Tubeless tires are a huge performance improvement for mountain bikers. But before you go all in, you should be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages.

Making the Switch to Tubeless Tires?

Are you planning to switch from regular tires with inner tubes, to tubeless tires? Then here is what you need to know to make the best decision. We’ll start by looking at the pros and cons of tubeless tires, then discuss tubeless systems, then conclude with my overall opinions…

Benefits of Tubeless Tires

There are numerous benefits offered by tubeless tires, which is why so many people are converting from the standard tire and tube setup.

Fewer flat tires

First, and most prominent, is the decreased risk of flat tires. Since there is no tube, pinch flats are literally impossible with tubeless. Flats from punctures are also less likely, because punctures up to 1/4″ can be sealed immediately if you are using a liquid sealant inside the tire.

Run lower pressure and get better traction

Building off the flat tire resistance, a big benefit is the ability to run very low tire pressure. With tubes, you couldn’t run low pressures because it increased the likelihood of a pinch flat. But if pinch flats are a thing of the past, you can run the tires as low as you want, sometimes as low as 18 psi.

Those lower pressures lead to better ride quality, less rolling resistance, and increased traction – which is great for loose terrain, wet roots, and most singletrack.

Save weight

Finally, by removing the tube, it’s possible to save weight. This isn’t always the case – sometimes tubeless setups are heavier – but it’s possible to run a very light tubeless setup.

Disadvantages of Tubeless Tires

Unfortunately, there are still a few drawbacks to tubeless setups.


The first is the price. Going tubeless is not cheap.

If you don’t have tubeless compatible wheels, you will need to buy new wheels and tires, or at least a conversion kit. The conversion kit is only $55 or so, but new wheels and tires will be expensive – $350 to $1000. And if you choose UST tubeless-ready tires, expect to pay double the price of a typical tire.

The setup can be a pain in the butt

Second is the setup time. Since tubeless tires need a tight seal, they are usually difficult to install. If you use regular tires with a conversion kit, it will take some time to install the conversion kit and then get everything configured without leaks.

One of the critical steps is getting the tire bead to seal right away, so you may need an air compressor (or one of those floor pumps designed to move a large volume of air at once).

Even with the right tools, getting an airtight seal that locks in the tire bead can be tricky. So don’t expect to get it on your first try.

Your wheels and tires might be heavier

While your first thought is probably that a tubeless setup would be lighter compared to running tires and tubes, that’s usually not how it works.

When the tube is eliminated, that means you either need to beef up the tire itself so it’s airtight, or add some type of sealant into the tire to fill any tiny cracks. Sometimes you do both. So it’s quite easy to add weight unintentionally.

More maintenance and more difficult repairs

Third, there is another step of maintenance. You’ll need to add sealant occasionally. The liquid sealant dries up over time, and you need to top it off.

Also, repairs are more difficult. If the tire is damaged, it will either need to be patched or replaced. And if the damage occurs while out on the trail, you’ll have to boot the tire and install a spare inner tube temporarily to ride home.

So you still have to carry a spare tube and pump!

It’s messy too because you have the aforementioned sealant inside the tire.

Not everything is tubeless ready

Fourth, sometimes there are fewer options available. Back around 2004, when tubeless wasn’t as prevalent, there were only a few models of tubeless-ready tires. But by 2007, virtually every tire was available in normal and tubeless versions.

That said, you still have to pay attention to what you’re getting. Nicer mountain bikes will come stock with tubeless ready wheels and tires, but entry-level bikes will not.

Tubeless Tire Systems

There are three main options for tubeless tire systems:

  1. Universal System Tubeless (UST)
  2. Tubeless conversion kit
  3. “Tubeless Ready”

You just need to pick the system that is right for your needs.

Universal System Tubeless (UST)

Option #1 is the standard UST setup. These are true tubeless wheels. With this setup, you will get a UST-compatible rim and tire, which are made specifically for tubeless applications. (You can identify these rims and tires by the “UST” sticker or stamp.)

