Monday, March 26, 2018

State Of Tubelessness: Ten Years Down The Road- Part 1

Some wheels, like these Irwin Cycling wheels here, make going tubeless super easy.
The other day I noted a thread in the forum that was started by someone a bit befuddled by the terminologies and what they meant when it comes to gravel tires. What rims fit which tires? What is UST? and more.

This prompted me to read through the thread and I did stop and add some context to it. But that said, it appears that there are a lot of confused individuals out there yet in 2018 when it comes to tubeless tires for bicycles.

I have, on occasion here on this blog, written a "State Of Tubelessness" post. The first one I could dig up was from 2010, but I had been writing about my trials and tribulations with tubeless tires almost from the onset of the blog in 2005. But for all intents and purposes, my real pursuit of going tubeless started in 2007, so I figured why not detail briefly what has happened over the past ten years in terms of tubeless tires for bicycles.

Obviously somewhere this all started and the beginnings of tubeless tires in our era started in the late 90's with a guy by the name of Stan Koziak. You know his company by the name of "Stan's", but the full name of the company is "Stan's NoTubes", which should give you a clue as to what sort of tires his system are meant for. Stan's was, and still is, a system for converting non-tubeless tires to tubeless usage. That specifically means folding bead and wire bead performance tires that were never meant to be tubeless. Of course, you can run tubeless tires on Stan's rims, but not all will fit.

A set of ZTR Flow rims I still have were tried with many tires in the past.
Once tubeless ready tires came to market, Stan's didn't push the conversion thing too hard. In fact, they dabbled in their own tires for a bit, but even that went by the wayside. Stan's just kept being Stan's and they kept growing as a company, mainly because tire and rim manufacturers couldn't get together on a single standard for tubeless tires. Not that it wasn't tried, or successful, because there is a standard, but it requires a licensing fee. Not something many companies are willing to pay for.

Of course, that standard is UST, or Uniform System Tubeless, which Mavic, Hutchinson, and Michelin first developed in 1999. Later a few other companies would adopt the standard, most notably GEAX/Vittoria, but for the most part, the stringent dimensions and testing protocol of UST wasn't adopted by the industry universally. This caused UST to be pretty much pigeonholed to the XC racer set, and most average mountain bikers were not getting into UST in the early 00's. The fact that true, air-tight tubeless tires were a lot heavier than their folding bead counterparts was also a part of this.

 Meanwhile, 29"ers were becoming a thing, and the rim and tire manufacturers were standing off from adopting any single standard until things shook themselves out. This sort of played into the hands of Stan's who were the "average person's" tubeless "system" of choice. Obviously, Stan's made for a lighter weight set up, because you used a folding bead tire, which in some cases could be well over 200 grams lighter than a UST tire. The trouble with Stan's was that non-tubeless, folding bead tires were difficult to get sealed, didn't last long, and some were failing spectacularly due to the added stresses present without a tube to reinforce the bead and sidewall.

That all began to change in the late 00's as Trek/Bontrager/Fisher began to push for tubeless systems that they could use on their bikes. Since Bontrager sold tires, a system where tire, plastic "TLR" rim strip, and rim was developed which was very user friendly and worked tremendously well. But like UST before it, this was not an "open standard", so other companies were developing their own systems to compete. Specialized had "2Bliss", WTB developed "TCS", and rim manufacturers that did not make tires and tire manufacturers that did not make rims were left wondering what to do.

Rim companies, like Velocity, kind of shot for a :middle ground" in terms of design.
Many companies did not want to err so far toward the UST dimensions that other components would not fit and vice versa. Some of the systems, like WTB's TCS,were close to UST, but some were not. The companies whose tires were not right on the UST mark did so to fit Stan's rims, which were very slightly oversized. But these tires would still fit some other companies rims, which were somewhere in between the UST and the older. standard climcher/tube variances. Rims, like Velocity USA's, were made to fit a broader range of tires as well. Other companies adopted Stan's dimensions, while others erred closer to UST.

So, in 2018, you can probably see why it is that people get confused. Fit issues exist, and remember, tolerances don't need to vary much so that very small variances can mean that some components will not be compatible with others, despite the labels saying 700c, or 622ISO. This gives people fits, because if labels match up, components should as well, or so the thinking goes. However, saying 622ISO is the "fine measurement all should be at", is like thinking every square mile in the country is the same size. They are not, and neither is everyone's rims and tires. That may sound weird, but if you've ever tried mounting a Michelin tubeless tire on a Stan's rim, you know what I mean. You might get the two mounted to one another, but woe be to you if you have a catastrophic failure on a ride and you think you are getting a tube in there.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow....


Skidmark said...

My customers said just quit being a jerk and make it work.

blooddoc23 said...

That's a great write up! I finally kind of get it now.

blooddoc23 said...

About the only thing I can count on with my Stans wheel set is their ability to stretch out new tubulars before gluing.

Lyle said...

I was wondering what fenders you are running so that you can fit them and the 650b Byway 47 on the Tamland, I'd like to do the same. Thanks.

Guitar Ted said...

@Lyle- They are just some old Zefal fenders I found abandoned at the shop where I work. A Planet Bike Cascadia fender should work well if you want something new.

Doug M. said...

Always enjoy these posts. Thanks for keeping the details straight for the rest of us!