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Tubeless Wheel Systems Explained

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

John Neugent

Although they were first developed for off-road bikes, tubeless systems are now becoming commonplace for road bikes. I believe this is because many road riders started with off-road bikes and used them as a good way to avoid pinch flats at low pressures.

But there is a fair amount of confusion as to what tubeless systems really are. Pretty much all clincher wheels can be used with tubeless specific tires with the addition of a Stan’s No Tubes type of rim strip and valve stem, but there are basically three versions.

Version 1: UST (Universal Standard Tubeless) system developed in 1999 by Mavic, Michelin, and Hutchinson and licensed to others, uses a specific bead shape that mates with a specific patented internal rim shape. This was the first tubeless clincher system. With this system and some other similar systems there are no spoke holes so there is no need for rim strips

UST system

Version 2: After the development of the UST system, companies like Stan’s figured out you could use a tubeless specific tire with almost all clincher rims as long as you covered up the spoke holes and put a valve stem in the rim. I asked the then-head of Hutchinson USA if this were true (many years ago) and he told me Hutchinson had contractual relations with Mavic so he could not comment. But it seems clear that is the case. The key point being you still need a tubeless tire.

Conventional rim

Version 3: A third type is the Tubeless Compatible rim which is similar to a UST rim in that it has very high shoulders. These shoulders help prevent a tubeless tire from coming off in the event of a flat. They also provide a ramp for the bead to slide up to help provide a better seal for a tubeless tire. But you still need the special rim strip, valve stem, and sealant to run them tubeless.

Tubeless cmpatible

All three systems work and all three can be run with or without tubes. The tubeless compatible rims are a little harder to mount tires onto because of the higher shoulder of the rim, but they help aid inflation and create a better seal when used with tubeless tires.

John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.