Singletracks: A season with the Nuetech Tubliss System
Over the years, people have tried to come up with the perfect tire inflation system that improves performance and reduces flats. As an engineer and self professed gear whore, I’ve always been keen to try different things to improve my ride. I’ve tried heavy duty tubes, tire balls and bib mousses and have always had to compromise something, whether that be the ride performance, ease of tire changes or risk getting flat tires. A few years ago, word spread of a new product that would allow one to run their regular dirt bike tires without tubes, foam inserts or weird rubber balls. Dubbed the Tubliss, by Nuetech, this system uses a liner against the rim that inflates to 110psi, sealing the spoke holes and creating an inner air chamber using the tire carcass.
I’ve read various reviews of the system and had gotten very polarized opinions. Some people love it, others hate it. A few riding buddies tried it out a couple years ago and weren’t impressed when they cut their tires and ended up with flats. Others had slow leaks or various other problems. At that, I wrote off the system to another failed gizmo and continued to deal with the frustrating installation of Tire Balls or expensive yearly replacement of bib mousses. Looking at another roached out set of bibs this spring and promptly passing out when I called up my local dealer to find out the price of a couple new bibs, I once again began looking for a new system. I looked at my bag of old Tire Balls, dirty, greasy and mostly deflated in the corner of the shop, then looked at the pile of pinched tubes in another corner. Figuring I didn’t have much to lose, I called up Jeff Douglas at Nuetech and after a long conversation about his invention, had a set shipped up to me for testing. A couple weeks later a box arrived from California and it was time to test out the final frontier of tire guts.
I was greeted by professional packaging, all of the parts needed and very detailed instructions on how to install the Tubliss system. If that wasn’t enough, Nuetech’s website (http://www.nuetech.com/) has a very informative video on installing the Tubliss system. Installation was very straight forward and took me about two hours to do both wheels. It could be done very quickly but I took my time and triple checked everything. Installing a tire with the Tubliss system is a little different than usual, but once accustomed to the procedure it is very, very easy. For the first test I only used a light coating of armour-all on the Tubliss core and soapy water to help seal the system. With everything installed, tire pressure set to 10PSI and bike loaded, it was off to Silver Creek (south of Salmon Arm) for the dust-fest known as the Rock Hound Hare Scrambles.
The Rock Hound is notoriously rocky as its name suggests. The course is a mix of fast open terrain and wooded singletrack and I don’t think there’s a square inch of trail that doesn’t have a rock on it. Most people either run mousses or heavy duty tubes pumped way up to about 15PSI, so this was an excellent test for the Tubliss system. Feeling a little nervous before the race, I decided to pump the tires up a bit more to 12PSI, though looking through the concept of the Tubliss I doubt it would make a difference as there’s no tube to pinch anymore. After battling thick dust and more rocks than I could ever care for, I’m happy to report that I had no flats.
With the spring race season at WFO, the following weekend it was off to Vernon for a PNWMA double header. I mounted up my favorite tire combination - Michelin M12 front and S12 rear tires in hopes of a podium in the expert class. I again only used some soapy water to seal things up. Saturday night was the Night Pig hare scrambles that featured wet, slimy trails through the woods above Vernon. With the slippery conditions I lowered the tire pressure to 10PSI and was rewarded with awesome traction and once again, no flats! The following day was the Squealin’ Pig that featured a perfect 40+ km loop featuring wicked singletrack. Again at 10PSI, the tires hooked up great and were doing great. Near the end of the 2nd of 3 laps I pounded into a rock and ended up getting a front flat. Well, I think that’s when it happened. While racing I felt something funny happen to the handling, but continued for a third lap and finished. It was only then that I noticed the front flat. While it did go flat, I’m happy to report there was no rim damage and the bead stayed on for over 40 kilometers at race pace. The Tubliss core at its high pressure keeps the bead clamped on to the rim and helps protect the rim from dents and dings.
Once home, I checked the tire and found a small 3/4 inch cut in the tire carcass. I called up Jeff again and he said to try running some slime in the tire and that will usually help stop any leaks. Some people go as far as to carry automotive tire plugs with them in case they cut the tire. I went out and found some water soluble tire sealant (for easy clean up) and have since had zero issues for the rest of the season. That includes two national enduros, countless hare scrambles and cross-countries and enough trail riding to wear out a top end and too many tires to list. I’ve used new tires and old ones with the system and as long as I properly prepare the tire and rim, I haven’t had a problem. Many people have issues with slow leaks but I think most of them aren’t following the instructions and thus have issues. I have figured out a few things that make life easier with the Tubliss system. The first one is the tougher the tire, the better. The Tubliss system lets you run extremely low pressures without worrying about pinch flats, so even a hard rubber compound hooks up extremely well. I’ve had great luck with Maxxis and Michelin tires, but basically anything with a stiffer sidewall works well. In the future I plan on testing out some IRC and Trelleborg tires as they as supposed to be very tough.
Moving on to other advantages, the Tubliss system helps handling. Like stated previously, I’ve used pretty much every system out there and have found problems with most systems. Tubes suffer from pinch flats and the ultra heavy duty ones mess with the handling slightly. Tire Balls are messy, a pain in the butt to install and prepare, completely go flat if a couple balls go flat and mess with the handling on jumps and high speed stuff. They are also prone to going flat in high temperatures. Mousses are pretty much guaranteed flat protection (except in the high speed desert stuff) but are expensive and really, really mess with the handling of a bike. The mousses have a very dead feel to them and all that spinning weight acts like a gyroscope that will stand the bike up when you want to lay it over. The Tubliss system truly shines over other tire inflation systems/replacements. The Tubliss core is lighter than any of the other systems, uses air and allows a lower pressure. All of these attributes make the bike feel better everywhere and go faster. The Tubliss also allows cooler operating temperatures in the tire which helps the feel stay consistent and increases durability during high speed riding. There is no friction between the tire carcass and the Tubliss system, unlike the other offerings. No friction inside the tire allows it to flex like it’s supposed to (think of tubeless trials tires). This system is the most durable setup and will last the longest, especially if you take care during tire changes to avoid hitting the liner with tire irons. I have over 130 hours on the setup and everything still looks like new. I do re-tape the rim every 30-40 hours just to be on the safe side. At just over $100 per wheel, the Tubliss system is very reasonably priced and if you frequently get flats or run mousses, it will save you money.
There are a few downsides to the Tubliss system. First, you can still get a flat tire. It is more durable than many other systems but is definitely not completely flat-proof. For races where flats are critical mistakes, like the ISDE I will still run bib mousses for the peace of mind. Secondly, if you cut the tire it’s basically garbage as it won’t hold air anymore. I plan on experimenting with automotive tire plugs to see if cut tires are salvageable. I’ve also heard if you chunk off a knob it can cause the tire to leak, but so far running at lower pressures have made my tires last longer (less chunking on rocks since they flex instead of dig/cut) and I haven’t had any issues. Finally, installation requires drilling the rim to fit the rim lock. It’s not a huge deal, but personally I don’t like taking a drill to the rims on my bike.
Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the Tubliss system. I was skeptical at first but was pleasantly surprised with the results. The system is innovative, improves bike handling and reduces flats, all of the things I’ve been looking for to fill my tires. I would 100% recommend this system for most dirt bikers. That includes everyone from casual trail riders to off-road racers and definitely motocrossers.