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TPU inner tubes are converting die-hard tubeless fans

How the TPU inner tube is taking pneumatic tyres full circle.

Litebike TPU inner tubes
John Boyd Dunlop. The man behind the modern tyre.

The tyre dates back to 1887. John Boyd Dunlop, a Scottish inventor and veterinary surgeon invented the first pneumatic tyre for his son’s tricycle. An inner tube that offers flotation for a smooth ride and efficiency for a fast one encased in an outer layer of grippy rubber providing traction and protection against flats.

The tyre rolled better, so he moved on to larger tyres for cycling “with even more starling results”. Soon pneumatic tyres were winning cycling races and, spotting the opportunity, a cyclist from the Irish Cyclists’ Association, Harvey Du Cros, set up business with Dunlop to sell his tyres commercially.

The cycling tyre and inner tube went on to dominate for more than a century. Then in 1999, Mavic created the first tubeless tyre system for bikes. Rather than having a separate inner tube, tubeless tyres have continuous ribs molded into the bead of the tyre so they are forced by air pressure to seal with the flanges of the metal rim of the wheel.

Tubeless tyres could operate at lower air pressure and therefore were first heavily adopted by mountain bikers. But the invention expanded to cyclocross, gravel and even road cycling.

Today tubeless continues to be popular among the pro road cyclists. Evident from observing this years’ men’s and women’s Paris Roubaix. The likes of Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert who stuck with tubular tyres are few and far between.

This is important. Because we all tend to want to copy what the pros are doing. But we’re starting to see the trend buckle. Especially at the grass roots end of the sport.

For the past few years we’ve seen a shift towards cyclists opting for TPU inner tubes instead. TPU is a new exciting technology. Unlike butyl tubes, which can weigh in at 200g a piece, TPU inner tubes are ultra lightweight. From our own research we have also confirmed other studies which have shown reduced rolling resistance and improved durability when compared to conventional inner tubes.

We spoke to Paul from Transcontinental, who told us: “Professional cycling sets the trend and as tubeless tyres became the default at the major cycling events we’ve seen their popularity rise. But people forget these athletes have big support teams to prepare and maintain their bikes. More and more people are telling me the benefits of tubeless don’t make sense for them and are choosing TPU inner tubes instead.”

While cyclists are usually aware that initially fitting tubeless can be messier and more time consuming, they often don’t appreciate the amount of faff involved in regularly topping up the sealants and mess when it comes to resealing after a large puncture. Punctures en route that don’t seal can sometimes be fixed with a tyre plug, but if the puncture is too large they find they need a spare inner tube to get home anyway.

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