This year tubeless tyres were the 'Emperors new component' on top end mountain bikes from several manufacturers - GT, Cannondale, Jamis, Specialized to name a few - and it looks like numbers will increase for 2002. But are they really ready to become the next 'must have' shelf filler?
After a few years of a low key VHS v Betamax situation with Michelin/Mavic running their system and Continental/Rigida running another, all tyre manufacturers have now moved to the Mavic UST standard.
UST ranges are already established from Michelin and Hutchinson, with Schwalbe gaining ground, Panaracer, Continental and IRC just arriving and Specialized and Bontrager hoping to come good soon after a few false starts.
Tubeless tyres are sold on the fact that without a seperate innertube they are nigh on impossible to pinch flat between rim and rock, which means you can run lower pressures for more grip. Some also hint - but don't state - that conventional pointy punctures are also reduced. Their fans (like roadie tub fans) will also claim a noticeably smoother ride with more grip than a conventional tyre and tube of the same design.
Send your customer out the front door on a bike with a pair of supple, pre fitted 'tubs' (Hutchinson, Schwalbe, Panaracer and Continental are particular feel favourites) and they'll glide along grinning. The enhanced "silky" feel and surefooted terrain moulding traction really does flatter most bikes, suspension or hardtail alike. The slight extra weight (compared to tyre and tube) more than offset by the lightweight wheelset that it probably uses. The sale clinched you're both very happy.
How long it takes for the phone to first ring will vary. With us it's taken anything between time for the kettle to boil and three months for the tyre to gradually lose pressure. It's probably a seal issue on the side of the rim caused by dirt that's crept in when cornering or just a slight leak between tyre and tube. We haven't found a sure fire answer but whipping the tyre off, cleaning everything, applying a film of KY-Jelly (Vaseline can damage the rubber) to help the seal or sometimes just pumping it up to 50-60psi and then deflating to operating pressure generally works. Accept for the fact that some tyres (like Michelin) are impossible to fit and remove without the 'never ever use' tyre levers. Oh, and if they haven't got a pressurised airline, CO2 cartridge or 30 psi in 3 seconds track pump frenzy technique then all but Continentals will refuse to inflate from flat for at least the first four attempts.
If it isn't a leak and they've punctured conventionally then just hope they marked it when they did it so you can find the hole without completely remounting the tyre. Even then we still haven't heard a failsafe repair technique with all sorts of standard puncture patch or strange darning techniques suggested by various quarters. Of course on the trailside the filth that gathers on rim and tyre as they roll to a floppy halt makes a seal impossible anyway so they'll have to fit a standard innertube (sealant gels work but add even more weight). Then they'll lose the tubeless valve they had to take out (so stock extra).
If they get lucky and avoid leaks and thorns (some of our test tyres have lasted since April with only occasional top ups) then they'll be in soon to get some winter treads so you'll present them with the huge range of options from different manufacturers. Well no, you'll actually tell them that as they're generally a race developed tyre they only have the choice of a couple of models from Schwalbe if they want to avoid landing on their butt within minutes of hitting wet British trails.
Stae of the art
If you were a Hi Fi, Video, DVD, TV store you'd be very used to this new technology pattern. Rave reviews and enthusiasm from gear geeks and perpetual fettlers, but big problems of price (when you add in expensive wheelsets) and practical considerations for widespread mainstream use.
With conventional tyre and tube options that cover every terrain, anti pinch, anti point, rubber compound, weight and carcass size option with simple easy repairs and mases of rim options tubeless tyres still have a lot of ground to make up.
When everything works (tread, seal, no thorns) they are absolutely great, but the amount of hassle incurred when they pop or flop is still prohibitive for general trail riding use. Still I remember joking with my record (I was never anal enough to call it 'Vinyl') collection about those funny looking shiny discs that you could buy that one Dire Straits album on...
Guy Kesteven is archaeologically trained to evaluate broken things caked in mud (no, honestly, he is), and "writes shite for anyone that'll have it". He used be Zyro's Uncle Tufty but then started to write for MBi and then MBR. He later migrated to Maximum Mountain Bike, and now tests stuff for What Mountain Bike and is the fabled 'Scoop' on BIKEmagic.com. He has ridden every currently imported tubeless tyre.