Choosing the right tires for your gravel bike is a critical decision that will affect your cycling performance and enjoyment. One of the significant choices you’ll face is between tubeless and tubed tires. Each has its own benefits and potential drawbacks. By understanding their characteristics, you can make an informed decision about the best tire type for your gravel biking needs. This article will delve into the tubeless vs. tubed gravel bike tires debate, helping you choose the right fit. Also check out our general advices for gravel bike tires.
Understanding Tubed and Tubeless Tires
Traditional tubed tires have been around for a long time. These tires have an inner tube, which is filled with air and provides the tire with its form and pressure. The tire itself forms the outer layer, which comes into contact with the ground and has the tread. When you inflate a tubed tire, you’re filling the inner tube with air.
On the other hand, tubeless tires, as the name suggests, have no inner tube. Instead, the tire and the rim create an airtight seal, with the air contained directly within the tire. Tubeless systems require specific rims that can create an airtight seal, and tires that are capable of holding air without the need for an inner tube.
The Advantages of Tubeless Tires
One of the most significant advantages of tubeless tires is the ability to run them at lower pressures. Lower pressure can provide better traction, improved ride comfort, and a lower rolling resistance, which can be particularly advantageous when riding on gravel.
Reduced Risk of Flats
Tubeless tires are also less prone to flats. With no inner tube to pinch between the rim and a rock (known as a pinch flat), and the use of a liquid sealant that can quickly seal small punctures, you’re less likely to experience sudden deflation with a tubeless system.
Improved Ride Quality
With no tube, the tire can conform more directly to the terrain, potentially providing a smoother ride. This flexibility can offer better control, especially on rough, loose gravel surfaces.
The Advantages of Tubed Tires
Ease of Installation and Replacement
Tubed tires are generally easier to install and replace than tubeless tires. If you get a flat tire while out riding, it’s often faster and simpler to replace the tube than it is to repair a tubeless tire, especially if the puncture is large or the sealant isn’t working.
Tubed tires tend to be less expensive than their tubeless counterparts. Furthermore, they don’t require a special rim to create an airtight seal. If budget is a concern, or you’re not ready to invest in new rims or a tubeless-ready bike, tubed tires can be a good choice.
Tubed tires have been around for a long time, and there’s a vast range of options available in terms of sizes, treads, and materials. No matter what kind of riding you’re doing, there’s likely a tubed tire that will suit your needs.
Dealing with Punctures in Tubeless Tires: Sealant and Tools
While the benefits of tubeless tires can be game-changing for gravel biking, there are certain challenges to be aware of, particularly when it comes to repairs.
Dealing with Punctures
When it comes to smaller punctures, tubeless tires have an advantage. They are often filled with a liquid sealant, colloquially known as “gnome milk,” that will automatically plug small holes. The sealant is a mixture of latex and small particles that clump together and fill gaps when a puncture occurs. However, for larger holes, this sealant might not be enough.
Fixing Larger Holes
When you get a larger hole in a tubeless tire, it might not seal with the liquid sealant alone. This is when a tubeless tire repair kit comes in handy. These kits typically include a reaming tool, a plug insertion tool, and a variety of plug sizes.
The process involves enlarging the puncture slightly with the reaming tool, then inserting a plug into the hole using the insertion tool. Once the plug is in place, it effectively seals the larger hole, allowing you to continue your ride. However, it’s always wise to fully inspect and potentially professionally repair or replace the tire when you return from your ride.
Although the process might sound daunting, with a bit of practice, it’s quite manageable. If you choose to go the tubeless route, it’s worth carrying a repair kit with you and knowing how to use it.
Preparedness is Key
The key takeaway from my experience and lessons learned is that preparedness and knowledge are critical when it comes to dealing with tubeless tires. Understanding potential issues and how to address them can make your cycling experience smoother and more enjoyable.
A good start to have all included for the transformation to tubeless is the Muc-Off Ultimate Tubless Kitt. It comes for several Rim and Tiretypes.
Tubeless-Ready Tires: A Personal Experience
My journey with tubeless-ready tires began with a somewhat unexpected challenge. Tubeless-ready tires are specifically designed for tubeless use, but they also have the flexibility to accommodate a tube if necessary. They combine the benefits of traditional tubeless tires but are supposed to be easier to install.
One time, out on the trails, I got a puncture too big for the sealant to handle. Since I was riding tubeless, I always carried a spare tube for such emergencies. With a conventional tire, this process would have been straightforward. However, with the tubeless-ready tire, I found that fitting the tube was anything but simple.
Tubeless-ready tires, with their stiffer beads and tighter fit on the rim, can be tough to work with when you’re trying to fit a tube inside them, especially when you’re out on the trail with only basic tools. Despite my best efforts, I found it challenging to fit the tube without pinching it and, when I finally got it installed, inflating it evenly was another hurdle.
That experience taught me a valuable lesson: while tubeless-ready tires offer many advantages, they can make roadside repairs more complicated if you’re resorting to a traditional tube as a backup.
For those considering tubeless-ready tires, I would recommend practicing fitting a tube at home first. It can be much harder than with a conventional tire, and it’s better to struggle in the comfort of your garage than out on a remote trail.
Remember, everyone’s experience with cycling gear will vary based on numerous factors. The key is to learn from each experience, whether it’s a success or a challenge.
Making Your Choice: Tubeless vs. Tubed Gravel Bike Tires
When deciding between tubeless and tubed gravel bike tires, consider the following factors:
Your Typical Riding Conditions
If you frequently ride on rough, rocky terrain where the risk of punctures and pinch flats is high, the puncture resistance of tubeless tires could be a significant advantage.
Your Comfort and Performance Preferences
If you value a smooth ride and top-notch performance, you might appreciate the ability to run lower pressures with tubeless tires.
Your Willingness to Experiment
Tubeless tires can require a bit more tweaking and maintenance. You’ll need to refresh the sealant periodically, and setting up the tires initially can be a bit more involved.
If cost is a significant factor for you, remember that tubed tires tend to be cheaper, and don’t require specific rims or as much maintenance.
Conclusion: Find Your Perfect Fit
In the debate of tubeless vs. tubed tires for gravel biking, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The best choice depends on your personal riding style, preferences, budget, and the conditions you typically ride in. By considering the benefits and potential drawbacks of each, you can find the gravel bike tires that will offer you the best performance and enjoyment on your rides. Happy biking!