To tube or not to tube, that is the question. Your motorcycle comes with one of two basic tire types, each with their own fan club. Whether you’re a firm believer in one type of tire or don’t know the first thing about tube and tubeless tires, this guide will give you all the details you need to choose the right tires for your bike.
The biggest difference between tube and tubeless motorcycle tires is, well, the tube. Basically, old-school tires used a tube to hold pressurized air. This inner tube is separate from the tire itself, and is typically used with spoked tire.
This design got its start with the restraints of rubber. The durable, exterior rubber of your bike’s tires isn’t flexible enough to help pressurized air, so two separate pieces are required to give you useable tire. Not only was it easier to produce two types of rubber, it meant that the spokes didn’t need to be airtight as they connected to the rim.
Tubeless tires, on the other hand, are a product of today’s high-tech engineering and precision manufacturing. Your brand-new motorcycle lets you enjoy all the benefits of tubeless tire technology, including:
More lightweight design
Cooler on the road
Improved puncture protection and safety
Two advantages stand out in particular: puncture protection and easier repairs. Whether you’re cruising down the road at 80 miles an hour or bombing through mud pits on a dirt race track, a sharp object can ruin your day. Rocks, nails or shards of metal can create a hole in tubed tires that causes the tire to instantly collapse. Obviously, this isn’t just inconvenient, but very dangerous. No one likes a face full of asphalt flying at them at 80-plus miles an hour.
Tubeless road bike tires are designed to resist deflating when punctured. The main layer seals around that pesky nail or rock and helps prevent air leakage. Obviously, it isn’t impervious to deflation, but it’s typically a slower and safer experience.
A blown tube can ruin your entire weekend plans with removing and patching or purchasing a new tires. Tubeless tires are easier to repair, especially a temporary repair. Once you know how to mount tubeless tire designs on your motorcycle, the rest is a piece of cake.
Today’s precision engineering makes most of the advantages of tubed tires outdated and irrelevant. So why do dirt bike tires have tubes? When the going gets toughs, few tubeless designs compare with the rugged capabilities of a tubed tire.
Turns out, those spokes are good for something after all. When your front wheel is smacking against a rock at high speeds or speeding through pothole-covered tracks, you need a tire that can take a beating.
Another reason tubed tires are still in use is for looks. Some riders love the classic look of a spoked tire, both on and off the road. An old-school bike deserves an old-school set of tires.
Consider your style of riding before you make your choice. Rocks and debris typically found on the road can cause more punctures, so we prefer a tubeless design for most bikes born to cruise the highways. A tubed tire is best for rock-hard falls, deep potholes and unexpected bumps and jumps typically found on a dirt bike track.
Another important difference between tubed and tubeless motorcycle tires is the valve stem. With a tubed tire, the valve stem is connected to the tube and positioned in a hole in the rim. A lock nut jutting from the rim protects this piece.
A tubeless tire valve stem is mounted on a rim and an individual piece. You’ll need to change the valve stem every time you change the tire, even though it’s a separate peace. Heat cycling is bad news for rubber. You don’t want to mess around with a weak, cracked valve stem.
If you’re like us, you’ve probably experimented with both tubed and tubeless tires. You may even be looking to swap out your tubed tires with tubeless ones. If you aren’t sure what bikes can use tubeless tires, or if you want to try them out on your tubed rims anyway, you can swap tires, in theory.
However, just like buying the wrong aftermarket mod, you’ll run into some issues. Keep track of the speed rating and load rating of your tubeless tires, and err on the side of caution. Go up a step in these categories when you’re putting a tube in your tubeless tires.
We wouldn’t recommend trying to put a tubeless tire on your tubed wheel. While you may be able to, you won’t get the results you’re looking for. It’s best to completely swap tires and go for a tubeless tire, rim and all.
Not all bikes can handle tubeless tires. If you’re looking to make the swap, look for a conversion kit for your specific bike. You’ll need to deflate your tubed tire and make sure there’s no pressure on the bead.
Next, push the sides toward the center to loosen the bead. Grab your tire levers and carefully remove it from the rim. There may be fluid in the bottom of the tire. Depending on the fluid and your manufacturer’s recommendations, dispose of it properly.
Follow the instructions of your tubeless tire and conversion kit carefully. Each one has slight variations, so be careful following generic steps. Give your tubeless tires a test drive, and enjoy the lightweight feel and modern look of your brand-new tires.
If you’re not sure what bikes can use tubeless tires, check out our extensive selection of the best tubeless motorcycle tires. At BikeBandit.com, we’ve got plenty of options for a variety of off-road and on-road bikes. Whether you’re happy rocking the classic tubed tire look or ready to upgrade to the latest tubeless tire technology, now you know the basic differences between these two tire types.