Converting your mountain bike tires to tubeless is one of THE BEST upgrades you can make to improve your bike’s handling and performance.
But won’t tubeless tires feel different? Don’t tubes protect against punctures? How would tires even stay inflated without tubes??
Tubeless tires do feel a bit different than tires with tubes; Going tubeless allows you to run lower tire pressure, which improves traction, reduces weight, reduces the risk of punctures and does even make your ride more comfortable.
Some of the advantages of tubeless tires are significant, while others aren’t really noticeable. Let’s break down all the benefits of tubeless tires so you can decide whether it’s something you want to do, how much it will cost to go tubeless, and the steps to doing it yourself if you’re a DIY kind of person.
How Tubeless Tires Feel (Compared to Tube Tires)
Do Tubeless Tires Feel Lighter?
Tubeless tires are lighter because, well, they don’t have tubes in them. But it’s unlikely you’ll notice any difference.
The average set of bike tubes weighs about 400 grams, or about 0.8lbs. Not very significant. And tubeless tires require liquid tire sealant to work properly, which negates most of the weight savings from ditching the tubes.
However, if you were going to save weight anywhere, the tires are a good place to do it.
Lighter tires will be easier to accelerate and decelerate: imagine pushing two wheels of cheese down a hill (yeah, there’s actually an annual competition in England…a pretty violent one at that): one weighs 10lbs and the other 20lbs. Which will be easier to get moving? And which would you rather be in front of at the bottom trying to stop?
The felt difference might be minimal, but there are many other reasons to convert to tubeless.
Do Tubeless Tires Feel Faster?
As I mentioned, lighter tires will be easier to get up to speed, and they also reduce rolling resistance. But what reduces rolling resistance more significantly is a tire’s air pressure and tread pattern.
Tires are designed with unique tread patterns for different purposes. Some have huge knobs that help bite into dirt and mud. These tires have excellent traction, but don’t roll as fast. Other tires have small, closely packed knobs, which sacrifice grip for faster rolling. The tread you choose depends on the conditions you ride in.
The same can be said for tire pressure. Inflating your tires more will reduce rolling resistance, but will also reduce traction and their ability to grip in corners. Letting some air out improves grip, but at the cost of a slower roll.
Choose the tire first based on your riding requirements, then convert it to tubeless!
Do Tubeless Tires Feel More Maneuverable?
Once again, maneuverability is going to come down to other factors. Sure, lighter tires are more maneuverable, but we’ve already seen that the tubeless conversion hardly saves weight.
Tread pattern and air pressure call the shots here as well. A tread pattern designed for more grip will give you better ground contact, allowing you to move the bike more precisely. Running lower air pressure will have the same effect. Firmer tires with a less pronounced tread pattern will roll faster, but also have the tendency to slide out easier.
However, the factor that has the greatest impact on maneuverability is tire size. So if you’re shopping for a bike and want something more nimble and playful, consider a 27.5 over a 29er.
Do Tubeless Tires Provide Better Grip?
Ok, so far every answer has been “…well kind of, but not really.”
But here’s one area where tubeless tires absolutely have an advantage.
Tubeless tires provide significantly better grip than tires with tubes. And it’s due to the fact that you can run lower air pressure in tubeless tires. Softer tires form to the shape of the ground better, resulting in greater contact area and more traction.
Why not just run lower pressure in your tube tires? Because then you run the risk of frequent pinch flats. These occur when your tube gets pinched between the tire rim and a hard object on the ground. Underinflated tubes have a tendency to pop when this happens. But with tubeless tires, there isn’t a tube to pop!
Tubeless tires improve grip while also eliminating one of the most common ways your tires will go flat.
Do Tubeless Tires Feel Softer?
If you’re worried that tubeless tires will feel spongy compared to tires with tubes, fear not! Tubeless tires can be inflated just as much as tube tires, and will feel exactly the same on the outside. But the benefit of tubeless tires is that you can get away with running lower pressure!
Super firm tires might seem like the way to go, but it all depends on the conditions you’re riding. If your trails are rocky (think Moab, Utah), then slightly higher tire pressure will help the tires maintain shape and prevent rim damage when hitting hard surfaces. If your trails are wet and muddy (like the Pacific Northwest), softer tires will find grip under all that mud.
Don’t have a clue what tire pressure to start out with? No worries. The right tire pressure for you will be based on your weight and the trail conditions you ride. Check out THIS ARTICLE for a comprehensive guide to getting your tire pressure dialed. Once you’ve got it figured out, you’ll notice an instant improvement in your performance!
Are Tubeless Tires More Comfortable?
When it comes down to it, the lower tire pressure and improved traction will help smooth out the trail, leading to a more comfortable ride. It will be subtle, but the more miles you rack up on your bike, the more you’ll probably notice the difference.
Are Tubeless Tires Worth It?
Tubeless tires are (marginally) lighter and faster, offer better grip, and provide superior puncture protection compared to tube tires. But how much does this conversion cost? Are all these benefits worth the price? And if you’re a DIYer, how much of a hassle will it be to ditch your tubes?
How Much Does It Cost to Convert Tires to Tubeless?
If you want to go tubeless, you’ll need to buy the following items:
- Tubeless compatible tires (yours probably are already, but double check!)
- Rim tape
- Tubeless valve stems
- Tire sealant
- Tire lever(s)
Tires are the most expensive item on this list: a quality pair will run anywhere from $120-180 or more. However, most tires that come stock on decent mountain bikes will be tubeless compatible…meaning they’re designed to be run either with or without tubes.
Everything else on that list should cost no more than $50-60: a great value for the benefits tubeless tires provide.
Wondering if tubeless tires still get flats? Check out our article “Do Tubeless Bike Tires Lose Air? (Is it Normal?)” to find out.
How Do You Convert Tires to Tubeless?
Unlike some of the other DIY mountain bike projects I’ve written about, converting tires to tubeless is a simple process, even for the garage mechanic! Just follow these steps:
- Remove wheels from bike and deflate tires completely
- Use tire levers to remove tire from wheel
- Remove tube from tire
- Apply rim tape to inside rim surface starting at valve, overlapping tape by a few inches
- Use a small knife or pick to poke a hole through tape where valve stem will go
- Install tubeless valve stem in rim
- Seat one side of tire onto rim
- Pour the recommended amount of tubeless tire sealant into tire
- Seat other side of tire onto rim
- Inflate tire to ensure it has seated properly
For the visual learners, follow along with this video and you should have no issues:
Going Tubeless is a No-Brainer!
Converting your tires to tubeless is one of the easiest and cheapest upgrades you can make that will have a significant impact on your riding performance. Ask 100 serious riders if they run tubeless tires, and I bet 99 of them would say yes. Tubes just really aren’t necessary anymore!
Remember: the tires are the ONLY part of your bike in contact with the ground, so they’re vital to your ability to maintain control on the trail. Anything that improves your tires’ performance is a worthwhile upgrade, and should be considered a priority before adding any fancy components or bling to your bike!