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Back 2017-10-27

Considering Road Tubeless? Start Here

© Balint Hamvas Cyclephotos

Road cyclists are embracing tubeless. The technology began almost two decades ago off-road, and is now the dominant setup for mountain biking, almost completely eclipsing traditional clincher tires. On the road, tubeless tires and wheels are still in limited use but are poised for massive growth as cyclists experience the benefits they offer over traditional clincher wheels and tires, on pavement or gravel. The information below is designed to help you make informed decisions when considering tubeless options for wheels and tires.

© Jered Gruber

Benefits of Tubeless

  • Better cornering grip
  • Improved comfort
  • Reduced rolling resistance
  • Less chance of a pinch flat
  • Ease of installation

Potential Challenges of Tubeless

  • Setup more involved than clincher
  • Installing sealant can be messy
  • Limited tire options compared with clinchers
  • Weight can be slightly heavier

© Jered Gruber

What to Know about Tubeless

With a tubeless setup, the tire forms an airtight seal with a specially designed rim bed. Since there is no tube to worry about, tubeless eliminates the possibility of pinch flats, allowing lower tire pressures. Sealant, applied during installation, guards against punctures from on-road and off-road debris.

Cyclists running tubeless typically reduce tire inflation by 10 or more PSI compared with clinchers. Less air pressure helps dampen road vibrations for improved rider comfort. It also allows the contact patch – that part of the tire on the ground – to spread out for better traction, especially in corners. Tubeless tires also often have a different construction for a smoother transition in the rubber between the crown, or top of the tire, and its sidewall. This means, similar to a tubular tire, there’s a smoother feel for a rider leaning aggressively into corners.

© Jered Gruber

To optimize aero efficiency, a rider could run smaller tubeless tires (25mm wide) at lower pressures for a similar level of comfort as a 700x28 or 700x30. A road racer or triathlete could gain crucial seconds from the increased cornering grip and lower rolling resistance.

With no inner tube interacting with the tire, tubeless systems have less friction, which lowers rolling resistance. That means no more baby powder between your tube and tire in an attempt to eliminate the friction already absent from a tubeless setup.

© Jered Gruber

To assist with setup, Zipp has developed step-by-step instructional videos to make the process as simple as possible. Most cyclists new to tubeless will gain proficiency seating the tire and adding sealant with just two or three installations. The popping of seating a tubeless tire gives you a clear indication you’re doing things correctly. With tubeless, there’s no worrying about pinching and blowing out a tube during installation.

What You’ll Need to Install Tubeless

  • Tubeless compatible wheels (All Zipp tubeless wheels listed below)
  • Tubeless ready tires
  • Tubeless tire sealant
  • Valve core removal tool
  • Air compressor and floor pump
  • Safety glasses
  • Clean rag

© Balint Hamvas Cyclephotos

Zipp’s Approach to Tubeless

Zipp’s first tubeless wheel, the 30 Course Disc brake, was introduced in April 2015. This came at a time when the gravel riding movement was just gaining traction. Zipp designed this wheelset with an eye toward a cycling future of wider tires as well as a wider definition of what’s considered road cycling.

Zipp’s tubeless wheels and rims were carefully dimensioned following ETRTO guidelines. Zipp engineers tested multiple design iterations before settling on the Firecrest and NSW designs. The challenge was multifold; following the guidelines while meeting our internal high standards for high aero efficiency, durability, light weight, impact resistance, and tire retention.

Beyond those qualities, Zipp engineers tested a wide variety of tubeless-specific tires to ensure compatibility and ease of installation with as many tire brands as possible. Zipp’s Firecrest and NSW wheels are optimized for ease of setup without tools for our Tangente RT25 (25mm width) and RT28 (28mm width) road tubeless tires. Zipp’s carbon clincher tubeless wheels also were designed to allow riders to easily use standard clincher tubes and tires, if that’s their preference, or to repair a flat on the roadside.

Zipp’s Tubeless Lineup

NSW Wheels
Most advanced carbon wheels from The Nest, our advanced development lab:

Firecrest Wheels

Our foundational, pro proven rim technology updated for disc brakes:

30 Course

Highly durable aluminum wheelsets, at 26mm deep, with real aero benefits:

Tangente Tires

Deliver the lowest rolling resistance, best dry and best overall cornering grip among major brands, according to testing at an independent lab: