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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
30 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
75 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best mountain bike tubes

Mountain bike tubes are something many people only pay attention to when they have a puncture. However, they play a significant role in how a mountain bike behaves, particularly if you’re a real off-road enthusiast or competitive rider.

If you mainly ride your mountain bike on the street, which is a popular choice given how comfortable they are, then a budget tube might be all you need. If you take to the dirt on a regular basis, there are alternatives that can reduce weight and enhance speed and maneuverability. There are a few other things you might want to consider, too, such as different materials or puncture resistance. It may not be as straightforward a choice as you first thought!

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Bike tubes aren’t completely airtight. Although it happens slowly, they do deflate. Check your tire pressure regularly to maintain proper handling and braking.

Key considerations

Size

Obviously, size is critical, but there can be some confusion with wheel size terminology.

  • 29-inch rims: These may also be called 700c.
  • 27.5-inch rims: These are sometimes called 650b.
  • 26-inch rims: These are straightforward and have no other designation.

You also need to check the width of the tire. Most tubes have a degree of flexibility, so you’ll see them sized something like this: 27.5 x 1.95 - 2.125, 32 mm.

  • The diameter of the wheel that the tube fits is 27.5 inches.
  • The range of tire widths it fits is 1.95 to 2.125 inches (check the sidewall of your tire for that).
  • The length of the valve is 32 millimeters. The valve length is important because rims have different thicknesses. Too short and you might not have enough thread to get the pump adapter on.

Position your tube on the rim carefully. Your valve should come through the wheel rim at 90° (also called the 12 o’clock position) If it’s at an angle, it puts pressure on the tube and could cause a flat.

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Features

Material

Mountain bike tubes are made of either butyl or latex.

Butyl is thicker, heavier, and found in budget tires.

Latex tubes are usually thinner, lighter, and a little more expensive. Latex is also more porous, so you’ll end up inflating your tires more often. Also, patch repairs won’t adhere to latex, so a puncture invariably means a new tube.

Weight

Tire weight has an impact for avid riders. Though the difference might seem minor, it can affect the amount of energy required to rotate a wheel and therefore how quickly you accelerate. You’ll often see latex tubes described as super-light or ultralight. The flip side is that a thick, heavy butyl tube has greater puncture resistance.

Valve

We’ve mentioned valve size, but there are also three valve types.

Schrader valves, the most common, are the same as those found on automobile tires. This makes it easy to inflate your tire with just about any pump.

Presta valves (also called Sclaverand after the inventor) have a smaller diameter. It’s a high-pressure option that’s more often found on road bikes and competition bikes.

Dunlop valves (also called Woods valves) were an early version of the Schrader and are seldom seen now, though they’re still occasionally used on some imports.

It’s not critical to stay with the same valve type as your existing tire, but while Schrader and Dunlop valves can use the same adapter for inflation, a Presta valve is different, so changing is likely to be inconvenient. Presta to Schrader adaptors are available, but not Schrader to Presta.

Punctures

Self-sealing tubes: Some mountain bike tubes are filled with a sealant that remains liquid until there’s a puncture. The pressure inside the tube then forces the liquid into the hole, where it reacts with the air to form a repair that remains effective for as long as two years. However, there can be less flexibility in tire width with these than with standard tubes, so it’s important to double-check. These tubes also add weight, so they aren’t a popular option for enthusiastic off-road cyclists.

Tire liners: The other option is tire liners. These are made from plastic, foam, or Kevlar mixes and fit between the tire and tube to add another layer of protection. The main criticism of cheap models is that they don’t provide sufficient sidewall rigidity, so the mountain bike tends to be less stable. While premium models do offer good picture resistance, they don’t seal the damage, so a large nail or thorn could still cause a puncture. Added to that, even the manufacturers’ optimistic estimates put fitting time at around 20 minutes. Cost also reduces the popularity of liners.

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Did You Know?
Robert William Thomson invented the inflatable tire in 1845, but it wasn’t a commercial success. The idea took off in 1911, when Philip Strauss combined an air-filled tube with an outer tire.
Staff
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Accessory

Tire levers: Gorilla Force Bike Tire Levers
People use all kinds of things to lever off tires when replacing the tubes, such as screwdrivers or spoons. However, they’re short on leverage and can damage your rims. Also, it’s easy to pinch the new tube and puncture it. These Gorilla Force levers make the job quick and easy, have a lifetime guarantee, and are cheap, too!

Mountain bike tube prices

Inexpensive: You might come across cheap mountain bike tubes in discount stores for as little as a couple of bucks. Our advice would be to leave them where they are. Tubes from well-known and trusted brands start at around $5, so penny-pinching just isn’t worth it.

Mid-range: Between $5 and $25 you’ll find just about every mountain bike tube on the market, including those filled with sealant.

Expensive: Tire liners can be around $40. Packs of four or six tubes are typically $35 to $45, though they do offer some savings compared to buying them individually.

A valve nut is not completely necessary, but you should use it if supplied. In particular, it will keep your tube in the right position during inflation. Don’t use a wrench to tighten it, though, just your fingers.

Staff
BestReviews

Tips

Here’s how to replace a mountain bike tube.

  • Do not take the tire off completely. Assuming the tube is deflated because you have a puncture, squeeze around the rim to loosen the bead, then lever one side over the rim. Bicycle tire levers make this easier.
  • Check the sidewall and interior surface of the tire. See if what caused the puncture is still there. Flex the tire slightly as you do this in case the end of a thorn is mostly buried in the rubber. Take your time. There’s nothing more frustrating than a second puncture the minute you get on your bike again.
  • Pull out the old tube. Remove the air cap and valve retaining nut (if there is one), push the valve stem through the wheel rim, and pull out the old tube.
  • Check the wheel rim for any damage.
  • Fit the new tube slowly. Start with the valve stem and nut. Feed the tube carefully around the wheel rim. Putting a little air in the tube may make this easier, but don’t add so much that the tube is inflated away from the rim. Most of this can be done with a little hand pressure. Use the tire levers when that becomes difficult. Be very careful not to pinch the new tube.
  • Check that the valve is positioned properly. Inflate, pop on the air cap, and put it back on your bike.
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Air caps don’t stop the air leaking out; they prevent dirt and grit from damaging the valve. If you lose an air cap and have valve problems, it’s often possible to replace the valve core, which is cheaper than a new tube.

FAQ

Q. Does the pressure in the bike tube make a lot of difference?

A. It can. Generally, mountain bike tubes have a rating of somewhere between 25 and 35 pounds per square inch but lowering the pressure can give you better traction on loose surfaces and help absorb the impact when riding over rocks and stones. You need to be careful, though. Too little pressure and you risk the tire deforming, coming off the bead, trapping the tube, and causing a puncture. For road use, it’s best to keep the pressure higher. Reduced pressure in this situation can cause the tires to wander and have a negative impact on braking.

Q. Can I put sealant in a mountain bike tube to get home in an emergency?

A. Some products can do this, though there are limits. Pinch flats — where the rim traps the tube — can be too long for this to be effective. They’re great for small punctures, though, and can provide an effective repair that lasts several months with moderate use. However, you might want to consider the weight you’re adding to the wheel. If you’re a leisure rider who mostly uses your mountain bike on the road, it’s not a bad idea. If you’re a competitive rider, it’s not recommended.

Q. Can I change from tubed mountain bike tires to tubeless?

A. It depends on your rims, which need to be “tubeless ready” in order to provide the precise seal required for tubeless tires. Even if you can, a lot of experienced riders carry a spare tube anyway because there’s a limit to how big a puncture a sealant can handle effectively.

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