Ok guys and gals, this one’s for all you mountain bikers out there. We’re going to talk about something highly debatable. Pull up the boot straps of your preferences because we need to talk about tires. No, I am not going to tell you which tire is the best. By the way, you may ignore people who tell you “this thing is the best” because “best” is not quantifiable for many bike parts. If they begin with “I like this thing for these reasons” well, then you should tune in and see if those reasons apply to you. Back to what we were taking about. I just want to give you some basic perspectives and guidelines on tires and particularly tubeless tires.
First let’s all get at a basic purpose of our tires. Our tires are there to provide as much grip as possible with as little resistance relative to our speed. See we’re constantly battling friction in the name of speed but yet trying to gain friction in the name of grip and control. We could call this the “not dying” part of the equation. So when we’re putting tires on our mountain bikes we really are looking for something that lets us ride as fast as we want while maintaining the highest level of control over that speed. Here’s where rider preference plays its role. Some riders prefer to gain their speed in the smoother, much more pedaling reliant sections of trail while backing off the speed when going downhill or where it’s most rough. Other riders won’t mind taking their time where it’s smoother in favor of much higher speeds downhill and in rough terrain. You need to figure out where your preferences are, where you have the most fun, and seek help in finding a tire that best matches those preferences. The trails you love to ride most will give you a good clue about what you like. Love Dakota Ridge? You will need something with bigger knobs and heavier casing. Pedaling Centennial Cone your jam? You can go lighter with a lower center section. What if I love both? Then err on the side of the tougher tire. Better to carry a little extra weight on the easy trails than to destroy puny tires on rough ones.
But what about tubeless? Isn’t tubeless the answer to all of this? Isn’t tubeless lighter? Doesn’t tubeless let you ride as hard as you want with no negative consequences? Sigh. No. And no. Tubeless is awesome. The greatest thing about tubeless isn’t weight or even the wide range of terrain you can use it in. Tubeless is great because it lets you take a tire that is suited to you and your riding and make the most of it by having the greatest control over tire pressure without the normal concerns of flat tires usually caused by pinch flats. Tubeless lets you ramp up your riding by giving you greater control over the speed you’re shooting for. Here’s some guidelines though for tubeless.
1. Use tubeless compatible tires. Stop trying to make non tubeless tires “work.” Using proper stuff makes it work correctly and reliably. No, you don’t need UST tubeless unless you want an air tight casing to begin with.
2. Tubeless rims will work better than converted regular rims. Some regular rims can convert fine and some can’t. There simply is no guarantee. If your mechanic can’t get your converted rims to work well, it’s not their fault. It’s yours for not having the proper equipment. Get the right stuff.
3. Keep your sealant level up. Check it every couple months. If you don’t know how, just ask a good mechanic, they’ll do it real quick.
4. Spend time playing with different tire pressures. Use a notebook if you need to. Try different pressures and record the pressures, times, and your impressions. Once you’ve spent some time with that you’ll know what you like and you don’t have to guess anymore.
5. Carry a spare tube and inflation. Yes, there are other things out there than can flat even tubeless tires.
Don’t be a tire snob. Ride what you like. Listen to what others have to say and be open to trying new things. Just because you do it, doesn’t mean it’s right.
Jason Gardner is owner and lead whisperer at Jinji Cycles. Check in with Jason and the boys at their shop in the Lower Highlands of Denver. TE members get 10-15% off parts and labor and special bike deals throughout the year. Advice and a smile are always free.