Ensuring the bike is correctly set up is essential to make motorcycling as safe as possible. In addition, your choice of tire type is a critical item to consider as it directly affects your safety.
Tubed motorcycle tires are more dangerous than tubeless tires if they are damaged. Damaged tubed tires may deflate very fast, with potentially catastrophic consequences. However, if tubed tires are used for their designed application, they are no more dangerous than tubed tires.
When buying a motorcycle, you will need to decide between tubed or tubeless tires. The answer on which tire is safer may not be as straightforward as you would like it to be; it is essential to understand the difference between tubed and tubeless tires to make an informed choice based on their safety.
Tube vs. Tubeless
To compare the relative safety of tubed versus tubeless motorcycle tires, it is necessary to understand each tire’s intended uses and performance features.
Tubeless tires are the oldest tire type. In the era of spoked wheels, tubes were the only practical method to keep a car or bike tire inflated. Spoked wheels have small holes in the rims which hold the spokes. These holes are not air-sealed, meaning that air can leak out of them. Tubes were the only practical method of keeping tires on spoked wheels inflated.
Tyre rubber varies in density, purity, and toughness. They need to endure hours of riding over different surfaces and differing speeds. In addition, tires need to retain their flexibility. Having two elements make up the pneumatic components of the tires was the only technology available.
Although spoked wheels disappeared on cars, manufacturers still sell bikes with spoked wheels.
Tubed tires do offer some advantages over tubeless tires:
- They handle rough terrain better, limiting the chance of falls
- They are more resistant to sudden g-force shocks, protecting the wheel rim from mechanical damage and potential fall risk increases.
- If the rim is damaged, it is easier to repair, making it easier to maintain and thus reducing the risk of an accident due to structural damage.
The main disadvantage of a tubed tire is how it handles a puncture. A tubed tire represents two potential failure points: the tire and the tube.
An example of this occurred in 2012 in New Zealand; the coroner’s report on the death of motorcyclist Bryan Wyness stated that he was riding at moderate speed on the state highway when his tubed tire suddenly deflated, causing him to slide into the carrier separating the oncoming traffic. As a result, Mr. Wyness suffered a fatal spinal cord injury. This accident may not have happened if the bike had been fitted with tubeless tires.
One-piece wheels, forged out of a single piece of metal, aluminum, or composite, enable an airtight seal to be created, and thus tubeless tires can be fitted.
Tubeless tires have several significant safety advantages over their tubed cousins:
- Being made of only one element means they are lighter.
- They run cooler and therefore have lower degradation over their lifetime.
- They tend to handle a puncture better. A tubed tire may suddenly deflate if it runs over a nail, whereas tubeless tires capture the nail in the thick outer layer of the tire. Certain brands may have a gel coating on the inside of the tire; this design results in the tubeless tire coping better when the cover is compromised.
- If you are stranded on a chaotically busy highway with traffic whizzing by, it is much easier to temporarily repair a tubeless tire using a plug kit. With a tubed tire, the driver must:
- first, remove the whole wheel
- take off the tire
- Either put a patch on the tube or replace the tube.
If Tubed Tires Are More Dangerous, Why Are They Still Sold?
The main holdouts for spoked wheels are adventure bikes and off-road machines, as spoked wheels rims are more durable than solid wheels. The rims are also easier to repair if damaged.
The design of spoked wheels (which can only be used with tubed tires) ensures they can endure more significant drops or other sudden g-forces. In addition, these wheels can withstand the shock of hitting rocks and debris than the wheels used with tubed tires.
Spoked wheels are also retained for “old school” aesthetic reasons; sometimes, safety is not the buyer’s top priority! Spoked wheel motorcycles with tubed tires are more nostalgic than the pragmatic design of the solid wheel, tubeless tire design. Even Hollywood recognizes the aesthetic appeal of tubed tires and spoked wheels.
- In the film “The Great Escape,” the main character, played by Steve McQueen, jumped over a twelve-foot barbed wire fence (performed by stunt man Bud Ekins) on his spoked wheel Triumph TR6 Trophy.
- Chris Pratt riding his modified spoked wheel scrambler while being flanked by Velociraptors in Jurassic World
- Keanu Reeves riding his spoked wheel Yamaha MT-9, playing the character of Jon Wick
- In the movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise rides the spoked wheel Kawasaki GPZ900R as captain Maverick.
There are other examples, and it is clear that Hollywood and its followers remain fans of the spoked wheel and tubed tires, regardless of their safety.
Can Tubed Tyre wheels be Converted to Tubeless?
If you ride in environments that make the motorcycle more prone to punctures and still ride a spoked wheel motorbike, converting to tubeless is still an option.
Converting a spoked wheel to a tubeless tire is a detailed process, requiring significant skill and craftsmanship. In addition, sealing out any leaks is not easy but essential for the conversion process. Remember, this is a safety-critical item, and you cannot afford to compromise the integrity of your motorcycle.
Do-It-Yourself conversion kits are available, and you will need to follow these steps:
- Take the tire and tube off the rim.
- Apply sealant to the spoke “nipples.”
- Use the supplied tape to create a secondary seal over the sealed spoke nipples.
- Fit the new tubeless tire to the rim. A new tire must be the same size as the old tube and tire. Any variations will cause a real problem.
- The rim must be precisely aligned with the hub; any misalignment may cause the air seal to be broken and the tire to deflate.
As this is a safety-critical part, you must carry out the job very methodically and carefully. You must review your work each step of the way and be sure to pay attention to the details. A professional should be consulted if you have any concerns about your ability to carry out this job correctly.
In most cases, tubed motorcycles tires are considered more dangerous than tubeless motorcycle tires due to their vulnerability to punctures and blowouts.
For motorbikes used on regular roads, tubeless technology offers many benefits, including increased safety, lower degradation, lighter weight, and ease of tire repair.
Although Tubed Tyres will remain on the scene for specific segments of motorcycles and certain disciplines of use (e.g., Motorcross), the sheer number of advantages means that tubeless technology will be used on an ever-increasing scale.