Clincher tires—which are found on almost all bikes—have evolved into a new, more reliable version: tubeless. This design works on a similar hook-and-bead principle as standard clinchers, but the tires hold air without a tube, as the name implies, like many car tires.
Even though standard clincher tires have always worked fine, tubeless clinchers have several major advantages:
Flat protection: Sealant used to connect the tire and rim also fills small punctures before you even know you have one. And since the tube is gone, pinch flats are gone as well.
Comfort: Tubeless clinchers provide more comfort and vibration absorption because they can be ridden at lower tire pressures without the risk of pinch flats.
Traction: Lower tire pressure also increases grip by making the tire more supple.
Durability: Unlike tubulars, the other tire solution boasting these three ride upgrades, tubeless tires don’t have to be trashed if they get a large puncture. They are still compatible with tubes.
There are a few considerations you should be aware of before going tubeless.
- Good tubeless clincher tires are available but don’t have a wide range of selection. Kenda, Hutchinson, Maxxis, Specialized and Bontrager currently offer tubeless clincher tires.
- When used with non-tubeless-specific wheels, the initial installation of tubeless clincher tires requires liquid plastic sealant and compressed air (or CO₂); it’s more complicated than a standard clincher tire. Sealant is not required with a tubeless-specific wheel and tire combo, but it is recommended because it will fill small punctures.
Tubeless-specific road wheels are currently available from Shimano, Campagnolo, Fulcrum, Stan’s NoTubes, DT Swiss and others. These wheels are designed to work with standard clincher tires as well as tubeless clincher tires. You can also convert most standard clincher wheelsets to tubeless tires with a kit sold by Stan’s NoTubes, which includes a special rim tape, sealant and valve. Tubeless tires cost about the same as a high-quality standard clincher and tube (typically around $75), and conversion kits to adapt an existing wheelset to tubeless run $25–$30 a pair.
If improved ride comfort and handling while nearly eliminating flat tires sound good to you, tubeless clinchers are the solution. And if your tubeless setup fails, you can always drop a tube into the tire to make it home.
Ian Buchanan is an industry-leading bike fitter and co-owner of New England-based specialty triathlon and cycling store Fit Werx (Fitwerx.com).
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