A love letter to inner tubes

There's a simple beauty to this tyre inflation option that's been around for over 100 years

Vern Pitt
(Image credit: Future)

This article is part of a series called ‘A love letter to…’, where Cycling Weekly writers pour praise on their favourite cycling items and share the personal connection they have with them. 

The below content is unfiltered, authentic and has not been paid for.  

It can get misty in the hills of South Wales at this time of year. I’m haring down a descent I’ve done countless times before, the road is wide and clear but visibility isn’t great. And yet, it’s not that that’s bothering me.

Sure, I'm not the most confident descender at the best of times, but it’s not the risk intruding on what should otherwise be a fun experience. It’s my tyres. They’re not bald, or the wrong ones for the conditions, they’re just tubeless.

I’m some distance from home (probably an hour in the car) and lurking at the back of my brain is fear of a puncture. Logically, I know there’s not much need to be worried about that. They haven’t punctured in the six months I've had them. But, I am a news and features editor not a tech writer, and I know enough people who’ve had issues to know that when they do need sorting, it won’t be as straightforward as putting a tube in, and it certainly won’t come with the same guarantees of working. 

When was the last time I topped up the sealant, I wonder. Will these little wormy things in my saddle bag work? Am I going to get covered in gunk doing it?

It’s become a familiar refrain at the back of my brain on this test bike that came with tubeless tyres and I can’t help but wonder, what’s the point? Maybe I can run them a touch lower in pressure. Maybe if they were 32mm or bigger I’d notice a difference, but the bike doesn’t have clearance for that and these are 28mm and I don’t.

That’s the thing about tyres, you’d rather not think about them. These ones have me thinking about them way too much.

The inner tube, popularised by John Dunlop in the late 19th century has served cyclists well since its creation. It’s been improved many times, but the workhorse inner tube is still a perfectly fine piece of kit - simple to repair and cheap enough to not bother in a hurry.

The only type that has caused me any trouble over the years are those with removable valve cores - not a feature on all tubes - that have a habit of coming out with a screw on mini pump and immediately deflating a tyre if they’re not tightened beforehand. That’s the only flaw, though. 

I've had no concerns over their length of service, rim compatibility or mystery fluid inside. 

And yet, they have lately fallen out of fashion. The bicycle, at its heart, is a simple machine that is at its best when it works with minimal hassle. Inner tubes are just that, simple and effective.

All the other ways of putting air in your tyres are solutions looking for a problem. We have the answer and it works just fine. Sure, if you ride off-road, where significantly lower pressures and bigger tyres are a maximal gain, then get rid of them. But on the black top I see no reason why you’d want to abandon a system that has been refined by over 100 years of expertise.

Even an average idiot like me can change an inner tube at the side of the road, and our sport is best when it’s accessible to idiots.

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