Best Road Bike Tubes

Updated October 2019
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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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. 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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Why trust BestReviews?
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. 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 
How we decided

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

19 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
251 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 road bike tubes

Last Updated October 2019

Perhaps your bike has a flat tire and needs a new tube. Perhaps you’re a cyclist who likes to be prepared, so you want extra tubes on hand so you can fix a flat right away. But which road bike tube is best for your situation? While road bike tubes seem to be a straightforward and essential element of a bicycle’s wheel arrangement, subtle differences between tube types can have a drastic effect on cycling performance and tire longevity.

Pneumatic (air-filled) road bike tires are great at distributing weight across the wheel rim, providing a smooth ride. The inner tube, as described by the late, great cyclist Sheldon Brown, is essentially a “doughnut-shaped rubber balloon” with an attached valve allowing you to inflate or deflate it. In fact, if it’s inflated on its own outside the bicycle tire, a road bike tube can be inflated to two or three times its original size. It plays a key role in the performance of pneumatic tires.

As you can see, some background knowledge is needed to select the right biking equipment. Keep reading to learn about the types of road bike tubes available and the conditions in which they work best.

Road bike tubes with too large of a diameter can fold over inside the tire, causing a bumpy ride and damage to the inner tube.

Key considerations

Cycling style

What kind of cycling do you do? Daily commuting, distance riding, touring? Do you spend part of your time on the road and part of your time cutting through an unpaved or gravel path?

How you use your bicycle is a big factor in the type of tube you’ll want to buy. The style of bicycle you’re riding is also a factor. A commuter bike has wider wheels with a smaller diameter than a touring bike, and a distance bike often has the largest and thinnest wheels of the bunch.

Tire size

Knowing the size (circumference) of your bike’s tires, and their width, is essential to selecting the right size of road bike tube. You can find this information on the sidewall of each tire. The circumference is always the first number listed, and the width is the second.

For example, the “fractional” marking of 29 x 2.25 indicates a tire with a circumference of 29 inches and a width of 2.25 inches (a common size for modern mountain bike tires). The “ISO” marking of 700 x 25c indicates a tire that is 622 mm in circumference and 25 mm in width (which is close to the same size as the 29 x 2.25 tire). The reason why 700 equals 622 mm, and why you may see both types of markings on one tire, is mind-twistingly complicated – the important thing is to write down the markings, whatever they are.

Tube size

Tube sizes are chosen by matching the tire size to the range of compatible sizes listed on the tube packaging. However, there’s a surprising range of tube sizes available for each common tire size. This can make selecting a tube a little confusing for new cyclists.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the fit of road bike tubes is rarely exact because of the tubes’ tendency to stretch. Seasoned cyclists experiment with a few different sizes of inner tubes to see which one fits their road bike best and lasts the longest.

EXPERT TIP

If a road bike tube is not wide enough, it will not inflate enough to properly pressurize the tire and could split when under load.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Tube types

Butyl rubber: The most common material used to make road bike inner tubes, the wall of this tube is about 1 mm thick, enough to handle most road situations.

Latex: Latex is lighter than butyl rubber but also more fragile with a thinner wall. A punctured latex tube may not be repairable.

Thorn-proof: This is a specialized road bike tube popular in the southwestern U.S., where a particularly nasty “goat-head” thorn takes a regular toll on bike tires. It has a thicker wall around the top of the tube that provides extra protection but also adds weight.

Self-sealing: This road bike tube is pre-treated with a sealant on the inside wall of the tube. The sealant provides added protection against small punctures from thorns, nails, and other debris by closing up these very small holes with little air loss.

Valves

The two most common valves are Schrader and Presta. Road bikes traditionally use Presta valves. These are long and narrow with a valve tip that extends outward; the valve is closed manually with a lock nut. Lower-cost cycles and hybrid models in the U.S. tend to come with Schrader valves. These are shorter and stubbier, often encased in the same rubber material as the tube is made of, with a spring-loaded inset valve tip.

Each valve has its strong points. The Presta valve is ideal for very thin road bike tires because of its slim profile. It’s also easier to pump air through than the Schrader, as its spring-loaded valve is more difficult to keep open while pumping. That’s not a big factor if you only pump up your tires at home with a large pump, but those who adjust pressure or change tubes on the road will notice the difference if they have to use a hand pump. The beauty of changing tubes yourself is that you can switch to a tube that has the valve type you prefer.

