Bikes come in all shapes and sizes, but what really makes them unique is the parts you put on them as the rider. It’s not rare for one of the first changes for a cyclist to make is to remove the inner tubes and replace them with either a TPU or Tubeless setup.
It’s a great upgrade; with both, you save weight on your wheels and come with excellent advantages. In this article, we will discuss both TPU tubes and Tubeless setups, so you know which is right for you for the best cycling experience.
What are TPU Inner Tubes?
TPU inner tubes are designed to be a replacement for your standard butyl inner tubes. TPU stands for Thermoplastic Polyurethane. It is a material that is incredibly durable and also very lightweight. It is not only very flexible but also resistant to punctures and can last for years, it’s also 100% recyclable.
TPU inner tubes are very popular because they are an easy upgrade that any cyclist can do. They work with any tires you want to use them with and can save you around 150g on each wheel.
What is Tubeless?
Tubeless is what it says in the name. It is a system where you use a tire without an inner tube. Instead, you use sealant, which can self-heal and help you run your bike at lower pressure without the risk of a pinch flat.
Tubeless has been very popular in mountain bikes for many years but has recently come across other disciplines, such as road and gravel. It’s lighter than butyl inner tubes and is a great way to go, especially if you plan to run at lower pressures.
TPU vs. Tubeless
The best way to compare these two tire systems is to break them down. We will compare them in different ways, such as compatibility, reliability, and cost.
Compatibility and Setup
The first thing to speak about is compatibility. This is how easy the systems are going to be to use with your current setup.
TPU tubes are very compatible with any setup. All you need to do is swap over your standard butyl inner tubes with the TPU equivalent. That means providing you have the right size tubes, you can use any wheels or any tires. The setup is incredibly quick to setup, and you can be done in 15 minutes with very little hassle.
Tubeless is a little bit different than TPU tubes. When it comes to tubeless, you need either tubeless-ready wheels or you need to convert your current wheels with a tubeless conversion kit. You also need tubeless tires as well which can be quite expensive. Put it all together with some sealant, and you have a tubeless setup. The setup can take time and requires a boost pump to ensure it works properly.
Weight Saving and Performance
There's no denying that weight matters. If you can shave weight off your bike, it will make a big difference, whether you’re riding on the flats or in the climbs.
TPU tubes can save you a huge amount of weight. A budget inner tube weighs 180g a TPU only weighs roughly 30g to 50g. That could be 150g, and with two wheels, that’s 300g weight saving on your bike. Although 300g doesn’t sound like much, a huge amount of weight is coming off the wheels, and it is noticeable.
The tubeless sealant also saves you a huge amount of weight once your tires and wheels are changed out to be tubeless-ready. You only need about 30g to 100g worth of sealant to ensure it works properly. In general tubeless tires are heavier compared to standard tires (10%-15%) which does add a little bit of weight.
The lighter setup is using TPU inner tubes and standard tires. Although tubeless has very low rolling resistance compared to inner tubes it’s only 1-2 watts difference compared to TPU inner tubes.
Nobody likes punctures, and the more you can avoid them, the better experience you will have riding your bike.
When it comes to TPU tires, then they work very similarly to a normal inner tube. TPU is generally more durable than a butyl inner tube, and it takes a little more than just a light piece of flint to get through. You can even repair them with patches if required, which is great if you don’t want to carry too many tubes.
Then we have tubeless, and what’s unique about tubeless is that it can self-heal. So when you get a puncture, it can self-repair while riding, provided the puncture is only small. You also get the amazing ability to avoid pinch flats, as there’s no tube to puncture. This is great, but you still need to carry plugs in case the puncture is too big, and if it’s really bad, then you will need to put a tube in, which is messy.
When it comes to cost, we all want to spend as little as possible on any upgrade. Cost is a vital factor when it comes to cycling, and both TPU and Tubeless are good value for money.
TPU tubes cost roughly $50 each and can be repaired. The total cost for the bike to be upgraded was $100. They generally can last years and be used with different tires. TPU tubes will give you an excellent service and can last years, providing you look after them.
Providing your wheels are equipped for tubeless tires, it is going to cost roughly $100. The cost comes in the form of tires, sealant, and valves. Depending on the level of quality you can end up spending more. You will be limited by the tires mileage before needing to spend similar again.
They both cost about the same in the end, tubeless being slightly cheaper. Although you might find yourself going through tires much faster than TPU inner tubes.
Which is for you, TPU or Tubeless?
It really comes down to personal preference more than anything. You might like using tubes and still want the performance of a tubeless setup.
We feel for road riding TPU is a great way to go. It offers relentless speed without all the hassles of a tubeless road setup. Typically with road riding, you are riding on smoother surfaces with higher pressure. High pressure and small volume tires don’t suit tubeless as well as inner tubes do.
We feel for off-road riding in places where you are running low pressure and have the risk of more pinch flats. Then you might get more out of tubeless. It’s much more suited to bigger tires with larger volume.
Why you might consider TPU even if your Tubeless
Many people don’t know that many tubeless riders actually use TPU inner tubes anyway. Obviously, with tubeless, you always have that risk of a puncture being too big. Instead of carrying butyl tubes round, many tubeless users carry TPU tubes for many reasons, such as:
- TPU tubes are incredibly lightweight
- TPU tubes take up little to no space in your pocket or bag
- TPU tubes are very durable and don’t generally get ripped in storage
A Final Note
Like with a lot when it comes to cycling, it’s all down to personal preference. TPU tubes are incredible, and so are tubeless systems. We highly recommend them both and feel they add great value to the cycling experience.