Stupid and strange puns aside, this is the last part of the Marathon series.
In case you missed the updates in the previous updates, I’ll fill you in. The Schwalbe Marathons have been running great but the tubeless has had its ups and downs. Up until 12/31/2019, the rear tire was holding air perfectly. But I went to trim some additional excess tube off and after that the tire wouldn’t reinflate, even when using a different tube. Even with an air compressor it took a lot of fiddling to get it to finally inflate – and even then it was loosing about 20 PSI each day and eventually went completely flat last night. I was also running low on sealant (now completely out.)
Recently, I’ve been thinking about whether I actually want to run tubeless and last night I finally posted that it wasn’t for me. This post will explain, in one place (no more countless updates) the reason I decided it wasn’t for me. I’ll also talk about what I’ve seen online and who its more geared toward, as well as the recap the hardships I encountered.
Before I start off, this is going to a long post. (Although, with all of the updates, not nearly as long as the previous installations in this series.) Second, the front tire has been holding air fine. So at least until the sealant dries up and the tire deflates, or I get some other type of flat, I’m going to keep it tubeless for the time being. Obviously the same can’t be said for the rear tire – last night it went flat and right now the only good (i.e. reliable) solution is to tube it.
Regardless, it’s actually decent that this setup could even be setup tubeless. After all, they’re standard clincher tube-type tires that even have the phrase “TUBE-TYPE” molded into the sidewall. The rims are non-tubeless, as well.
I tried both methods of “ghetto tubeless” – first the split-tube method and the gorilla tape method. For me, I could only get the split-tube method to work. The split-tube method is definitely the more ghetto of the two (its done by taking an undersized 20” BMX tube, stretching it over the rim and splitting it down the middle seam.) Online, most cyclists swear by the gorilla tape method but I tried it a couple times and had no luck. I found a couple people saying the gorilla tape method was slightly more susceptible to burping, but for me that really isn’t a problem. Sure, the split tube method is slightly more messy and is a little more expensive, but for me it worked pretty well.
Before I get into my thoughts of tubeless, let me run through the standard pros/cons list I’ve found on almost every cycling site page about tubeless.
- You can run lower pressures. On a standard clincher setup, a tube can easily receive “snakebite” or pinch flats from rim impacts, such as the rim taking a hard impact on a hard surface like a curb, rock or even the ground if you’re doing jumps and tricks. While tubeless doesn’t stop all pinch flats, it definitely minimizes them – enabling you to run lower pressures.
- They self-seal. From what I’ve read, the common misconception is that a tubeless tire is more puncture resistant. This isn’t the case usually, but rather the tire is self-sealing; the sealant inside of the tire plugs the puncture so you barely loose any air. Even larger punctures can be repaired with the use of plugs, like those made for car tires. However, running lower pressures will generally increase your puncture resistance.
- There’s a smoother ride. The ability to run lower pressures, combined with less rolling resistance and less internal friction caused by a tube rubbing against the tire casing, results in a smoother ride that is preferred by most.
- It’ll save weight, too. Depending on what route you go, you can shave a little bit of weight off your bike with going tubeless. Ghetto tubeless setups are not likely to yield weight savings while tubeless-ready and UST setups can save a little bit of weight. But for most people, the weight savings is negligible. But for weight-weenies, this is everything.
- Tubeless is the “way of the future.” Okay, maybe not. But a lot of mountain bikers and street trial cyclists run tubeless. Besides, many mountain bikes, fat bikes and even gravel bikes come from the factory with tubeless-ready rims and tires.
- Tubeless doesn’t work well at higher pressures. At the opposite end of the spectrum from mountain and fat bikes’ low pressures, most road and BMX bikes run high pressures that can go well over 100 PSI. While tubeless road setups are becoming more common, they’re not very popular due to cost. I’ve heard the sealant will just spray out just like a jet, so the self-sealing pro can go right out the window. Inflating a ghetto tubeless setup over 65 PSI is just asking for the tire to blow right off the rim, and possibly at the worst time possible.
- Tubeless can trick you into going too low. Back at the lower end of the spectrum, tubeless can trick you into running your tires too under inflated. This can result in tire and/or rim damage.
- Tubeless requires more maintenance. Tubeless requires you to add more sealant every 6 months as the old sealant dries up.
- Tubeless is more expensive. Any tubeless setup requires more maintenance than the old, low-tech clincher method with a tube. But because of that additional maintenance, it costs more to maintain. But the installation costs can be higher, especially if you go the tubeless-ready or UST route, which requires specialized rims and tires. In addition to the sealant.
