Friday, March 28, 2008

Flats

Recently, CyclingNews had an article on the state of road tubeless tires. Now, I love tubeless tires. I use them on my road bike, my mountain bike and I really wish I could use them on my 'cross bike--soon I hope.

I like them for a few reasons. First, since I use inexpensive tubes, the set up is lighter weight than my normal tire/tube combo. Second, they feel better at 95psi than my standard tire/tube do--more lively while still providing the vibration damping that I prefer on our chip sealed roads. Finally, they are pretty tough. I haven't had a flat on them... until now.

I knew, in an academic sense, that if I were to flat, I could pop out the valve stem and throw a tube in there. I did not know, in a very real sense, how easy or difficult that would be.

So, just in case, I have been dutifully packing a tube and CO2 inflater on every ride, secretly knowing that I'd never have to use them.

Then, last Saturday, near the beginning of a long ride, my front tire felt... odd. Because the tires are thicker than normal tires, they have more support, more structure to hold their shape as they go flat. Also, since the tire bead locks onto the rim hook, they don't squirm when flat. Finally, they lose air at a slower rate than a tube and tire combination. All of this conspired to make me wonder if I was losing air or losing my mind. I mean, something was wrong.

It turned out that I was more or less sane, and the tires was, in fact, losing air pressure. I could not find any debris in the casing or tread--no nails, no wire, no thorns, no glass. I pulled the tire and looked from the inside and found a pinhole. There was my leak.

In goes the tube, and on goes the tire. Now, you do not want to use tire levers on tubeless tires, if the bead gets damaged it won't make a good seal and will leak air. Since I am going to repair the tire, I want to keep the bead intact. It turns out that it was not difficult at all to put the tire back on with my hands alone. A quick shot with the CO2 and I was back in business.

One thing I hadn't thought of, I no longer had a tube--since there wasn't a flat one--to put in my seat pack, so I had to dig through my pockets to find enough stuff to put in there to keep my tools from rattling around.

All in all, it was as easy as fixing any other flat on the road. I didn't do anything that I wouldn't have done with a standard tube that punctured. I think that the fear of what to do in case of a flat is overblown.

I still stand by the use of tubeless tires in all aspects of cycling. I really feel that their benefit outweighs the slight drawbacks.

9 comments:

Jon said...

Can you use a tube patch on the inside of the tire to fix it?

James said...

No. You have to use a tubeless tire patch.

Since the hole is a tiny one, I'm just going to use some of Stan's sealant to fix it. Simpler that way. And I've got some of the stuff lying around.

ark said...

I have to disagree with you, respectfully though. I wrote up why tubeless tires suck (in my tiny world/mind).

Why Tubeless Tires Suck

James said...

ark,

You have some interesting points in your rant. I agree that your tubeless tire experience can vary based on tire manufacturers. On the road side of things, there is one tire and one wheel--currently. If you don't like them, you are out of luck. Personally, I like them, so it works for me.

On the mountain side of things, I've had three flats in approximately 4 years of running tubeless. I rarely use sealant. I used to get flats all the time--I run low pressures whether tubed or tubeless. I have never pinch flatted a tubeless tire, but I know it can be done. I usually run 25-27psi in my tires.

I've had very good luck with Hutchinson, Continental, Geax and Michelin tires. They all hold air about as well as a latex tube, so I check them every ride. But I do that anyway. I find that my 'cross bike (standard tubes) needs air every other day... but then again, I am pretty particular about having the right pressure for me.

That's been my experience, in a nutshell.

akatsuki said...

I am really excited by the Corima Aero+ Tubeless wheels they announced. Although Corima wheels just tend to be a huge pain to get. Perhaps a group-buy from the company or a Euro distributor might be in order.

Konstantin S said...

James,

You say that you use inexpensive tubes, and because of that the tubeless setup you have is lighter. Such comparison does not make sense, tubeless tires are (at least at present) expensive, and should be compared against similarly priced tube+tire combo. Which can save you 50g or even more over the inexpensive one. Does the claim "lighter set up" still hold then?

Next, you claim that you "did not do anything you wouldn't have done with a standard tube". But what would you do if you get a second flat? Frequent reason for flats is a sharp object which gets stuck in the outer tire. When you have a tube, you remove it, pump it up, and find the whizzing puncture place. Otherwise, it may be very difficult - I'd say often impossible - to locate that tiny bit of glass! It successfully punctures your freshly installed tube, and you are left with no spare.

I can believe that racers may like tubeless by some reasons not known to a casual rider. But for a person who does not race, and has to care him(her)self about flats and getting from A to B... I'm absolutely not convinced that tubeless tires have any benefit at all.

James said...

Konstantin,

You make some good points.

First, the weight issue: If I didn't buy my tubes in bulk, I'd run better ones. If I ran thinner tubes, the weights would be approximately the same. So no gain or loss there.

Second flat. I inspected the tire--something I do with tubes as well--to reduce or eliminate the possibility of the second flat. What I do is inspect the tire inside and out, and run my fingers--and risking a cut finger, I know--inside the tire to feel for the offending object. This works pretty well for me.

Since I was packing only one tube and no patches, a second flat would have resulted in the "call of shame" for a ride home.

Finally, the benefits, as I see them, for the casual rider are these:

-A better ride at lower pressures, resulting in more comfort and traction.
-A puncture does not result in a sudden loss of pressure.
-The bead is locked onto the rim so in the event of a flat, the tire does not squirm off the rim.

Only you can decide if those benefits are worth it to you, but they are to me.

supercal29 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
supercal29 said...

I must say i have the 29er mavic wheels and hutchinson tubeless tires and run stans and it is an awesome setup............no flats, no problems, just light and fast and reliable and comfortable.........

I am very interested in the shimano hutchinson road tubeless set up b/c i am soooooo happy with my 29er mtb setup.....

wheels would be lighter than my current mavic sl by just a bit, but wouldn't have to worry about ultralight tube failure, or water in the rim......cushier ride and i would run hutchinsons latex sealant, for a likely neglible weight penalty but greatly reduced flat risk............i don't race for money i ride for fun and pride of beating a buddy once in a while.......but i always worry about a flat on a fast descent and sudden loss of tire pressure and a bad crash, this risk is greatly reduced with tubeless.....and there are some rough roads and potholes that tubeless at 90 psi would be much more comfortable.....

so i am seriously thinking about selling my ksyrium sl and get into road tubless, and goodbye tubes forever............horray !!!!