WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH ROAD TUBELESS?
Okay, what’s the deal with road tubeless? Why is there so much competing information about using a hooked or hookless rim?
This might not be the answer you are looking for, but many brands are letting their lawyers and the presumption that the majority of consumers will use the equipment correctly contribute to the mixed messages. Right now companies are playing things safe, owing to the fact that there has yet to be an industry-wide standard on tubeless. In turn, this has given rise to a virtual salad-bar combo of different tire/rim designs on the market, and not all are compatible with each other. The result is that the vast majority of consumers don’t understand that air volume is the driving factor of tubeless failures, not the tubeless tire itself.
For the last year tubeless-compatibility issues have been a hot topic, and wheel maker Boyd Johnson is one who has consistently voiced safety concerns about what consumers are told when it comes to using tubeless tires: “You know, the bike industry allows people to install their own tires, which is something that we don’t do when it comes to changing tires on our cars. If you bought the wrong tire for the wrong wheel on your car and asked a mechanic to install them, they likely wouldn’t do the job. But, that’s what concerns me about the variety of tubeless product out there. Some tires work with hooked beads and some don’t. My concern is that there’s nota good-enough effort at educating the public about what works and what doesn’t.
“Although this can impact gravel riders, for the most part it’s less of an issue there because no one should be running more than 65 psi. But, with road tubeless, it’s different because so many people still think, as with inner tubes, that running higher air pressure is the norm. I know a new ‘standard’ is in the works that calls for no more than 72. 5psi in a tubeless tire, but there are still other things to consider. I think every consumer should think about four things regarding proper compatibility when switching to tubeless: 1. What tire size are you choosing? 2. What air pressure are you running? 3. What condition is the tire bead (don’t forget that tires can stretch)? And, 4. Tire choice. I’ve been on the receiving end of tubeless tires (from tire brands) that were completely wrong for what I needed, meaning even they were confused!
“Over the last few years, we’ve introduced some cutting-edge wheel designs, and as much as we like to be at the forefront of wheel technology, you still won’t find a hookless road rim in our catalog.”
The key to road tubeless is that it allows you to run lower air pressure than what’s possible with inner tubes. To achieve this, all that has been added is tire volume, but that isn’t only true with tubeless. If you add tire volume to a tube system, the pressure should also drop. Tire volume can be added with either a larger tire or wider internal rim width.
Remember that if you have a tube system and hooked bead with a large-volume tire, there is a mechanical bond holding the tire’s bead against the hook and still allows for higher pressures (over 75 psi). The higher pressure can impact ride quality and performance on a large-volume tire, but it is possible. With that same rim-and-tire combo (assuming it was tubeless-ready), as the name implies, tubeless has no tube holding the bead of the tire to the hook of the rim. This means the chances of failure (the bead blowing off the rim) can increase if the pressure runs too high.
The biggest difference to consider is what type of tire you plan on using and if you are willing to adopt the modern tire-pressure recommendations. If you have a hookless rim, you have to use a tubeless tire and should not exceed 75 psi even if you plan on using a tube. If your rim has a hook, you can use a non-tubeless tire if you use a tube. For both systems, a tubeless tire has to be used for a tubeless setup. Speaking to Boyd’s number-four point, remember, too, that older tires can stretch, thus making it easier to blowing off the rim.
Back to your original question, hooks or no hooks? Personally, I would choose a hookless rim, but it’s not a hard line in the sand. If a company is offering a wheel that still has a hook but I like everything else about the rim, I’d consider it. At the end of the day, I run 28–30mm road tubeless tires and never inflate them over 60 psi. I check the sealant every two to three months with a quick top-off through the valve stem. There are obviously more key points to each system, but overall, those are the biggest determining factors.
In the last two years I’ve had one flat that didn’t seal, and it would have had I refreshed my sealant. I still made it home 25 miles without any added aid other than airing it up with about six miles to go. Normally, on a tube-type tire, I have at least one flat per month, but realistically it’s once a week. For me and the debris-ridden roads I ride, tubeless is without a doubt worth the price and hassle.
As Boyd reminded me as we ended our conversation, “I do believe that the more people get educated about tubeless, the safer it will eventually get.” Let’s hope!