Unlike traditional pneumatic tires which use a separate inner tube, tubeless tires have continuous ribs molded integrally into the bead of the tire so that they are forced by the pressure of the air inside the tire to seal with the flanges of the metal rim of the wheel.
Many patents had been filed covering tubeless tires. Killen Tire applied for a patent in 1928 and was granted GB patent 329955 in the UK in 1930. The Wingfoot Corporation, a subsidiary of Goodyear Tire were granted a patent in South Africa in 1944. Due to technical problems, most of these designs only saw limited production or were abandoned.
Frank Herzegh working for BF Goodrich applied for a patent in 1946 and eventually received US patent 2587470 in 1952 in the United States. By 1955 tubeless tires became standard equipment on new cars. BF Goodrich had to defend their patent in court several times, due to the similarities of previous designs. The primary difference between the BF Goodrich design and their predecessors was the usage of butyl rubber, which was more resistant to air leakage than the natural rubber used in the other designs.
Traditional designs of pneumatic tires required a separate inner tube which could fail for a number of reasons, such as incorrect tire fit, friction between the tire wall and inner tube generating excess heat or puncture. Tubeless tire technology does away with the need for an inner tube thereby increasing safety. In a tubeless tire, the tire and the rim of the wheel form an airtight seal, with the valve being directly mounted on the rim. If a tubeless tire gets a small puncture, air escapes only through the hole, leading to a gentle deflation. Conversely, an inner tube could potentially burst like a balloon, leading to a rapid deflation of the tire which could result in sudden loss of control of the vehicle.
Despite the inherent safety of the design, there have been numerous problems and recalls with modern tubeless tires, primarily due to manufacturing defects.
Liquid tire sealant can be added to tubeless tires to prevent deflation in case of small punctures.
A tubeless bicycle tire system requires a compatible tire, an airtight rim — capable of being sealed at the valve stem, spoke holes (if they go all the way through the rim) and the tire bead seat. The main benefit of tubeless tires is the ability to use low air pressure for better traction without getting pinch flats because there is no tube to pinch between the rim and an obstacle.
UST or Universal System Tubeless is a US patent 6257676 rim designed by Mavic with hooked edges designed to seal with specially designed tires. Several companies such as Michelin and Hutchinson make tires compatible with UST rims. UST is the most common system of tubeless tires/rims for bicycle use. Bontrager has a very similar system called TLR or Tubeless Ready.
Also called Ghetto tubeless or Redneck tubeless, some cyclists have avoided the price premium for a tubeless system by sealing the spoke holes with a special rim strip and then sealing the valve stem and bead seat with a latex sealer. An even cheaper option is to cut open a 20" innertube to form a rim strip. However, tires not designed for tubeless application do not have as robust a sidewall as those that are.
In 2006, Shimano and Hutchinson introduced a tubeless system for road bikes. Tubeless tires have not yet gained popular acceptance in road racing due to lack of sponsorship, the tradition of using tubular tires and the fact that, even without the innertube, the combined weight of tubeless rims and tires is more than top-of-the-line tubular tire wheelsets.
- "B.F. Goodrich Co. announces development of tubeless tire". History.com by A&E Television Networks. Retrieved 2010-03-07.
- BF Goodrich Co. v. United States Rubber Co. (D. Md. 1956). Text
- BF Goodrich Co. v. United States Rubber Co., 244 F.2d 468 (4th Cir. 1957).
- Felton, Vernon (2008). "Are Tubeless Tires Worth It?". Bike Magazine. Archived from the original on 2010-08-23. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- Brown, Sheldon. "Sheldon Brown's Glossary: U. S. T". Sheldon Brown. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- "Why Tubeless Ready?". Bontrager.com. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- Phillips, Matt (December 2008). "The Scoop on Tubeless". Bicycling (Rodale): 90.
- Zinn, Lennard. "Lennard Zinn Technical FAQ". Velo News. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
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