Latex inner tubes are getting immensely popular – they’ re not very new. But people seem to be buying them like crazy these days, especially here in my country. It’s like a new fashion item plague some part of the population, and you don’t know where it stemmed from.
Latex tubes are lighter than tried and true butyl inner tubes. They are also more elastic; that’s why they make gloves from them. If you have a compliant tire, and a latex tube, you’ll feel a bit more comfortable, because the tire fills holes over the road surface more efficiently, instead of bumping over them.
The real advantage of latex is not its weight but its compliance. In most cases, I see similar latex inner tubes that are like %20 lighter. Some say %50, some say even more, but you can make butyl inner tubes ridiculously lightweight, too. Just make them as thin as possible. I’ve had really thin and incredibly lightweight butyl inner tubes, both from Michelin and Maxxis. You may not believe that, but in one instance, I had a flat on a Michelin inner tube, caused by single grain of sand. Yes. And not a big one (in sand standards, obviously). I couldn’t believe that really happened – I was living in a seaside town at the time. And the sand grain was embedded into tube. No hole in tire. Zero – I was so surprised and got mad that tried the tire on a tubeless rim (a ghetto one!) and it happily inflated. So where that single grain of sand came from? Probably from me…Maybe dropped from my head. If I didn’t inflated the tire as if it was a road bike tire (technically, almost it was – 26″ slick, 32mm)
Why latex inner tubes are not for touring or casual riders ?
I tried a set of latex inner tubes out of curiosity, and I’m not impressed. I felt that the ride quality was a bit better, but that may be a placebo effect, or I was %1 fitter at the time. Who knows. The problem with tires in general is, it’s incredibly hard to test them scientifically. You cannot test tires on rollers. We don’t have steel roads. Every imperfection on road is different. Every tarmac, every sand, every mud, every dirt has different characteristics. It’s the same for latex inner tubes. Most tire reviews, or ideas about different inner tubes are purely anectodal and heavily biased.
Some say latex tubes are more puncture resistant. You know what ? I can find out the hardness of a particular steel quite easily, sending it to a lab almost every city have. Do we have a universal metric and testing method, like Rockwell hardness, for testing “puncture resistance” ? No. I had razor thin butyl inner tubes, or thicker ones, heavy as a lightweight road tire. Obviously, they do have different “puncture resistance”, so we are comparing what?
I’m not categorically against latex inner tubes: if I were to race, I’d definitely pick a latex tube, instead of butyl tube. But here are the reasons to stay away from it, if you’ re a casual rider, or a tourer, or a MTB rider, which tubeless is the best of all.
They’ re expensive
In my country, an ordinary latex inner tube costs almost 3x more than a decent quality butyl inner tube.
I ride with light, no-protection tires. I regularly get flats. So, why ride lighter tires? Because, anything under a Schwalbe Marathon Classic won’t cut: we have incredible thorns here, though as a metal spike, and sharp as a razor blade. So, either get a 2 kg/set wooden cart wheel, or ride with the lightest tire you can get. Anyway, anything other than that will get a flat. Probably, even Marathon Classic’s would get flats.
After a few hundred km’s, my inner tubes look like as if they’ re made up of patches. A set of inner tubes lasts for a few years at least for a casual rider, I’m lucky if I end a year with 2 sets.
It loses lots of air
First time I have them, I almost have a flat tire in a week, which made me think there may be small holes, because I didn’t know they were that porous.
I don’t know you, but I don’t like pumping tires every day.
They don’t like heat
I occasionally ride over 40+ celcius in summer, sometimes asphalt melts. No kidding. Not only they decompose, but they also lose air faster.
They’ re trickier to repair
They have different “feel” compared to butyl, which I repair since childhood. When you get a flat roadside, it’s not easy to tuck in the latex inner tube. You can get snake bites if you’ re not careful. Also, on one occasion, when I removed the tire, I saw that the latex inner tube just burst. Beyond repair. I generally carry at least one spare inner tube, which saved the day.
I don’t think they’ re patch-friendly as butyl, as they stretch lot more than the patch, which shouldn’t be that good, not sure…
This is just a word of warning – you may want to try latex inner tubes, maybe would fit your riding style / routine better…