|Selection of Orange Seal products for tubeless set ups.|
First: I think it is very important to understand that tubeless tires are not for everyone, nor do you need tubeless tires in many cases.
I think this is good to let settle in on your brain. Many shop employees and media wonks are sold on tubeless tires and think everyone should use them, but many people would actually be frustrated and ride less with tubeless set ups. This is because tubeless tires require more maintenance and are technically more challenging than tubed tire set ups, generally speaking. So...why do tubeless tires at all?
First of all, it is often not the case at all that tubeless tires are lighter than tubed set ups. Sometimes they are, (most often with fat bikes, this is the case), so don't go tubeless for the lighter weight. That gain- if there is one- is negligible for most bicycles. Do consider tubeless tires if you get a lot of punctures from goat heads, thorns, or if you are sensitive to how tires perform. If you can tell the difference between a few psi less or more, or if you can feel the difference in tire brands/products/models easily, or if you want more traction, a softer ride, and if you crave lower rolling resistance, you'll like a tubeless tire. If none of that registers with you, then those reasons for going tubeless will be lost on you.
Tubed tires, when they are not punctured, require almost zero maintenance. Theoretically, you can run a tube in a tire until the tire wears out, put that tube in a new tire, and probably a third and fourth tire if you never flat. Air up your tires on a regular basis and that's it. Boom! Go ride.....
|Tubeless tires require sealant to work, and therein lies the reason for maintaining these set ups.|
How often do you have to replenish sealant? Well.....that depends. It may only take a month if you use a fast coagulating "race day sealant", or your sealant may last six months. Regular checking is key. Doing this is easy. You can read about how to check your tires for sealant level, the tools I recommend to do it with, and see the "MG Secret Sauce" tubeless goop recipe I often use at THIS LINK.
Checking sealant levels are only one part of the maintenance scheme though. You also need to check your tires for build up, your tape, and your valve stems every year. At least once a year. The reason is that sealant carriers break down adhesives, which is what your tape relies on to seal off the spoke bed of your rims. Sealant often builds up inside a tire, making them heavier, for one thing, but sealant also builds up on valves as well. Sealant can also break down a tire casing from the inside, which needs checking. Finally, air pressure, tire removal/remounting, or time can cause rim tape to fail.
|An example of failed rim tape. You can see where the sealant has crept under the tape here.|
If you weren't aware, or maybe you never thought about this before, but tires are basically fabric with a layer of vulcanized rubber over it. In the most basic of terms, that is what makes up your bicycle tires. Sure- it's a lot more complex than that, but for purposes of this discussion, remembering the simple things is all that is necessary here.
Considering the fact that our bicycle tires are, for the most part, pared down to be usable with the least amount of material possible, it should be easy to understand that the forces of air and the chemicals in sealant work together to break down the integrity of a tire over time. This most often is seen as a casing that stretches. Tubed tires don't suffer from this as much due to the reinforcing nature of a tube. But this is also why tubed tires ride stiffer and have higher rolling resistance. Of course, tubed tires won't be adversely affected by sealant either.
You'll notice that a new tubeless tire may be super difficult to mount, but after a few months, you might take that same tire off and it almost falls off the rim. If you had taken the time to measure your tires with a Vernier calipers, when they were first mounted they would measure narrower than after they had been set up for a few days. Casing stretch is the reason for all of that. Each tire will react differently, so it is important to remember that swapping tires back and forth in tubeless set ups will, more than likely, render your tire useless after a while just due to stretch. By the way, fat bike tires are notorious for this issue.
My recommendation is to set up a set of tires and use them for a long time. Don't go swapping tires back and forth all the time, unless you just don't care. Also keep in mind that despite the fact that you should remove the tires once a year for inspection, the very act of doing so may render your tires almost useless as tubeless tires.
So, going tubeless does come with a LOT of caveats. For many it is absolutely worth it, but again- it isn't for everybody.
Next: Maintaining tape, valves, and sealant recovery methods I use.