The debate between clincher and tubeless tyres has been raging since tubeless technology was first introduced. They both have benefits and detractions from the other. Here we'll tell you what options might work best for you.
Why does it matter /
Before you buy a wheelset, or a set of expensive tyres, it’s worth knowing what’s compatible with what, and why you might want to use it when you’re riding to get the best experience possible.
The default-style rim that comes with bikes are clinchers for road, cheaper mountain bikes, and some cyclocross bikes. If you want to use a tubeless option, you might need to buy wheels with rims that are designed for those options, or if your rims are tubeless-ready, you might need to buy rim tape, sealant and valves that are appropriate for tubeless tyres. Most clincher-style rims these days are compatible with running tubeless tyres, which means you can swap between the two options as it suits.
Clinchers are the most popular tyre, and tend to be the default setup for most road bikes. It’s also the default setup for cheaper mountain bikes. Clincher tyres are constructed with a hooked bead, which latches onto a wheel with a clincher-type rim. Inside each tyre is an inner tube filled with air. When you get a flat tyre, you remove the inner tube and repair it, or replace the tube.
Clincher tyres are easy to setup and require the least maintenance for all levels of riders. It’s always easy to find cheap tyres and tubes, as well as high-end clincher tyres both online and in-store. Clincher tyres, even at their highest price point, also tend to be cheaper than the other tyre types available to purchase.
+ Easy to learn how to install if you’re a beginner
+ Low maintenance option for anyone who wants to ‘set and forget’
+ Can be run at a high pressure to reduce rolling resistance
+ Great variety of options for tyre brand, tyre colour, durability, width, and inner tube type
+ If you use a standard butyl tube, you can put tubeless sealant inside the tube to increase puncture protection
- Can get flats easier if you use higher pressure
- Can run risk of pinch flats if tyre and tube aren’t installed properly
Tubeless tyres are the newest option to hit the market, and due to the technology available, their popularity is rapidly increasing. Tubeless setups have been used for mountain bikes for a fair while now, but are now more commonly used on road and cyclocross setups as well.
A tubeless setup uses a rim, tyre, and sealant, not the traditional tube that clinchers use. Tubeless setups are designed to be airtight, and the sealant inside tends to fix small punctures as they occur when you’re riding.
+ Saves a bit of weight over clincher tyres
+ Top end tubeless tyres have slightly lower rolling resistance compared to high end clincher tyres
+ Can use lower pressures without running the risk of pinch flats; using tyres at lower pressures also increases surface area, which in turn increases the grip you have on the road
+ Small punctures are automatically fixed/sealed over by the sealant inside the tyre
+ If sealant doesn’t fix your small puncture mid-ride, you can also put a standard tube inside it and use it as a clincher tyre
- Can be harder to learn how to install; fitting tyres takes more patience than clinchers and is harder to get right ‘first time’
- Typically more expensive than clincher tyres
- Still have limited choices about the tyre brands you can use
- Must use sealant in order to set up tubeless tyres
So, which one should I use /
In summary, tubeless setups offer many of the ride quality advantages of a clincher tyre with a bit more maintenance, but tend to be a bit more expensive. However, once setup, they are versatile, the tyres tend to have lower rolling resistance, and auto-fix small punctures as you ride.
We’d recommend using whichever style you’re most comfortable with, but if you are looking for the most gains possible through your wheel and tyre setup, use tubeless!
Another useful tip: check out https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/ for some of the latest and greatest testing for tyres. Here at NS, we tend to recommend the top-tier tyres from their testings.