I’ve been cycling for almost 4 years and I’ve always ran my bike with tubes inside the tires. When I purchased my bike, I got my first flat 2 months in. It had been a decade since I was on a bicycle, let alone change a tube, so it took me forever to replace. As I continued to get flats, I became a pro at it.
Eventually, I had to replace my stock tires as flats became a routine. I ended up doing some research and got the all powerful Continental Gatorskins, which promise to be the perfect NYC-tough street tire. That was no lie! These tires were hardcore and I went long periods of time with no flats. But the ride… it was rough. They were heavy and I always felt that I was pushing harder than I should be.
Fast forward 3 years and I decided to do two things to improve my ride performance.
New DT Swiss wheels
I did my research, I asked some questions and became a student of bike wheels. The consensus was that one of the best upgrades you can make on a bike is getting a good set of wheels. Stock wheels are OK at best, but it’s the part where bike manufacturers cheap out to sell affordable bikes. So after months of looking into it, I decided on getting a set of DT Swiss Spline 1800 23 wheels.
The reason for this choice, was also that the wheels are tubeless ready. This means, that I can run these tires with no inner tubes. This was something I was willing to explore, so I jumped in at the opportunity.
New wheels means new tires
Since I decided to explore the adventure of tubeless riding, I had to get some tubeless tires. With recommendation from my LBS (local bike shop), I went with the Continental Grand Prix 5000TL tires. They are one of the best tires in the market and they happen to be tubeless ready. This was perfect, but they were expensive tires. I paid $85 per tire which was a bit tough on the pocket (remember I had spent good money on wheels too).
A new way to maintain tires
As promising as tubeless tires are, the maintenance is… well… different. Though I don’t have to worry about tubes and punctures (more on this later), there is a level of maintenance that is required.
In order to run tubeless, you have to insert sealant inside of the tire. This is a liquid that runs inside the tire that helps with punctures. I had no idea having a liquid inside a tire was going to be a thing.
Though the LBS installed my tires and added the sealant, I am required to check on the sealant every 3 months. Sealant can dry off or too much can be used to seal punctures so you have to refill as needed. This requires I deflate the tires, remove the valve and add some sealant. I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve watched some YouTube videos to know it’s not too difficult.
The benefit of running tubeless with sealant is that when you do get a puncture, the sealant gets sucked into the hole and it seals the hole preventing air to scape the tire. This sounds cool and all, but I was skeptical and not sure it would work.
Well, I didn’t have to wait long. On my first day of riding tubeless, I got home and when I looked at my rear tire, I see a white spot on it. I got close and rubbed the spot with my hand and it was a sticky and gooey residue. I realized it was sealant. I got a puncture the first day with my new expensive tires. I was disappointed.
I was talking to the LBS and they said that I should be happy. This is what the tire and sealant are supposed to do. If I had a tube, I would have to replace a tube and get dirty, pump tires, etc. For now, all I had to do is… keep riding.
Still learning and riding
I’ve been riding just a week so far and after that one puncture, I’ve had no issues. The tires and wheels run so much better than my previous. These tires are fast and in some hills where I felt like I was pulling a truck, I feel stronger and faster. This alone is worth the price I paid for this setup.
I’m still a bit nervous about getting another puncture, but the first one proved to be a self-fixing non-issue. I’ve been told that you can have several punctures and as long as there’s sealant in the tire, there is nothing to be worried about. Just inflate the tire and recover the small amount of air pressure that was lost in the puncture before the sealant fixed it.
The only issue I’ve been warned about is large punctures and slashes. Those may be too large for the sealant to fix. However in my almost 4 years of riding NYC streets I have never had a slash on my tire. I hope this continues to be the case.
Is tubeless worth it?
Too early to tell, but if it works as expected, I will never need to look at a tube again. For now, a week in of riding tubeless, I like the ride and feel of the tires.
I do feel like I need to trust the process. In the back of my mind I worry about punctures and I ride watching every spot on the road to avoid any debris, glass, etc. I never did this before, so why start now?
I’ll keep you updated on the progress, but for now, I’m a tubeless cyclist!