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Exploring the Pros and Cons of TPU Bicycle Inner Tubes: Are They Worth Using?

December 08, 2023

The discussion surrounding TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) bicycle inner tubes might seem familiar, especially with the prevalence of tubeless tires. However, many cyclists still opt for the convenience and lightweight nature of clincher tires paired with TPU inner tubes. After over a year of using various brands of TPU inner tubes, there's a wealth of insights and experiences to draw upon. Let's delve into the advantages and disadvantages of TPU inner tubes.


Advantages


1. Lightweight:


It's almost redundant to mention, but for newcomers in the cycling sphere, it's essential to highlight. TPU inner tubes typically weigh around 30 grams, with some ultralight versions hitting approximately 25 grams. Compared to traditional 0.8mm butyl rubber inner tubes, they can shave off around 50 grams in weight. Even in comparison to 0.6mm super-light inner tubes, they offer a reduction of about 30 grams. The reduced weight primarily affects the outer edge of the wheel, significantly decreasing rotational weight and providing a lighter feel while riding.


2. Lower Rolling Resistance:



According to tests by the renowned tire rolling resistance website, bicyclerollingresistance, TPU inner tubes, compared to butyl rubber ones, can reduce tire rolling resistance. While they may not match the performance of latex tubes, some top-tier models come remarkably close to latex inner tubes in terms of rolling resistance.


3. Portability:


Due to their thin and lightweight nature, folded TPU inner tubes occupy minimal space. The space occupied by one traditional inner tube can easily accommodate three TPU inner tubes. This makes them an excellent choice for long-distance rides and tours.


4. Simplified Specifications:


TPU's material characteristics allow for good stretchability, covering the common sizes for 18-32c road bike tires with a single specification. Only some ultralight versions might have certain size limitations, but overall, they offer convenient usability across various tire sizes.


5. Durability:


Despite being thin, TPU inner tubes exhibit good resilience and possess a certain level of puncture resistance. In a year of use, there hasn't been a noticeable increase in punctures for many cyclists, including myself.


Disadvantages


Despite numerous advantages, TPU inner tubes come with some downsides, often leading cyclists to voice their concerns. Through personal experiences during usage, several peculiar issues have surfaced:


1. Air Retention:


TPU inner tubes show significant variability in air retention. Even within the same brand and batch, some tubes might lose air within a day or two, while others maintain pressure for a week, creating a mysterious inconsistency in performance.


2. Valve Material:


Leakage issues with TPU inner tubes often stem from the valve area. To achieve lightweight designs, TPU tubes commonly use plastic valves. The airtightness of plastic threaded valves tends to be inferior, requiring adhesive to seal the valve core for airtightness. Some cyclists, unaware of this, attempt to disassemble the valve core, mistakenly assuming it's detachable like metal valves, thereby compromising airtightness. Friction between plastic valves and the wheel rim can also cause minor leaks due to wear.


To address these concerns, some brands have sacrificed a bit of weight reduction by incorporating metal valves to offer improved airtightness. Furthermore, recent TPU inner tube iterations have introduced integrated valves, combining soft plastic with metal to reduce friction with the wheel rim and enhance airtightness.


3. Valve Connection:


The method of connecting the valve to the inner tube has been a challenge with TPU tubes. Early versions suffered from weak connections, resulting in abnormal plastic deformation at the valve connection after use, potentially increasing the risk of blowouts. However, this issue has largely been resolved through rapid iterations, noticeable in the thicker reinforcement around the valve connection on newer TPU inner tubes.


Recently, I encountered a situation where the valve base got stuck in the rim's valve hole, making it challenging to remove the inner tube.


4. Plastic Deformation:


TPU inner tubes exhibit overall plastic deformation. In common scenarios, if used with 28c tires, they expand and become unusable for 23c or 25c tires due to this deformation.


5. Installation Issues:


There are various opinions and techniques regarding the installation of TPU inner tubes. It's well-known that pre-inflating the tube slightly to fit it into the tire is necessary, but over-inflation can lead to excessive deformation and damage.


Recently, I came across a suggestion to position the seam of the TPU inner tube in front of the valve at the 6 o'clock position, distributing force more logically and avoiding stress on the seam, thus preventing air leaks.


Additionally, extreme caution is required while using tire levers to remove the tire. After deflation, TPU inner tubes often adhere to the inside of the tire. Carelessness while using tire levers can easily damage the TPU tube.


6. Temperature Sensitivity:


TPU material has poor heat resistance, making it less advisable for prolonged downhill braking with rim brakes, as excessive heat might lead to tube failure. Additionally, it's sensitive to temperature changes, requiring slight adjustments in tire pressure during hot weather.


In conclusion, TPU inner tubes undeniably enhance the performance of clincher tires, yet their primary issues revolve around air retention and leakage. Manufacturers are actively trying to address these concerns through rapid iterations. From personal experience, once accustomed to using TPU inner tubes, it's challenging to switch back. Recent wheel and tire tests have also showcased the adoption of TPU inner tubes to maintain consistent cycling experiences.


Despite some minor drawbacks, TPU inner tubes have become remarkably affordable, almost reaching the price range of 20 yuan, making them more cost-effective than butyl rubber inner tubes. Hence, I believe enthusiasts of clincher tires should consider TPU inner tubes as a staple accessory in their cycling gear.


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