Do you need tubeless tires on your road bike?

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Road riders like you have so far done just fine with a tire and independent tube, which can be repaired or replaced in the instance of a puncture. Easy to find and easy to fix, inner tubes have been the go-to solution for pneumatic tires for more than a century so why change now?

If you’d rather spend more time on the side of the road fixing pinch flats or plucking tiny shards of glass that have pierced your tire and let all the air out, stick with the standard. If on the other hand, you’d prefer to spend more time riding, then a tubeless setup could be for you.

With tubeless tires you can get better traction with lower tire pressure, maintain consistent momentum, and ride virtually puncture-free. They aren’t without their cons however, and there are a few when it comes to putting them on your road bike.

The automotive industry went tubeless decades ago, which isn’t to say that the technology laterally transfers to road bikes – you likely have different needs. Depending upon where you ride and what your budget is are big influencers, as are other factors. Keep reading to decide if you need tubeless tires on your road bike.

What are tubeless bike tires?

As the name suggest, there’s no tube to hold air. Instead, the tires, rim, and valve all seal in air when the tires are inflated to pressure. An airtight seal is achieved by: the tire’s design, which features a bead that locks onto the rim; rim tape or a solid rim bed that prevents leaks; and tubeless sealant, which seals small punctures where air might slowly escape.

Bicycle tire compounds are often proprietary formulas that are closely guarded by manufacturers. High tech tubeless tire compounds use state-of-the-art ingredients to yield performance characteristics like suppleness and grip.

While chemical engineering factors into the overall price for “going tubeless,” it’s not the only thing that counts.

What’s needed to ride tubeless

If you read “expensive” into the above sentence, it’s important to point out that tubeless tires aren’t cost-prohibitive, yet they do command a higher price than a traditional tire-and-tube setup (called clinchers). Let’s drill down into the details to see why that may be.

  • Rim compatibility – dedicated tubeless rims are designed to interlock with tubeless tires to create an airtight seal under pressure. The rim bed and valve hole are also engineered to be airtight when fitted with the tire and valve. There are three main tubeless systems that are defined by rim design, which we’ll go over below.

  • Sealant process – Tubeless tire sealant is the special sauce that makes tubeless tires so practical for most users. A fluid measurement of sealant is inserted into the tubeless tire – either by pouring it directly into the deflated tire or by injecting it into the valve. The tire gets inflated usually until an audible pop lets you know that the tire is seated in place.

  • Type of valve – Neither Presta nor Schrader, tubeless valves are in a class all their own. Standard features include a vulcanized rubber base, removable core (for injecting sealant), and a locknut to hold the valve flush against the tire rim. If they are not made from aluminum alloy, they will likely be made out of good old reliable brass.

When making the switch, riders “go tubeless” as opposed to simply switching tire systems.

How to go tubeless

First, you’ll need the right wheels for the job. There are currently three main tubeless systems to choose from. They are:

  • Tubeless-ready – the category leader, tubeless-ready wheels typically have bead locks that “hook” tubeless tires to the rim and become airtight when fully inflated. Bead lock designs vary among brands – perhaps to navigate patents – as do spoke beds, which can be sealed with tape or are designed without spoke holes so no air can ever escape. There are also hookless rims that are exclusively compatible with tubeless tires, but their performance benefits are a subject of debate.

  • Tubeless compatible – This type of rim also has a bead lock but no sealed rim bed. In fact, the components for this system are the same as tubeless-ready, you may just have to invest in some small parts, like tubeless rim tape, valve, and sealant, to go tubeless. Some traditional rims can be converted into tubeless with the same modest investment.

  • UST (Universal System Tubeless) – this is a proprietary patent held by Mavic, which first introduced it for mountain bikes in 1999. It’s a hooked bead lock system that features a tire with an impenetrable butyl rubber layer. This casing makes the tire heavier however Mavic seems to have evolved the system for its road tubeless-tire system and uses sealant, perhaps doing away with the weighty casing.

Now that you’ve selected the right tubeless system for you, these are the basic steps for installing your system.

How to install your tubeless tires

The process is pretty much the same for all three systems because you’re aiming for tires that hold air no matter which system you choose.

  1. Inspect the rim beads for warping, cracks, defects, or anything that could prevent an airtight seal. Inspect the tire beads for imperfections like small tears or absent rubber. Clean the rim and tire beads with rubbing alcohol to remove any contaminants, let dry thoroughly.

  2. Apply rim tape if necessary. Stretch it and press down firmly on each spoke hole to eliminate air bubbles and avoid wrinkles. Ideally use one continuous strip of tape and leave some overlap to ensure a tight seal. Poke a hole through the tape for the valve.

  3. Insert the valve into the rim. Screw on the locknut without tightening it just yet.

    1. Tip: tubeless tire valves with removable cores make adding sealant to the tire far easier than pouring it into a partially unmounted one.

  4. Mount the tire – you’ll need tire levers (preferably plastic) to mount the tire on the rim. If you’re pouring sealant in, leave a section of tire unmounted.

  5. Add sealant – the recommended amount in ounces or milliliters should appear on the bottle, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for best results.

How to inflate tubeless tires

Once you’ve mounted your tires and added sealant, inflate your tires to maximum pressure (an air pressure range is typically printed or embossed on the tire’s sidewall). If you used the pour-in method to add sealant, you may need an air compressor to quickly inflate your tires. Some pump manufacturers have embraced tubeless technology by creating floor pumps that blast air into your tubeless tire.

            Pro tip: when inflating your tires, position the valve at 9 or 3 o’clock. Never pump your tires with the valve at 6 o’clock because you may unleash a fountain of sealant that’ll erupt out of your valve.

Rotate your wheel to distribute the sealant throughout the interior, even give your wheel a few shakes to make sure you coat the inner surface. Tighten the locknut until it is flush against the rim.

Setting up your tubeless tire system seems easy enough except that going tubeless on your road bike may be more of a hassle than it’s worth. The high pressure required by road tires eliminates one of the most desirable benefits of tubeless tires: the ability to run low tire pressure to gain better traction and acceleration out of curves without the risk of flatting or rolling the tire.

Yet when you suddenly find yourself coasting over a bed of shattered glass on your road bike, you’ll have a better chance of escaping the consequences with tubeless tires.

Pro’s and Con’s of tubeless tires

The lopsided list below might just talk you out of installing tubeless tires on your road bike yet consider this, if you generally ride on rough roads close to home and time is more valuable than money, can you afford not to go tubeless?



Fewer punctures and puncture repairs


Better traction

Tricky mounting and set up process

Ride experience

Sealant requires maintaining






A lot of carry-alongs for repairs


Sealant can sometimes clog valves


Less performance for road riding

Advocates for tubeless road tires hail their ride quality and speed for tires that generally range between 28 and 32mm. Anything narrower and you may be better off with a traditional tire-and-tube system.

Yet, as road riding keeps going farther off-road (or at least off main roads) where ride surfaces are questionable, a road bike with tubeless tires will keep you rolling fast and flat-free better than a road bike with tires and inner tubes.

How do you know which kind of road bike tire is right for you?

Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  • Where do you usually ride your road bike?

  • What’s your budget?

  • What’s your level of expertise?

Rather than go it alone on deciding whether to go tubeless for your road bike, get advice from a Cycling Avenue expert who can help you iron out your doubts. You can choose the expert who best matches your needs and book a free 20-minute video chat to answer all your questions about tubeless tire systems for road bikes.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose an advisor and a time slot that’s best for you.

  2. Answer a few quick questions on your level of cycling experience.

  3. Your consultation is confirmed! At the time of your meeting, you’ll join using a Microsoft Teams link provided by Cycling Avenue.

Wanting to go tubeless is different from needing to go tubeless and, to draw a comparison, there was a time when no one thought they needed disc brakes on their road bike. Now try a fast descent in wet weather without them. The point here is that you may find that you need tubeless tires on your road bike once you’ve analyzed your circumstances. These final tips will help you get closer to your decision:

  • Assess your current bike – are your wheels tubeless-compatible? You may not need to invest in a new set of wheels if you can convert your current ones to tubeless.

  • Consider where you ride – if you feel that tubeless tires will improve your current ride quality, then upgrade away. If you aspire to improve your current ride quality, ask a Cycling Avenue expert what you have to gain or lose by going tubeless.

  • Determine your budget – how much you have to spend on going tubeless will dictate which system you can afford.

  • Get real about your mechanical expertise – one of the biggest cons to going tubeless is the installation process. If you’re comfortable working on your own bike, you might be able to get a little spendier with the system you choose if you don’t have to pay for the labor to install it.

  • Enjoy the ride! – if you choose to go tubeless on your road bike once you’ve read this article, be assured that you won’t look back and second-guess your decision.

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Further reading

Road bike sizing can vary significantly among brands, which is the main reason for finding your bike size before you buy. A bike that’s a perfect fit also helps you ride more efficiently, avoid injury, and simply makes riding more fun. Understanding what affects bike sizing will not only help you choose wisely but will give you more control over how to fine tune your fit.

Looking for road bike upgrades that’s worth the spending in 2023? Here’s 6 best upgrades for road bike tires, wheels, groupset, handlebar, frame and power meter!