Tubeless, Tubolitos can be a deflating experience

I’m not the earliest adopter, but I like to try new things and bike tires are no exception. If flats are any measure, tubeless road tires and lightweight Tubolito tubes have let me down during the past eight months. I’ve had at least ten, four in the past 10 days.

In 2020, I cycled 3,538 miles and am on track to top 3,000 this year. Like most road cyclists, I have long used standard butyl tubes. They’re cheap, reliable and easy to fix on the road. My advice? Stick with good butyl tubes and road tires such as Continental 5000 Grand Prixs or Michelin Pro 4s. Repeated flats can seriously dent the joy of a long ride.

bike tires
The bike that launched a lot of flats.

I got carried away in February, 2020 when I purchased a Specialized Roubaix Expert. Wowed by Di2, Future Shock II in the front stem and Roval C-38 carbon tubeless ready rims, I was ready to fall victim to the tire marketing hype and rider techie chit chat.  Tubeless, which allegedly seldom go flat and self repair, here I come. And then it was on to Tubolito tubes.

Last September, my local bike shop installed S-Works Turbo RapidAir (RapidLoseAir?) tubeless tires, which retail for $80 apiece. I also paid around $50 for installation, tubeless stems and sealant. A month later, the front tire went flat in the middle of nowhere. New to tubeless, I did not know the trick of pinching the tire bead off the rim sides to remove it. No need to. A CO2 cartridge and sealant in the tire allowed me to limp along for the next 25 miles and get home, albeit at 40 PSI. Granted, some flats self repaired after a recharge.

flat bike tire
Psssst, the smiles at Lake Infinity turned to frowns with my tubeless flat.

The tire was fine for six weeks until the same puncture started to repeatedly leak. The bike shop added three ounces of sealant twice over several weeks, remounted them once and plugged the puncture. The tire was drunk on nine plus ounces of sealant in less than six months. What’s more, I was trying to lighten my load and more sealant seemed to go in opposite direction.

The last straw was the pssstttt sound and sealant spewing out near home as a couple of cyclists coming in the opposite direction chortled….and kept pedaling.  So after about 1,500 miles, I sidelined the S-Work tubeless tires figuring the sealant just couldn’t hold at 90 PSI, the pressure I like to run. I could try patches, but have not bothered. I want to ride, not keep repairing and swapping out tires. I generally agree that tubeless with lower pressures on gravel and mountain bikes for the cushioning effect makes more sense than on higher pressure road tires.

Tubolito tears. Punctures are circled.

So I had the bike shop install new 28 mm Continental Grand Prix 5000s clinchers with Tubolitos that weigh a third of a regular butyl tube. The Tubolito web site says their tubes are strong, light and compact. Well, two out of three because I have my doubts about strong. They should add expensive: they’re around $35 per.

After 400 miles, the front Tubolito developed a pinhole leak as did a replacement I had on hand. I checked and rechecked the tire and rim from even the smallest protrusion that could prick the tire. Nothing. And a butyl tube is working just fine now on the same rim and tire.

A Tubolito patch kit was $4.90 on Amazon and $8 to ship, but I was losing faith in the tubes’ reliability. I pleaded my case to Tubolito and it immediately ponied up for two new tubes, a $70 value. So I will try them again. The rear S-Works tubeless tire I had on the rear never gave me a problem so I installed it on the front rim (update July 30th: the rear tire had about 20 PSI when I checked before ride on the 31st…arrrrrgh). It went flat after 20 miles into a 44 mile ride and subsequently went flat in the garage so I went back to a butyl tube and the Conti 5000.

I’ve concluded that front tires are more susceptible to picking up tire puncturing debris because they are, well, in front. My Tubolito experience neither supports nor refutes that theory as I never found what caused the pinholes. That the good folks at Tubolito readily coughed up freebies suggests maybe there’s a pinhole problem? The rear Tubolito has been fine and I am still using it.

I average about 14-16 mph at age 71 and can still rip off a century or two each season. A few ounces here or there won’t make much difference in my riding experience much less my speed. Were the flats, hassle and expense worth it? No, although I chalk my efforts up to experience and fodder for a beefy blog post.

Stick with what makes your wheels go round reliably and over the long haul. Happy cycling.

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P.S. Maybe it’s me. Upon loading my bike into my truck to meet some cyclists for a long ride yesterday, I noticed the bead on Conti 5000 was not fully on the wheel. Thankfully, I caught it in time to avoid the headache of another flat and playing catch-up on the ride.





1 comments On Tubeless, Tubolitos can be a deflating experience

  • Andrew James Kirkwood

    This has been my experience with these expensive Tubolito inner-tubes too, that since fitting them, I’m constantly having to repair slow punctures.
    The holes are always the size of a pin-prick, usually on the inside wall facing the rim tape, in fact I haven’t had a “real” puncture yet – I’m now on my 2nd repair-kit.
    Because I ride a gravel-bike I found it so infuriating that I fitted Tannus-Armour inserts front and back, but I’m still getting them, 2 this morning, and also usually on the front wheel.
    I’m putting the standard butyl tubes back in, they are far cheaper, and contrary to the advertising, these Tubolito tubes are certainly not less puncture resistant, which was one of the reasons I bought them in the first place.

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