Tubeless tyre technology has been around for some time for mountain bikes and most gravel bikes will be ready to be set up tubeless too, but it’s a comparatively new option for road cyclists.
However, there are an increasing array of options available and most of the major tyre brands will have tubeless road rubber in their range now. It’s the same with wheels, with few new wheelsets not being tubeless-ready, and the makers of many old faithfuls upgrading them to offer tubeless compatibility.
We’ve reviewed a number of tubeless road tyre options here at BikeRadar, with more reviews in the works. So why should you set up your road bike tubeless and which tyres do we rate?
What are tubeless tyres?
Since time immemorial, road bike riders have used tyres with separate inner tubes. And since time immemorial, you’ve seen them standing by the roadside, the wheel off their bikes, trying to patch up a pin prick hole in that floppy black rubber ring.
Tubeless tyre technology does away with all (or at least most) of that. Instead of the air in your tyre being held in the inner tube, a tubeless tyre makes an airtight seal with the wheel rim.
To do that, the tyre and the rim are made with closer tolerances than a tubed tyre and wheel. The rim has a tubeless valve screwed into it that makes an airtight connection to it.
The rim also has to be sealed to keep air in. Some are airtight by design, with no spoke holes in the rim bed, others achieve this using an adhesive rim tape applied to the rim bed.
To make sure air doesn’t leak out, liquid sealant is poured inside the tyre when fitting (or injected through the valve).
This will seal any small gaps between the tyre and the rim and it also deals with the majority of smaller punctures, healing them as they happen.
Tubeless tyre technology is the norm in other tyres, like those found on cars and most motorcycles. It’s been slow to come to road bikes mainly due to the higher pressure that is used and the need to sort out standards and tolerances.
Best tubeless road tyres 2021, rated and reviewed
Our collection of tubeless road tyre reviews is ever-growing, so it’s worth checking back for further tests. Here’s our crop of current top tubeless tyre reviews:
- WTB Exposure: £49.99
- Schwalbe Pro One TLE: £68.49
- Bontrager R3: £50
- Hutchinson Sector 28: £45
- Specialized S-Works Turbo 2Bliss: £35
- Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL: £70
- Maxxis Highroad HYPR K2: £55
- Easy to setup
- Handy 30mm and 36mm widths (but nothing narrower)
- Black and tan sidewall options
Over our 2,300km of testing, we came to love our 30mm WTB Exposure tyres for their supple ride quality and durability. They were easy to set up too.
The Exposure is one of few tubeless tyre options that sits in the space between 28mm and 32mm-plus widths, offering a touch more comfort and control while still fitting comfortably in many newer frames.
Weight is 305g and there’s enough grip for some light off-road action too. There’s a 36mm option available, if your bike can handle the width, while you can get black or tan sidewalls.
If you want a wide and versatile tubeless road tyre, this is a great option, but if you’re after a narrower option then you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Schwalbe Pro One TLE
- Fast and versatile road tyre
- On the pricier side
- 25mm, 28mm and 30mm widths
Schwalbe revamped the popular Pro One TLE tyre last year. The original was one of the first tubeless road tyres to be launched and the new version is claimed to be faster, grippier and lighter than its predecessor.
Available for 700c wheels in 25mm, 28mm and 30mm widths, our test 28mm Pro Ones came in under Schwalbe’s published 270g weight.
After 1,300km of testing, including a fair amount of light gravel, they’ve proved robust and puncture-free. They feel fast and can handle low pressures, although they’re a bit more pricey at most retailers than some alternatives.
There’s also a flagship, tubeless 25mm Pro One TT variant, weighing in at around 205g, though that forgoes puncture protection.
Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR
- Buy now from Trek Bikes
- Great performance
- 32mm width only
Trek has been pushing the envelope on tyre widths, with its Domane endurance road bike now clearing tyres up to 38mm.
During the three years of development of the R3 Hard-Case Lite, Bontrager found that higher volume tyres rolled faster, and the latest version is only available in a 32mm width. Bontrager has also upped durability over its previous generation R3 tyres.
Despite their 32mm width, the Hard-Case Lite tyres are indeed light at under 320g, undercutting some top-rated 28s, but retain good sidewall support and stability. They roll fast and grip well in the wet or dry, handling broken tarmac with aplomb.
Hutchinson Sector 28
- Road tyre that’s tough enough to mix it up on gravel and cobbles
- Now available in 28mm and 32mm widths
The Sector was one of the first road tubeless tyres that really impressed us, and it remains a valid choice for its combination of decent on-road performance and off-road durability.
Created as a plush alternative to tubulars, the Sector is a great choice if you ride on potholed lanes or like to include gravel diversions in your road rides.
Despite its durability, the Sector isn’t ridiculously heavy. Claimed weight for the 28mm is 295g and our test set was actually around 15g under that figure.
Specialized S-Works Turbo 2Bliss Ready
- Good value for money
- 28mm width fits a wide range of bikes
- Impressive all-round performance
The S-Works Turbo 2Bliss Ready comes in a 28mm width and weighs 285 grams. As with the other tyres listed here, we were impressed with the tyre’s supple feel and grip, while Spesh says that the Gripton compound is best in class for its low rolling resistance.
At £35 a tyre, the S-Works Turbo 2Bliss Ready is inexpensive for a tubeless tyre as well, bearing comparison with tubeless tyres at twice the price.
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL
- Excellent ride quality
- Good grip
- On the expensive side
Continental is many people’s go-to tyre brand, with the GP 5000 TL being its first tubeless road offering. It uses the same Black Chili rubber compound and Vectran puncture protection as Conti’s other top-end tyres, but with a casing modified for tubeless.
Weight is around 310g for a 28mm tyre, giving a similar overall weight to a GP4000 S II tyre and inner tube, but with great ride quality, grip and puncture protection built in.
The £70 recommended retail price is a step up from Conti’s tubed tyres and more expensive than some of the competition, but real-world pricing is in-line with rivals.
Maxxis High Road HYPR K2
- Buy now from Maxxis
- Good grip
- Fast-feeling race tyre
- 25mm and 28mm widths
Maxxis says the Highroad HYPR K2 is its best road race tyre, with its HYPR rubber compound lowering rolling resistance and improving wet grip.
We weighed the 25mm tyre at 290g, although that’s 80g more than the non-tubeless option. Fitting was easy with a track pump and the tyre sealed easily to the rim. It’s also available as a 28mm tyre.
We found great straight line speed and fast acceleration paired with progressive grip when cornering.
Others to consider
Challenge announced in 2019 that a range of its tyres was going tubeless. That includes the 25mm Strada, the 27mm Paris Roubaix and the 30mm Strada Bianca. Plus there’s a range of tubeless gravel tyres from 33mm to 36mm in width.
Ere is a Dutch brand which offers a range of wheels, tyres and handlebar tapes. We’ve previously reviewed the 36mm Tenaci tubeless tyre and described it as “a fast option for rides that mix tarmac with dry (not rough) off-road terrain”.
Hutchinson was one of the earliest tyre makers to offer a tubeless option. In addition to the Sector 28 listed above, its Fusion 5 range uses its latest 11Storm compound and offers widths of 25mm, 28mm and 30mm.
IRC produces a huge range of tubeless road tyres aimed at different riding conditions and budgets.
Giant offers its Gavia Fondo tyre in 28mm and 32mm tubeless-ready formats, while its performance-focused Cadex sub-brand has the fast rolling Cadex Race tyre in 23mm, 25mm and 28mm widths.
Michelin launched its first tubeless tyre for road bikes last year. The Power Road TLR comes in 25mm, 28mm and 32mm widths and uses a new compound called X-Race.
Vittoria’s Corsa, Corsa Speed and Corsa Control tyres, as well as the Rubino Pro, now have tubeless ready options in 23mm, 25mm, 28 and 30mm widths.
Why go tubeless?
Supple: it’s a word that’s repeated time and again in reviews. Without a separate inner tube, the overall thickness of the casing is reduced, leading to a tyre that deforms more easily in response to road imperfections, leading to a more comfortable ride.
Lower tyre pressure
You can run tubeless tyres at lower pressures, typically dropping 5 to 10 psi from that you’d run with a tubed setup. That’s because there’s no risk of pinch flats if you run over a rock or other bump in the road. The ability to run lower pressures further improves comfort, too.
As well as avoiding pinch flats, the sealant in a tubeless tyre protects against smaller punctures, often sealing the hole with minimal loss of pressure in the tyre. So hunting for those pin-prick holes in your tyre is a thing of the past.
Lower friction and higher speed
The movement of an inner tube against the tyre’s casing causes significant friction, making tubed tyres slower as well as less comfortable. Butyl inner tubes have the most friction against the tyre; although you can reduce it by fitting latex inner tubes instead, it’s still a significant factor.
With no inner tube at all, tubeless is usually faster as well as more comfortable to ride.
Reduced rotating mass
Because you’ve done away with the inner tube, you can save a fair chunk of weight with a tubeless set-up in some cases. That’s particularly true with the usual butyl tubes; the weight saving with latex tubes is less, although latex tubes make up for that by being more fragile and leakier.
That saving is countered by the need to add 40ml to 60ml of sealant to your tyre to get a seal and benefit from puncture protection. Also, tubeless ready tyres are typically heavier than their tubed brethren as they need to be airtight and usually have a heavier-duty bead for safety reasons.
As modern road bikes offer ever-increasing tyre clearances, many tubeless tyres are available in widths above the standard 25mm. With larger air volumes, you can take in even rougher terrain, heading onto gravel trails to up your repertoire of available rides.
