Road Tubeless Update

Schwalbe Pro One tire
Schwalbe Pro One, 700×28, on Hed Belgium Plus rim

For almost two years I’ve been running road tubeless tires on my bike and I’ve commented about my experience here and here. It’s been an experiment on several fronts. In addition to using tubeless tires I have also been using sealant, which is optional although often recommended. I have the tires set up on HED Belgium rims, which at 25 mm are much wider than standard road rims usually at 20 mm. This allows the tires to take less of a “lightbulb” shape and actually increases the volume of air. This means I can run lower pressure and get a cushier ride. Whereas I usually run rims about 85 to 105 psi, I have been running the front tire at 45-50 psi and the rear tire at 55-60 psi without risk of bottoming or a pinch flat. Finally I’ve been riding on fire roads and some easier mountain bike trails with these tires despite running a strangely low spoke count of just 28 (32 is most common). The tires are Schwalbe Pro One, which are nominally 28 mm in width but on the wider rims they measure out about 30 mm. I think the only person in the club running a fatter road tire is Nancy on her 32 mm Continentals!

The bottom line is that these tires have been reliable after the initial teething issues I wrote about and have held up well on dirt. I’ve put almost 3,300 miles on these wheels and the tires are still going strong. I’ve had only two noticeable punctures both in the rear tire. I say “noticeable” because it is possible I’ve had more punctures but they may have sealed so quickly that I never saw them. That said I do check my tires after nearly every ride for signs of sealant, embedded objects, and lowered pressure and I haven’t noticed any other punctures. But two punctures in nearly two years is low for me. So I am guessing that in reality I have had other punctures but the sealant took care of them so quickly that I never had to deal with them.

At this point I can cautiously recommend tubeless for road. The main convenience is the ability to ride even after a puncture and without having to stop and replace a tube. The main inconvenience is getting sprayed with sealant after a puncture; fortunately sealant seems to be easy to wash out of clothes and it’s fairly easy to remove from your bike. If you run fenders, which I did in the winter, then you won’t have this problem. There is a problem that I yet to encounter but is a distinct possibility: getting a tire gash or a large puncture that sealant cannot plug. Guess what? You either walk home, call for help, or put in a new tube. If you’re the Boy Scout type, you’ll still be toting a spare tube, pump, and levers thus obviating any weight reduction by going tubeless. (You’ll need to carry a pump regardless because you never know how long it will take a puncture to seal. In one case the tire was down to 28 psi before sealing!) By the way putting a tube into a tire coated with sealant is messy, so pack a couple of latex or nitrile gloves too. You may have read about struggles others have had with tight beads on tubeless tires making it difficult or impossible to mount a tire. I haven’t had any issues with my set up.

The last thing I’ll say if you are contemplating going tubeless is that the paeans you read in cycling rags about the ‘magic carpet ride’ of tubeless road tires—“it’s like riding sewups!” is greatly overstated. Good tubeless tires have heavier casings than regular clincher tires and that makes the ride less supple. Another wheelset I have, which is very similar to my tubeless set, has expensive Michelin tires and latex inner tubes and it has an even cushier ride that IS just like setups! Of course when I get a flat on these tires it’s all old-school repair. But it’s clearly the better ride despite not being tubeless. An increase in comfort is primarily going to be function of the sophistication of the casing and the inflation, not because it’s tubeless.

2 thoughts on “Road Tubeless Update

  1. I, too, have switched to tubeless over the past year and a half. I agree on all your points. I use Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels, which came with Yksion pro 25mm tires. These tires are much lighter and smoother than the Conti GP 4000s ii tires + tubes I used before. But the back tire barely lasted 1000 mi and punctured very easily. I was constantly adding sealant to that tire, and cleaning it off the bike.

    Eventually it caught up to me and I got a puncture that didn’t self-seal because I’d run out of sealant. Luckily I had a tube with me, so my ride could continue. I now have a Schwalbe pro-one 28mm tire on the back. Much more sturdy, but the ride quality is not as good (the conti + tube is better). Also the Schwalbe tires are much harder to get on the rims. Two tire levers are minimum, whereas the Mavic tires I could use thumbs only. Initial seating of the tire also required an air compressor for me.

    I love that punctures generally seal in a few seconds. Usually I don’t even add air. For me, that’s the only benefit I’ve found (the weight savings are negligible IMO), but no flats is a biggie. Theoretically one could add sealant to an inner tube, but I’ve never tried it. I’ve read that latex inner tubes work best with sealant: That’s for someone else to test 😉 !

    My lessons learned: I carry a Stan’s no-tubes 2oz bottle (about $3 from bike shops) and valve core remover in my saddle bag: Much easier to add sealant than add a tube. I also bring a tube (but I’m the guy with the multi-tool, chain tool, spare link, tire boot, etc in my saddle bag), and wrap it in an old sock – the sock protects the tube, is useful for cleaning out the tire & wiping hands.


    1. I think we’re all on the learning curve with tubeless road tires and we’re all finding slightly different solutions. Stan’s didn’t work for me with the two rear punctures I had; the cuts didn’t seem all that big but Stan’s couldn’t seal one of them until the tire was down to 28 psi. If I added any air, it would blow the seal (even after hours of waiting) again. Orange Seal was able to handle both punctures and I can inflate up to my “normal” pressures again. But I know the day will come when I get a real gash on my tubeless tires and I may regret the decision. So I still carry a spare tube, levers, a patch kit, a boot, and a pump. BTW I’ve read that CO2 causes sealant to congeal immediately into dried snot (at least with Stan’s) and so you can’t use CO2 cartridges with tubeless tires. You have to carry a pump. So yeah, no weight savings. But not having to stop to repair a tube sure is nice! BTW I don’t need an air compressor with my setup: a plain old floor pump works to get those tires seated and inflated. I think the Schwalbe Pro One tires must have a really effective coating on the inside because I have just gone over a year without adding any Stan’s to my front tire. I just took it off to add more and discovered it was still full of liquid Stan’s! It didn’t try out at all. I’m next going to try some Compass tires but I understand they are not specifically tubeless and they’ll probably require more sealant maintenance than the Schwalbes.


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