Just Take Me Home: Reviewing $8 RideNow TPU Inner Tubes Versus $35 Tubolitos


Just Take Me Home: Reviewing $8 RideNow TPU Inner Tubes Versus $35 Tubolitos

TPU inner tubes are light, compact, and expensive. So, Travis compared knock-off, RideNow, to OG, Tubolito. It didn’t go well, but why does he still carry one?

First, a bit of context: I am not reviewing RideNow and Tubolito TPU inner tubes with long-term use in mind. I am reviewing them only as backups if I can’t successfully plug my mountain bike’s tubeless tire. As a happily devoted tubeless user, I consider inner tubes only to be last resorts for the rare occasion that a tubeless tire suffers an incurable puncture, or simply won’t seal for some reason while on the trail.

That said, I’ve been riding mountain bikes for long enough to remember being deeply skeptical of tubeless tires. I’m still not comfortable going into the backcountry without two spare tubes. Oddly enough, though, I’m plenty comfortable going into the backcountry with just a windbreaker and a water filter, plus the essentials always strapped tightly against my frame. It may not seem like much, but adding the bulk of two traditional butyl-rubber inner tubes can be enough to force a no-pack ride into a hip-pack ride, or god forbid, a hip-pack ride into a backpack ride.


That’s why I’ve become a huge fan of TPU inner tubes. Short for thermoplastic polyurethane, TPU is a sort of firm rubber that’s found in things like inflatable rafts, electrical wire insulation, caster wheels, and other places you’d want a semi-flexible but durable material. And when used in an inner tube, it can be made very thin and packed very small. Among others, Schwalbe and Pirelli have had their own TPU tubes for a while, and WTB just released their own lineup. But the Austrian brand, Tubolito, is probably who most of us think of. If not because they’re so light and so compact, then because they’re so expensive. About $30 to $40 apiece.

Again, I’m full-time tubeless on all of my bikes, so spending $40 once every catastrophic flat (six times in the past four years, if memory serves) is not that big a deal considering how much space they save in my flat kit. But I recently decided to expand to having three flat kits so I wasn’t swapping them (or forgetting to swap them) from bike to bike. One on my touring bike, one on my commuter e-bike, and one on my mountain bike, which is the one I’ll be discussing here. And the goal was to keep two tubes in each. Add a couple backups to keep at home so I’m never heading to the shop just to buy a single tube, and I’d have over $200 invested in tubes. In search of a lower-priced alternative, I found myself at the most dubious of online retailers: AliExpress.

Consider the Source

AliExpress and its business-to-business sister site, Alibaba, connect international buyers directly to factories and warehouses, mostly in China. There are complicated ethical and environmental issues to be considered here, but that’s true of most of the mass-produced products I use and review. RideNow tubes are also available through Amazon, though they’re about 60% more expensive, and that doesn’t exactly count as shopping local. So, instead of singling out these tubes based on how they are sold, I’ll simply point out the AliExpress approach to online retail seems to make for especially laxed oversight. Many of the prices seem impossibly low, and many of the brands are blatant knock-offs. Everything on the AliExpress site screams “buyer beware.” With that in mind, I signed in and picked up an 8-pack of 29-inch RideNow TPU tubes for $60.

Although RideNow TPU inner tubes aren’t knocking off Tubolito’s faux-Italian name or orange trade dress, they sure are similar, and they sure are cheap. The standard 29 MTB RideNow tube weighs 56 grams, which is only a tad heavier than Tubolito’s 43-gram S-TUBO-MTB. Both fit tires from just under 2” up to 2.5”, both are made of fundamentally the same material, and both fold like silk ribbon. But the Tubolito is $38 and the RideNow is less than $8.

What’s the Difference?

Right off the bat, though, Tubolito has an advantage. RideNow has only one thickness tube for 29-inch MTB wheels, while Tubolito offers two. Or technically three if you run a relatively wide tire. There’s the 43-gram “S-TUBO” version and an 83-gram standard “MTB” version, both of which fit from 1.8” to 2.5” tires. And then there’s the 101-gram “MTB-PLUS” version, which fits from 2.5” to 3.0”. I should mention that Pirelli also offers multiple options in their 29-inch SmarTUBE. One for 1.8″ to 2.2″ tires at 75 grams, and one for 2.2″ to 2.6″ at 100 grams . And Schwalbe’s standard Aerothan tube fits 2.1″ to 2.4″ at 87 grams, and their MTB+ model fits 2.4″ to 2.6″ at 116 grams . But I’m focusing on Tubolito because I’ve used them for years. Going into my RideNow experiment, I’d had a number of experiences with each of these three Tubolito models, always on 2.5-inch tires, and always on the rear. The PLUS is by far my favorite.

