Tuesday, February 19, 2013

State Of Tubelessness: How Far Will It Go?

"Proper" tubelessness?
I did a "Monday's With Mark" gig last night at the shop where I work. It was about tubeless tire technology and how it may affect the average cyclist in the future. Which brings up an interesting question to ponder: Just how far will tubeless technology reach?

To my way of thinking, there are three main things that will need to happen for tubeless technology to reach to the furthest levels of cycling that it could.

  • System Approach: There will need to necessarily be a universal, systemic approach to tubeless ready tires, rims, and sealant. It isn't this way now. There is UST, and variants. There is Stan's. There is Bontrager's "TLR". There is "Everybody Else In Between". This won't do. Somehow or another, these systems need to be weeded out to one, or two at most, systems. I like UST dimension tires and rims and how they lightly "pop" into place with each other and how the bead seat in the rim and the bead diameter of the tire, and its shape, are tightly controlled. It is a really easy to use system, and works brilliantly. Bontrager's is up there too, but there is one big issue: a four letter word spelled "T-R-E-K". No other bicycle company will use TLR due to this. It's really too bad too, since it is a brilliant system, works with regularity and simplicity, and is not very expensive. Then there is Stan's, which is really the "turn your non-tubeless tires to tubeless" system and always has been. This won't do either. Until the industry adopts a universal standard, we're stuck with chaos as far as tubeless tech taking over the tubed world. 
  • Sealant Technology: Sealant technology hasn't fundamentally changed since Stan Koziak brewed his elixir in the pits of NORBA races in the 90's. This will have to change if tubelessness for the masses ever happens. There needs to be sealant that lasts over a year without drying up in the hottest climates, and still seals holes up to a 1/4 inch in diameter. If that happens, then we can talk.
  • Ease Of Use: UST supposedly is a technology that you can use without resorting to tools. Well, in theory anyway. That is not always true. Great tubeless set ups can be aired up with a measly, poor quality floor pump. But again- this is not always the case. Users should not have to resort to metal tire levers and compressors to set up tubeless tires if it ever is going to be acceptable for average, everyday cycling.
Okay, with that said, here is a disclaimer: This does not apply to bike nerds, garage tinkerers with advanced degrees in "Cobbling" with a minor in "Rube Goldberg", nor for penny-pinching, "do-it-yerselfers" that think they know better. This is for the rest of the cycling world out there that make up the bulk of cyclists in the world. In fact, only bike geeks would put up with the tubeless world the way it is now.

Too bad too. Because if tubeless technology were made more universal, easier, and better, it would get more people's butts on bikes than there are now. That's what I think.


Roasta said...

Gted you have nailed it with everything you have pointed out here. Couldn't agree more.

A little too maintenance intensive for the average punter to keep things working well.

The other issue is 'quick' tyre changes for different conditions. Along with a 'quick' spoke nipple replacement. Plus any rim with proper tubeless spoke nipple systems just add to the cost of a replacement spoke. Maybe we need rims like BMW motor bikes with the spoke nipple access at the outer edge of the rim??

Tyres designed for tubeless have a weight penalty in my eyes too.

I kind of worry about the trend for 'road' tubeless set-ups at such high pressures. What's your view?

Guitar Ted said...

@Roasta: Thanks for the kind words. Tubeless tires for the average cyclist don't need to be overly light. In fact, a tubeless commuter tire could be the same or lighter than many "armoured" tires are now, when you think about that.

For roadies, the big issue has been keeping a bead on the tire without it breaking down and failing. Bontrager, Hutchinson, and others are feeling they have it figured out now, Time will tell, but yes- at the lower volume/higher air pressure required by road tires, the engineering obstacles become more difficult to overcome.

Irishtsunami said...

I have not dabbled with tubeless yet. It is something I want to do but the wheels I would like to use are salsa Semi 29er and there is a sticker that says not for tubeless. Clearly I would never violate a safety sticker by standing on the top of a ladder let alone the safety stickers that come on bikes. Legally you or salsa probably cannot tell me how but if the Iranians can launch a monkey into space from a Toyota mounted rocket why can't I convert those to tubeless?

Guitar Ted said...

@Irishsunami: Well, here is what I can tell you....

I have some of those "other, wider" rims from the same company. These I taped with Stan's yellow tape, used a Mavic valve stem, and set up tubeless very easily with some majorly tight fitting Geax Gato 2.25" tires.

Not that I would know- but I bet that your rims would work quite nicely as tubeless, if one were to disregard the warnings, which we both wouldn't do in a million years.