I’ve gone all in on road tubeless, surprising no one who reads these pages. I’ve called my shot, the future is road tubeless, and I’ll be fantastically, on-the-recordly, crash-and-burnedly humiliated... if I'm wrong. But I don’t think I am and I traveled to Italy last week to meet with the Schwalbe folks to find out what they’ve done in the way of a road tubeless update. (Schwalbe is a German company, but its launch was in Tuscany.)
With respect to Conti, and Hutchinson, two companies of which I think highly and intend to write about going forward, I specifically sought out the Schwalbe folks earlier this year because, as well as I can tell, they’re industry leading on road tubeless.
A lot of it has to do with product cycles. Continental launched its 5000 TL and one could argue it matched Schwalbe’s Pro One series, but the existing Pro Ones were – what – 3 years old? My Italy trip coincided with the denouement of a 3-year push to remake its Pro One line. Schwalbe is confident the brand is now well in front of its competitors.
I spent most of 3 days with Schwalbe, riding the tires and getting into the weeds with its product managers and engineers. I’ll tell you what I know, what I think, and what still needs to be proved out.
To be clear, if you ride skinny tires there is value in traditional tube-type tires. We both can list the reasons. But, do you race triathlons? That’s the kicker. That’s the finger on the scale that tips the balance in favor of you going tubeless for your race and training tires, and my reasoning will become apparent as we get into this.
Schwalbe’s new Pro One series is made in 25mm, 28mm and 30mm widths. I rode them in 30mm and the tires were quite roadworthy at 70 to 75psi.
The New Pro One tires from Schwalbe are not just a reengineering of the tire, but a retooling of the factory, new machinery, mostly to get rid of the variances. (Hand made ravioli? Good. Hand made tires? Sounds good.) The new Pro One tires are lighter, less prone to puncture, roll faster, are more aero (claim Schwalbe), and they mount easier. Let’s vet these claims.
First, look below, this is a kind of chart Schwalbe made, and it shows basically what they claim they did versus the Pro Ones they’re preparing to retire from circulation.
The grey shape (heptagram?) is the current tire, the red is the new tire, and as you see the new Pro Ones are more durable, more puncture resistant, and when you see that the tire is “less” it’s less in a good way: less weight, less drag, less rolling resistance.
You’ll see highlighted “souplesse”, which is French for supple. Big increase in suppleness. We’ll get to that.
The major changes in the new Pro One versus the old are in shape, diameter, materials and construction concept. The turn-up scheme is different, as you can see. There are 2 layers of carcass instead of 4. The breaker (puncture layer) is 40mm wide. The “compound” (think Black Chile) has changed. It’s called Addix.
The tire is very slightly larger in diameter and the sealing lip design around the bead core has been changed, making this a very easy tire to mount and inflate with a floor pump. (I was surprised at the lack of pings and pops that a typical tire makes when it beads up.)
I didn’t list all the tires and all the specs Schwalbe is launching nor all the sizes. Interestingly, to me, the Pro One is made in the 584mm bead diameter, and in 559mm (which I lopped off when I truncated the chart above) but they do not make this tire in the 571mm bead diameter. Why Schwalbe is making a Pro One in 28mm in a 559mm bead diameter is God’s own mystery. That is the old MTB 26” size. I can see the 584mm, and because this (aka 27.5”) size is a hot MTB and gravel standard and a lot of wheels are getting made for it. I think road and tri bike makers who want to make a proportional bike for shorter people may need to consider moving from 571mm to 584mm for any of these bikes you want to make.
In 700c, below is a comparison of weights, if you assume rim strips are about equal for tube and tubeless:
Continental 4000SII w/Vittoria latex (pink) tube and 51mm valve (85g)
25mm: 225g+85g = 310g (assuming no sealant)
28mm: 235g+85g = 320g (assuming no sealant)
Schwalbe Pro One w/Stans 44mm valve stem (25g)
25mm: 245+25g = 270g (w/50ml of sealant = 320g)
28mm: 270+25g = 295g (w/50ml of sealant = 345g)
Schwalbe Pro One TT w/Stans 44mm valve stem (25g)
25mm: 205+25g = 230 (w/50ml of sealant = 280g)
28mm: 215+25g = 240 (w/50ml of sealant = 290g)
You can’t ride tubeless without sealant. If you ride with a full dose of sealant, about 50ml, you’re riding with an extra 50g of weight per tire, which means that 25mm Pro One, with sealant, is now 320g instead of the 310g of the latex tube and 25mm Conti 4000IIS. (If I did my calcs right.)
