the wheel with the uninflated tire on the ground. Still skeptical but I'll see how it goes.

  8. On Easton EA90 Wheelset yesterday, lacking real tubeless tires in Salida we mounted Conti All Season 25c. Inflated to 70 lbs, they've been holding air.

    Because the tires have a somewhat porous sidewall, after riding them, I 'seasoned' the tires by laying them horizontally, perfectly level, and turned them from time to time for 24 hours.

    I'm looking for a 28mm to 35mm tubeless tire for gravel racing - not a slick, but not knobby.

    On gravel race with tubular, I've love the Continental Cyclocross Speed Clincher Tire.. but need a 'real' tubeless specific tire.

    Would like to be able to put pretty good pressure in them without worries (80-90 psi).

    What do you guys suggest?

  9. Instead of a compressor can use CO2 cartridge to seat tire initially but then let flatten completely and reinflate as CO2 may react with sealant. I think some wheels have a better central area for tubeless tires to be seated while placing so may still need to use levers despite all the above. Also found that leaving overnight almost fitted allowed a little bit of stretching to make it a bit easier. Great blog btw.

  10. Hmm, tubeless tires. I've not been impressed.

    I'm running Bontrager race lite tubeless ready wheels.

    I tried Bonty R2 tires first. These would go down after a couple of days. Local bike shop refitted them, still went down. Then replaced tires, still went down.

    So Hutchinson fusion 3 tubeless were fitted. Didn't go down. But after 1 month I got a 2mm split in rear tire. It went flat quickly and Stans sealant didn't seal hole.

    Took 2 of us to wrestle tire off and then 3 of us to get tire back on with a tube in. Not fun when latex everywhere and working at side of the road.

    I now run Conti GP 4000s tires with tubes!

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