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Is tubeless the best? Which type of gravel tire is best?

Tire selection is one of the most enjoyable and difficult aspects of gravel bike customization. In this article, we will look at the differences between tire types and the types of tires to choose for your gravel bike, along with their advantages and disadvantages.

Modified at: 2023.7.4Posted at: 2022.9.13

Different types of tires that can be mounted on gravel bikes

There are four types of tires that can be mounted on gravel bikes, as follows

  1. Clincher (Tubed)
  2. Tubular
  3. Tubeless
  4. tubeless ready

The difference between each is “how they hold air”: clinchers have an inner tube, tubulars have a tube inside the tire, and tubeless and tubeless-ready are forms that hold air directly inside the tire without a tube.

Of these, the clincher and tubeless ready are the ones chosen for gravel bikes.

Advantages and disadvantages of choosing clinchers on gravel bikes

Clincher tires are the most popular tire type, used not only on gravel bikes, but also on road bikes and other sport bicycles, as well as bicycles in general.

Advantages of choosing a clincher

The advantage of clinchers is that they are easy to maintain.

If you get a flat tire, simply change the tube and inflate it, and you are ready to ride. If it is a sports bicycle, the wheel can be easily removed, so even beginners can easily change the tube.

Also, even if you forget your tube, there is no bicycle store nearby that cannot repair a punctured clincher tire, so you can rest assured that even in an emergency, you will be able to find somewhere to deal with the problem.

Disadvantages of choosing clinchers

On the other hand, the disadvantages of clinchers are the power loss caused by friction between the tire and tube, and the need for higher air pressure.

In a clincher tire, the tube expands inside the tire to hold air, but because they are separate parts, there is inevitably friction between the tire and tube. The friction generated generates heat, which directly leads to power loss.

In addition, tires that are narrower (compared to MTB tires), such as those installed on gravel bikes, can cause “rim-striking punctures,” which occur when low air pressure pinches the tube and the wheel rim. For this reason, it is standard practice to use high pressure with clincher tires. However, high pressure inevitably causes the tire to receive vibrations from the road surface directly, resulting in a bouncy ride that is not comfortable.

Advantages and disadvantages of choosing tubeless ready for gravel bikes

Tubeless ready bikes were originally introduced on MTBs. In the past few years, road and gravel bikes have also been rapidly adopting tubeless-ready tires.

Tubeless-ready tires do not have a tube inside, but instead contain a fluid called sealant. This fluid prevents air from leaking through the gaps in the tire, and as a result, the tire can hold air without a tube. Tubeless tires do not need sealant either. The mechanism is the same, but the lack of sealant makes the tire lighter.

Advantages of Tubeless Ready

The advantages of choosing tubeless-ready bicycles are the ability to reduce air pressure and the resistance to punctures. Both of these are areas where “gravel bikes benefit greatly”.

Tubeless-ready tires are physically free from “rim-punctures” due to the absence of a tube. The purpose of high tire pressure on a road bike is to increase rolling resistance, but it is also to avoid "rim punctures. In the case of tubeless-ready bikes, lower air pressure can improve riding comfort by providing cushioning to the tire.

Another is to resist punctures. First of all, there is zero tube-derived punctures because there is no tube structurally. In addition to that, sealant is injected inside, so even if there is a hole in the tire, the sealant will fill it if it is a small hole.

Kits to fill holes for tubeless tires are also available, so even on long rides, it is possible to repair a puncture to some extent, which also enhances the running performance in terms of punctures.

Disadvantages of choosing tubeless ready

The disadvantages of tubeless-ready bicycles are cost and maintenance.

First of all, to go tubeless ready, you need the following parts that are compatible with tubeless ready.

  1. wheels
  2. tire
  3. sealant
  4. valve

These parts are more expensive than clinchers, generally 20-30% more expensive.

In addition, maintenance of tubeless-ready tires is obviously a hassle, as sealant needs to be injected periodically, a compressor may be needed to raise the tire bead, and the sealant may not hold air properly depending on the compatibility of the wheel and tire.

If a tire gets a flat tire on the road, it must be inflated while covered in sealant, and it cannot be repaired quickly like a clincher.

Why tubeless and not tubeless ready?

You may be thinking, "Why not just go tubeless instead of tubeless ready? You might think, "Why not just go tubeless?

There are two reasons why tubeless ready is better for gravel bikes. The first is that there are only a few types of tubeless bikes, and the second is that sealant should be used if you are going to ride on unpaved roads.

The first major reason is that there are only a few types of tubeless tires. This is true not only for tire types but also for wheel types. Currently, the majority of tubeless wheels on the market are tubeless-ready.

Since tubeless can only be used on tubeless wheels (tubeless ready can also be used on tubeless wheels), the choices are limited and the wheels are more expensive.

The advantage of tubeless tires is that they do not require sealant, but gravel bikes are ridden on unpaved roads and punctures are assumed to be present. Therefore, you are more likely to put in sealant whether you are riding tubeless or not.

If you are going to put sealant in anyway, it is more cost-effective to choose a tubeless-ready bike, which has a wide variety of sealant types.

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