The benefit of tubeless tires on bicycles is profound. Your tires are your connection to the ground. There is simply no other modification you can make to your bike that will have a more direct and profound effect on its handling than the right tires. There are numerous reasons why no matter what tread pattern or rubber durometer you choose, it will perform better under almost any conditions if it is tubeless.
Tubeless tires rose to popularity in mountain bikes because their combination of reduced rolling resistance and better traction could really shine here, even though early tubeless tires had their challenges. Retaining air pressure was an issue with leakage through the carcass (body of the tire), and at the bead. Because of this early tubeless tires were heavier than their tubed counterparts as they needed extra layers of rubber in their carcass and special bead construction to improve sealing.
The Basics of Tubeless Tires
Tubeless Tires have numerous benefits over conventional tubed or tubular tires. These benefits have to do with how the tubeless tire reacts and interacts differently than the other two.
Tubeless tires attach directly to the bead shelf of the rim and are held there by tire pressure the same as conventional tubed tires. This has been shown to be better for the stability of the tire both under inline and lateral acceleration. Tubular tires cannot handle lateral loading with the same stability that a beaded tire can.
What puts the tubeless tire out front in terms of performance is that without a tube it is free to interact with the ground without friction between the tube and tire carcass. The lack of friction between the tire carcass and the tube allows the tire to react as it should in realtime to new obstacles, instead of binding, creating heat, and handling variability as it would with a tube. This allows lower pressures to be run for better traction, while maintaining the desired rebound characteristics in the tire.
Another benefit of tubeless tires is that without the friction between the tube and the tire there is less heat produced and therefore less of a pressure increase under extreme use like downhill mountain bike races.
Better ground feel, more control, and more consistent breakaway (drift) are all good reasons to use tubeless tires on mountain bikes, but it took tire technology improving before the benefits became universally appreciated on other bikes.
When tubeless tire construction became more consistent and lightweight they gradually started to become the industry race standard. Not just on downhill mountain bikes, but more and more on cross country, road and even BMX.
Another defining technology for tubeless tires has been tire sealant. Tire sealants allowed the tire carcass to be thin while not leaking air and helped to prevent all but the worst flat tires. The tire sealant also helps to attach the tire carcass to the rim and seals in through even the largest impacts.
Benefits of Tubeless Tires on Road Bicycles
High performance athletics involves a balancing act while searching for incremental change. Traditionally in road racing trade offs were made in training to promote the durability of your equipment vs the need for maximum performance in races. Tires were a spot where the difference in performance between training clinchers and racing tubulars was known to be a problem.
Inconsistency between training and racing setups lead some racers to have less confidence in their tires when they really needed it, in races. Tubeless road tires allow for racers to train on race day like tires. This consistency can only have a beneficial effect on confidence and performance.
Tubeless tires are a component that allows you to positively affect ground feel, traction, and smooth ride, while reducing rolling resistance and rotational mass.
The one place where tubeless tires can get a bad reputation is in installation and maintenance. It is true that they take more work to set up and maintain, but the performance benefits outweigh the drawbacks for most habitual cyclists.
The benefits of tubeless tires on bicycles can be experienced by anyone. For many cyclists the thought of ever going back to using tube or tubular tires isn’t even an option. Once you go tubeless you will never look back.