Just got this email
It was good to meet up with you at the recent AUK reunion – its always
good to put a face to the name.
I was wondering if you could give me some advice about going tubeless.
After another winter puncture on my Langport – Taunton commute I’m
seriously thinking about switching to tubeless tyres but I notice on
the YACF forum and your blog that your experiences haven’t all been
straightforward and trouble free. My main question is am I better
replacing my existing rims for tubeless compatible?
I currently have an exal xr-2 32 hole front wheel with an SP hub
dynamo and a Mavic Open Elite on the rear. Getting rid of the exal
wouldn’t be a major problem as it’s a pig for getting tyres on and
Any other advice re tyres/sealant etc would be gratefully received.
I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year with plenty of riding.
I’ve been using tubeless now for a year on two bikes
People are asking me about them, are they good, what’s bad, how to set up?
There still is a lot of poor, contradictory info out there
what’s the problem?
Tubeless tyres are more comfortable and roll fast as they are more pliable
Tubeless needs all kinds of special preperation for them to work correctly.
Coming from inner tubes + clichers these rules are odd and difficult
Tubeless tyres work on clicher rims. There are special rims for tubeless
but with the correct prep will work well on some old non tubeless rims.
Tubeless rims have a different profile shape to old normal clincher rims.
In theory any rim can be used. In practice with old, narrow, non tubeless
specific rims have some risk of the tyre coming off during stress such
as cornering To use a non specialist old style rim with tubeless, use a
“rim strip” to convert the shape of the channel in the rim. IMHO wider
“23mm” rims are better also as they give a tighter fit
As the tyre is a single layer using sealant is more straight forward and
less messy. To install the sealant the easiest method seems to be to
remove the valve core and use a syringe to squirt it in. The weight of
the sealant is slightly less than the weight of an inner tube. It is
extremely effective against very small holes
Putting the tyre on is not necessarily easy.
I know a lot of bike users complain about how difficult it is to put
on a normal tyre. But the super tight bead on a tubeless tyre puts in
in another league. With normal tyres I have usually got them on with
the shoe trick and a bit of gumption. With tubeless, a special tool,
the bead jack, is required. This is a lever which hooks onto the tyre
bead and the opposite rim.
Even initially clipping a single bead of the tyre over the edge of one rim lip
can be very difficult without the special tool
If the tyre has to be removed then this is almost as difficult. 3 steel
tyre levers and a screwdriver works for me. You can imagine the technique
The way that the tyre seals onto the rim so that the air does not escape
is very tight. To get the tyre into this state of tightness requires
more than just pumping up the tyre with a track pump. The method that
Stan’s No Tubes (market leader) recommend is
- put tyre on ( this isn’t easy: see above )
- spray soap solution into the gap between tyre and rim
- apply a compressor, not a hand pump as the air supply
After this hopefully there is a sudden clunk and the tyre will jump into a
good seated position. In practice, I initially used a CO2 inflator, tried
to make a “ghetto compressor” but failed and then bought an “Airshot”
which is like the “ghetto compressor” but made of metal, by engineers
and not out of random junk
About the sealant
With the sealant in them the tyres are truly puncture resistant with
the following limitations
Small holes are sealed instantly and the problem is usually not even
noticed! This is truly fabulous. Sometimes a small hole seals but the tyre has
very much reduced pressure and the tyre needs pumping up.
Larger holes are more of a problem. Usually a “larger” hole
(bigger than 2mm) will spew out a lot of sealant. Stop riding, rotate the
tyre so the hole is near the bottom, more sealant will flood out!
Quickly put your finger over the hole. With the added finger pressure
and the reduced air pressure in the tyre, hopefully the leak will stop.
Then limp home with reduced pressure. Attempting to
re-inflate to the usual pressure might work for a moment or two but
usually the hole will reopen.
Sealant doesn’t last forever. Under normal UK conditions it seems to
be good for 2 or 3 months. Then it transforms into some brown water and
presumably an extra coating of plastic latex on the inside of the tube.
When this happens, it will not seal any holes. So it absolutely must
be topped up regularly
If the tyre does get a hole larger than the sealant can cope with, it
has to be sealed in some other way. There are a number of “external”
puncture kits which are supposed to be able to seal large holes without
removing the tyre. To cut a long story short, these kits do not work
with road tyres. Partly this is because the kits can’t cope with the
pressure of an inflated tyre and partly because they add a bump to the
outside on the smooth casing. To fix the puncture, remove the tyre and
install a patch on the inside. Usually inner tube patches are fine but
there are tubeless specific internal patch kits available
The terrible expense
Given that the advantages are not clear cut, the additional cost of
tubeless is worth considering. The cost factors are
Typically in the UK quality clinchers are £10 or 50% cheaper than
tubeless. Even with the extra cost of an inner tube, clinchers are much
cheaper. Also, at the time of writing, tubeless tyres are rarely in the
The Stan’s stuff (or the Schwalbe rebadge of it) is effective
but expensive. It needs to be used every 3 months.
