You came across an article in a magazine or blog about the different types of bicycle tires the other day. And now, you’re wondering if the tires on your bike are tubeless.
This is a good (and very important) question. If you know what kind of tires are mounted on your bike’s rims, you can determine what tire pressure to pump them to, how often to top them up, and how to fix them if they go flat on you.
So how can you tell if your bike’s tires are tubeless?
To determine if a bicycle tire is tubeless, look at the rims and the sidewalls. There are usually markings that read “Tubeless”, “TL,” or “UST”. You can also look at the valves, which on tubeless tires are secured to the rim with a collar.
As you can probably tell, “TL” stands for “Tubeless”.
The abbreviation “UST”, on the other hand, stands for “Universal Standard Tubeless”, a standard for tubeless tires and rims that requires a specific shape and dimensions so that the tires—and the rims they’re mounted on—are more interchangeable between brands.
Another feature that distinguishes tubeless tires from their clincher and tubular counterparts is that the valves of tubeless tires are secured to the rim with a metal collar, while the valves of tubular tires go straight into the inner tube’s tire.
Now that you know this, you will find it easy to distinguish a tubeless tire with a metal valve and collar from a clincher or tubular tire with a rubber valve sticking out of a hole in the rim.
Here’s the valve on a tubeless tire:
And here’s what it looks like on a clincher tire:
Which Bikes Have Tubeless Tires?
Generally speaking, tubeless tires are more common on mountain bikes and hybrid bikes than on road racing and commuter bikes. However, in recent years, tubeless tires have slowly but surely been making their way to the latter.
Remember that this is just a general rule. The only way to definitively determine if your bike has tubes or not is to look at the tires and the valves.
For example, some mountain bikes and many hybrid bikes are sold with stock clincher tires (they’re called “clinchers” because the tire literally clinches to the edges of the rim).
If you’ve bought a used bike, whether at a local shop or a seller on eBay, it’s not uncommon for the bike to have one tubeless tire and one with an inner tube. It isn’t a big deal either, even if it does make tire repair a little trickier.
Tubeless Tires vs. Their Counterparts With Tubes
Tubeless tires and those with inner tubes differ in terms of maintenance, rolling resistance and speed, comfort, and weight. As we already touched on, most bikes—especially those for commuter and recreational cyclists—come with tires with inner tubes.
Tubeless tires tend to create more resistance against the ground you’re riding on. As a result, you gain grip and traction but lose speed. Tires with inner tubes create less resistance and provide a speed boost.
That said, there may be environments where you want that extra resistance and slowdown. Riding down a gravel path or over rocks isn’t a scenario where you want less resistance from the ground. It’s easier to handle and steer a bike with more resistance in these cases.
Those who do most of their riding on pavement will want the opposite. You might have to avoid the occasional road hazard. But for the most part, you will enjoy a smoother ride with less rolling resistance. The speed boost won’t hurt either.
Because tubeless bike tires inflate to a lose tire pressure than their counterparts with tubes, you will enjoy a more comfortable ride on rough surfaces. Although the bumpy ride comes with the terrain, you don’t your ride to get bouncy.
With tubeless bike tires, you won’t feel the bumps as much. It’ll be more comfortable to ride over rough roads, rock, and gravel. Tubeless tires, since they don’t have as much rubber, are lighter, less bulky, and offer better road feel.
Speed, comfort and feel are great when you’re gliding down a paved road—not so when you’re going uphill, downhill, or cornering off-road. Off-road, tubeless tires are superior to clincher and tubular tires thanks to their ability to maintain low pressure and absorb the shocks of the terrain.
Ease of Maintenance
Tubeless tires, as long as the tire is matched to the rim well and mounted on it properly, lose air pressure slower than their clincher and tubular counterparts do. So you don’t necessarily need to check them and top them up daily (though doing so every few days is a must).
A punctured tubeless tire is also easier to repair on the road. As long as the puncture isn’t too big and the tire isn’t in bad condition, you can use Slime sealant to plug small holes. The sealant works instantly and lasts up to 2 years.
There’s also sealant for inner tubes, and it’s pretty effective on small holes. Still, most cyclists carry a patch kit and a spare inner tube or not, especially on tours and group rides. It takes more time and elbow grease to remove the tire, patch or replace the tube, then mount it back on.
Regular rims, clincher tires, and butyl inner tubes are typically cheaper than UST-standard rims and the tubeless tires that go on them. Replacements and spare tubes can also be found in every bike shop and most hardware stores.
For tubeless tires, things look a little different. Since not all rims and tires are interchangeable, most cyclists stick to specific brands and models and order them from well-stocked bike stores or online retailers.
How do I know if a bike tire is tubeless?
The best (and only) way to tell is by the rims and the valves. If you see the word “Tubeless” stamped on the tires or the rims, that’s a pretty good clue. However, you might have subtler clues, like “TL” and “UST,” instead.
But just because you don’t see those markings, it doesn’t mean your tires have inner tubes. Examine the valves to see how they’re attached. Do they go into the rims or the rubber? Tubeless bike tires have valves that attach to the rims.
While most bike tires have inner tubes, tubeless versions are usually the right choice for mountain bikers.