Inner tubes are crucial for my bike’s suspension and maintaining the right tire pressure for my rides. However, there’s ongoing controversy about the wall thickness of inner tubes – is thicker really better, or is it the other way around? I’ve decided to delve deep into this topic and share my findings.

From what I’ve found, a thicker inner tube doesn’t necessarily equate to more durability. In reality, they add extra weight to my wheel and often can’t deform as well as thin-walled tubes. The material used in making the tube seems to be a bigger determinant of its performance than slight changes in thickness.

Now, let’s dive into the intricacies of inner tubes. There’s plenty of information out there to help us navigate this intellectual maze. We’ll explore the world of thicker tubes and see how they stack up against their thinner counterparts.

Bike inner tube sizes
Bike inner tube sizes

Understanding Inner Tube Thickness

The composition of an inner tube is usually a form of rubber. However, natural rubber is better than synthetic rubber, having greater flexibility and strength. But synthetic rubber is cheaper to make, so often, those cheap inner tubes you see in the big box stores are likely synthetic materials.

The thickness of an inner tube is typically measured in millimeters. Typical thin-walled rubber inner tubes for MTBs are usually 1 to 1.5 millimeters thick. Some of the thinner inner tubes available are as thin as those stretchy medical examination gloves, going down to the neighborhood of 0.5 mm.

Thicker inner tubes (cheap ones) are usually in the realm of 2 mm thick synthetic rubber. In my estimation and experience, a 2 mm thick synthetic rubber tube has about the same durability as a 1 mm thick natural rubber tube. Natural rubber is much more flexible than synthetic rubber, allowing for deformations from near-punctures when a synthetic would pop.

Installing a tube into a tubeless tire
Installing a tube into a tubeless tire

Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of riding with synthetic thick or natural thick rubber tubes. I will also mention some of the other materials used to make tubes today because some are pretty thin, at least for road bikes anyway. So, we’ll talk a bit about those too.

It seems like I’m either: buying, replacing or airing up bike tubes

🚴‍♀️ Can I put a tube in a tubeless tire? I explain with video 👉 Can I Put a Tube in a Tubeless Bike Tire?

🚴‍♀️ Presta vs Schrader which tube is better. Find out 👉 Presta vs Schrader Valves (Is One Better)

🚴‍♀️ I kept getting flats, are some inner tube brands better? Check out what I think 👉 Does the Brand of Inner Tube Matter?

🚴‍♀️ Are you getting a bunch of flats? Read 👉 Don’t Get Caught with a Flat: Why Rim Tape is a MUST

🚴‍♀️ Is there a right way? 👉 How to Let Air Out of a Bike Tire

🚴‍♀️ Presta Valves it’s a mystery 👉 How to Inflate an MTB Tire with a Presta Valve

Advantages of Thicker Inner Tubes

Depending on where you live, you might have encountered ‘thorn-resistant’ inner tubes. These tubes are a South Western United States afterthought, given their luck with thorns like the Tribulus terrestris. If you ride a lot of thorny areas or areas with sharp shale or quartz, then having a thicker, more durable inner tube is a good idea. Furthermore, I would say that using a sealant in the tubes is also a good idea for those sorts of nasty conditions.

To make things simple, here’s a list of conditions for considering thicker inner tubes.

  • Thorny trails
  • Gravel or sharp rock trails
  • Old warehouse areas where broken glass may exist
  • Building or construction areas where nails or other items may exist

There are likely all sorts of other scenarios, but the common theme is this: Thicker inner tubes provide more durability than thinner tubes of the same material.

Drawbacks of Thicker Inner Tubes

My fastest trail rides have been riding tubeless
My fastest trail rides have been riding tubeless

Have you ever ridden a bike that was slow and sluggish? Well, if you decide to put super thick tubes in your tires, that’s what it will feel like. Let me explain.

Rolling Resistance and Ride Performance Suffers

You’re a rider like me, so you know a thing or two about physics (dare I say that word?). I’ll keep it simple and brief for those of you who could use a refresher. Do you remember those spinning UFO rides at county fairs? You know, those ones where it’s a big circular room, and everybody stands against the outer wall, and the whole room spins. When it gets up to speed, you are pretty much glued to that outer wall from the centrifugal force.

Consider your bike tire is like that spinning ride – the more people on the ride, the harder the engine has to work to spin it. Well, the more weight you have on the outside of your wheel, the more you’ll have to work to compensate for it.