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- BikeRadar Podcast | Road tubeless — the what, why and how
Are there any drawbacks?
There are a few things to watch out for if you’re thinking of going tubeless.
We talked above about the tight design tolerances needed for tubeless to work at road tyre pressures. Many tubeless tyres can be set up on a wheel just using a track pump but as tubeless standards for the road are still in flux, some combinations of wheel and tyre just won’t seat while others are excessively tight. You may need to use a tubeless-specific pump with an oversized air chamber, or a separate booster to seat a tyre.
The former is a pump where you pressurise a reservoir, then release the air into the tyre. That pushes more air into the tyre at higher pressure and faster, seating the tyre on the rim.
For more, read our detailed guide on how to set up road tubeless tyres.
Once set up, you can often still get slow leaks from a tubeless tyre, due to incomplete sealing to the rim. Spinning the wheel can help distribute the sealant and stop the leak, but if that doesn’t work a quick ride up and down the road will often do the trick. You may need to top up the sealant too, if you’ve lost a significant amount.
The sealant in a tubeless tyre tends to dry out and set over time, so you need to keep an eye on whether there’s any liquid sealant still in there. If there isn’t, your tyre may not stay inflated if you get a puncture.
You need to monitor its level every month or so and keep it topped up. That usually means popping a tyre bead off the rim so you can see how much liquid sealant is left, adding more sealant if necessary and reseating the tyre. Or you can remove the valve core and squirt sealant through it.
Both can be slightly messy but Milkit has a system that lets you suck the liquid sealant out of the tyre, measure its volume, top it up and re-add it to the tyre. It’s a bit pricey but makes maintenance easier.
Tubeless sealant will often fix flats without you even noticing them. We’ve had quite large thorn-induced punctures that would have otherwise stopped us in our tracks, that have sealed up without usnoticing and with negligible drop in tyre pressure.
But some holes are too large for the sealant to cope with. Sidewall damage is often the cause. You’ll either get a persistent leak or the plug of sealant will blow out if you have anything above minimal air pressure in your tyre. You might want to carry tyre levers and a pump, along with a spare tube to swap in if that happens.
Some sealants work better than others: take a look at our test of six popular choices.
Tubeless tyre jargon buster
Thinking about switching to tubeless tyres but confused by some of the jargon? Here’s our guide to the key tyre terms you need to know.
- Bead: The part on the edge of the tyre that mates with the rim. This is specially made on tubeless tyres to help form an airtight seal and is usually a tighter fit than a non-tubeless tyre bead.
- Casing: The fabric part of the tyre that supports the rubber tread. In a tubeless tyre, this needs to be airtight to maintain the tyre’s pressure.
- Hookless bead: A spillover from mountain bike wheels, hookless beads remove the lip from the wheel rim. This allows the wheel to be lighter and stronger, while the tyre-rim interface can be more aerodynamically efficient. But some tyre makers advise against fitting their road tyres on hookless rims, as there’s less contact with the tyre and a potentially increased risk of the tyre blowing off the rim. It’s best to check manufacturers’ websites for any compatibility issues.
- Removable core: Many tubeless valves have a removable central core. Take this out and you can get more air into the tyre more quickly to aid inflation. It can also be removed to top up sealant levels if you have a flat or the sealant has dried out.
- Reservoir pump: A pump that stores up compressed air, which you then discharge into the tyre. The higher volume of air pushed into a tubeless tyre at pressure can make sealing the tyre to the rim easier. You can also buy a separate reservoir that fits between a standard track pump and the tyre valve to achieve the same result.
- Sealant: Liquid poured into the tyre, typically based on latex, that helps it form an airtight bond to the rim and will stop air leaks from minor punctures.
- Sidewall: The outward facing edges of the tyre that aren’t in contact with the road surface.
- Track pump: A long hand-operated pump for tyres. Using a standard track pump is often enough to seat a tubeless tyre, although you may need a reservoir pump to get a seal without too much elbow grease.
- Tread: The rubber compound that forms the outer surface of the tyre, on which you ride.
- Tubeless-ready wheel: You need a tubeless-ready wheelset to set up tubeless tyres on your bike. Most, but not all, newer wheelsets will be tubeless-ready. They’ll be built to tolerances that mean there’s a close fit to tubeless tyres, which should aid installation. But some may need to have tubeless rim tape fitted to set them up for tubeless running.
- Tubeless valve: Since there’s no inner tube, a tubeless setup has a separate Presta-type valve. This is screwed into the wheel rim before mounting the tyre and has a seal around its base to prevent air loss around the rim’s valve hole.
- UST: Designation and standard for tubeless tyres and rims used by Mavic. Most Mavic wheels are UST tubeless and the brand recommends its UST tyres for use on its rims. UST is a slightly different standard, although other tubeless tyres should fit OK.