Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The State Of Tubelessness: Here We Go Again

You probably could get this tire to set up tubeless, if......
The other day the tubeless for gravel roads/all roads came up and I researched it a bit. What I found took me right back to 2006-07 and what we were going through as 29"ers became more numerous and tire choices were being tried tubeless on all sorts of rims.

I could close my eyes and recite the enthusiastic reports of successful tubeless conversions and the agony of defeat stories of tubeless failures. They would be nearly identical to the stories I was reading on-line yesterday concerning how tires in the 33mm-42mm range were being tried tubeless. There was an enthusiastic report of a list of tires that "worked set up tubeless" on a certain website. I checked into it, and the claim was that "we've successfully used these tires". Trouble is, one person's success with tubeless conversions of non-tubeless tires is another person's failure story. To wit: The comment section for one of the sites stories was full of folks having various issues and the moderator saying "keep trying! It works, we promise!"

You know what? Promises are one thing coming from some web site. Actual engineered tubeless systems that are reliable are quite another thing. You see, even the website I checked out cautioned that riders should "test their set ups" to ensure they would hold up. You know what? That should never be the case with tubeless recommendations coming from any media or company. You should be able to buy, set up, and ride the same day. I would take any UST system 29"er tire and rim, Bontrager's excellent TLR 29"er system, or maybe a couple of other decent system tire and rim designs, set them up, and ride them with immediate confidence that they would be safe and perform well. Just like you would a tubed tire and rim system.

So, while you may say "such and such" is a set up I've never had any trouble with, or "just do this- Boom!", I can probably also find out from those folks that they had to test a few things out, learned it from someone else who did the testing, and that it works "if"..... That's just it- there should be none of that. Tubeless "works" when it is as easy to do as a tubed set up is to do. Until then, it's just cobbling.

Tubeless fat bike tires are just starting to come around, but mostly it is still garage tinkering.
I'm not saying no one should run their gravel road bike tires tubeless, but I am saying that the responsibility to test and ensure the safety of a set up is on each individual rider unless the set up is manufactured to be tubeless as a tire/rim combo. For a magazine, website, or someone on a web-forum to say that anything is "guaranteed to work" or "it will work tubeless- just keep trying" is overly optimistic at best and dangerous at the worst. Especially when you consider failure on a gravel road, miles from the house or car, and especially when speeds can easily eclipse 40mph on sketchy, loose down hills. There are a few systems available now, but most set ups are just a crap shoot and only work "if you do certain things in a certain way with specific materials". (Even then it isn't a slam dunk you will be successful.) Most are much more fiddly and complex than simple tubed set ups. Most cannot handle higher pressures that gravel road riders would want to run.

For now, the State Of Tubelessness in regard to gravel road set ups is not a very good one. I will be waiting on a true, versatile system to be introduced myself. Until then, I see no problem with experimenting if that's your bag. Be cautiously enthusiastic, and be careful what you recommend. Failure on the gravel is not an option.


Unknown said...

I've always had success, and ridden immediately with split tube setups on fat bikes and 29er's. Never set up a tire less than 2.3 though, in that case I adopt a "belt and suspenders" approach, and squirt an ounce or two of Stan's into my tubes.

Guitar Ted said...

@ Eric Fussenegger: And the highest pressure you have ever run successfully is.....? That's the thing with split tube set ups- they typically are never ridden at pressures above 30psi or so, and that would be ridiculously low for a 33mm-42mm tire. I'm thinking 45psi is a minimum and you'd have to be able to handle 70psi at the top of the range.

It "might" work, but there you go....that's the whole point of my post. It shouldn't be an experiment.

Unknown said...

Maybe I wasn't clear;on a 2.3 29er tire set up split-tubless, I run 25psi. Any smaller than that, I run tubes with sealant. I get your point,and I agree it should be easier.

Scott Redd said...

Do you think the experiments done by consumers helps to drive the direction of products?

For example, after many reports of successful tubeless conversions of Bruce Gordon Rock & Road 43mm tires, they now have a tubeless compatible 650b tire (not sure if there's a 700c offered in tubeless).

As info, I've put 1,500 miles on my BGRR in a tubeless configuration, using tubeless ready rims. I run them around 25-30ish PSI. One time I had a sidewall blowout after I had some work done at the shop. The tires had been inflated to about 60 PSI, and I didn't get a mile before the bead blew out on my rear tire.

Failure on gravel, miles away from anything, is not an option. Along the lines of "belt and suspenders," I do carry at least one tube, and a patch kit in case things get ugly.

Now a question for you experts: is there any reason to carry a small supply of sealant on an extended, self-supported ride?

murraygd13 said...

I've set up 3 different brands of tires for gravel on my Stan's Iron Cross rims.

I've setup a tire each from Kenda, Hutchinson and Specialized with no problems. These tires have been described as tubeless tires in the description of tire though.

I'm a lighter rider so I usually run at ~40 psi and have had no issues.

BluesDawg said...

