If you’re like me, I don’t put much thought into my road bike inner tubes. When one needs to be replaced, I focus on price and not function. And yet, there are some benefits to considering new, more expensive varieties, especially if you want to go faster or improve your ride’s feel.
Tubes: The Forgotten Child
In this article, I’ll be reviewing butyl and latex road bike inner tubes (sorry, Aerothan!). Let’s meet our contenders:
- Tubolito Road Tubo 700c
- Continental Supersonic Road Inner Tube
- Michelin AirComp Ultra Light
- Kenda Bicycle Tube
- Vittoria Latex Road Tube – My Overall Top Pick
First up though, let’s break down what’s important when looking at buying new bike inner tubes. If you need help on how to fix a flat tire, check out our guide on how to maintain your bike here.
What To Look For In Road Bike Inner Tubes
To date, there are 3 materials used to make road bike inner tubes:
- Polyurethane and TPU (thermoplastic elastomer)
Butyl bike tubes are made from synthetic, black rubber and are what most of us use. It’s more than likely what came with your bike, which means it weighs about 100-110g. Experts recommend using butyl bike tubes for carbon fiber wheels since they heat up more (with rim brakes) than aluminum rims and are thus prone to blowouts. Conversely, if you have carbon wheels with disc brakes, then the point is moot.
- More durable
- Heavier (there are light-weight versions I’ll discuss later)
- Less rolling resistance
Latex bike tubes are made from the sap of rubber trees. Because they are more labor-intensive to manufacture, they are more expensive than butyl bike tubes. Latex tubes are naturally porous, so they lose air and will need to be pumped up daily. A concern other cyclists reported were that they can blow out with no warning. If you use rim brakes and use them heavily on long descents, the heated rim could cause the latex tube to blow. However, if your bike has disc brakes (which heat up, not the rims), then you won’t have to worry about this as much.
- Better rolling resistance
- Supple ride
- 5 watts faster per wheel than butyl
- More expensive
- Prone to blowouts
The new kid on the block is road bike inner tubes made from polyurethane like Aerothan or thermoplastic elastomers or TPU (one of our contenders is made from this material). At Aerothan, their bike tubes are made of non-rubber polyurethane polymer and were developed by BASF.
- Better puncture resistance
- Rolling resistance comparable to butyl/latex competitors
- Resists heat
- Cost. These are twice as much as latex.
- Plastic valve. The plastic stem no doubt saves weight, but because it’s not as durable as metal, there could be issues on the road.
Related article – Tubeless Vs Inner Tube For Commuting – Which Is Better?
Here is an informative video explaining the pros and cons of these tubes:
When you are purchasing inner tubes, be sure you get one with the correct stem. Most road bikes use a Presta valve, but some MTB or beach cruisers use the Schrader valve.
Be sure to get a stem that is the correct length for the type of rim you have. If you’re uncertain, take your bike to your LBS (local bike shop), and they can help determine what size you need.
Some valves are threaded and include a nut to secure it to the rim, while others are smooth and nut-less. Some cyclists claim the smooth stem is easier on their pumps than the threaded variety, but this comes down to personal taste.
Related article – The Best CO2 Bike Tire Inflators
Reviews of the Best Best Road Bike Inner Tubes
These orange gems made from TPU (thermoplastic elastomer) are touted by the manufacturer to be two-thirds lighter, two times more puncture-resistant, and are half the size of regular butyl bike tubes. However, reviews were mixed, so it’s not the Holy Grail of tubes.
From a premier tire company comes a lightweight butyl tube. Continental is well-known for quality, so you know these tubes went through a rigorous inspection process before going to market. Continental made the walls thinner to decrease weight, but some riders claim to have blowouts because of this. Continental offers several stem lengths, which are the threaded type.
This butyl tube has a non-threaded valve that is long enough (60mm) for aero rims. If you don’t require that long of a stem, Michelin offers this bike inner tube with 40 and 52mm stem that weigh 75g. The Michelin AirComp with the 60mm valves weighs 80 g.
Kenda offers a low-priced butyl tube with a smooth valve with either a 32, 48, 60, and 80mm long stem. Kenda has thinner walls, which makes it lighter but may affect it negatively by not being puncture resistant.
The only latex tube to enter the fray is from Vittoria. These bike tubes are light (75g), give better rolling resistance, and are more puncture resistant because of their elasticity. If you don’t like the color pink, remember, they’re inside the tire, so no one will know! Most reviewers remark how supple the latex makes their ride. Although it only comes in one valve length (48mm), it has a removable valve core allowing an extender to be added for aero wheels.
Why Can’t They All Win?
Like my review on water bottles, this battle of the bike tubes is also very subjective because we all cycle for different reasons and on various road bikes. In other words, what works for me may not work for you. Therefore I’ve broken this down into several groups as follows.
“I don’t bloody care what tube is in as long as it works!” – If this sounds like you, may I suggest the Kenda. It isn’t expensive, is relatively light, comes in multiple stem lengths, and has favorable reviews.
“I like cutting-edge technology and live on the edge of adventure!” – Sounds like you need to try the Tubolito Road Tubo 700c. Your mates will be amazed by that orange TPU tube and how you’re not only faster but seemingly more intelligent, too.
My personal choice would be the Vittoria Latex Road Tube. The pink doesn’t phase me because I’m secure in my manhood! In fact, I’d revel in my peer’s snide, snarky comments! Seriously, I’ve ridden on sew-ups and miss their suppleness, so this would be a plus for my current clinchers. Also, they’re lighter, give a better rolling resistance, and of course, are Italian :)!
Looking for somewhere to store your inner tubes? Have a look at these saddle bags!