- Tubeless can be difficult to setup. With ghetto tubeless, you’re pretty much taking a shot in the dark. Some tire/rim combinations will not hold air at all, and other rim/tire combinations work just fine. Sometimes a tire on one rim will hold 60 PSI all day long with no problems, but put the same tire on a different rim and it might blow right off the rim at 40 PSI. There is no guarantee that a clincher rim or tire will be able to run tubeless, and not at the pressures you need.
Tubeless is a very controversial and hot topic among cyclists. Some cyclists are avid tubeless users that won’t even consider riding a tube unless in an emergency. Other cyclists fall on the other side of the spectrum – they won’t go anywhere near a tubeless tire. Most cyclists likely fall in the middle where they could care less as long as it holds air.
Now that I have the standard pro/con list out of the way, let me talk about my thoughts on tubeless. As I’ll talk about a little bit later, tubeless greatly depends on what you do with your bike and what you want out of your bike/tires. For me, I mostly ride on pavement – whether it be a street, a sidewalk or a trail.
What better place to start than the beginning. I’ve had a mix of amazing success and frustration when doing the ghetto tubeless with the Schwalbe Marathon tires. As I mentioned back in part 1, I’ve wanted to try ghetto tubeless but could never do it as none of my tires would seal. With the rear Marathon and a 20” BMX tube split down the middle, it sealed right up. With no sealant, I was able to inflate the Marathon using the ghetto tubeless method with just my usual floor pump. Even with no sealant, the ghetto tubeless method held at fairly decently – only loosing a couple pounds over a couple of days.
But I’ve experienced the frustration with tubeless. When I tried to mount my front tire tubeless on the first round, I had no luck. Only after letting the tire stretch with a normal 26” tube overnight would it inflate. But the most frustrating was with the rear tire. While it sealed up perfectly and held air like a champ for about a month, it would no longer even inflate after deflating it one day to trim off some additional excess tube. Even with an air compressor, it required 30 minutes of fiddling with nearly everything to get it to hold. Just for it to loose 20 pounds per day and be totally flat a couple days later.
For me, the only advantages I get out of tubeless is the self-sealing action, not having to worry about the quality control problems that can plague tubes and the economics. I quickly found that tubeless, at least for me, was more of a novelty than anything else. Tubeless did allow me to experiment with lower pressures worry-free, but I ran those same exact pressures on tubes and had no issues whatsoever.
Tubeless, I found, was more economical for me. I got lots of flats and punctures with my old tires – and every time I’d buy a new tube as patches wouldn’t hold very long and were meant more as a temporary solution than a permanent one. A 32 ounce bottle of sealant will last you roughly four years and only costs $25. On the other hand, a tube can cost between $5 and $10.
But even with the advantages I had to deal with the disadvantages. You still have to replace the sealant. And as mentioned, the rear tire got to a point where running it tubeless was more of a hassle than it is worth because it necessitates going to the gas station to fill the tire up and lots of fiddling to even get it to hold. And even then it was loosing 20 PSI a day.
In addition to finding that I could run tubes at the lower pressures (40 PSI front, 45-50 PSI rear), I also found that tubeless wasn’t really responsible for the smooth ride. The ride was just as smooth with a tube in the tire. The Schwalbe Marathon has a smoother tread pattern, which makes riding on streets and trails much smoother in comparison to the stock tires that were knobbier and made for general purpose/“all-terrain” riding. The smoother tread and high-quality nature of the Marathon, in comparison with the lower pressures, is the bulk of why the Marathons feel much smoother.
For me, tubeless turned out to be more of a novelty than a useful modification or upgrade.
Who’s it for?
Although tubeless isn’t for me personally – at least not for what I use my bike for, it has some really good applications. If I was a mountain biker, I don’t think I’d ride on anything but tubeless.
Tubeless has its place in the mountain biking and fat bike world because of the low pressures and the self-sealing action of the sealant. It’s also great for people who live in area with thorns and needles, as you can run over a thorn and keep riding. With a tube, it’ll deflate.
I’ve found that sealants for tubes like Slime don’t work that well. They make more of a mess than they’re worth, and usually the sealant ends up solidifying and gumming up the valve. But the Stan’s No Tubes appears to work fairly well on the Marathons, at least it was able to quickly seal a small puncture caused by a thumbtack.
But the Marathons are fairly puncture resistant by nature. They have an embedded puncture-resistant liner (not like the flat tire liner I purchased back in October)
Only you can decide whether tubeless is for you. If you’re unsure, you can always try it out if you have a tubeless-ready or UST rim/tire, and you can test it out using a ghetto tubeless setup if you have the resources and the desire to do so. But tubeless isn’t always the best for everyone, and vice-versa.
