I’m guessing puncturing your tires all the time is taking the fun out of mountain biking for you. You then decide to visit your local bike shop and ask for advice. And while some good bike shops care for their customers and offer genuine info, most of them will try to sell you overpriced terrible tires that are claimed to be puncture proof.
Sometimes they will even try to tell you how there are cheap tricks to prevent punctures, like tire liners which come in between the tire and tube. Don’t fall for that. These can prevent some initial punctures but then cause even more punctures when the tire flexes a bit during the ride. In a great number of cases, the sidewalls of your tires get cut by liners and it’s an even more costly repair.
I will tell you again, don’t fall for that! Puncture proof tires can be viable for touring bikes and even road bikes in some cases, but mountain bikes – never!
There is an amazing solution called tubeless, which I will talk about a bit later in the article.
Why Puncture Proof Tires are Ineffective for Mountain Bikes
Unlike touring and road tires, mountain bike tires’ whole purpose is to achieve maximum grip while retaining acceptably low rolling resistance. For this purpose, materials used to manufacture mountain bike tires are softer for better surface gripping purposes.
What puncture proof tires offer is stiffness. If you are riding on solid ground then yes, these can be a very good option. But otherwise, you lose all the grip on even the easiest cross-country tracks. Mountain biking without proper traction is very dangerous, and you will eventually break some bones.
In addition, most of those tires won’t even offer that much puncture resistance. I remember from back in the day when I was still new to all this, these tires being a total scam. And believe me, nothing changed. They are slowly dying out because people realize it’s a waste of money.
Are Self-Sealing Slime Tubes for Mountain Bikes Worth Using?
Short answer – no.
Anyone will tell you they can’t seal cuts, snake bites, and so on. The slime inside simply isn’t made to seal anything other than small holes made by thorns.
The whole idea that self-sealing slime tubes seal thorn holes is flawed. Flawed by the fact that most of the time, thorns won’t immediately fall off. You won’t lose air pressure instantly because the tube slime will seal it. But a thorn, which in most cases is still stuck in the tire, will rip a cut in the tube, and then nothing can seal it again. This makes slime tubes simply useless.
Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires
Why is tubeless the best option for mountain bike tires?
The answer is simple. You get all the possible benefits of a proper mountain bike tire while making it really hard to get a flat tire on the trail.
There are several ways of making your tires tubeless. They vary in cost and practicality, but the quality and puncture protection is always amazing. I will get into details on that later.
I mentioned why puncture proof tires are not viable for anything other than solid ground. Tubeless on the other hand, is completely the opposite. Not only are tubeless ready tires made from high-quality material which provides amazing grip to the surface, but tubeless setup allows you to run much lower pressure, increasing the traction even further.
The ability to run on lower pressure comes from two things. The sealant works like a gluey rubber when it dries, binding the tire bead to the rim. At lower pressure, this secures tires from getting off the rim easily.
Snake bites won’t be a problem anymore as well. Sidewalls on tires are much thicker than tubes are, so lower pressure won’t cause cuts when the rim hits the ground.
One thing I noticed with slime tubes that don’t happen with tubeless is losing pressure before the puncture gets sealed. Tires are thicker, so even when you puncture them, the hole ends up being really small so it seals before you even lose any noticeable air pressure.
There are still situations when you will cut your tire sidewall on some sharp rock or something and sealant alone won’t seal it. But there is a cheap solution for that as well. So-called bacon strips like Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tackle Tire Repair Kit are really easy to stick into tire holes and let sealant work with it. For me, it sealed 99% of the cuts. The only time it didn’t work is with really big cuts and holes, but they happen once in several years for an average rider.
Is Going Tubeless for MTB Expensive?
Tubeless tires themselves used to be expensive. They were always top of the range from any brand, and prices reflected that. However, in the past 3-4 years, almost every manufacturer started making even their cheaper tires tubeless ready.
At first, these cheaper tubeless ready tires had lots of problems. Some of them couldn’t hold air as well as their premium counterparts. They were being very difficult to seat on the rim in some cases as well.
For the last two years, none of the major tire brands have had those issues and now you can have tubeless ready MTB tires for as low as $20-30 per tire.
The other major concern for most people is the price of tubeless ready wheels. Now, let me tell you the truth. All mountain bike wheels can be made tubeless with cheap tubeless rim tape.
Tubeless ready wheels are great because they are designed to seat a tire easily, while normal rims have too much room between the rim and the tire, making it difficult to pump up without a tube. This is where several layers of tubeless rim tape come into action by which you can reduce that gap. And ta-daa! You have tubeless-ready wheels.
There are tubeless rim strips as well. Similar price but a much cleaner option. Some of them are even designed to hold tire beads in place. The only drawback is that you need some additional tape as well if your wheels require several layers of thickness.
Everything else required for tubeless is quite cheap as well. Tubeless valves are either already on the tubeless rim strips or you need to buy them separately.
I will write a complete tubeless guide with all the possible solutions where you can choose how you want to approach it. Including these setups with rim tapes or even cut-out tubes versus more of a professional setup with tubeless-ready wheels and adequate rim strips, valves, and everything else.
Our Opinion On Puncture Proof Tires
I believe puncture proof tires are slowly leaving the market. Firstly, because everyone realized they are ineffective. Additional proof is that manufacturers slowly started to change their names into protection tires or something similar, later claiming it’s only a certain percentage of protection. That was the only way they could’ve made them safe to use in mountain biking.
The other reason being that anyone that ventures a bit deeper into mountain biking sooner or later realizes that everyone is running with tubeless for a reason. It’s really cheap to make a tubeless conversion. Even the cheaper and cheaper wheelsets are becoming tubeless ready year by year.
Honestly speaking, if tubeless didn’t exist, I would have left mountain biking long ago. That might give you an idea of how great of a solution I believe it is.