How would you classify Specialized Trigger Pro 2Bliss Ready 38mm tires on Roval or Stans rims?

Doug M. said...

Agree on all points. Consumers shouldn't be guinea pigs.

I see a lot of small-batch mixed-terrain tires made under contract by the likes of Panaracer and Vee; do you know if it's just cost prohibitive to use their tubeless beads or are they not allowed to be licensed? Some other reason?

Guitar Ted said...

@Scot Redd: "Do you think the experiments done by consumers helps to drive the direction of products?"

I don't think consumers should be doing R&D work for no charge.

@Galen Murray: How would you feel about running any of your set ups at higher pressures, say if you were 200lbs? And I know that Stan's has limits on air pressure on those rims as well. Really, what you have there is a rim designed for CX where pressures rarely are over 30psi. That rim has been known to allow tire blow offs for graveleurs.

@BluesDawg: Would you fell comfortable experimenting with those tires and rims at 45psi to 60psi? I think that'll answer your question.

@Doug Mayer: I think the companies are too wrapped up in legalities and protecting their intellectual properties to be concerned about sharing workable technologies across brands for the benefit of consumers. Specific to this issue though- The sales numbers aren't attractive enough .......yet.

Unknown said...

Consider the Stan's Grail or Velocity Aileron rims paired with Hutchinson Piranha or Kenda SCT Happy Medium tires...Tubeless-ready wide ROAD rims and moderate width (32-34) tires for gravel.

Guitar Ted said...

@Joe Bagodonuts: Consider that Stan's recommends no higher than 40psi on tires that are NOT ROAD TUBELESS BEAD CONSTRUCTION: http://www.notubes.com/help/a/literature/EIS-008-ZTR-Rim-Setup-Options-R2.pdf

Also- On Velocity rims, you are still at the mercy of the tires, which most are not of a tubeless bead construction. Not to mention weeping sidewalls. I know- I tried this with a set of A-23's and Clement tires. Then when I did get them set up, the fit was too losse to go over 40psi, and that wasn't good enough.

In short, both of those options for gravel = FAIL.

Shane said...

This would be a fabulous Riding Gravel podcast topic.

Patrick Dowd said...

Schwalbe Almotion, 38c, sold as a tubeless tire, same compound as their tubeless road tire (my friend has run flawlessly on his road bike).

Just another option.

Guitar Ted said...

@Patrick Dowd: 700 plus grams and at a hundred bucks? Oooof! No thanks. I'd sooner run my sub 600 gram 29"er tubeless tires before I'd consider that as an option.

john said...

I have had great success in cross and on gravel with Pacenti sl 23 rims and Vittoria XL and XG tires. In cx I run 33-36 psi and on gravel I'm in the 55 psi range on gravel and I weigh 190ish. My issue, and GT you may remember this from my TIv10 experence, is the difficulty in getting the tire on rim, not sealing or keeping the tire sealed. Now that rims are wider and tire beads are tighter, just getting the tire on the rim is such a chore. on the rare occasion when i get a flat simply popping in a tube is much harder than it needs to be. The Hutchinson Piranha is a great example, 4 years ago when I started running them (they were tubeless specific then) they were a breeze to mount, but last year at TIv10 when I flatted on the current version of the Piranha it took me forever to get a up and running. I broke a park tire lever and pinched my first tube in the process, taking me out of the race for the win and breaking my spirit, the latter being my own fault I admit. So in response to this I am returning to non tubeless specific tires run tubeless, simply for ease of changing flats. not sure how relevant this is, but thought I would share.

Guitar Ted said...

@john: I sure do remember that and your struggles at T.I.V10. I think you pretty much have shown why tubeless tires for many applications on bicycles is fraught with issues.

Think about it this way: How hard would it be to change a car tire by hand? Yes- it could be done, but it would be a huge undertaking when in comparison, a tire machine can whip that tire off the rim in under a minute.

The point here is that with bicycles, maintenance, in the field repairs, and ride-ability present a huge challenge for tire and rim manufacturers. They have to be able to sell a tire that will survive, but yet not be heavy. They have to sell a tire that won't blow off, yet be easy to remove by hand should the need arise in the field. They need to develop light, lively casings yet be able to have those casings and beads survive higher, (or in the case of cyclo cross and fat bikes- ultra-low), pressures.

MTB tires have finally reached a point where all these issues have been overcome, for the most part, but in other realms of cycling, gravel included, it has proven to be a higher hurdle for tire and rim manufacturers to clear.

Anonymous said...


