To Tube Or Not To Tube… That Is The Question!

There is always that one person at the side of the road saying “you should have gone tubeless” as you’re wrestling with the third inner tube of the ride. Well, I’m ashamed to say that was me… WAS me!

ALL PHOTOS ARE FROM MY PHONE AND INSTAGRAM STORY OF MY DAY
(JUST PRE-APOLOGISING FOR THE POOR QUALITY)

We often get asked ‘should I run tubeless on my bike?’

To be honest it all depends and who you ask and why you’re asking. Tubeless has its place and when it works, boy is it nice!

For your daily commute, you really don’t need the weight saving and possible “protection” that tubeless brings; good strong tyres and a watchful eye on tyre pressure and you’re going to be absolutely fine.

There is no worse feeling than when you’re halfway to work and your tyre has decided to give in on you or you’ve managed to ride over glass from the previous night’s revellers. Now imagine this has happened but you have tubeless tyres. To add to the stress your tyre will now be spurting latex fluid all over your clothes. Don’t take my word for it, come in to the shop and ask Jason how long it takes to wash the sealant off (actually just come into the shop and have any conversation with Jason, he’s bound to tell you anyway).

As for the tried and tested tyre-and-inner-tube combo, we believe we have hit the sweet spot on our Bristol Bicycles. The Continental Contact tyres are the perfect mix of supple and solid (supple being the hipster buzz word when it comes to tyres.)

The big man in the world of commuting tyres is the Schwalbe Marathon or its big brother the Marathon Plus. They might be heavy and pricey but they are built to last and can even roll over a drawing pin without puncturing.


Now, I may seem like a Luddite but you’d be surprised to know I actually run tubeless on my own bike! Before you hang me for hypocrisy I must make it clear that it is not on my commuter bike. My beloved gravel bike has been set up with tubeless and I must admit I love it… sometimes. The reason this blog post has come about is that I happened to find myself with a three day weekend and decided I was going to catch the last of the sun and head to the New Forest for a gravel adventure. This is when I called upon dreaded tubeless to help me out. Having previously put tubes in my wheels after an unfortunate blow out, I had to set the wheels back up as tubeless.

This took a bit of work but wasn’t too bad and wasn’t terribly messy. Luckily the wheels and tyres I have are a famously good match and are made with this combo in mind. But, now comes the reason why we don’t recommend the everyday commuter gets this set up. Not only do you need the correct tyres but also the correct wheels this can often mean you have a rather large investment for something that’s not going to give you many advantages over a good pair of commuting tyres. I wasn’t commuting so I wanted nice soft tyres that I could run at quite low pressures, and with the New Forest being famous for flint and sharp rock I didn’t fancy taking my chances with tubes.

Whilst at the New Forest I stayed in a little local campsite just outside Lyndhurst. After arrival and set-up I decided it was time to get some grub and check out the local area. I headed into Lyndhurst and got myself a couple of local Thai take away dishes and some bevvies (see previous blog posts). After enjoying the sunset over the forest and the ever-growing excitement of riding the gravel tracks the next day I headed back to camp. To my horror, the rear tyre had decided to deflate itself after I had spent a good hour trying to set it up earlier that week. A long dark walk back and some angry Instagram stories later, I hedged my bets and decided to pump the tyre back up. After doing this it seemed to then pop itself onto the rim and then stay inflated. After a good night’s sleep (and I mean good, I sleep like a log in a tent) the tubeless gods had worked their magic and the tyre had sealed itself overnight.

For any fellow gravel seekers, or just someone looking for a ride that’s a little bit different, get yourself down the New Forest, you will not be disappointed. The ride I was doing was designed by bikepacking.com with help from the Woods Cyclery; it’s a two-day ride with campsites dotted along the route but I didn’t have two days so thought I could bang it out in one. It’s 90% off-road on wide forest tracks that are interspersed with wooded singletrack, hike-bike through marshland and a few road sections (to boost that average speed). The whole route is around 63 miles but add on the time for getting lost here and there and then the extra loop back to my car and I would say I could have been knocking on 70 by the end of the day. Not huge miles, but enough when most of it is through wooded tracks with a few river crossings chucked in for good measure.

Doing it in one day, although a fun challenge and a good day ride, did mean that I had less time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. You pass plenty of pubs to stop in and little tea rooms for a sugar boost, so perhaps doing it in the recommended two days means you have more chance to appreciate the soundings (that’s what its all about after all). A few places to note are Brockenhurst as a perfect lunch stop or fuelling station. It’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee, cake or anything that’s going to get you through the next section of the day. Whilst in Lyndhurst you must stop at the Woods Cyclery, if there is anything about gravel bikes and bikepacking they don’t know its probably not worth knowing. If you’re looking for a full range of kit to strap to your bike or even just to go in and pick their brains for route ideas it’s a must stop for ALL cyclists. I probably spent too long there in the morning discussing last night’s tubeless mishap and sipping some of their amazing local coffee (dirty dirty hipster I know).

So the moral of the story is: tubeless is worth it… when necessary.

For most, tubeless is another thing to go wrong. You have to remember to top the tyre up with sealant every once in a while. This is easy to forget no matter how much of a bike lover you are (trust me I learned this the hard way). Get yourself some puncture-resistant tyres (Schwalbe Marathons or Marathon Plus if you fancy forking out) and for that everyday commute, you will be absolutely fine.

If you start to push the boat out and fancy getting off the beaten track then tubeless can be your saving grace, especially if you want to have the option of running lower pressures on rough terrain, but for the day-to-day commuter or even the roadies among you… don’t bother. Find another trend to get into, like spokey dokeys.

Here is the route… have fun and let me know what you think.