Have you ever strayed into a bike shop and noticed that there are both tubed tires and tubeless? I went in looking for a new MTB and saw all these new bike sales tags boasting tubeless. But what is tubeless? What does it mean to use MTBers, and why does it matter? Well, I’m here to explore the answers and share what I learned so you can make an informed decision as I did.
Tubeless-ready is a term synonymous with many new mountain bike tires and wheels. It means that the tire (or wheel) is explicitly designed to work with the wheel (or tire) to create a seal around the rim. The seal means that you can pump your tire directly and that there is no need for an inner tube.
Most don’t realize, though, that you can usually use a tubeless-ready tire or rim with an inner tube. Usually, you just have to remove the air valve assembly so you can slide the tube’s valve through the hole in the wheel/rim.
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about tubeless-ready mountain bike tires and rims. So, without further ado, let’s get this rolling.
Understanding Tubeless Tires and Tubeless Ready
As mentioned, tubeless tires and tubeless-ready rims mean that there is a special type of seal around the edge of the tire and rim. The special seam allows the tire to mesh with the rim and create an airtight seal. Due to the airtight seal, there is no longer a need to have an inner tube. In fact, this isn’t anything new as it was first invented back in 1946 by Frank Herzegh.
Furthermore, if you’ve ever walked into the back of a car repair shop that can change tires, you’ll notice that car and truck tires are also tubeless and have been for some time. For some reason, gaining traction in the MTB world has been late. However, to save weight, it’s about time tubeless caught on.
In my article about tire inner tube types, I discuss the physics behind tire weight and how it affects your ride. Weight is the number one reason to switch from inner tubed tires to tubeless. However, as I also pointed out in that article, tubeless is not without a dark side.
The problem with tubeless tires is that it isn’t hard to hit an obstacle with considerable force on a mountain bike. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’re heavy into a downhill ride or single track.
It’s sort of an oxymoron because the more ‘specialized’ your riding approach, the more you’ll want to shave weight off your bike, and the more you’ll want to go tubeless. Yet, tubeless has a layer of protection less than a tubed counterpart. So, it’s funny because the more intense you ride, the more you need extra protection, but the more you’ll want to cut down on weight.
Aside from the humor I find when discussing tubeless and tubed tires, let’s talk about some of the benefits of going tubeless.
Learning about Mountain Bike Tires could take years. Let me help you just a bit quicker with some articles.
- Can a tire be great for both street and trail? – Find out in this article: Best MTB Tire for Street and Trail
- Are 26 inch Tires Dead? Heck no…Read – Who is a 26 inch MTB For
- Love playing in MUD – Read What tire is recommended – Mountain Bike Tires for Muddy Conditions
- Rocks can destroy a mountain bike tire – Find the Best MTB Tire for Rocky Conditions (PRO RECOMMENDED)
- Thinking about getting a 26 inch MTB let me help – Should I Get a 26 Inch Mountain Bike?
- Does sand slow you down? It might be you’ve got the wrong tires. Read – The Best MTB Tires for the Sand
Benefits of Going Tubeless Ready
Tubeless-ready tires and wheels are great. In fact, I ride tubeless myself. However, it wasn’t until I learned the pros and cons of tubeless versus tubed tires.
I’ve run with tubed tires for a long time, longer than I care to admit. Although having inner tubes has always been standard for me, one of the things that surprised me the first time I rode tubeless was the difference in wheel weight.
I mean, it’s noticeable, the weight difference between a tubed 27.5 and a tubeless. It wasn’t at first, but it becomes noticeable when you add it all together. I noticed how much easier it was to accelerate from a stop with my tubeless.
- They are more resistant to flats.
- They can be run at lower pressures, which provides a more comfortable ride and better traction.
- They are less likely to come off the rim in a crash.
- They are generally lighter than traditional tires with inner tubes.
Realistically, you have about 220 grams less weight without a tube but add about 100 grams back in sealant. However, given the goal of lowering the weight, tubeless-ready rims are usually lighter than their tubed counterparts, so you’ll likely save another 50 – 100 grams per rim too.
Add it all up, and you’re talking about a faster ride. That’s a good thing in my book. I also noted that the tubeless seemed to feel a bit more responsive. Maybe it’s just me, but it felt like I had a better grip on my tubeless tire than on my tubed tires. Either way, I like the weight difference enough to run strictly tubeless now, but that’s my thing. Do whatever works best for you and your riding style.
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
Components of a Tubeless Ready System
Tubeless-ready setups are pretty straightforward. Here’s what a tubeless setup includes:
- Tubeless ready rim
- Tubeless-ready tire
- Rim tape
- Presta or Schrader valve assembly
- Sealant (use-specific)
And here are the tools you need to set this up:
- Awl or sharp poker about ⅛” in diameter is best
- An air pump
- Pressure gauge (if not included on the pump)
How to Set Up Tubeless Ready Tires and Wheels
Setting up a tubeless tire is a little more complicated than setting up an inner tube and tire. However, it’s not unreasonable to take less than a couple of minutes per wheel and tire to get them just right. Here’s how I do it:
Step 1. Prep the Rim
To prep the rim, I take a clean cloth, use mild soap and warm water, and wash down my rim. Okay, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but I want to ensure there are no grains of sand or dirt that could prevent a good seal, so I give it a wipe-down. I use one corner of the cloth to dampen and wipe and the other to give it a quick dry rub to ensure no water drops are left.
Step 2. Rim Tape
Extending the rim prep step, I typically re-tape my rim anytime the tire comes off. I use good-quality rim tape and stretch it as I install it. That way, I force out any air bubbles trapped between the rim and tape, making application easier. Once I’ve got a good around the rim, I’ll cut it and fix the end. I give it a rub down with my rag, the dry corner, to ensure I work out any last bubbles.
Step 3. Valve Prep
I used to mess around with leather, so I’ve got a leather awl I use, but any round, sharp point that isn’t too wide will work. My awl is only a bit over an eight-inch, so it’s perfect. Noting as big as a quarter inch, or you’re in danger of making a hole too big.
Take your awl or sharp tool and poke a small hole in the tape where the valve hole is.
Step 4. Install an Air Valve
I use Presta valves on my bike, so I’ll take a valve and fit it through the hole in the rim tape and into position. Next, ensure the seal is sound; I’ll tighten down a nut over the valve (by hand) to hold it in place properly.
Step 5. Tire Installation
Ensure your tire’s rim is clean, as we did with the rim. Next, I pop my tire onto the rim by hand. I leave a gap at the last bit so I can squirt a healthy dose of sealant. I squirt the sealant right onto the inside of the tire itself.
Step 6. Inflate and Seal
The tire’s on, you squirted the recommended amount of sealant in the tire, and now it’s time to pump it up. Some tubeless tires claim a hand pump is all you need, and with some, that’s true, but I prefer using a powered pump I have in my garage.
I pump it up until it’s underinflated. Just at the point where it starts to seal, I work it like dough in my hands. I’ll massage the tire with slight pressure to ensure the rim seals nicely, and then I will finish inflating.
All in all, this process typically takes me 2-3 minutes, but if I were in a rush, I could likely do it in about 45 seconds, so either way, it’s pretty easy.
Tubeless Ready vs. Tubeless Compatible vs. UST: What’s the Difference?
Universal Standard for Tubeless (UST) are tubeless tires that typically have thick walls and use an injected sealant. They are usually a bit heavier than what you’ll note with a standard tubeless.
Tubeless-ready is, as I mentioned, ready to run as a tubeless system. On the other hand, Tubeless compatible tires and rims are usually set up for inner tubes but can change to tubeless with the insertion of a sealing valve assembly into the wheel in the port where the inner tube valve is found. Usually, the rims will have a plug-like bushing too, but it depends on the model.
Is Tubeless Better?
I prefer tubeless. However, when you get a pinch flat, you are up a creek without a paddle unless you carry a spare tire. With tubed tires, you carry a patch or a spare tube, and you’re ready. Okay, it’s easier if you have a tire tool, but that’s useful with either tubed or tubeless.
Which should you get? Well, that’s entirely up to you. Think about what I’ve mentioned here and consider your riding style. If you’re serious about weight, go tubeless. If you want a little added protection at the expense of more weight, go with inner tubed. If you really want to, you could always run tubeless, but carry a spare tube to convert in case of a pinch flat.
MTB Tools I Love and Recommend
I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.
- Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand. Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential. I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it. This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur. Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
- A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit. Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained. The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider. Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
- Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure. A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not. Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use. An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
- Carry a multitool with you on every ride. I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool. I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works. Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19
Sources and More Reading
- Tubeless Bike Tires – All You Need To Know: https://www.bicycle-guider.com/cycling-advice/tubeless-bike-tires/
- Best tubeless road tyres 2023 | Ditch your inner tubes: https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/buyers-guides/best-tubeless-road-tyres/
- Tubed vs. Tubeless: Should I Upgrade My Tires?: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/tubed-vs-tubeless.html