I’ve been curious about these for a little while. I’ve ran tubeless for about 4 years now and I must confess that living and riding in Yorkshire can mean that ‘sometimes’ running a tubeless system alone just isn’t enough.
So, what is tubeless, in case people don’t know?
Basically, it’s removing the inner tube from inside of the tyre and using a latex sealant which seals most holes in the tyre as they occur. This isn’t quite as simple as that, but it’s the basic premise. You do need to make sure that the tyres are tubeless ready (i.e. non-porous) and that the spoke holes in the wheel are sealed. Plus, a tubeless specific valve as you’re still going to need air in the tyre.
If it’s a first time job and you want to avoid mess, be kind and give the job to your LBS: it supports them and it will only cost you a few pounds and it really does avoid a lot of mess: blowing a tyre off a rim will leave your workspace and everything in it looking like a Jackson Pollock!
So, why use inserts? Surely they add rotational weight?
From my experience on average when I change a tyre I can usually identify at least twenty small thorns and other detritus in the tyre; I’m just not aware of them before changing the tyre. Small punctures seal quickly and you’ll only occasionally notice the loss of tyre pressure.
In the world of mountain biking, the risk of splitting a tyre or tyre wall is far greater. Rocks can be sharp and also hitting rock ledges at speed and such can cause the tyre to break the airtight seal with the bead of the wheel, which means instant loss of pressure and sealant all of the place.
Put simply, tubeless is fantastic in reducing punctures, but it’s remiss, possibly even to the level of negligent to think that you’re never going to flat again. It has happened to me, usually when I’m in the arse end of no-where and with several miles to walk and no tube to put into the tyre.
So tubeless inserts are essentially a protective insert to keep the tyre from fully deforming away from the rim and seem to be a way to reduce this sudden loss of pressure which occurs with things like rock strikes.
The bike industry is well known for never standing still when it can make some money out of the punters. With this said, the tubeless insert market has been burgeoning within the last year or so.
Barbieri Anaconda Tubeless Protection System:
This is essentially my choice, they are cheap, lightweight and if they fail to do the job; I’ve actually lost very little. Purchased through Planet – X for the sum of £14.99
Essentially they are a foam noodle which sits inside the tyre and stops the tyre deforming on impact. The tubeless solution will swirl around in the tyre and seal smaller punctures. They will, at a push, get you home in an emergency but will be worthless at the end and I wouldn’t risk the wheel rims myself.
In the pack, two inserts and two carbon tubeless valves. Which I found to be completely useless, the valve core is not removable and even using a compressor, I struggled to get sufficient airflow to seat the rear tyre on the bead.
The front tyre: Not so easy, quite simply, getting the tyre installed over the insert was a mission and a half, let alone getting the tyre seated on the bead. Cue much swearing, yelling and coffee consumed and a full autistic meltdown was had within the space of over an hour. In the end, I opted that my time sanity and I did the sensible thing; took it to my LBS, All Terrain Cycles in Saltaire who solved the problem but with a different class of swearing.
I’ve been running the system about 4 from and can say that in general I find it excellent. I have a tear in the rear tyre which I gained at a local race and frankly funds have dictated that I plugged the tyre rather than immediately replacing it. The plug is currently wearing slightly and I have a slow leak, but on a ride the other day I notice the drop in pressure and was able to re-inflate the tyre with a hand pump and continue with my ride. The tyre didn’t deform or lose all pressure. The insert has also encouraged me to have a little more confidence in riding sharper rock gardens. So this is all good.
Are they worth money? For this value, hell yes. Some of the other options on the market retail at £150.00 that’s getting to the point of becoming an economical factor for some people and I certainly wouldn’t got that high. There are other, cheaper options on the market, but I’ve not tried them at this point. Certainly for the time being and going into next year and race season, I will keep with this option.