But remember our use case. I’ll wrap up, at the bottom, with a discussion of that, and you’ll see that for me, my opinion, tubeless is still the lighter option for us, and that’s even if you don’t ride the ultralite Pro One TT (i.e., tubeless is lighter if you just ride the standard Pro One). If you go the route I suggest for our use you’ve gone well lighter with tubeless than tubed.
Schwalbe launched 4 new high-end tires: 3 Schwalbe Pro Ones, the same basic tire in the 3 sizes noted above, and the Pro One TT, which is distinctive in that it has a gum sidewall, it’s way light, and it’s light because it gives up a layer of flat protection. This is what Sebastian Kienle has been riding this year. I interviewed him a month or so ago, and talked to him about this tire. He knew then what I didn’t know until last week: the Pro One series he’s been riding is a whole new generation (these new tires will be out by late August or early September).
What Schwalbe calls turn-up construction is the same basic tech that other companies (Vittoria, for example) would call an “open tubular.” I’m not a tire expert. But, this is not a new concept. Motorcycle (in particular) and even car tires use a turn-up process. What Schwalbe is trying to achieve through tuning what you’d call a lay-up if you were a frame maker is a particular ride sensation. Schwalbe has been getting its feelings hurt by pro team managers who won’t spec road tubeless because the tires don’t feel “supple”, like tubulars. (Eye roll.)
So, for the last several years, it’s been developing this particular tire, debuted here, last week, to prove to the directeurs sportif of major continental and pro tour teams that its tires return the sort of road feel that a Dugast or FMB tubular provides.
In my opinion, Schwalbe is thinking wishfully. Mind, it achieved its goal! But it’s trying to reason with troglodytes. These directeurs sportif, many of whom are somewhere around my age, who started racing when I did, which meant nailing (literally) our cleats to the leather bottoms of our shoes: I know about these guys, because I have to hear about them from bike makers, component makers, saddle makers, wheel makers. More than one stem maker has facepalmed when the DS proclaimed that a bike fit input is a 140mm stem: “Everybody on my team will use a 140mm stem, send the bikes that fit them assuming this stem.” Why? The answer is long, convoluted, not germane, and preposterously silly. Basically, Schwalbe is going to have to wait until an entire generation of these old fossils die. Or…
Triathlon will prove out the utility of these tires and road racing will follow, as has been the case with carbon wheels, carbon monocoque bikes, hard shell helmets, aerobars for timed racing, training with power and so much else.
I was part of a cohort of between 30 and 40 riders, we didn’t climb the Mortirolo and we didn’t ride L’Eroica, but we did ride about 43 miles on the first day, 26 miles the second, about 3000’ of climbing on day-1, more than 2000’ on day-2, on some pretty steep and technical ups and downs, and with liberal sections of Strada Bianche (the tire eating “white roads of Tuscany”). I didn’t see anyone getting any flats, though I heard one rider flatted once on day-1 (I don’t know if the flat sealed itself, because I didn’t see or hear about it).
I rode the 30mm Pro One and, look, I am just not one of those guys who waxes elegiac, like I’m riding a bottle of Chiante Classico, with an oaky flavor and a hint of Cassis. The tire was comfortable. It beaded up, without any pings and pops, with a floor pump, and without overinflating to seat the beads. It mounted easy, with hands only. And about that: As noted, one change Schwalbe did make was a slightly larger diameter to the tire. Schwalbe publishes a chart showing how its tires do on various rims, and it’s now going to have to update its chart because a firm fit on a particular rim will now become an easier fit.
Like all European tire makers, and like all bike tire companies that also make motorcycle and car tires (Schwalbe is not one of these – it only makes bicycle and wheelchair tires), the tires are made to the ETRTO standard, which is the European standard for all tires, of any sort, for any use. Except, that’s not quite right. Really, they’re wheel standards. Tire companies don’t really have standards. They just must make the tire to work well with the ETRTO wheel standards. There’s some hand wringing about this, and some wheel and tire companies are advocating for the ETRTO to work in concert with ISO, another standard. All very confusing. I poll you all, and ask you what wheels you’ll want to ride. The great majority of these wheels are quite compatible with these tires and I’ll leave it there.
