Tubeless Tires

Conventional tires are composed of two layers. The outer layer is a protective skin that gives it the functions we need. The main function of the outer layer, of course, is to grip the road. There are several designs that do this to varying degrees, but that’s the general principle. The quality of the tire is usually determined by the outer layer as, as that is he part of the tire hat we associate with performance when driving. When it comes to preventing problems with the tire in general, the outer layer is also the most important, because it controls both slippage and tire damage, like the tire getting punctured.

But what actually makes most tires work is the second inner layer. This layer only has one function: to contain the air in the tire. It does nothing else. The reason that tires have two layers is that tires are always under constant pressure, from both the air inside, and the weight being exerted on them from the car and road.  This means that the air inside the tire is literally straining to escape it, and that the tire is under constant pressure to release that force.

This is why the inner layer, or tube, exists. While the outer layer of the tire takes the constant pounding that comes from everyday use, and absorbs the damage from that same usage, the inner layer holds the air. It can do this job better because it isn’t taking the same amount of damage. Tires have been designed this way for a very long time, and it’s an effective, efficient design, that until pretty recently hasn’t really been challenged. There really hasn’t been any reason to or funding behind any further development, as most research behind car tires involves improving their outer layer, not redesigning their entire layer.

But tubeless tires are a completely different design. As you’ve probably guessed, the tubeless tire takes out the inner layer entirely, leaving just the outer layer to handle both the daily grind of everyday driving and holding the air. Instead of having an entire “tube” to contain the air, tubeless tires have a lining made of halobutyl, which is basically impenetrable. This lining goes across both the inside of the outer layer of the tire and the lining against the rim, to completely seal of the outer layer, and prevent the air from leaking out from the outer layer like it usually would.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this design. The main advantage is that it is actually a safer tire to use. One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a tire is it exploding after being punctured. This can cause a car to lose its traction and the driver to completely lose control, swerving from the intended course. At the high speeds we drive, this can be lethal. With the halobutyl membrane that tubeless tires use, this risk is completely eliminated – the tire will never explode. Instead, the air will only leak from the puncture, leading to a slower, safer deflation that gives the driver much more time to react safely.

On top of that, it’s easier to fix a puncture in a tubeless tire, so most of the time, a puncture kit will work fine, and there will be no need to replace the tire. But unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the advantages end. On the other side of things, tubeless tires are still early in their development, and have a number of problems. Because of their complete reliance on the outer layer of the tire, they can be subject to easy and slow leakage, where a normal tire would have no problems. The outer layer in general is known to have more problems in a tubeless tire.

In addition, tubeless tires are hard to find and much more expensive than normal tires, so it’s not always easier to justify the purchase when there are good regular tires that are cheaper and last longer. They might even be safer overall, since the tread is less likely to wear and tear. Right now, it’s still probably too early in the development to justify buying a set of tubeless tires. As of this moment, they’re really more functional as bicycle tires (and motorcycle tires) than as car tires.



Comments are closed.