In plain words, the heavier the wheel, the more work you’ll put in to move it.

You’ll be concerned about rolling resistance, that is, if you plan to ride your bike at all. Furthermore, the added weight acts like a rotor that wants to keep spinning. The added weight adds to the effects of momentum and thus increases your stopping distance.

So, thicker inner tubes mean more work and a sluggish ride, both in acceleration and stopping distance.


A thick-walled inner tube is more durable, but it’s also more rigid at pressure. So, pound for pound, a thick-walled inner tube of the same material as a thin-walled tube, under the same inflation amount (psi), will be more rigid and thus offer a stiffer ride.

I put some really thick inner tubes on my old beater that I used to go mudding with (as I like to call it because I’m always covered in mud after). The ride was sort of like that of a sports car, in a sense. That is, I felt every little bump, every pebble. It was not as smooth a ride as using a regular inner tube.

I also noticed the sluggish nature of the wheels. They were definitely giving me resistance to accelerate quickly. It wasn’t long before I put the bike away and got on my favorite MTB with lighter wheels – what a difference!

Comparing Thicker Inner Tubes with Other Options

CharacteristicThick Inner TubesTubelessSealantsTire Liners
PerformanceSluggish, better for puncture-prone areasLighter, easy to accelerate, requires tubeless-ready rims and tires
CostLowerMore expensive, but worth it for performanceVaries by brandVaries by type
MaintenanceMay require replacement due to puncturesUse of sealants recommended, spare tube suggested for emergenciesNeed to be added to inner tube for self-sealingPositioned between tire and inner tube for puncture protection
AvailabilityWidely availableRequires specific tubeless-ready rims and tiresMany brands available like Muc-Off, Slime, and Joe’sAvailable, useful for fat tire bikes
Additional InfoCan’t use old tubed rims and tiresSimilar function as rim tape

Thick inner tubes are heavy. They make the ride a bit sluggish. However, if thorns or other sharp puncture items are in your area, you may have no choice. However, there are some other options. I’ll start by telling you what I did, and that is to go tubeless.


Car tires are tubeless, and they work just as well. In fact, what I like about tubeless is that they are much lighter than their tubed cousins. I wrote an article about tubeless inner tubes that you can read here, where I go much further into how they work.

Compared to thick inner tubes, a tubeless setup feels way lighter and almost laughably easy to accelerate in comparison. However, you’ll need to get tubeless-ready rims and tires – you can’t use your old tubed ones. They won’t work. The tires and rims must be tubeless or tubeless-ready.

Tubeless-ready setups are generally more expensive than their tubed counterparts, but it’s worth it. If you get a good quality tire with lots of treads and then use a sealant inside, you’re usually good to go. Although to be honest, I do carry a spare tube in my MTB pack on the off chance that I actually get a puncture. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time.


There are many types of inner tube injectable sealants on the market that you can add to your inner tube to ensure it self-seals should a puncture occur. You’ll find brands like Muc-Off, Slime, and Joe’s are all readily available on Amazon.

Tire Liners

Speaking of alternative options, I know that with bikes like fat tire bikes, you can get these anti-puncture tire liners. They work in the same way rim tape works, except they go on the outside, between the tire and the inner tube.

How to Choose the Right Inner Tube for Your Needs

Use Cases

When choosing the right setup for your mountain bike, I recommend you decide using the following factors.

  1. Do you take long, leisurely rides on smooth trails or roads?
    1. If yes, get thin inner tubes or tubeless
    2. If not, then move on to the next question.
  2. Do you take shorter, challenging rides across rough terrain?
    1. If yes, does the terrain include jagged rocks or tough thorns?
      1. If yes, then you might want to try thick-walled inner tubes and probably some sealant too. There’s a brand called Slime that has some pretty tough, thick inner tubes that are ‘thorn-resistant.’ You can find them at most big box stores that sell bikes and on Amazon.
      2. If the terrain isn’t jagged, then you may not need heavy-duty inner tubes. I like my tubeless tires for cross-country (XC) riding, but they aren’t for everyone.
    2. If not, you might want to consider a normal or even a thinner inner tube.

Choosing the right inner tube should be easy if you reflect on where and how hard you ride. Furthermore, you need to consider the weight factor and the performance as well. If shorter or downhill rides are more your thing, you may want to have thicker inner tubes as a precaution against pinch flats.

