Giving up tubeless tires

Tubeless tires are undoubtedly the future. They have the least rolling resistance and the ability to repair them self when getting punctures. And now I am giving them up.

Tubular tires have been my preference since I started triathlon in 2009. From a performance perspective, they may still be the fastest solution and pros in cycling still prefer them. I love the feel and performance for tubular, but see the downside of glueing and the high cost of new tires. Clincher and tubeless are closing in fast regarding performance and the fastest road tire today is the Vittoria Speed Tubeless. Since all the R&D is now going to tubeless I ditched the tubulars when I bought new wheels when converting to disc brakes.

As it is now, with a tubeless setup, but not for long.
Mounting the Schwalbe Pro One on the Enve 7.8 SES was difficult, on the Roval 321 it was nearly impossible. Ones on it hold air perfectly since there are no spokes there is no need for tubeless tape, a source of leakage.
To my surprise I found the tubeless to not be as easy as it seemed.
  • Putting the tire on the wheel can be difficult – The Schwalbe Pro One Easy Fit (most ironic name ever) was really hard to put on my Enve 7.8 SES wheels. I had to use all my strength and a lot of soapy water. On my Specialized Roval 321 disc it was “impossible”, and after trying multiple times, stretching the tire on another wheel and broken a few tire levers I had to take it to my local bike shop and watch three bike mechanics using 10 minutes to putting it on.
  • Installation of the tubeless setup can be difficult – Installing the tubeless setup was a true pain in the a$$. Even with a compressor, it was difficult to get the tire to “pop” and we (the mechanics in my LBS and me) used a lot of time and sealant without success. A Schwalbe booster was necessary and did the job a lot easier.
  • Fixing a puncture in a race can be very challenging – If you have a puncture during a race which the sealant does not seal it is a problem since it is so difficult to take the tire of and put in a tube.
  • Tubeless does not automatically mean leak proof – After installing the tubeless setup according to the instruction manual I still had an issue with my front tire. It did not seal properly and had a leakage true the valve. I tighten it more and it sealed, for a while. I repeated this process multiple times until it no longer sealed. When I finally dismounted the tire I could see why the valve no longer was able to seal as it was torn due to over tightening. How this could be avoided is difficult to see. After getting a new tubeless valve (which was just pure luck since I was in Coyhaique in Chile) everything looked nearly 100 % airtight with 1 psi drop in 24 hours. Great! On a ride, 2 days before the race I checked my pressure and it had dropped from 80 psi to 30 psi within 2 hours. When I woke up on race day I had again 30 psi in the tire and was not sure when entering in T1 after the swim if I had the 80 psi I pumped it up to hours before. Luckily it was good. Picking it up after the race it was down to 30 psi again. This kind of uncertainty is unacceptable in my standards.
  • Travelling with tubeless might be a hassle – I love my bicycle suitcase, the BikeBoxAlan. In order to fit the wheel properly, I have to deflate the tires. If running tubeless you have to expect the sealant to leak and reinsert sealant upon arrival. It takes both time and extra equipment. Also, if something gets broken and need to be replaced, tubeless might be a bigger challenge.

I have used a lot of time, energy and conflicted myself with unnecessary prerace stress due to my tubeless setup. Buying a new bicycle suitcase as considered. I was on my way far down the rabbit hole. The potential benefits were unable to justify the time and potential stress with the solution. Then I decided that it was time to resign. Time to give up tubeless.

The last thing I did before we drove on a recon of the bike course in Patagonman was to pump my tires up to 80 psi. When it was time for me to be on the bike a few hours later it was down to 30 psi. I did not bring the pump and had to use a CO2-canister.
After tightening the tubeless valve more and more I eventually damaged the seal. I knew it should not need to be tightened hard, but did not see any other option as the sealant continued to leak out of the valve, even after I replaced the tubeless tape for the second time.
Putting a tube inside my tubeless tire was plan B, but due to the rough roads along the course including a few patches with gravel I wanted the tubeless setup with sealant. Luckily I was able to borrow a new tubeless valve of another competitor.

The solution was buying a pair of the new Continental GP5000 clincher tires with latex tubes. The watt loss compared to the Continental GP5000 tubeless is nothing (the BRR test uses butyl tubes when testing clincher tires and latex make up for the difference between the GP5000 TL and GP5000 in this chart: The downside with this solution is that a puncture does not fix itself, but changing a tube in a clincher tire is done within a few minutes.

Note that I am certain I will return to tubeless at a later stage when the technology has improved, but for me, it is not there yet.

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

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