Wednesday, July 10, 2019

State Of Tubelessness: 2019

Although most tires I test now are tubeless rated, a rare few are not, such as this Tioga Binary.
Note: For the last "State Of Tublessness" address, see the two part report HERE and HERE

It is 2019, and almost every new tire design is tubeless rated now, with rare exceptions to the rule. Road tires being the main category where tubes still rule. However; that seems poised to be changing soon as well.

Perhaps no where else in cycling, besides triathlon, does "race on Sunday, sell on Monday" rule what consumers do. Road racers in the Pro ranks have every item down to the last bit of bar tape and GPS data crunching software scrutinized by the cycling media. The writers of this material, produced from races such as the Tour de France and others, drive sales of gear and ideas to a large degree yet in 2019. While this may not be as strong a dynamic as it once was, it still is a major influencer on consumer's buying habits.

With that said, I noted that several media observers at the Tour were commenting on the uptick in tubeless racing tires and wheel usage at this year's Tour. It may take a few years, but if the product produces wins and is seen as a performance enhancing product, my bet is that road cyclists will be flocking to tubeless set ups within a short period of time. These same roadies probably already own gravel and/or MTB bikes that are tubeless, so the technology is not alien to most seasoned cyclists.

So, anymore, if a company produces a new model of tire that is not tubeless rated, it is an oddity, but that happened recently with Tioga's Binary model which I recently reviewed. While this seems weird, there was/is a really good reason that this didn't show up as a tubeless rated casing. I cannot tell you why that is due to an agreement, just that someday soon, a tubeless Binary will emerge, and no one will remember this first salvo into the gravel tire market by Tioga, as the tubeless rated version will, no doubt, be the one everyone will buy. But suffice it to say that tubed tires will, most likely, always be around. They just won't be the high end, performance models once tubelessness gets figured out.

My new-to-me Ti Muk 2 is tubeless. Fat bike tubelessness is a piece of "cake" now.
So, speaking of "figuring it out".....

One of my biggest pet peeves about fat bikes for the first several years that these beasts were available on a wide scale was that the tire and wheel technology was from the dark ages of cycling. Rims were horrible, tires were department store quality, and getting anything to set up tubeless was.....yeah, RIGHT! That was a whole garage-science fair time in fat bike history right there. The Rube Goldberg machine-like manners in which one had to engage in to set a fat bike tire up tubeless was, in a word, ludicrous. Happily now we can leave all that behind since "real tubeless tires" and wheels exist which make all that nonsense unnecessary.

This was never made more clear to me than when I set up my Terrene Tires Cake Eaters on the Whiskey carbon fat bike rims recently. The set up was super easy to do. They have performed above my expectations so far, retaining air better than my tubed fat bike wheels and tires, while rolling far easier than those old dinosaurs. There probably is no better candidate for tubeless tires in the bicycle world than fat bikes. The amount of tube scrubbing tire is just one reason why. I have some past experience with this as well.

I had set up some fat bike tires as tubeless back in the day using some, ahem!, rather sketchy techniques that including double sided mounting tape, Gorilla tape, and several hours of labor to achieve tubeless Nirvana. And it was "worth it" as far as results. The conversion saved a tiny bit of weight, but in terms of rolling resistance, the effect was greatly noticeable and made riding a fat bike far easier than with tubes. However; once the sealant dried up and the tape started to fail, well...... It was too much hassle to keep it maintained, so I went back to tubes until, one day, I could use proper tires and rims. And let me tell ya, it is still really worth it. But now, the maintenance part is super easy. Tubeless tires and rims for fat bikes are the way to go, hands down.

While the effects of rolling resistance lessen as the tube/tire size decreases, it is still there. I have a friend who just went tubeless on his gravel bike and was amazed by the way it rode better. So, while there are several benefits to this way of doing things, we can not ignore a few of the downsides. There are some major bummers, and therefore tubeless tires for bicycles still is not going to be for everyone. Futzing with sealant, maintaining the sealant levels, dealing with a different way of tire to rim interface, and having a few "no go" fits and difficulties with that sort of thing can really put people off. For some, especially those who are familiar with the "Ways Of The Toob", straying from the familiar path is just not tenable. Better to have your peace and sanity than a few less watts of rolling resistance and ride comfort.

Look for further musings on tubelessness in the future.


Phillip Cowan said...

I promised myself that when warm weather reappeared I would take out my tubes and put back the sealant. I haven't done it yet. I just don't feel like keeping up with the sealant maintenance. Sorry, not sorry. The sealant is the weak link in the system. Nobody uses sealant in car or motorcycle tires and eventually someone will engineer it for bike tires. I look forward to the day when the only sealant on the bike will be a 2oz bottle of Stan's in your bag for emergency flats. I realise that bike tires are more supple(there's that word again) than car or motorcycle tires so it's harder to engineer a bead interface that will seal dry and not weigh a ton but I think it can be done. First guy or gal to do it stands to be very rich.

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan- Actually, it has already been done, which should come as no surprise. Mavic did it with their collaboration with Michelin, Hutchinson, and a couple others when they developed UST. True, licensed UST is a standard which dictates a tire must hold air without sealant.

I actually had a UST 29"er tire and can confirm that - yes- they do what Mavic claims.But the "price" one pays for sealed casing convenience is steep in grams. I've written about this several times, but I had one model of tire in three versions. The GEAX Saguaro came in folding bead, tubeless ready (TNT) , and true, full on UST. The weight differences were enormous. The folder being lightest, of course, and the UST weighing in at half again as much as the folding bead tire.

Besides the steep weight penalty, the casing was far stiffer, having been sealed by using an extra layer of butyl rubber. Obviously, UST is not very common anymore for bicycle tires, however, I would not be at all surprised to see it make a return in the form of Hybrid Powered Bike (e-bike) tires where weight is insignificant compared to fully human powered bicycles. But even then, it is my belief that sealant will always be part of the game due to the complexity of getting wheels off those motorized bikes. (Thinking about the commuter/bike share types.)

Anyway, in my view, until a materials technology comes along that supersedes over a century of tire casing development and technology, we will be using tubeless ready tires with sealant for the foreseeable future.

Phillip Cowan said...

Yes, I was aware of the UST tires but I couldn't remember the parties involved and didn't want to show my ignorance lol. I read up on them when they came out but about the only thing I remember as you say they are godaweful heavy. I'm holding out hope that someone will come up with a lighter system.