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TPU v latex v butyl inner tubes - which are best?


Marginal advantages count in cycling. After years of trawling forums and testing different lightweight bike parts from our garage we still think TPU inner tubes offer one of the best bangs for buck in terms of performance upgrade.


We’ve been fitting all our road bike builds with RideNow TPU inner tubes. They weigh 35g each which means for about £32 we save 200g compared to our old butyl tubes. You can see Lukas’ post on his winter project building a lightweight aero road bike on a budget. His custom bike has a real treasure trove of lightweight bike parts.



But are TPU inner tubes better?


We’ve been examining the research and set up a small survey that got the views of 54 people across our cycling network to find out.


We compared TPU against latex and butyl alternatives across three categories:

  • Speed

  • Durability

  • Air retention

Speed


Speed is essentially a function of weight and rolling resistance. TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) tubes are much lighter than latex or butyl. And lighter inner tubes, all else equal, mean faster acceleration and easier climbs. In terms of rolling resistance there isn’t much difference between TPU and latex, but butyl is noticeably slower. This is because butyl has lower elasticity, causing higher internal friction between the tube and the inside of the tyre, especially under high performance use.


We’ve found our RideNow TPU inner tubes give us a saving of up to 3.5 Watts over regular butyl tubes at speeds around 30 km/h. In percentage terms this equates to a 20% more efficient inner tube.


All in all it means that for speed TPU tubes like the RideNow ones we ride come out top, with latex in second and cheaper butyl tubes in third. This chimed with the responses we got to our survey (n=54):


Litebike RideNow road bike inner tubes TPU latex butyl lightweight bike parts

Durability


Durability is always going to be an important factor. Popping an inner tube ends races or can leave you stranded - we often risk it and go out without a spare and a few times we’ve tried to be sensible, brought a spare and forgotten the pump!


For us there is also a sustainability dimension to the durability of the tubes. The lifespan of the inner tube is crucial to understanding the impact on the environment, as well as evaluating the cost per km. The last thing the planet needs is a shed load of low quality tubes that only hold up for a couple of rides.

Litebike RideNow road bike inner tubes TPU latex butyl lightweight bike parts

Laurence with his mate Marshall fixing a butyl tube puncture on his hire bike near Arre, south of France.


In terms of durability, TPU inner tubes like RideNow come out on top. TPU inner tubes are recyclable, but more importantly are more puncture resistant. This is because TPU has greater flexibility which means the tire finds it easier to handle changes in road surface. Butyl tubes do fairly well on durability whereas latex tubes are more fragile and puncture more often.


The flexibility of TPU inner tubes has additional benefits. It gives better traction and cornering, which means more confidence taking turns at high speeds.


It’s first place to TPU, then butyl with latex in third (n=54):


Litebike RideNow road bike inner tubes TPU latex butyl lightweight bike parts

Air retention


Anyone who has experience with latex and butyl tubes will know they need constant attention. While latex and butyl tubes lose air over time, TPU tubes maintain their pressure for longer, meaning less time spent topping up tires.


Again - it’s first place to TPU, then butyl with latex in third (n=54):


Litebike RideNow road bike inner tubes TPU latex butyl lightweight bike parts

In conclusion, TPU bike inner tubes like RideNow inner tubes offer a range of benefits compared to traditional butyl and latex tubes. TPU inner tubes compare better on speed because they are lighter and have lower rolling resistance, are more durable and have improved air retention. We’re not surprised they are becoming increasingly popular with cyclists. If you’re after next-level performance and want to invest in lightweight bike parts, it’s worth considering upgrading to TPU tubes like RideNow.




For more like this on cycling, sports psychology and wellbeing etc sign up to our newsletter, click here. To follow us on Instagram, click here. If you're after the very best lightweight bike parts you're in the right place. Ultra light carbon handlebars, seatposts, UNO Kalloy stems, RideNow inner tubes, pedals, waxed chains etc all rigorously tested by us and a small team of cyclists. Click here to see more.



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