Norte

Tubes, Tubeless, and Tires: What's The Right Way To Ride Road?

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At Patrick’s Heavy Ride with Friends this weekend, we had a disaster flat. The tire was a beast to get back on the rim and the tube’s valve stem was too short. With just the tip of the valve sticking out, we tried and ruined three different CO2 chucks and wasted ten minutes with a hand pump trying to get a rideable amount of air in, with no luck. 

Away went the levers and tubes and pumps and out came the worst case scenario tool; the cell phone. Just ten miles later, I had a puncture while riding along the ugly but necessary stretch of US-31 that links Torch Lake to Eastport, right on the famous Ride Around Torch loop. A geyser of Stan’s, a jarring hiss and the muted panic of trying to come to a stop without causing a crash for my companions or veering into the RV and semi-truck traffic, I slid to a halt. Son of a….Nothing worse than back to back flats!

Tubed or tubeless, puncture-resistant, everything flats sometimes. There are pros and cons to each, as this weekend’s twin disasters proved. I was able to easily fix my flat by first trying to let the Stan’s sealant do it’s tubeless magic. The gash was too big, and so I was forced to use my DynaPlug. That essentially means that, while I was able to keep riding and get home, that tire isn’t reliable enough to keep riding and my $90 tubeless tire is now going to be used only with tubes. That’s my second ‘ruined’ tire of the summer, and I’m going back to my far more trusty and anti-flat Panaracer GravelKing slicks. 

The alternative, riding tubes, is a bit less work and, in theory, more reliable. Got a flat? Put in a tube and go. But the reality is always so different. With more and more riders on deep section rims, having the right valve length can be a pain. Certain tire and rim combinations are almost impossible to swap, and the tube replacement is always going to be slower than the tubeless alternative. 

Is one better than the other? Maybe the real question is, what tire is better in the long run? Are we sacrificing a few grams to shave seconds off a ride at the risk of flatting and sacrificing minutes? Frankly, yes. While scoffed at by some, puncture-resistant tires like the famous Continental GatorSkin weigh a few grams more and may have a more harsh ride, but a properly installed GatorSkin will offer up thousands of miles and decidedly fewer flats than a ‘faster’ tire. And over the course of a tire, what’s more valuable?

Our advice is to ride the tire for what you’re doing. Unless you’re racing, a slightly heavier tire can be more cost effective, offer more miles and fewer flats. If you’re not in a hurry, ride tubes and make sure you’re carrying a tube with a valve long enough for your rim depth. If you do ride deep rims, make sure you also stash a valve stem extender in your flat kit so that you can borrow a tube from a friend if necessary. 

If you do opt for tubeless, bring a tube and a can of sealant with your CO2. We carry Pitstop and other projects that will help seal even the worst cuts. If all else fails, bring a patch or a DynaPlug, and save that tube as a last resort. 

For both tubed and tubeless, we also recommend the CO2 that never runs out; it’s called a hand pump! 

How do you decide what kind of tires to ride? Any tubeless tricks? Let us know in the comments!