It stands to reason that you’re going to be riding your gravel bike over some pretty rough terrain.
Even if you personally don’t find cycling on loose pack surfaces much of a challenge, your tires might, especially if the trail is made up of large angular pebbles.
We’ve all paid our dues at the side of the trail because we’ve picked up a puncture somewhere along the way.
It’s a risk you take when you hit the path less traveled, but choosing a tubeless tire for your gravel bike may help to minimize these unfortunate events.
With no inner tube, a tubeless tire is completely impervious to pinch punctures where the tube catches on the rim and ruptures.
They’re also less susceptible to impact punctures, which is perfect if you like to ride tiered terrain.
Tubeless tires are still vulnerable to small snakebite punctures, which is a shame as they’re the most common puncture in gravel riding, but they handle the situation much better than their tubed counterparts.
Firstly, the puncture cannot cause massive internal disruption as there’s no tube to be breached, preventing the chance of an explosive puncture that flattens the tire in one fell swoop.
This means that in the unfortunate event of a puncture, there’ll be enough air in your tires to maintain control at speed, keeping you safe until you can slow down and pull over.
Secondly, As the air has to pass through that single puncture hole, it can only exit the tire at a gentle rate, giving you plenty of time to fit some sort of temporary seal.
Once patched up, you should be able to finish your ride and make home without any more issues.
Benefits aside, tubeless tires aren’t for everyone. Whether you should make the switch comes entirely down to personal preference and the type of routes you like riding.
If you mostly only ride on roads, switching to tubeless may not be worth the effort and money. On the other hand, if you use your gravel bike more like a mountain bike, going tubeless is 100% the right course of action.
Do bear in mind; however, that changing your tube tires for tubeless variants is rarely as simple as making a straight trade.
Tubeless tires require a specialist rim to ensure they remain airtight and prevent slow leaks at the bead. If your bike rims are tubeless-ready, you’ll need to invest in a conversion kit.
Do gravel bikes have inner tubes?
If you’ve treated yourself to a brand-new gravel bike, firstly, congratulations, you’re going to have a blast! Secondly, there’s a solid chance that the tires have an inner tube.
It’s not just gravel bikes that come with tubed tires as standard, but pretty much any bike, from cruiser to road.
The reason they’re far more likely to carry traditional tires as default is that, one, tires with inner tubes are far cheaper to produce, and two, most people simply aren’t bothered what sort of tires they have.
Having said that, although they may arrive with inner tube tires, far more bikes are being factory-fitted with tubeless-ready rims.
So, if you do wish to make the switch in the future, it’s as easy as dismounting your current tire, and mounting your new tubeless wonder - perfect!
How do you convert a tubeless bike to gravel?
If you’ve already made the switch to tubeless tires, you may still be wondering if they’re appropriate for gravel riding.
Unlike road bikes, gravel bikes require fairly chunky tires with a slightly more aggressive tread pattern.
Where road bike tires are designed to make as much central surface contact as possible, gravel tires need to be able to grip on shifting terrain.
For smooth gravel riding, you’ll need slightly more pronounced lugs on your tubeless tire, but nothing too serious.
Something along the lines of these Gravel-King tires should be just the ticket.
If you’re more into riding rugged terrains, you’ll need to increase tire size to 40-42mm and increase aggression of the lugs. Think about something similar to this Vittoria-11A00070-Terreno-Dry-G2 tubeless tire.
To navigate the most treacherous terrain, you’re going to need to up the size to at least 45mm and look out for some fierce grip patterns.
A particular favorite of ours for the tough stuff is this Continental-0101487-Bike-Tires tubeless beast.
How do you go tubeless on a gravel bike?
Ideally, if you’re thinking about going tubeless, your bike will already have tubeless-ready rims, but it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t.
You’ll just have to buy a couple more items to get the job done.
So, what will you need altogether?
- Tubeless Conversion Kit (If your rims aren’t tubeless-ready) - We recommend this Muc-Off-20085-Ultimate-Tubeless kit. Your tubeless conversion kit will contain rim tape, tubeless valves, and tubeless tire sealant.
- 15mm Wrench - You’ll use this to remove your wheel.
- Scissors - For cutting the rim tape.
- Tire Levers - To pop that old tire off.
- Sharp Utensil - This will be used to make a hole for the valve.
- Tubeless Tire
Step 1. Remove your wheel.
Step 2. Use the levers to remove old tire.
Step 3. Remove any non-tubeless tape and replace it with tubeless-friendly rim tape. Make sure all spoke holes are filled in and press firmly on the tape once finished to ensure it has fully adhered.
Step 4. Using your sharp tool, poke a hole through the tape where the valve will sit.
Step 5. Insert tubeless valve and secure with included O-ring and washers.
Step 6. Mount your new tire.
Step 7. Treat your wheel with the required amount of sealant.
Step 8. Roll your tire to spread the sealant equally.
Step 9. Inflate your tire, and voilà! Try to inflate it as quickly as possible as that’s the best way to get the tire to seal.
How much weight do you save going tubeless?
While tubeless tires are generally thought to be the lighter of the two options, it’s not always the case.
A tubeless tire plus sufficient sealant is almost always going to end up heavier than an ultralight tube and tire.
Compared to standard weight tubes and tires, on the other hand, a tubeless tire is certain to be lighter.
Exactly how much weight you’ll cut when you go tubeless depends on the sort of tires your route or bike requires.
Ballpark figure, you could be looking at bringing your weight down anywhere between 150 and 600 grams.
Is tubeless better for gravel bikes?
Generally speaking, tubeless tires are far more suitable for gravel bikes than traditional tires as they’re puncture-resistant and can be ridden at much lower air pressures.
A lower air pressure tire will conform far more efficiently to uneven surfaces, increasing traction, and reducing the transmission of impact vibrations.
But going tubeless isn’t always the best course of action. The fact that you’re still at risk from snakebite punctures means they’re not foolproof systems.
Furthermore, if you’re just looking for a little bit of extra puncture resistance, you might want to look into slime inner tubes.
Much like any other inner tube in appearance, these specialist devices feature a thick internal substance that quickly fills puncture holes and solidifies, preventing any air from escaping.
As slime tubes don’t require an entirely new rim or conversion kit, they may end up being a more economical option with similar benefits as tubeless tires.
If you’re interested in checking out slime tubes, we recommend giving this Slime-30045-Self-Sealing tube set a peek. It’s affordable, effective, and hugely popular.
Contrary to popular belief, tubeless tires also actually require more maintenance than standard variants as you need to keep up on sealant application.
What’s tubeless tire sealant you ask? It’s a solution you can buy by the bottle that lines the inside of your tire. It functions in very much a similar fashion to the slime in the slime inner tubes we just mentioned.
Should you spring a puncture, it travels to the problem area, fills the hole, and dries in place.
A thin and porous substance, tubeless tire sealant often dries out before it’s been of any use, so it’s recommended that you replace it every two to three months - every six months as an absolute minimum.
If you’re new to the world of tubeless tire sealant, we can’t speak highly enough about this NoTubes Tire Sealant, so start your search with that.
Beyond these small downsides, tubeless tires are far more suitable for gravel bikes than traditional tires, and making the switch is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of a ride.