Editor’s Note: Grannygear has been trying to embrace the “tubelessness” of today’s wheels and tires but has had mixed results. here’s his take on what is going on in our latest “Stae Of Tubeless-ness” article.

The State Of Tubless-ness: (Tubeless Re-try) by Grannygear:

MavicUST A few years back, Mavic, Hutchinson, and Michelin got together and came up with a standard for a tubeless MTB rim/tire system that provided for a secure, air tight fit, good tire bead retention, and did not require any sealant to remain inflated. UST, the Universal System for Tubeless, was born and it was coolly received by North America riders (and in time, especially by 29″er folks) as the resulting rim choice was limited (licensing required from Mavic) and the tires were expensive and heavy, often weighing in at a 200-300 gram penalty. Time marched on and the UST ‘standard’ remained.

RS01-Standard-StripOn this side of the pond, Stan’s No Tubes had another idea. They took a completely different approach and came up with a system of a latex based sealant and a rim strip/valve combo that converted a standard rim and standard MTB tire into a tubeless combo. It was not always that bombproof as some tires were better than others (and some rims as well) but the lightweight and versatile system found a big fan base. In time, Stan’s made a rim design that was meant to give good retention to a normal (non-tubeless designed) tire using a combination of a latex sealant and a rim tape to seal the whole mess. Stan’s became the go-to tubeless rim for the average Joe and Jill.

As well there was another main player, Bontrager, who came up with the TLR rim, tire and matching rim strip system. It worked very well, but mainly if you ran them as a system.

In garages across America, DIY folks were coming up with ‘ghetto’ tubeless (like using a 20” tube laid into a 29″er rim and cut to fit) solutions, often with mixed results.

The end result of all this was a bit of a mess in that there were now many ways to do this and really no clear, universally accepted way of going tubeless. The consumer was left on their own to figure it all out. UST was never going to take off due to the heavy and expensive tires. Stan’s deal was only as good as the particular tire you chose and the skill of the installer. And, the thing is this…it is not just that a poorly matching tire/rim combo would be difficult to seat on a rim or that it would not hold air well…that would be annoying…but it also could be deadly if the poor match allowed a tire to blow off of a rim at speed. It happened all too often.

TR42-ZTR-Flow-BlackI chose the Stan’s rims as my way of doing it and found the tape and sealant to be very easy to live with and quite reliable, even if some tires were much better than others in tubeless use. For instance, the Specialized 2 Bliss tires on a Stan’s rim are flat out simple, typically airing up with a floor pump and not seeping sealant at all. Other tires not rated for tubeless use could be way more difficult to manage, likely needing an air compressor to seat the bead and a few days to seal up completely. Still, it was a decent way to go.

Then, a bunch of very, very nice wheels ended up in my garage and things got all weird. They were UST. I never had any good reason to purchase or test a true 29″er UST tire so my approach to the Easton Havens was just like I had been using on the Stan’s rims and the result was a so-so experience {See the review article here}. In fact, it was quite frustrating getting some tires to air up and in one case, I had a non-UST type tire (but tubeless rated) blow off a rim. I think that partially was my fault in the way I had the tire poorly seated on the rim, but still that had never happened to me before. So, if you read my previous review, I loved the Easton wheels. They were a sealed rim bed (no need for tape), were stiff, light, strong, versatile, and obviously a very high quality product. So I was doubly frustrated by the tubeless difficulties I was having. In conversations with Easton folks, they made the point (and a very reasonable one) that they chose a known system (UST) that would provide reliable results if I played within the rules. I made the point that the average buyer of these wheels will use whatever tire they happen to like regardless of the design. Is there anyone telling the Haven buyers that they need to use only a certain type of tire? I doubt it. If Easton gambled that true UST was going to be the new thing and then it is not embraced, they gambled wrong. So is there an acceptable compromise? What will be the course taken by the industry? Where do we go from here?

So, at the recent Sea Otter event, I went to several of the major tire and wheel makers and got their input on the state of MTB tubeless-ness, what ‘standard’ should we all be using, if any, and what we can expect in the future.

