Tubeless tires are known to be difficult to set up, require regular maintenance and are not necessarily inexpensive to set up, so are they really worth it for a mountain bike?
Well, tubeless tires allow the rider to run lower tire pressures, increasing the surface area of contact between the tire and the ground. This significantly boosts the traction and provides a smoother ride quality. For riding in technical terrain or descending into corners quickly, the upgrade to tubeless tires undoubtedly provides a boost in performance that is worth the hassle and cost of the upgrade.
Tubeless tires also eliminate the concern of pinch flats, since there is no tube to pinch on big hits or rough terrain. The possibility of getting a flat with tubeless tires is significantly decreased and is yet another substantial benefit to a tubeless set-up.
Let’s address in detail some of the obstacles that dissuade riders from converting to tubeless and why the benefits outweigh the obstacles.
Difficulty of Initial Tubeless Set-Up
It is well-known that setting your bike up tubeless can be troublesome and frustrating. However, there are many tips, tricks and tutorials available online to help make your conversion as painless as possible.
If you have not already done so, we would encourage you to read through our short article, “Why did my tubeless tire go flat,” which discusses the common difficulties encountered during the initial setup. It also includes many tips and tricks to ensure the success of your conversion.
With some time spent researching and a bit of patience, the initial set-up of tubeless tires can be a relatively easy and fun experience. Personally, I think the most gratifying experience is learning how to perform a new repair/installation and successfully performing it on your own bike. For that reason, I would encourage you to try your hand at your own tubeless conversion.
If you are still dissuaded by the thought of performing your own conversion, you can always have your local bike shop complete the conversion for you. Although bike shops are a more expensive option, tubeless conversions are relatively cheap compared to other repairs and tune-ups.
Cost of Tubeless Conversion
Some cyclists are deterred from tubeless conversion due to the upfront cost that is associated with it. However, the cost varies greatly depending on whether your bike is tubeless-ready. Most, although not all, modern mountain bikes come with tubeless-ready rims and tires, making the transition to tubeless as simple and inexpensive as possible.
If both your wheels and tires are tubeless-ready, then you are in luck and will have a very small cost to convert to tubeless. They likely already contain rim tape, so the only materials you will need to purchase are tubeless valve stems, tubeless sealant, and an injector (typically included with the bottle of sealant). Assuming you have a bike pump or access to a compressor, this is all you need to set up your tubeless tires, totaling less than $30.
- PRESTA VALVE STEM: Removable valve core makes adding sealant easy.
- HIGH-QUALITY MATERIAL: Made of brass, these Presta tubeless valve stems are durable and versatile.
- FITS MOST RIMS: Compatible for almost any tubeless bike rim sizes, including both road and mountain bikes.
- PRODUCT MEASUREMENTS: Includes two 35-mm brass Presta valves with removable cores and rubber caps.
- GENUINE STAN'S PRODUCT: When you buy this product, you will receive authentic Stan's NoTubes item.
- REGULAR FORMULA: This is our go-to tire sealant for all bicycle disciplines...
- FAST SEALING: A primary goal of running tubeless tires is to keep riding without...
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On the other hand, if your rims and tires are not tubeless ready, there is a more substantial upfront cost to the conversion. Rims and tires that are not tubeless ready simply will not work for a tubeless conversion, so you will need to purchase new, tubeless ready tires and/or rims. This will drive up the cost of the conversion by at least $100.
For someone with a tubeless-ready bike, the cost to convert to tubeless is negligible and should hardly be considered. For someone who needs to purchase new rims or tires, the cost is much more significant, but, regardless, the performance benefits far outweigh the cost, in my opinion.
Converting to tubeless certainly benefited my riding, inspiring more confidence on descents and fast corners. The peace of mind that comes along with a tubeless set-up justifies the initial cost, especially for riders with a tubeless-ready build.
Inner tubes require virtually no maintenance: air them up, and they are ready to go. Over many years, dry rot could be a potential issue, but that’s it. While tubeless tires do require comparatively more maintenance, the required maintenance is minimal.
Tubeless tires are so effective at flat prevention because of the excess sealant that remains in the tire. In the event of a puncture or air leak, the sealant plugs up the leak and dries, allowing the rider to keep on riding without losing additional air.
Over time, the sealant in the tire dries naturally and is used up to seal small leaks. This causes the sealant level to reduce over time. Due to this, it is very important to top up the sealant level every six months. Be sure to add the appropriate amount of sealant corresponding to your tire size/volume.
Other than adding sealant at regular intervals, tubeless tires require virtually no maintenance. One piece of advice is to continue carrying a spare inner tube in your seat pack. In the event of a disastrous flat, a puncture so large that even the sealant can’t plug the leak, having a spare inner tube can get you aired up and back to riding, at least long enough to get you home.
Tubeless tires provide a significant performance boost over the traditional, inner tube set-up. The increased traction and comfort inspire confidence and allow you to worry less about loosing traction or getting sidelined by a flat. The difficulties that come along with the tubeless conversion are minor and, in my opinion, easily surmountable.
I strongly encourage anyone who is considering tubeless not to hesitate. The performance benefits far outweigh the difficult set-up and the added maintenance requirement. Furthermore, the expense for a tubeless setup is negligible, and the performance boost is substantial. If that doesn’t represent the ideal equation for a high-value upgrade, then I don’t know what does.
I went tubeless a long time ago, first on my mountain bike, then on my gravel bike. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to make the transition, and now I will never go back to running inner tubes. Jump on the tubeless train; you will not regret it.
Mitchell Turk is outdoors enthusiast with a lifelong passion for bicycling. He previously worked at his local bike shop before entering the world of engineering, and he may even enjoy geeking out over bike tech more than riding his bike!
Originally a roadie, Mitch dabbled in mountain biking for a couple years and then jumped on the gravel bike bandwagon. He now spends his free time seeking out gravel rides and weekend-long excursions. His ideal outing combines biking, hiking, and climbing for a whole-mountain adventure.