Yet another fiddly specialist part that is over priced
Rims and wheels
There is still a premium on these for tubeless
You will need a bead jack, a compressor or equivalent and optionally a syringe for sealant and a valve core remover
The MTB factor
When I describe the various problems I’ve had inevitably someone with
an all terrain bike says that they don’t have those problems and my
reservations with the tubeless system don’t fit in with their experiences.
MTB tubeless has some advantages over road bike tubeless
– MTB tubeless has been around longer. So there is a wider choice of
tyres and rims.
– MTB tubeless runs at lower pressure. The sealant works better and
MTB users actually want a super low pressure which only tubeless tyres
can achieve. OTOH Road bike users need a pressure of at least around
50 to 70 psi (3 to 5 bar) in order to get optimal rolling resistance
– External patch kits work. As the tyres are knobbly and work at a lower
pressure the problems with road tyres do not apply
Supposed advantages of tubeless that aren’t
Tubeless tyres are usually heavier in construction than clinchers and
contain sealant. So overall the weight advantage is tiny. But it is real
and it’s a “rotating weight” advantage at the outer edge of the wheel.
It’s a small plus, not an amazing advantage
running lighter tyres in the winter
The idea goes: the sealant means that the tyre is immune to punctures.
Light tyres puncture in the winter but with the magic of tubeless
somehow punctures don’t matter. In practice there are two problems with
this… First, as discussed above the bigger holes do not effectively
seal. Second, there is less choice in tyres and many of the “medium”
lighter tyres that might be used on a fast bike in the winter are not
available as tubeless. This is especially true if your bike doesn’t
have the clearance for larger tyres. There are only 3 tyres in this “medium”
small width (23mm-28mm) category, the Bontrager R3, the AW2 TLR and the
You need less tools on the road
Again, this is mainly due to the supposed invulerability of tubeless
to punctures. But if you really do have to fix a tubeless puncture on
the road you will need a bead jack and a CO2 inflator in addition to
the usual gear.
tubeless tyres are “fit and forget”
Except for the topping up of sealant and the need for lots of specialist
tools and equipment
Do I need to replace the rims to run tubeless? No. But you will need a rim strip.
You kinda implied that running tubeless will lead to less punctures and generally a more jolly time. It might, hopefully your bike can run tyres bigger than 28mm. If it can, this has the double advantage that more “winter suitable” tyres are available (Marathon Supreme, Schwalbe G1, Schwalbe S1, Hutchinson Sector) and that they can be run at lower pressures so the sealant works better. I have the Schwalbe S1 on my other bike. I haven’t done the miles on them to tell for sure how they will do but early impressions are good.
If you want an easier solution to the “no punctures” problem then Schwalbe Marathon Plus weigh too much, ride like lead and have no grip but can be ridden through broken glass with impunity
I was running my Ridley with so-called 25mm Hutchinson Intensive tubeless tyres on 23mm (H Son Archetype) rims.
These measured less than 25mm across and easily fitted in the tight mudguards on the Ridley
When the front tyre gained a huge hole I switched the front to a 25mm Michelin Pro Race. Oddly however the mudguard did not fit. I removed the front mudguard It was only later when I measured the actual width of the Michellin on the H Son rim that I realised it was coming out as 28mm!
Recently I got some Schwalbe Pro One 23mm tubeless tyres, I fitted these and
measured the width, it came out as over 25mm
So don’t believe the hype
After months of waiting, I finally fitted some Schwalbe S-One 30mm tubeless. There’s not a lot to say about fitting them. I used BOR 20.9mm tubeless tape in a double layer. The tyre took only a little pursuasion with the bead jack getting the initial bead on and then at the last bit. One pumped up straight with a track pump and the other needed CO2
Only been for one ride. I had the tyres at 80psi/5.5 bar. They seemed more comfortable than the previous 30mm Strada Bianca at 90 psi. Speedwise, it’s difficult to say but I did get a PB on a hill. Grip seemed good, I had to jump a pothole sideways on a wet road while already cornering quite fast and there was no sliding at all
I’ve had a Specialized Roubaix since 2010, done a number of nice long rides on it including PBP 2011 and 5 SR series. The Genesis Datum is a new arrival, had it about 6 weeks, I’ve just ridden one K&SW 600 and 300km in the North of England on it. But this is enough to do a fairly superficial comparison. Both bikes as I use them are pretty much stock except they have custom wheels and Brooks B17. Both have Schmidt SON generator hubs and B&M lights. Both have mudguards. The Roubaix is a 30-40-50 x 12-30 triple and the Datum is a 50-34 x 32-11
Handling cornering etc
When I first rode the Roubaix I thought “this handles like a boat. It’s the one for me” It’s super stable rather than responsive. The Datum is not a super responsive bike but compared to the Roubaix it is. I could probably push the Datum tighter around corners but I just don’t have that style of riding. The bigger tyres on the Datum make handling more confident on bad surfaces
In terms of what is the faster bike, probably the Roubaix feels slightly faster as it is a slightly lower riding position. But there is not much in it. The greater tyre width doesn’t make much difference.
