Tubeless tyre technology has become a huge thing in the mountain biking world. It arrived properly several years ago and has gone from strength to strength with a huge range of tubeless wheel & tyre options available today. I too joined in, as a relatively early adopter, with a self assembled wheelset based around Mavic XM-819 rims and paired them with some UST Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres. But what about road cycling?
Road cycling has been much slower to adopt. I’m not going to go into a comparison of adoption rates of new technology between road and mtb; I’m sure there’s already plenty of articles out there about that. I’m not really even going to go through the features, benefits, cons etc of the relative tyre technologies; again it’s been covered aplenty. What I am aiming to do though, is give my views having ridden RoadTubeless now for several thousand kms. Think of it as a rider’s eye view from your average Joe cyclist.
I switched from tubes to tubeless on my road bike because of my experiences with mtb. I wanted ‘in’ on the tubeless mtb scene because I like to try new things, I like to do things a little differently from my mates and just because I could. I remember stopping part of the way around Sherwood Pines to allow my mate to catch his breath and he spotted air bubbles slowly coming out of my front tyre tread; I confidently said “ah, no problem”, reached down for a finger full of Sherwood mud and slapped it on where the bubbles were. To date I am still yet to fit a tube to either of my mtb tyres due to a puncture or abandon a ride; the most I’ve done is add a little more air with my pump.
In terms of setup there’s no real difference between tubeless on a mtb and on a road bike. The idea is still the same, you ditch the tube, replace it with a valve that seals to the rim, add a little sealant and pump it up. There are ‘ghetto’ options where people try (and often succeed) to use rims and tyres that aren’t designed for tubeless setup, but my preference has always been to do it properly with tubeless rims and tubeless tyres. So my road tubeless experience has been based on Campagnolo 2-way fit Zonda wheels and Hutchinson Fusion 3 tyres. To add completeness, I use Stans sealant.
Sealant isn’t absolutely necessary with proper tubeless tyres but in my opinion having it there to seal any small cuts during a ride is well worth the tiny weight penalty. That said, I’ve never added the full recommended amount; for me 10 mL is plenty.
The Hutchinson Fusion 3 tyres that I fitted were 23 mm, I had wanted to get the 25 mm ones but they weren’t in stock anywhere when I bought them. As far as grip goes I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever. I did a criterium race in the rain and some of the other guys were dropping tyre pressures slightly in an aim to have better grip, I didn’t feel the need and rode on my usual tubeless pressure. Even then some who finished behind me mentioned moments where they ‘nearly lost it’, I had none of those moments. Of course there are also those who had tubes in their tyres and who had the same experience as me. I can’t say I have ever found the grip limit of these tyres, be it descending at 50 mph or riding in less than perfect weather conditions.
Comfort depends on tyre pressures. If I pump these tyres up to 100 psi or above like you would for a standard clincher, then I really feel the road, much like you would with a standard clincher. But I can drop the pressures on these tyres down to even 60-70 psi and not feel any noticeable additional drag. That does make for a smoother ride but I wouldn’t say it’s a revelation even so; I still know that I’m riding a stiff carbon road bike on Britain’s badly ‘surface dressed’ roads. Maybe paired with a nice titanium frame the ride will be super plush but that’s hopefully something for the future.
Punctures is where it’s really at with tubeless technology and it’s no different with Road Tubeless either. I have only had to put an inner tube in on one occasion and that was due to hitting a pothole at speed on a group ride in the dark. I never saw the pothole at all and although you can’t get a pinch flat with tubeless you can certainly bend your wheel rim sufficiently to unseat the tyre and let the air out. Needless to say, this is a one off type occurrence. Beyond that occasion all I’ve really had is the usual nicks and cuts in the tyre tread; how many of them would have been punctures if there had been an inner tube involved I can’t say but I would speculate at several at least.
The downside of tubeless is that most people use a standard inner tube type setup; you are not among the masses. This means that tubeless tyres are more expensive, have poor availability and you get less choice. Wheels are a different matter, there are loads of wheelsets available now, even spec’d on low-mid range bikes, that are tubeless compatible. But tyres remains an issue for road tubeless.
Hutchinson appear to be offering the most options with their Fusion, Atom, Intensive and Sector models all available in tubeless versions. They are also readily available in the UK from the main online retailers like Wiggle and CRC. Schwalbe offer the Pro One, S-One and G-One in tubeless and there are a few other makes like Maxxis, Specialized and Bontrager who have offerings if you can track them down. NextDayTyres are one of the better retailers for sourcing tubeless road tyres, partly because they have a dedicated “700c tubeless” filter option in the search function at the top right of the page. They also have a different tyre option to everyone else in the VeeTire Apache Chief; it’s quite a lot cheaper than the others but with similar specs, so I might try these out next time.
What you won’t find at the moment however, are any tyres from the likes of Michelin or Continental and you certainly won’t find any colour variations either. So don’t go looking for fancy coloured sidewalls to match your frame or rims. Also you may find a lack of stock of certain sizes; I can find availability for some tyres in 23 mm but not in 25 mm which is annoying. Although there’s plenty of wear left in the Fusion 3s that I have on at the moment, so hopefully by the time I need to replace them the situation may have improved.
In summary I’m glad I switched over myself, but I can understand that road tubeless may not be for everyone. It’s not difficult to setup and run but because you’re doing something different from the masses you possibly won’t get much help from friends and fellow riders. You’ll also have the issue of limited tyre choices until it’s more popular; popularity is on the increase though. Performance wise though, I can’t fault them.