EXPERT TIP

Use sealant in road bike tubes that have frequent slow leaks or thorn punctures to extend their service life.


Staff  | BestReviews

Road bike tube prices

Standard butyl rubber road bike tubes are the most cost-effective tubes, ranging between $5 and $7 each for common sizes. The quality of the valve and specialty sizes can bump the price of tubes in the middle range to $9 to $15. Tubes with extra features like thorn resistance are among the priciest, starting at about $17 and reaching $24.

Tips

  • Latex tubes may not hold up as well on bikes with clincher brakes and carbon rims, as heat from prolonged braking doesn’t disperse evenly around the rim, creating hot spots that can damage the inner tube.
  • A good fit between the tire and the inner tube is essential to prevent excess slipping and wear between the two.
  • Use a sealant on the inside of the tire to hold a new tube in place.
  • Keep a spare tube, puncture kit, and mini air pump attached to your bike to fix flats on the go.
  • Store your road bike in a place that shelters your tires from direct sunlight, extreme cold, and heat or moisture.
  • Keep your tires inflated at the correct pressure, even when not riding for several days or weeks.
  • Do not ride on underinflated tires. This greatly raises the chance of a pinch flat, where the tube slips under the edge of the tire and is damaged.
EXPERT TIP

Thicker road bike tubes add weight and rolling resistance to bicycle tires, which can slow down your ride or force you to pedal harder to maintain a good speed.


Staff  | BestReviews

Other products we considered

We like the wide range of sizes that the Goodyear Bicycle Tube has available, as well as its straightforward design and ease of installation. At just under 1mm thickness, the Bell Universal Inner Tube offers a good balance of durable yet lightweight construction — important for cyclists who don’t want to sacrifice speed. And the Sunlite Thorn Resistant Schrader Valve Tube does a good job of repelling sharp road debris, though there’s some weakness around the base of the valve stem.

If switching from a tube with a Schrader valve to a tube with a Presta valve, install a rubber grommet (also called a rim hold adaptor) in the valve hole, so the slimmer Presta valve sits securely.

FAQ

Q. How do I find my bicycle’s wheel size?
A.
You may be able to match the size of the original tube by looking at the old tube – sometimes the size is printed on the rubber itself. Older tubes may have worn away any size indicators, though, and some just don’t have them in the first place. Write down the tire size (circumference) and width; you can find them on the sidewall of the tire. (Try sprinkling talcum powder over the raised letters to see them better.) The first number is the tire circumference; the second is its width – for example, 26x2 or 700x23c. Alternately, you could look up the manufacturer specs for the bike online.

Q. Why don’t road bike tube sizes match tire sizes exactly?
A.
Inner tubes often list a range of tire sizes they’re compatible with, and there may be a variation of half an inch to an inch in width and an inch or so in circumference. Look for a road bike tube with specs that match your tires’ circumference and width as closely as possible. The tube should work well with most tires, but if you’re not satisfied with the fit and want it to be more precise, you may need to try a couple of different tube brands and sizes.

Q.  What is the easiest way to install a road bike tube?
A.
The fastest way is to partially inflate the new tube before installing it – just enough to take its shape while still being very flexible. Gently push the tube inside the bike tire, making sure the valve is not crimped or bent. Then, fit the tire to the wheel rim by threading the valve through the rim’s valve hole. Be careful not to pinch the tube while sliding the tire inside the rim. Inflate the tube gradually, pausing frequently to adjust the fit of the tire and make sure the tube is not being pinched between the edge of the tire and the rim (a fast way to destroy a new tube). Once secure, fully inflate the tube to the recommended pressure level.

Q. How can I keep a road bike tube from going flat?
A.
The best way to keep a road bike tube in service for months or even years is to maintain proper tire pressure. Don’t ride your bike if the tires are underinflated, as you risk a pinch flat from the tube slipping under the edge of the tire. Also, know your terrain – if you’re riding roads with a lot of debris, consider adding a tire liner between the inside of the tire and the tube or adding a tube sealant to the inside of the tube (via the valve).

The team that worked on this review
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Samantha
    Samantha
    Writer

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