As the frame on the Datum is stiffer, the power transmission on it feels better. If I ride the two bikes back to back the Roubaix almost feels bendy
The Roubaix is very comfortable. The frame has various features to make it flex over poor surfaces. Considering it will only take 25mm with ‘guards it’s remarkable how good it is on rough roads. Of course the Datum has room for much bigger tyres, I am running it with 30mm Strada Bianca. The higher air volume makes up for the stiffer frame. The Specialized stock build also includes a carbon post and “phat” bar tape aimed at better levels of comfort
If either bike meets a pothole they both cope well. The Roubaix flexes and the Datum bounces but the net result is ok. The entire back end of the Roubaix flexes like rubber. The larger tyres on the Datum absorb a lot of the shock when this happens
The Roubaix will take 25mm with mudguards or 28mm without. I rode PBP 2011 on 28mm Schwalbe Ultremo, excellent tyres for that job. The Datum is supplied with 33mm tyres, I currently have 30mm on it. It would probably take a big 35mm tyre without mudguards
Roubaix is 10.6Kg and the Datum is 10.5Kg. This is surprising, the larger tyres on the Datum + the disks make it look like this would be heavier but it’s a tie
When climbing the lighter rotating weight of the Roubaix wheels works in it’s favour. But the stiffer frame on the Datum works better. So I’d say on balance the Datum is slightly better
On descents, the Roubaix is super stable. If there is a long straight section tuck in and enjoy. The Datum is not as stable. If the speed goes above 60kph you must grip the top tube between your legs to avoid vibrations or speed wobble. If there are corners on the descent both bikes are good but the Datum’s disk brakes and wider tyres give it a definite advantage
For those gravel path sections or bits of mislabeled Sustrans “cycle routes” that are actually mud the Datum is the clear winner. You can usually ride any bike on almost any surface but slightly wider tyres give better grip
Fitting luggage and guards
The Datum’s great clearance and proper mudguard eyelets give it the mudguard advantage here. It has full length SKS Longboards with the 30mm tyres. The Roubaix will only just take a Crud Road Race guard which attaches with rubber bands. Crud Road Race are good guards but they are not as durable as an SKS guard. The super tight clearance also increases wear, I am lucky to get 1500km out of a set. Neither bike is particularly great for luggage. I’ve experimented with Carradice bags using SQR or the bagman supports and also attaching dry bags. Both bikes have a Ortlieb Ultimate 5 klick mount on the front – front barbags aren’t to everyones liking but they suit me.
So which is best?
Both bikes have their own strengths. Generally the comfort level of the Roubaix is better but the Genesis is faster. The Genesis disk brakes and larger tyres are nice to have, as is the concealed cable routing. The stability of the Roubaix gives it a feel of a real long distance bike. I will be using both and favouring the Genesis, simply because it is newer.
The Genesis Datum is a great bike! For maximum long distance fun though I added a few bits and pieces to it..
Wheels and tyres
I had a pair of wheels made with a higher spoke count than the factory wheels the bike came with. The new wheels are 32 front and 32 rear. Despite being tubeless profiled rims initially I was going to put clinchers on, so on goes the rim tape
The front wheel has a SON generator hub. So I put a B&M IQ-X on the fork crown at the front.
At the back I put a Lezyne Micro Drive
One upgrade I should have made before trying to ride the bike around the Lake District and the Pennines were the brake pads. The RS 505 calipers came fitted with resin pads. These last 500 to 1000km. In my case after 1100km they had worn back to the metal and destroyed the front rotor. After this little disaster I fitted sintered pads which should be able to get through a few rides before changing. I also have learned the hard way what a worn out pad sounds like.
I put an Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Klick fix on the handlebars. My old Ortlieb bag is still good. I also made a home brew drybag “saddlebag” holder with velcro straps and corrugated plastic. Should be writing up the “saddlebag” in another blog post
Audax bikes might be propelled solely by human effort but they have various electronic devices on them: GPS, Lights, a generator, maybe a battery pack
A lot of riders (including myself) waste too much time trying to get an optimal electronic setup.