While I considered the ride of the tires quite fine, I will say this about tubulars: that kind of tire can only really ride one way. It’s encased in a circle. Its shape can’t change. With all clincher tires the shape of the tire changes somewhat as the rim width changes. The tire gets thinner, and slightly taller, as the inner bead width is smaller. The tire gets flatter, more domelike, wider, as the rim is wider.
This is the case with all clinchers, tubed and tubeless. What does that mean to ride quality? I don’t know that there’s one good answer (if there is I haven’t heard it). The Pro One will measure its stated width on a rim with a 19mm inner bead diameter. Rims these days are typically between 17mm and 21mm. some are wider, like the new ENVE AR, with a 25mm inner diameter. (I think a 30mm Pro One would go nicely on that wheel.)
I’m not saying the tires are optimized for a 19mm inner bead diameter; just that they measure to stated width on it. A Zipp 808 has an inner diameter of 19mm, anything in the HED + line is about 21mm, and the Pro One will do fine on all of them. That said, there is a promised aero advantage to these new tires over the prior version and one assumes this might be tied to a particular tire shape. I don’t know what it is. I don’t as of this writing have anything quantifiable for you.
The rolling resistance is another promised enhancement and the old tire rolled pretty fast. Schwalbe uses 2 independent labs, but the company appears confident enough to let the various testing websites do their thing now that this tire is out – let the chips fall where they may. If this tire rolls in the vicinity of the Vittoria Corsa Speed, Katie bar the doors, there will be a rush to buy these tires for Kona.
There were a couple of flats experienced over the summer by high profile riders on Schwalbe tires. One was by Kienle, in Roth, the tire sealed itself, and I don’t know if I should be writing this – because I sort of snuck it out of someone – but Kienle apparently reported that his speed and power after the flat was about the same as before. Mind, this is thirdhand. But if it’s true, then I find it notable how low in pressure one might be able to ride this tire, assuming he lost a bar or 2 of pressure. Schwalbe is already saying that something in the 4-and-change bars is fine for the 30mm and that’s the pressure I had in them over my 2 days with them.
Otherwise, I’m just going to say that there are 3 sealants you’ll want to use with this tire: Schwalbe’s own; Stans; and Orange Seal. If you use something else, you’re using a sealant Schwalbe doesn’t recommend and, in some cases, knows darn well won’t seal a leak.
The tires will soon show up in stores, just, make sure when you buy you’re buying a new Pro One or Pro One TT. There’s a cosmetic treatment to these wheels, which you can see in the images here. There is no new model name or name change. The tires are $81 each, for either the Pro One or the Pro One TT. That’s on the mid-to-hi side, as clincher tires go, but not in this tire class: Continental's 5000 TL costs about the same. Also, remember that you don’t need to spend on the tube, and a latex tube is between $10 and $20 depending on how desperate you are at the point of need.
Finally, why is this tech prime for triathletes? There’s an additional bit of complexity to tubeless, in that you need to work with sealant. But our goal is to go fast, and to get to the run with the least likelihood of mishap. That means sealant and, honestly, it probably means sealant if you’re riding with a latex tube and that means if you ride (let us say) a Conti 4000SII with a latex tube and sealant you’re right back up to a 40g to 80g weight deficit per wheel. Plus the rolling resistance deficit which remains to be seen.
Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle, and Patrick Lange are all riding road tubeless. I’m sticking my neck out here, as I did a few years ago with disc brakes on tri bikes, but I feel this wager is just as solid as was disc brakes. I’m pretty sure, in 5 years, we’ll all be riding road tubeless. Me? I’m there now. I'm done with tubes entirely at my house. Except in my wheelbarrows.
In way of disclosure, I pestered these folks, stalked them really, to become a Slowtwitch partner. They said yes. Road tubeless, like disc brakes, like stationary training platforms, like electronic shifting, like gravel, among others, are themes that animate me, and are emblematic of where the market is going. This is what you have read here, and will read forward going, partnerships or not. Nevertheless, because of my high praise for this brand it’s important I disclose this. Read more from Schwalbe here if you want to investigate further.
[PHOTOS: Action shots of our riding were taken by the incomparable Irmo Keizer, as well as any other handsome pics you see above. If the shots look average to shoddy, I would be the photog for those.]