First adopted by the off-road set, tubeless tires have become inexpensive and durable enough to make them an option for all cyclists. While many people have already made the decision to go tubeless, there are some, like me, who still see them as the product of black magic and are naturally afraid of such things. It may comfort you to know, then, that tubeless tires have been around since the invention of the bicycle— technically.

Technically tubeless.

The tires on old penny-farthing bikes (right) sported iron rims like wagon wheels. Shortly after, the all rubber tire was introduced, and the first pneumatic tires were invented by John Dunlop in 1887. Then followed in 1891 by the removable tires and inner tubes that we would recognize today.

Nowadays tubeless tires have come into vogue due to their reputation for durability and, in the mountain bike community, the ability to ride at lower pressure without getting pinch flats. Technological advances like the wire and Kevlar threads that keep the tire fixed to the rim also lend to the increased practicality of going tubeless.

Tubeless tires can be safer because they get fewer punctures, and punctures that do occur can be fixed without having to replace the tire. A standard inner tube can pop and need to be replaced multiple times on a rough ride. Going tubeless is a little more safe, in this sense, because a tire can be effectively repaired over and over again on hard rides. It also eliminates the need to carry spare tubes and the danger of running out of spares on a long ride.

Another safety benefit is that tubeless tires, when they do lose pressure, do so gradually. According to one tire developer, these tires will tend to leak rather than rupture. “The advantages of tubeless technology have been undisputed for years as far as the mountain bikes are concerned: In case of a defect, there is no sudden loss of air or the valve shearing off, the air escapes only very slowly.” Tubeless road tires also eliminate the friction that usually occurs between the inner tube and outer tire. Traditional tires can float on top of their tubes, preventing them from rolling into a turn; tubeless tires have quicker reaction times because the tire and tube are one solid object.

Going tubeless isn’t a safety necessity, however, if you’re used to riding tubed tires, then the relatively quick response can lead you to over-correct and fall. The safety benefits for mountain bikes are fairly clear. Tubeless tires allow cyclists to go on long rides over mixed terrain without having to worry about spares. For touring and long rides, this benefit outweighs the costs. In more casual use, the added weight, need for special rims, and expense might prevent some from taking the plunge. And after just this short discussion, I can’t recommend one way or the other. If this has seriously gotten you thinking, though, here are some great articles that might pique your interest.

As always, Christensen and Hymas remind their readers to stay safe out on the roads and to always exercise courtesy and caution.