My last bike, the Roubaix had a Schmidt generator hub. This generator powered front and rear lights. The GPS was a eTrex 20 which runs off AA batteries. The front light was a Luxos which had a USB power output. After a while I discovered that the eTrex would run directly off the USB from the Luxos – even when lights were running. I had low powered backup lights too. I usually carry a mobile phone. The Luxos could also charge this, albeit slowly and it couldn’t charge the phone and run the GPS at the same time.
However, this set up failed and lost me a 300km when the Luxos failed – it was wet – and the backup light would have been inadequate for riding in the dark and rain. The lesson here really is always carry an adequate backup light. The Luxos and other B&M generator lights I’ve used have been very reliable on the whole but you never know what will happen..
With my new bike I am taking a different approach
The main, front light is a B&M IQ-X. This is the latest B&M offering with 100 Lux output. Compared with the 70 Lux from the Luxos. Like all new lights when they are new it seems to offer a vast improvement on the old. In this case the beam is both wider and longer. The IQ-X is simpler in design to the Luxos, with no USB power output and better water proofing
The rear light is a rechargeable Lezyne Micro Drive. This is extremely bright and has various power “modes”. Even in the lowest mode that supposedly lasts for 24 hours the light is very very bright compared to an average light. The build quality is also good. To recharge it, the rear cover unscrews showing a USB plug. It will charge off any USB power source.
My previous rear lights have always had replaceable batteries in them. By preference these were AA batteries. The idea was that I could carry spares or even buy them from a garage if the light ran out
The eTrex 20 is now running off AA batteries all the time and not using the generator. With Sonyo Black XX batteries (now branded as “Panasonic Eneloop Pro”) it runs for over 24 hours, depending on the exact use it is getting. Carrying a few sets of spares is not a problem for the typical audax event (ie a 600km over 40 hours)
I still carry a phone though. If the phone gets any kind of use – looking for an open shop in the area or for train times – then the battery is rapidly drained. So I needed some way of recharging it in the wild
USB cache battery
The solution was a Portapow 10200mAh portable charger. On 600km events there is often a drop bag service and the charger can go in there. Otherwise, it’s not super heavy and can come on the bike
It is able to charge the phone and the Lezyne Micro drive at the same time
Finally, I have got a new backup light. It’s only a cheap item from Wilcos but much more powerful than the previous light. Hopefully it is good enough to ride for extended periods in the dark and wet. Although I hope I don’t have to find out!
Mille Pennines Event
The Mille Pennines is a 1010km AUK ride starting in Blackpool. There are 3 days of hard riding and a final easy section. The event uses the “Low Mill Outdoor Centre” in Askrigg as the base and the major stages all begin and/or end there.
The Lake District
Day one begins by leaving Blackpool and heading north to the Lake District. The first 100km is easy and I think most of the field of 90 did this in under four hours. After this, the mountainous beauty of the Lakes was covered, then we were at the seaside in Seascale. For the bike, so far so good
Fry an egg
Next we went up the Hard Knott pass. I rode up some of it but walked a long way. Then we had to come down the other side. It was at this point that the disks made some different sounds of tortured metal. I stopped and noted that the cooling fins were hot enough to fry an egg. But I didn’t have an egg so I pressed on. The front brake disk started to make a rattling noise all the time. After this, it was up the next bit and then some easier, better roads to Windermere and then back to Askrigg. At some point the brakes stopped rattling. I rolled into Askrigg at 00:40am and got one of the last bunk beds
Time to get a train
Next day I set off at 5am, full of Weetabix. There was a stiff climb to start but on the top the reward was some tremendous views
The brakes however made more and more worrying noises. I found if I pulled the lever a little bit they were silent running, so I did this.
At the Stanthope control stop, I took the front wheel out. There was scarring on the front disk. I tried cleaning the pads without removing them, using a wetwipe, they seemed smooth.
Then, not far from Hexham after braking hard for a corner the front wheel caliper seized up completely.
I wasn’t too sure what to do but fortunately another rider stopped (thank you Simon) and helped me remove the front caliper. The bike now had no front brake and wasn’t safe on steep, wet roads. I half rode, half walked down to Hexham and found the train station
What I guess happened…
The Shimano BR-RS505 calipers had only done a 600km ride prior to the event. They were new, on a new bike before that. After the 600km the bike went in for a service specifically to get the brakes adjusted, because the rear had been vibrating.
What I hadn’t checked is the type of pad that the brakes come with out of the box, they seem to come with resin pads. My other bikes have sintered pads. Resin pads don’t last as long as sintered, it seems that a normal 600km ride is a good distance for them. Also the extreme conditions of descending the narrow, very steep, twisting track on the back of the Hard Knott would have put paid to any brake pad on the verge of wearing out
So the lesson is, fit sintered pads and check them for wear before starting
The caliper is destroyed, it is full of mangled shavings from the rotor. The rotor is also dead. The hydraulic fluid for the front brake will also need redoing