Good to read your thoughts on tubeless for Gravel. Here at Stan's we are big supporters of tubless for mountain bikes, road and gravel. Gravel riding is one of my favorite things and I regularly ride a 35mm NoTubes Raven tire tubeless on our rims. My max pressure does not exceed 45 psi. I have done Iron Cross, D2R2, Barry Roubaix and Southern Cross all at this pressure or lower. The rougher the terrain the lower the pressure. For the rocky descent of Southern Cross I was at 32 psi. Maybe I should have been lower.
At the beginning of the comments you stated you wanted to run "a 33mm-42mm tire. I'm thinking 45psi is a minimum and you'd have to be able to handle 70psi at the top of the range" Currently the reason you can't do this is because of tires not the rims. Our Grail rim is rated to 115 psi with a road tubeless tire. No tire manufacture is making a gravel tire with a road tubeless bead material. The largest road tubeless tire avaialbe is the 28mm Hutchinson Sector. Until a larger road tubeless tire is made we are limited to the lower pressures. Personally a fast rolling 35mm tread at 45 psi is more then hard enough for my 185 lbs. On those rare days when the track is hard, dry and fast I will mount the 28mm tire but then I still am using them only at 60 psi. At low pressure the tire rolls faster, wears longer, provides suspension to the bike and is less likely to cut. Mountain bikers have learned the lessons of low pressure and regularly ride in the low 20's. I think Gravel riders will get many of the same benefits from low pressure.

Bob Nunnink
Domestic Sales & Marketing Manager
Stan's NoTubes
202 Daniel Zenker Dr
Big Flats, NY 14814
Phone: (607) 562-2877 x 208

Guitar Ted said...

@Bob Nunnick: First of all, thanks for coming on here and commenting. Much appreciated, and it means a lot to those reading here.

However; you aren't saying anything different than I have already pointed out- either here or in the comments. There are no real tubeless bead constructed 35-42mm tires, (other than a couple oddities such as the Stan's tire, a Bontrager, and a Specialized offering- The Schwalbe one mentioned is purely in the league of touring.)

Stan's Grail rim is only rated to 40psi with non-tubeless tires, as per the site link I researched. Road tubeless doesn't even come close to the width and volume necessary for gravel riding and cannot be considered as part of this conversation.

Pressures- I agree that when/if tires are made that are tubeless ready in the ranges we are discussing for pressures you are suggesting- You would be right. Guess what? These tires don't exist in an industry standard, "official" capacity. (WTB's Nano 40 TCS will be the first that has a rim to go with it) Can you "fudge it" and get by? That's Stan's whole reason for being in a nutshell. So, of course you would be a proponent of that line of thinking.

As I have stated- I am not saying it cannot be done by riders wanting to experiment and take the chances, but what I am saying is that riders have to experiment and take chances.

That's a big problem in my view, and one we've been through with regard to 29"er tires, as I have already outlined.

Again- thank you for your comments!

Shoeless Joe said...

Hi GT.

The Nextie 90mm Wild Dragon rim and specialized 4.6 inch tire go together with simply stans tape and soapy water. Add the goop after beading the tire up. Helps to use the tube to get one side on first and then can use a track pump. The rim has been designed to take surly and Vee tires of the large variety and it seems it doesn't stop there.

Great and so needed in the coutry i ride - with Matagouri thorn trees

Guitar Ted said...

@Shoeless Joe: Nextie is not Surly, and none of the tires mentioned by you are either. it is these "other" companies which make the QBP branded stuff look "off the back" (with the exception of the mentioned Whiskey #9 rim and Vanhelga tires)

Nextie is also one of those companies which will force traditional retailers to revamp their retail chain or "direct from China" will eventually put the clamps on the way things have been done. (I've been reading a lot about this very thing in trade papers)

And again- the tires and rims are not without their issues with each other. Field serviceability has been problematic if I read the forums correctly. My own personal experience setting up the Whiskey #9's would bear this out as well.

Scott Redd said...

It's all about that bead, 'bout that bead. No trouble.


This post on the BG blog sheds some light on the differences between the 700C and the 650B Rock and Road.

Michael H said...

I am doing the Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, CA this Sunday. It is 100 miles with more pavement than dirt. People who have ridden the course say they did it tubeless with pressures on the firmer side, closer to 60 psi. My plan is to run Grails with Trigger 33s with at least 45 psi. I am a little concerned about durability so hoping the higher pressure will help. But herein lies our gravel dilemma, we need a tubeless tire that can cover a broad psi range. Right now I have two setups, a set of Iron Cross' with WTB Nano 40c for bumpier courses where traction is more of an issue and the Grails mentioned above. I also have a pair of Black Mamba Tubeless CX tires but can find no feedback on how this tires hold up and perform.

Unfiltered Dregs said...

Ritchey has a tubeless specific 35mm tire, the WCS Shield, someone here mentioned the Nano 40c, tubeless compatible, the specialized 2Bliss pro comes in at 38mm...True tubeless options exist, not widespread yet.

The gentleman from Stan's doesn't realize Schwable has a few tubeless tires that are 28mm and greater as well, not just the Hutch Sector.

Unknown said...

Agreed with above. The Schwable One 25mm measures out to around 28.5mm on Grail rims, the 28mm to just around 30mm. That is a solid combination for fast (and this year dry) gravel/road races like Gorge Roubaix in Oregon.