These rims and tires are airtight and require no sealant to work properly. (You’ll notice a big difference is that the tubeless rims don’t have any spoke holes.) They’ll hold air without sealant – although you may still wish to use sealant for the flat tire prevention benefits!

A UST standard setup is the most reliable option. The wheel and tire will be sturdier and more dependable than the other options. For example, UST tires are thicker, making them more durable than a standard tire. That thick sidewall also makes the tires more suited to a tubeless setup, because it helps the tire keep its shape at low pressure.

Tubeless conversion kit

Option #2 is a tubeless conversion kit like you can get from Stan’s NoTubes. This allows you to use your normal rims and tires for a tubeless setup. You will seal up the spoke holes with a special rim tape, add a special rimstrip with built-in valve, and dump some special sealant into the tire, which will make everything airtight.

This option requires more setup time, but it is cheaper than buying new wheels and tires that are UST compatible, and it is often lighter than a UST setup (a big plus for XC racers).

But do consider that with regular tires and a Stan’s NoTubes conversion, the tire’s sidewall doesn’t have the support of an innertube, so it can fold over on itself. There’s also greater risk of a sidewall puncture.

Sometimes, even with great attention to detail, you’ll find that air escapes slowly and you need to air up before every ride. But you should check your tire pressure before every ride anyway.

Some riders choose to use a hybrid of the two systems. They may get a UST rim, but use a standard tire plus Stan’s sealant for light weight plus flat protection.

Or they may save money by converting their rims to tubeless with the NoTubes conversion, but then buy a UST tire for the extra durability.

“Tubeless Ready”

Option #3 is a tubeless-ready setup. I consider this to be the Goldilocks setup!

In this case, the wheels and tires are relatively light, but the rims are shaped purposefully to hold a tire bead in place without a tube inside.

You can run this setup with regular tubes with no downside. But if you wish, it’s easy to convert to tubeless!

Simply replace the rim strip with some tubeless rim tape, insert a tubeless valve stem, and then when you install your tire, add a scoop of NoTubes sealant.

(There are many liquid sealants available these days, but NoTubes is popular in my area.)

I’ve had good luck inflating these types of tires with a standard floor pump, always getting them tightly sealed.

My Overall Opinion of Tubeless Tires

I started riding tubeless tires in 2005, and I’ve tried different setups over the years, including standard UST, the Stan’s NoTubes conversions, and tubeless ready wheels.

Overall, I love tubeless. Mountain biking is so much better since I began running tubeless tires. I have never had a flat tire while running a tubeless setup, the level of control you feel is amazing, and the low pressures are great for increasing traction and giving you a smoother ride.

The main thing I didn’t like with the UST system was the difficulty of mounting tires, since you are supposed to do so without tire levers. It’s not too hard if you do use tire levers, but without them, it can be nearly impossible.

(I had one combination, which was a Mavic Crossland UST rim with an IRC Serac XC UST tire. I could not get it mounted without tire levers, and no shop I took it to could do it without levers, either.)

With Stan’s NoTubes, though, it turned out to be quite simple to set up and work with. The only problem I ever had with that setup is having the sealant build up in the valve and hardening like glue. I had to use pliers plus degreaser to get the valve open! That’s not so bad at home, but what if I have to air up during a race?!

Now with tubeless ready wheels and tires, it’s the best of both worlds. Relatively cheap, lightweight, and easy to set up.

I would not hesitate to choose a tubeless setup over a regular tire and tube setup. Just don’t forget the emergency tube.

You may also like
  1. when I pump the tires the liquid sealant immediately oozes out between the tire and rim is this normal?

    • @Al

      Yes, it’s messy but totally normal.

      Hopefully you’re getting the bead seated though. Once the bead is seated, the sealant should quit oozing out between the tire and rim. Or at least slow down significantly.

Leave a Reply