Clincher tyres—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 tyres hold air without a tube, as the name implies, like many car tyres.
Even though standard clincher tyres have always worked fine, tubeless clinchers have several major advantages:
Flat protection: Sealant used to connect the tyre 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 tyre pressures without the risk of pinch flats.
Traction: Lower tyre pressure also increases grip by making the tyre more supple.
Durability: Unlike tubulars, the other tyre solution boasting these three ride upgrades, tubeless tyres 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 tyres are available but don’t have a wide range of selection. Kenda, Hutchinson, Maxxis, Specialized and Bontrager currently offer tubeless clincher tyres.
- When used with non-tubeless-specific wheels, the initial installation of tubeless clincher tyres requires liquid plastic sealant and compressed air (or CO₂); it’s more complicated than a standard clincher tyre. Sealant is not required with a tubeless-specific wheel and tyre 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 tyres as well as tubeless clincher tyres. You can also convert most standard clincher wheelsets to tubeless tyres with a kit sold by Stan’s NoTubes, which includes a special rim tape, sealant and valve. Tubeless tyres 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 tyres sound good to you, tubeless clinchers are the solution. And if your tubeless setup fails, you can always drop a tube into the tyre 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).