Monday, January 12, 2015

Day 12 - Vittoria Latex Tubes

The “standard” tubes that I’d say 99% of cyclists use are made out of butyl rubber. If you walk into a shop and ask for a tube, they’ll most likely hand you a butyl tube. If you buy a new bike, it probably has butyl tubes in both wheels. Butyl tubes are cheap and hold air pressure for a long time. If you don't know what the tubes in your bicycle are made out of, I'm willing to bet it is butyl rubber.  Butyl tubes are fine for training. When it comes to racing, latex is always better.

I've used Vittoria latex tubes and Challenge latex tubes. Both worked equally well for me. If I recall correctly, they both have removable valve cores. That's important if you have deep wheels. You want to be able to remove the valve core to add an extender. Here's a Vittoria tube with the best style of zipp extenders. 

Latex tubes are better because they have a higher elasticity. There’s less energy loss as the tube/tire are being deflected over rough surfaces (the road). Rolling resistance tests show approximately 5 watts worth of energy saving. The rougher the road, the more benefit you should see. Oklahoma has some poor roads, so these tubes arepretty valuable. $30 for a pair is worth it. The tubes also offer a more supple ride, and people claim that they corner better. It would make sense, since the contact patch of the tire should be a little more stable due to the suppleness of the tube. Most good tubulars have latex tubes inside them, which is probably a big part of why most riders say that their tubular tires feel better than their clincher counterparts. Vittoria, challenge, schwalbe, etc all use latex tubes. Continental is way behind the times and still uses butyl, which is why you won’t see me running conti tubulars, even though i really like the conti clinchers. 

I’m not a great person to ask about “feel,” but I know others that swear by it. I’m also not the type of guy that can notice the stiffness in stems, seat posts, etc. That doesn’t mean the difference isn’t there or that other people can’t feel it; I’m just saying that I’m not good at pointing that stuff out. 

There’s also claims that a properly installed latex tube with give you less pinch flats. I’m not sure how you can prove that to be true, but I can say that my latex tubes last me a really long time without flatting. In fact, I have a latex tube in my front wheel right now. I can’t remember when I installed it. It was a tube that went flat in my race wheels. I put some Bontrager liquid latex (for tubeless tires) in the tube and installed it into my training wheels. I know I’m an idiot for saying this, but the tube has held up great. I probably have 2000 miles or so in that tube, and don’t foresee any issues soon. 

Latex tubes have a few downsides.
  • They cost double or even triple what a butyl tube costs. 
  • They lose air faster than butyl tubes. Most people say they have to inflate their latex tubes every couple of days. With sealant in them, I probably inflate mine once per week. 
  • Some people say that they are more tricky to install. I find that if you put a little bit of air in each tube before you install it, it’s not any more difficult than a butyl tube. Plus, if it is pinched under the tire you can easily see it because latex tubes usually come in funky colors. Vittoria are pink. Challenge are red. I think michelin are green. 

Latex tubes are different than “ultra light” butyl tubes. “Ultra light” butyl tubes are not as fast as latex tubes. The only purpose I can think of for an “ultra light” butyl tube is for your seat bag is you have a very tiny seat bag. I think the ultralight tubes are a little smaller when they are rolled up, so you can fit them into your bag easier. Do you want to trust an ultralight tube as your only spare? That’s up to you. 

You don’t buy latex tubes because they save weight. You buy latex tubes because they roll better, feel better, and possibly corner better. 

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