UST40626_Copy3101What I heard was the same thing over and over…UST was a good idea but there were two things in the way. One, that the UST spec and label were owned by Mavic and any use of that required that the user pay a royalty to Mavic for that privilege. Not too many takers there. Second, the UST tire bead was a good idea, but the extra layer of butyl on the inside of the tire made them too darn heavy.

So what seems to be happening is an approach that brings some of that technology with it and leaves the rest behind. ‘Tubeless Ready’ is a term that was heard over and over at Sea Otter when I was discussing new tires and rims. The tires will have a UST type bead with a proper rubber coating and shape to support the tubeless use but will require sealant to remain air fast. The weights will be comparable to normal tires and the rims may use tape or may not depending on the design but will provide a secure fit for the tire. The sidewalls seem to have more support as well, although they are not said to be tougher, etc.

So, I am rounding up several sets of tires, all ‘tubeless ready’, and I plan on revisiting the Easton UST wheels to see how this affects things. At Sea Otter, I sat and watched a true UST Mavic rim paired to a new ‘tubeless ready’ Continental (26”) tire as it was installed. It was like ALL tubeless installs should be…effortless and solid looking. This is what I hope to achieve with my revisit to the Havens with some of the latest ‘tubeless ready’ rubber from different vendors. I will report my findings as I go along and we shall see if the future looks like it will hold air.

On tap are some new 2 Bliss Specialized tires and some ‘tubeless ready’ models from Geax, Hutchinson, and Schwalbe. Coming soon are the TCS tires from WTB and next year, Continental should offer the same options in 29″er tires as they do now in 26”. Undoubtedly this will be the trend and I expect Kenda, Maxxis, etc to play along.


Taking the first couple of samples, I set the stage. I grabbed a Stan’s Flow rim and an Easton Haven. I filled a water bottle with soapy water and grabbed the floor pump. I would mount the tires one at a time on each rim, note the differences, and see how hard or easy it was and basically see how solid an experience I had.

Then I grabbed a couple of tire levers and went to work. One was a Specialized Ground Control…yes…you read that right. The Ground Control is back. More on that later, but it is an early sample and is a 2.1” tire in a 2 Bliss casing. I tried it first on the Haven right out of the gate. I was actually able to set the bead 90% of the way without even soaping up the tire/rim but I could not get the bead to jump over the UST bead seat dry. OK…air it back down…soap it up…pump, pump…bingo. With a nice *bang-bang* the bead set. Very good. Now the same tire on the Flow. The fit was tighter overall and I almost needed a tire lever to get it mounted, but not quite. Inflating it was eezy peezy with the floor pump. Comparing the two rims, the deeper center well of the UST rim allows for an easier tire mounting. Both rims seemed to have very good retention of the tire when it was deflated and it took a good push to un-seat the tire bead.

Next up was the Hutchinson Python, a tire I will be evaluating later on. It began on the Flow, mounting up a bit looser than the Ground Control (it took less effort), and I could not quite get it to start with a floor pump. Almost, though. The air compressor comes out and *POP* goes the tire onto the rim nice and tidy like. The Haven was next and that was just as easy, but the looser fit of the Python was even more noticeable on the Haven rim. Still, it seated up very easily with the valve core in place in the valve, etc, air compressor doing the work. Very simple.

P4240168 That is the way it always should be. The new ‘tubeless ready’ tires I have tried here have a few things in common. Notice that in the pics that the tire casing holds it’s shape well even just sitting there. It does not flop all over the place. That helps hold the tire bead against the rim when you are trying to get it to air up. They also have a very defined bead shape and an even coating of rubber on the inside of the tire. Neither one of these tires leaked a bit of air as far as I could see (air bubbles in the soapy water) and I had no sealant in there for the testing.P4240176

This is a good start and makes me feel much better about the future of tubeless tires for 29ers with the new crop of rims and tires. It also points out that the Havens are a much better rim for tubeless use with the newer tires, even if they are not a true UST tire. That makes me quite happy as I love the wheels otherwise. It further shows that Stan’s No Tubes got it right by allowing their design to work well with the old tires AND the new ones, although getting a new tubeless ready tire on them may be a bit of a struggle. If the tire was designed to be a very tight fit on the UST havens, then they may not go on the Stan’s at all.

More tires to come as we get more samples, but this things are looking up. Stay tuned.