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.