Valve Types

When determining which inner tube will work best for you, another highly essential factor (I can’t believe I hadn’t mentioned this yet) is the type of valve. You see, in the world of Mountain Biking, you’re going to come across the two most common types: Presta and Schrader.

Both valves use the same principle of having a core valve that requires a pin to depress to open the airway. However, there are some noticeable differences right out of the gate.

Schrader Valve – This valve type is the most common. You’ll find these valves on car tires too, and most other things like wheelbarrow tires and so forth. The valve stem resides inside a threaded outer cylinder, protecting it. A simple plastic cap screws over the outer shell.

Presta Valve – The Presta valve type is what you’ll find on high-end bikes. These valves are a little skinnier and a bit more touchy. They possess a threaded nut that sits on the piston where you release the air. So, they are like a Schrader valve that is exposed to the world, with a slightly different design. To use a regular air pump with a Presta valve, you will require a small adapter.

Learning about Mountain Bike Tires could take years. Let me help you just a bit quicker with some articles.

Frequently Asked Questions About Inner Tube Thickness

I know, I know, you still have questions! That’s okay. I’ve got more answers.

Does the width of the inner tube matter?

The inner tube width matters nearly as much as the outer diameter. For example, if you have a tire that takes a 2.25″ wide tire and you use a 1.25, you risk blowing up the inner tube inside the tire merely through inflation. It would be best if you always used a tube that matches the requirements of the tire. You’ll find the tire size marked on the tire sidewall.

Here is a simplified tube to tire chart

Bike TypeTire Diameter (inch)Tire Width (inch)Tube Size
Road Bike26 – 280.75 – 1.526″ – 28″ x 3/4″ – 1.5″
Mountain Bike24 – 291.5 – 2.524″ – 29″ x 1.5″ – 2.5″
Cruiser262.12526″ x 2.125″
BMX201.75 – 2.520″ x 1.75″ – 2.5″

Keep in mind that this is a simplified chart and there is a much broader range of tire and tube sizes available. For the best fit, it’s always recommended to check the manufacturer’s specifications for your specific bike and tires.

Do lighter inner tubes make a difference?

Lighter inner tubes (or even tubeless) make a considerable difference. Due to physics, we want to decrease wheel weight to keep the bike acceleration easy on the legs.

What happens if you use the wrong size inner tube?

Using an undersized inner tube can result in tube rupture inside the tire on inflation or worse when you ride. An oversized inner tube can get a pinch flat easier, so using an inner tube that matches the tire is recommended.

Are cheap inner tubes any good?

Cheap inner tubes are okay if you can’t afford a better-quality tube. My general rule is that if I have to use a ‘cheap’ tube, I’ll buy two instead of one, just in case. However, I haven’t blown too many ‘cheap’ tubes. They are usually reasonably durable, but where I do notice it is in the ride quality. Cheap tubes are typically heavy, so it makes the bike sluggish to accelerate.

Can thicker inner tubes be used with narrow tires?

You can use an oversized tube in a narrow tire, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You face the real danger of pinch flats because the inner tube can stretch far beyond the size of the tire, so hit the right log and watch your tube get a pinch flat.

Do thicker inner tubes affect speed?

Here’s how it works: thicker inner tubes are heavier and make acceleration sluggish. They increase rolling resistance, too, so it’s sort of like riding with a mild brake on at all times. Yes, thicker inner tubes most definitely affect speed.

Changing tubes on a bike is no fun
Changing tubes on a bike is no fun

The Final Trail

You may have noticed that I prefer tubeless. Look, at the end of the day, it’s up to your riding style and preference. I find thicker tubes are not worth it for me. I’d like to stress the ‘for me’ part of that last statement. I ride mostly XC. Some downhill, but mostly cross country. So, I prefer the fast acceleration of a lightweight ride.

If I were doing a lot of downhill, lived in the South where thorns are a real issue, or rode many jagged rock trails, I’d consider using a thicker inner tube. I would definitely use sealant in those scenarios. But, where I ride, it’s mostly a packed trail with the odd log crossing or tree root. Sure, there are some rocks, but nothing will pop my tire. So, I ride tubeless. I am not knocking thick inner tubes. They have their place, just not on my bike.


David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or making YouTube videos at 👉 DIY Mountain Bike Read more about David HERE.

Read More at These Resources

  1. Manufacturers and retailers:
  2. Cycling magazines and blogs:
  3. Cycling organizations:
  4. Government agencies: