Introduction by Rick: I was in the process of putting this exact article together, but my friend Jim Langley (http://www.jimlangley.net) beat me to it. Jim published this to Road Bike Rider’s Current Newsletter Issue 616 (http://www.roadbikerider.com). Road Bike Rider is a great little newsletter that is free to subscribe to.
This article describes current compatibility issues that might/will cause road tubeless tires to roll off the rims.
Anyway, here’s the article by Jim Langley…
Staying safe riding road tubeless wheels/tires
A couple of emails came in recently from roadies who were running road tubeless wheels and tires and had them come off the wheel in corners. One of them managed to stay upright and stop safely, but the other suffered road rash and a broken hand.
I’m not going to name any names or point any fingers at companies or manufacturers. However, I would like to help you stay safe. And, unfortunately, right now it’s very easy to end up on an unsafe tubeless tire setup. Here’s some background and what I recommend.
Road tubeless: tested, proven and safe
First, in case the technology is new to you, “tubeless road” is a relatively new type of road wheel and tire setup. Just like automobile tires, tubeless road bicycle wheels and tires are an airtight sealed system that makes inner tubes unnecessary. Sealant and special rim strips aren’t needed, either. You do need dedicated tubeless valves that attach to the rims and are supplied with the tubeless wheelset.
RBR was one of the first to talk about this technology. I did one of the industry’s first full reviews of road tubeless technology in RBR, including a product review of Shimano tubeless wheels and Hutchinson tubeless tires.
Removing the tube from the equation provides two significant advantages: 1) No more pinch flats to worry about; and 2) Since you needn’t worry about pinch flats, you can run much lower pressure and enjoy a lot more comfort on every ride, and feel less fatigue from road vibration, too.
Another interesting feature of these tires is that, should you flat (debris can still cause punctures), you can actually cruise along on the flat tire without it rolling off the rim; not to finish a long ride, but to get somewhere safe, if needed.
I haven’t run into anyone who has ridden them for awhile and doesn’t love the ride of tubeless tires/wheels. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t supported the new standard very well, and there are currently only a handful of true tubeless road tires and wheelsets available.
Also, because creating a sealed rim is an engineering puzzle, there are no true tubeless rims available (I’ve seen prototypes, but they never made it to market), which means that if you want to upgrade, you need to buy a tubeless wheelset and tubeless tires, an expensive proposition.
Tubeless conversions with tubeless-ready or tubeless-compatible: BEWARE
This situation has caused a demand for a less expensive alternative to true tubeless technology, and there are now tubeless conversion kits that let you install special rim strips and valves into your standard wheels to run them as tubeless. You must use sealant, as it’s the only way to completely seal these tubeless conversion setups.
To go along with these kits there are now tires called tubeless-ready or tubeless-compatible. And, that’s where these two riders who had their tires roll off got into trouble. They used tubeless conversion kits and started with Hutchinson Fusion tires, which are true tubeless tires (Hutchinson helped invent the road tubeless standard). This setup worked fine.
When their Hutchinson’s wore out, they wanted to try lighter tires (tubeless tires are heavier than standard tires due to having stouter sidewalls, which help support the tires and keep the tubeless system airtight). So, they went with lighter tires that were tubeless-ready, and these were the tires that rolled on them. Since the tires were lighter, it stands to reason that they probably did not have the reinforced sidewalls needed to stay put.
Stick with true tubeless tires and stay safe
The moral to the story is that if you want to run road tubeless and fully and safely enjoy this new technology, and you can afford to, you should upgrade to genuine tubeless wheels and tires. In addition to 100% dependability, this system requires no special rim strip or sealant, meaning it’s a simpler setup to run.
The main drawback is that until other tire companies start making tubeless tires (not the risky tubeless-ready and tubeless-compatible ones we’re seeing), you have very few tire choices. The only tire I’ve been able to fully test are Hutchinson’s Fusions, in fact. They ride phenomenally; however, they are slightly heavy and wear more quickly than I would like.
If you can’t afford to upgrade to tubeless wheels/tires, or need to keep your current wheels (maybe you have a watt-meter hub, for example), tubeless conversion kits should work fine as long as you run true tubeless tires, like Hutchinson’s. But, based on what I’m hearing from more sources than just these two riders, I would caution against running tubeless-ready or tubeless-compatible tires right now.
Road tubeless conversion kits are popular. If you’re using one and have ridden it enough to know it’s 100% safe, help your fellow roadies stay safe by chiming in with a helpful comment sharing what kit, rims and tires you’re running.
Jim Langley has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for 38 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached 7,391.