We are finally in the age where the humble inner tube is being disrupted by innovation and technology. The bike industry has relied on butyl inner tubes for its low cost, relative reliability and adequate performance since one can remember. However, we are now in the age of TPU inner tubes.
Why TPU inner tubes, over latex and traditional butyl?
When it comes to inner tubes, the three material choices are Butyl, latex and now TPU inner tubes.
Butyl - the workhorse
Butyl inner tubes are generally more hard wearing, effectively at retaining air and easier to maintain and patch. Additionally, they are easier to replace as they are comparatively cheaper at around 9 USD each.
The downside is their weight, as they generally weigh around 120 grams each. They are also bulky and take up much more space in saddle bags. They are also a harsher ride and have higher rolling resistance which makes the rider relatively slower compared to latex and TPU tubes.
Latex - the athlete
Latex inner tubes offer greater comfort and speed due to higher impact absorption capacity and lower rolling resistance. This is due to the increased elasticity of latex compared to butyl. Lower rolling resistance allows cyclists to achieve higher speeds on their bikes, coupled with the lightweight nature of these inner tubes. They are the tubes of choice for competitive athletes.
However, the key downsides are that they are more prone to punctures and retain air much worse than butyl. Be prepared to pump before every ride. They are also expensive, generally costing around 30 USD.
TPU - the everyday hobbist?
TPU, is in many ways the best of both worlds. They are generally dependable for the everyday cyclist due to their decent puncture resistance (much better than latex and almost to the level of butyl) and they retain air well so you only have to pump every few rides.
They are also performance orientated, being lightweight, low in rolling resistance and compact compared to latex tubes and are even more environmentally friendly as they are 100% recyclable.
So what’s the catch? You do need to be more careful in installing TPU tubes (as with latex tubes) and inflating it, as the material is relatively more sensitive and shouldn’t be manhandled. More on that later.
But the biggest setback has always been price, at around 30 Euros for a single tube from the major brands, which has made them out of reach of most cyclists.
TPU inner tube from RideNow
This is where RideNow (and us) have come in. We have come on as a global distributor for RideNow's inner tubes. Ridenow is now selling their TPU inner tubes for USD15 from retailers in Europe and US, and even lower from sellers in China. This makes their inner tubes price competitive with more “upmarket” butyl inner tubes, and much cheaper than latex tubes and TPU tubes from major brands. Whilst it’s easy to assume products from Chinese brands are inferior, objective data and analysis from Bicycle Rolling Resistance suggests that spec for spec, RideNow is up there with the incumbent major brands.
What’s more, RideNow is heavily invested in TPU tubes for the diverse gambit of cycling genres and disciplines. They have a range of variants for wide range of wheel sizes, tyre width as well as bike types (road, gravel, MTB, Brompton). They even have tiers of the same product by weight. For example, the popular road 700c inner tube can come in tiers of 36 gram, 24 grams and the lightest at 19 grams.
In order to realise these gains, one must follow specific installation instructions as well as take particular care to minimise the risk of slow flats and punctures. This is because the TPU should be treated in a certain way for them to work as expected, for a prolonged period. If such care is taken, one can truly enjoy the best of both worlds of butyl and latex tubes. So it’s worth the effort.
How to take care of TPU tubes - installation and maintenance.
As a prerequisite, you must rim tape with your wheel prior to installing TPU inner tubes. TPU tubes installed directly on the rim surface is more prone to contact with debris and heat imbalances which can damage the tube and cause irreversible damage. Installation without rim tape will immediately invalidate any warranty claims. For tubeless ready rims, tubeless rim tape can also perform even better than traditional rim tape.
1. Prior to installing the RideNow inner tube, carefully inspect the inner wall of the outer tire, rim, spoke ends, and rim tape for any sharp objects that could cause punctures or tire bursts.
2. Even when using tubeless wheel sets, it is essential to use the appropriate size of rim tape and ensure correct installation.
3. Before inflating the RideNow tube, turn the valve inward (towards the center of the tire circle). Inflate it slightly until the inner tube takes on a rounded shape, with a pressure not exceeding 0.5 bar/8 PSI. Make sure to slightly inflate the inner tube before proceeding with the following installation steps.
4. When installing the outer tire, ensure that one side of the tire extends beyond the outer rim edge, then insert the inner tube into the outer tire. Confirm that the inner tube is free from twisting or being pinched between the rim and the outer tire. Also, verify that the nozzle valve aligns with the rim nozzle hole and remains vertically positioned.
5. Avoid using sharp or pointed tools during inner tube installation, as these may damage either the inner tube or the outer tire, potentially leading to air leaks after use or inflation. Begin by pulling the protruding side of the outer tire near the air nozzle over the rim flange until the entire outer tire securely attaches to the rim. Ensure there is no compression of the inner tube, and that it remains crease-free.
6. Roll the partially inflated tire on the ground to release any potential folds caused by squeezing. Gradually inflate the tire, ensuring that both sides of the outer tire evenly adhere to the rim during inflation. Take care not to exceed the maximum allowable pressure of the rim, rim tape, and outer tire. It is important to check the tire pressure before every ride. In case of an inner tube leak or a repairable puncture, you can use the RideNow tire repair kit, complete with usage instructions. Do not attempt to repair the RideNow inner tube with any other tire repair products, as they may not adhere properly and may not prevent air from escaping through the puncture.
When inflating a TPU inner tube outside the tire, it is imperative to inflate no more than 0,5bar/8psi. Beyond that, it may lead to blisteringbistering of the tube which will render it unusable.
If you can take care and pay attention to the above, you will minimise the chances of malfunction and enjoy your TPU inner tube for a comparable period to standard butyl tubes.
Pricing, shipping times and warranties
It is true that websites from China sell at a lower price compared to European or US dealers. However, it sacrifices certain guarantees that the official provider (such as us) offers.
1. There is no version control. You do not know when the product you purchased was manufacturered, whether it includes the latest changes/features.
2. There is little to no post purchase support, and no warranty to speak of.
When purchasing the product from us, we tell you the production batch period and any included updates in the design, ensuring you are getting the latest models.
Secondly, we provide a warranty against manufacturing defect, provided you are able to give evidence that you have installed the product correctly as per the above section.
Furthermore, we are able to ship directly from the UK for UK customers, ensuring a 3-4 day delivery period. For the rest of the world, we will dispatch from our warehouse in China, with fully tracked shipping arriving in 7-12 working days.
Towards the TPU age
We are finally in the age where TPU technology is finally becoming competitive with butyl inner tubes for the mass market - particularly for riders who wish to improve performance, lower weight and enjoy a more compact product to carry as a spare during their rides.
RideNow is at the forefront of this TPU disruption due to its solid performance data, established userbase and competitive cost, even compared to high end butyl tubes. This value proposition has garnered attention and popularity among cyclists looking for reliable inner tubes without breaking the bank.