Should I Go Tubeless on My Mountain Bike? (Tube vs. Tubeless on MTB)

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Do you often ask yourself, “should I go tubeless on my mountain bike”?

Tube vs. tubeless has been a long-standing debate among mountain bikers. There will always be those that defend the classic tubed design, but many are converting to tubeless.

If you’re curious about the difference, this guide is perfect for you. We’ll walk through the history and get to the bottom of why you might want to make the switch.

Short Answer

Tubeless tires are better for extreme riders. If you’re the type to do jumps, go through terrain with sharp rocks, and bike fast, it’s more advantageous for you to go tubeless.

History

Picture of Robert William Thomson, the man who invented the inner tube

The first tire with an inner tube got invented in 1845 by the Scottish engineer, Robert William Thomson. That was four years before he came up with the fountain pen!

Thomson’s pneumatic tire design was revolutionary, but it was too expensive to use in vehicles at the time. Thus, the idea got shelved for the next 43 years.

It was only until bicycles became popular almost half a century later that the tube tire made a comeback.

A Dramatic Return

In 1887, John Boyd Dunlop made developments on the pneumatic tire. Later on, he patented it for use in bicycles and other vehicles. Mass production of the tube tire began in 1890.

However, his success would be short-lived. They found out that Robert Thomson patented his design back in 1845. John Dunlop ended up losing his patent.

The Tubeless Tire Gets Invented in Ohio

Tubeless tires came about in 1947. The B.F. Goodrich Company improved the tires to become safer and faster.

In 1952, the company obtained a patent for the design. Within a few years, the tubeless tire became a standard in new automobiles.

Tubed vs. Tubeless Mechanism

To understand the difference, we must first look at the physics behind tubed and tubeless tires.

Tubed Tires Mechanism

Bike tires aren’t airtight. To make tires strong, manufacturers process them to become permeable, which means air and water can pass through the material.

To pump air into tires, engineers created a rubber tube that goes under the outer layer. This tube gets inflated, and the tubed tire is born.

Tubeless Tires Mechanism

For tubeless tires, manufacturers came up with a substance that seals the inside of the tire itself. There’s no more need for the rubber tube, but the rim of the wheel had to go through changes.

A hump got added to hold the rubber in place and to improve the air seal. This is why you’ll have to change your bike’s rim if you’ll make the switch to tubeless tires.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Tubed vs. Tubeless Tires on Mountain Bikes

There’s a debate on which tire is better because both have advantages when it comes to mountain biking.

1.   Tubed vs. Tubeless Tire Setup

Pumping mountain bike tire with air

Tubed tires are easy to set up. All you have to do is remove the tire, inflate the tube, and put the tire back onto the rim.

For tubeless tires, you’ll have to buy a specialized tubeless tire rim first. You’ll need to tape the whole rim and seal any spoke holes.

After that comes the sealant. The whole tire must be airtight and it can become frustrating if you keep pumping the tire but there are leaks in the seal.

Therefore, many get discouraged from changing to tubeless because of the more complicated setup.

2.   Tubed vs. Tubeless Sturdiness

Perhaps the main issue for mountain bikers is puncturing in wheels. Rough terrain means sharp rocks and thorns that can damage the tires mid-ride.

Tubed tires get easily punctured, meaning you’ll have to carry a spare tube at all times. It’s a good thing that replacing the tube is quick and easy.

Tubeless tires are harder to puncture, but when it does get pierced, you’ll spend more time on them. Those with tubeless mountain bikes need to carry a tubeless repair kit, plugs, and a carbon dioxide canister.

What’s more, if the damage is severe, you might even need to use a spare rubber tube to turn it into a tubed tire. In short, tubeless tires are a hassle.

3.   Tubed vs. Tubeless Safety

This is the turning point for tubeless tires. When the rubber in tubed tires gets punctured, air escapes in a way that may cause a mini explosion. It may make you lose control of the bike and can be dangerous.

The same can’t be said for tubeless bikes. The sealant in the tire prevents air from rapidly escaping. If it has a puncture, it’ll slowly deflate and you can safely stop your bike.

Tubed tires may also be self-repairing. The sealant gets into the puncture hole and effectively stops air from escaping. However, you have to refill the wheel with sealant every six months.

That being said, the tubeless bike does have a safety issue. If you don’t apply sealant properly, your tire could “burp” or release gas upon sudden impacts.

4.   Tubed vs. Tubeless Ride Experience

Mountain bikers with tubed tires report landing from jumps feels more natural when there’s more air in your tires.

Compared to this, bikers with tubeless tires argue that they can ride faster and smoother. They can adjust the pressure on the wheels more easily.

Lower pressure will allow for a better grip on the road and dampen bumps. Bikers like that they can customize their wheels to fit the trail.

5.   Tubed vs. Tubeless Cost

Tube tires are cheap and you don’t need a lot of materials to maintain and replace parts of your bike.

On the other hand, you’ll need more time, knowledge, and resources if you’re going for a tubeless bike. 

Ghetto Tubes

Some mountain bikers may find converting to tubeless to be expensive. Instead of buying the parts, they would DIY convert their tubed bike into a tubeless one. This became known as ghetto tubing.

It’s possible to DIY your bike if you’ll maintain low pressure on it. However, it’s not safe at high pressure.

Without the proper rim, you’ll experience a lot of burping. That can lead to disastrous accidents.

Trends and Future Implications

What does the future look like for mountain bike wheels? Will more people be converting to tubeless tires or will they go back to tubes?

It’s surprising to know that the future of mountain bikes could be airless! The company Britek Tire and Rubber is working on a wheel that doesn’t need air pumps at all.

They claim that your rides will be much smoother, lighter, and safer. Flat tires will be a thing of the past.

Another future of tires could also be BioFiber, which lowers the carbon footprint of manufacturing the bikes.

The Verdict

While the future wheels are still in development, we’ll have to become satisfied with either tubed or tubeless bikes for now. So which type of mountain bike wheel is better?

While tube bikes are cheaper and easy to maintain, we believe in safety first.

It’s harder and more expensive to maintain. You’ll be able to prevent more accidents if you’re on a tubeless bike. Make sure it’s not a ghetto tube!

However, if you’re mountain biking for leisure and if you won’t go on tough trails, by all means, go for tubed tires.

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Paul Tuthill
Growing up in Scotland, Paul developed a love for the outdoors and a desire for adventure from an early age.