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Tubeless vs Regular - for Road/Gravel bikes

Most (if not all) of us have had a flat while on an epic bike ride. I find it frustrating when it happens. I have been debating about going tubeless or even filling in slime in my tubes. What are your thoughts on one over the other ? Does going tubeless mean no more flats ever ? Do slime filled tubes have any disadvantage compared to the regular inner tube ? Do these features make a difference if you are mainly a road biker and don't need to ride on gravel ?

I welcome your expert opinion and eager to learn from your experience. Thank you for your attention to this message.

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Re: Tubeless vs Regular - for Road/Gravel bikes

I'm more familiar with them for MTB, but the basics still apply to road/gravel.

You can still get flats: the slime will only fix holes up to a certain size, so if you're unlucky enough to run over just the wrong thing you'll still be on the side of the road with your tire levers. But it will seal up the smaller punctures that are more likely to occur regularly. There are products affectionately known as "bacon strips" that help plug up bigger holes to get you home, but that tire would still probably need replacing after getting back. And you can always throw a spare tube in if you need to.

Disadvantages of tubeless:

  • Can be finicky to set up with the rim taping to make sure it's air tight
  • If you ever have to replace a spoke nipple, you're probably going to have to retape and slime that wheel
  • Sealant does evaporate/dry up over time, so there is some ongoing maintenance cost that doesn't necessarily make it any cheaper than buying tubes

Slime inside a tube is a good compromise I think, doesn't have the same annoyances as tubeless while still offering protection from smaller punctures. Biggest con is just a slight weight penalty and that's not even that bad.

One of the biggest reasons tubeless is so popular in MTB is it lets you run lower pressures to let the tire conform to uneven terrain better and get increased traction, without worrying about pinching the tube against the rim (or, from the tire compressing landing jumps): it's not really about regular punctures from external objects, though it does help there. I don't see this as being a big factor in road/gravel riding. While I wholeheartedly would go tubeless for MTB (I just did my fat bike wheels), I think for road I'd go for slime in the tubes.

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Re: Tubeless vs Regular - for Road/Gravel bikes

Thanks Tom. I appreciate your thoughts.

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Re: Tubeless vs Regular - for Road/Gravel bikes

@anil Great question!

@TomV pretty much nailed it with his response, but I had a few points I wanted to add. All of my tubeless experience has been with fat tire bikes, which are highly functional with a tubeless set up as you can drop your air pressure really low and get the most flotation possible out of your tire. As such, I can't speak with direct experience to road/gravel riding while tubeless. However, I have some friends who ride road/gravel with tubeless and they really enjoy it.

Advantages of tubeless:

  • Helps prevent small puncture flats and eliminates pinch flats. This can be particularly helpful if you are riding gravel where you may have issues with thorns.
  • Allows you to run with lower pressure, which can make your ride more comfortable and actually reduce rolling resistance and make you faster. This can be helpful if you ride gravel or varied terrain where adjusting your pressure can be a big advantage.

If you're not the kind of rider who is going change your tire pressure depending on the ride and you tend to ride with your tires at max pressure, going tubeless probably will not give you much of an advantage. If you simply want an extra layer of protection from puncture flats then a slime tube is likely your best bet there. Installation and regular maintenance are definitely a factor going tubeless so if you want something that is simple and won't require a lot of work then a slime tube will work better there as well.

However, if you don't mind putting in the extra work to get the best feel for your ride and you ride varied terrain where tire pressure matters, then going tubeless might be a great option for you.

Hopefully this helps, thanks!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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