Tubeless mountain bike tires are quite expensive, and they require a lot of maintenance. But they do offer improved performance and traction, and most importantly, they reduce the chances of getting a puncture or a flat tire.
If you are an avid mountain biker and fed up of dealing with flat tires on a recurring basis, then tubeless tires could be just the thing for you. Though tubeless tires are not completely immune from flats, they are definitely more resistant than regular tires. Admittedly though, a lot more maintenance and care needs to be given to such tires, so this is a trade-off that you should be willing to make before you switch to such tires.
Naturally, the biggest advantage of such tires is the lessened frequency of punctures and flats. A puncture occurs when the tire hits against a rock causing the tube to smash against the inner rim (this is known as a pinch flat). With the absence of the tube, such an incident cannot occur. The only times you will face a flat tire is when the tire actually gets torn externally. Small punctures can usually be repaired with superglue. Another notable advantage of these tires is that they can be used at lower inflation pressures, and as a result of this, they offer better traction, steering capability, and bump control.
In spite of these advantages, special tubeless tires for mountain bikes have not had much popularity since their introduction in 1999. Most automobiles and motorbikes produced today come equipped with tubeless tires, but mountain bikes are something else altogether. This technology has been around since the early 1950s, but it is only recently that it has caught on in a big way.
There are plenty of reasons why tubeless tires are still not very popular for mountain bikes today. The most important drawback is that they are pretty expensive, and also heavier. This increases the load on the bike, and thus the rider has to pedal harder. Though they get damaged less often, they are harder to fix when they do get damaged. This is because only a tire rip can cause a puncture, and this requires a complete tire overhaul. Moreover, filling air in a tubeless tire cannot be done without the help of a compressor, and this increases efforts and cost required to fill up the tires. It also makes them hard to service on the field, unless the rider is carrying a spare tire, and a portable compressor pump. Also, there are not many different types of sizes and tread patterns available in the market.
You can get an idea about the high price for these tires by seeing the Mavic UST (Universal System Tubeless). This was the first such set of tires available for mountain bikes, and today, this brand and similar packages will cost you a minimum of $600. This is because, the package contains many different components, like tires, rims, and valves. Cheaper packages have been introduced which can also help you convert existing tires into tubeless tires with the help of a sealant. Tire sealants are generally avoided by professionals, because their presence can lead to blockage in the valves, and it also becomes a maintenance issue later on.
Ultimately, tubeless bike tires are perfect for riders who want a smooth ride, wish to avoid punctures, and do not mind putting in the extra money and maintenance that comes along with the package. The riding style and the terrain also determine whether tubeless tires are a better option or not.
Learn how to repair the tires, and also learn about the adjustments that you can make to tire pressure. The improved performance that you achieve will definitely be worth all the trouble.