So, the rear tire is back to being permanently tubed. As mentioned countless times, setting the rear tire up tubeless was more hassle than its worth.
Today I went back to the thicker tubes in the Marathon on the rear. The front is still tubeless and holding air perfectly fine. After a brief test ride, the bike felt fine.
I was concerned about how the heavier tubes would affect the ride quality, but it didn’t do much. Last week I rode over 8 miles on the cheaper, thin Bell/CST/Acimut tubes and had no problems, but I decided to go for the thicker tubes as they’re higher quality.
As for riding, unfortunately it looks like winter is here and we’re expecting snow later this week. Thankfully it looks like I may get two days of riding in before the snow returns. I may also be able to do some riding this weekend.
I know, I know. I promised that the updates would end – but of course, indecisive me changed my mind.
On tubeless, I found another advantage. This week I rode my bike to classes and other events, so the bike was out in the cold a lot. On Thursday, I rode my bike despite temperatures hovering in the 20s and 30s.
After a couple days of leaving the bike out in the cold and riding, I decided to check the pressure in both tires and top them off after my Thursday ride.
Surprisingly, the front (tubeless) tire held air better than the rear (tubed) tire. The front only dropped a pound or two, whereas the rear tire dropped about 6-7 pounds. I’m going to try to see if such is the case in the future.
I don’t think the tube is defective – or, if it is, it’s an extremely low leak. As I’ve mentioned, another benefit of tubeless is you don’t have to worry about defective tubes. I’ve had my fair share of tubes with questionable quality (I’m looking at you, Kenda.)
You can run sealant (I.e. Stan’s No Tubes) in tubes, but I’ve heard it doesn’t work as well since the tube stretches when inflated.
I may order more sealant and keep at least the front tire tubeless since it seems to be holding air better than the tubed tire. Mind you, I punctured the front tire with a thumbtack to test the sealant – and I can tell you the sealant is doing a pretty excellent job of sealing the puncture.
If I decide to order more sealant, I may try to re-convert the rear tire back to tubeless. Last time (before I threw my hands in the air and went back to tubes) it was loosing 20-25 PSI per day. However, this was with less than half an ounce of sealant, which is less than 1/4 of what is recommended (2 ounces per tire.) So it may be worth trying with the proper amount of sealant. Either way, if I can’t get it to work with the proper amount of sealant, it isn’t a big deal since I can still run a tube in it.
I’ve ridden over 16 miles this month so far, all of which has been on a tubeless front tire and a tubed rear tire.
Snow blanketed the region yesterday, but I still managed to get out today and put 3 miles on the bike.
The Schwalbe Marathon tires actually handle fairly well in the snow. I didn’t run into any slick spots or any spots that felt sketchy. To be on the safe side, I did lower the tire pressures to gain some more traction in case I did run into a spot that was a little slicker.
Overall, the bike handled fine through the snow. The tires have been holding up fine – still the tubeless is actually retaining pressure better than the rear.
After a short hiatus, I racked up some more miles on the bike.
Unfortunately, I had to break one of the cardinal rules of owning a bike: never leave it outside. I last rode the bike on Tuesday (1/21) but had to leave the bike out at the rack because the tires were way too dirty to bring it inside. Doing so would’ve track sludge and stuff in, which wouldn’t have been very good.
Ever since Tuesday, the bike has been outside. Since, it has rained and snowed nearly continuously since, which hasn’t given me any opportunities to go for a ride. Thankfully, today the weather was clear enough to get outside and enjoy it.
I put a plastic bag over the seat to keep it dry, which worked. The chain, however, didn’t look too healthy after being outside in the wet weather this week. After tightening up the handlebar, the bike was ready to go. The tires seemed to have held pressure well – as with last time, the front more so than the rear.
I hopped on and went for a really nice (almost) 7-mile bike ride… which is my longest ride (in one go) yet. However, many of the roads were extremely wet and filled with puddles – so by the time I returned home from my ride my pants were soaking wet and the bike was dirtier than before. (Did I mention that I cleaned the bike just a couple of weeks ago?!? Guess it serves me right for cleaning a bike in winter.)
By the time I returned, most of the worrisome rust on the chain was gone. I should really oil the chain soon though it didn’t have any issues.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the bike outside again as it was still dirty. But I plan on going for another ride tomorrow – and the weather forecast for this weeks looks good for the most part, except the threat of snow on Tuesday.