Quick Hits:

  • Tubolito S-MTB
    • 43 g
    • 60 mm x 50 mm x 10 mm packed size
    • Fits 1.8″ to 2.5″ tires
    • 42mm valve length
    • $37.90
  • Tubolito MTB
    • 84 g
    • 80 mm x 50 mm x 25 mm packed size
    • Fits 1.8″ to 2.5″ tires
    • 42 mm valve length
    • $34.90
  • Tubolito MTB-PLUS
    • 101 g
    • 100 mm x 65 mm x 20 mm packed size
    • Fits 2.5 to 3.0 tires
    • 42 mm valve length
    • $34.90
  • RideNow
    • 56 g
    • 75 mm x 55 mm x 15 mm packed size
    • Fits 1.9″ to 2.5″ tires
    • 45 mm valve length
    • Approximately $8.00
  • Typical butyl-rubber MTB tube
    • Approximately 230 grams
    • Approximately 110 mm x 60 mm x 60 mm packed size
    • Approximately $7

To be fair, any real-world review of an inner tube’s durability can only ever be anecdotal. Even assuming I successfully removed every foreign object from my tire (a task at which I’ve had decades of shop experience), an unprotected inner tube will last only until a new foreign object makes its way through the tire. So, please take everything I say here with a grain of salt, but the very Tubolito PLUS tube pictured above has saved me twice. And after checking it again for this review, it still holds pressure despite having needed a patch at one point during its tour of duty. That’s after once getting me down 3,000 vertical feet inside a tire with an inch-long gash which I’d reinforced with an empty single-serving pouch of StarKist tuna.

My experiences with the standard-thickness Tubolito tube over the years are slightly less inspiring. In two separate events—one due to another oversized gash, the next a badly dented rim—I installed the spares and finished those rides with no problems. In both cases, I quickly restored my bike to tubeless-ness and returned the tubes to my essentials kit. But neither tube survived for very long after it was eventually reinstated months later. One was given to a friend in need, only to discover it had developed a stubborn, unpatchable tear at the base of the valve stem. The other had a nagging slow leak that took me a while to locate. I managed to patch it and finish the ride, but it only lasted until the next morning.

Instead of hunting down more leaks, I gave up and subbed in a brand new replacement. Pretty rough to get two uses out of a $35 inner tube, but not quite as rough as my one experience using the featherweight S-TUBO. And it truly is featherweight. The entire valve even removes from its base, making for an even tighter pack-down, and lower likelihood that the the valve will damage the tube when stowed for extended periods. Again, there are countless variables at play here, but the only time I tried one of these ultra-light Tubolitos, the pressure was already low by the time I got back to my car despite a particularly thorough pre-installation thorn hunt.

Now, How Did RideNow Ride?

In what will possibly be the shortest actual “review” portion of any Radavist review in history, here’s what happened the first time I tried a RideNow TPU inner tube: It lasted two rides before starting to go low, albeit slowly. I removed it and searched for a leak but could not find one, even underwater. I triple-checked for thorns and reinstalled it. It then lasted six hours. I pumped it up again, and the lifespan dropped to 30 minutes.

For science, I installed another new RideNow tube, and the results were slightly worse. One ride, then twelve hours, then one hour. I know this is not a big enough sample size to yield conclusive results. Like I said, these are just anecdotes. But they were enough to help me decide which tubes to put in my kits: One is an MTB-PLUS Tubolito, and believe it or not, the other is a RideNow.

Before I unpack my logic there, this is probably a good time to talk about waste. TPU is technically recyclable, but it’s not easy. You can’t just throw it in the blue bin. Tubolito does offer a recycling program, but currently only in Austria and Germany. Traditional butyl inner tubes are also difficult to recycle. Schwalbe seems to have cracked the code, and is actively extending their collection services beyond western Europe, including into North America. But it is still a very specialized process.

So, with all things being equal, a standard butyl tube seems to be the less wasteful option. At least in my experience, they’re less fragile than TPU tubes. The deterioration after multiple inflations tracks with TPU’s compromised elasticity. Flattening out a used RideNow tube next to a new one, and it’s clearly stretched by a couple millimeters. Butyl tubes also accept patches better. A TPU patch can only ever be glued on, while a proper butyl patch is “vulcanized,” or in a way, bonded to the tube. Butyl tubes are simply less disposable than TPU. But I don’t think I’m being nihilistic when I say that, if you truly want to spoil yourself with light, compact spare tubes, go for it. It’s just really not that big a deal.

I resort to using a spare inner tube fewer than two times per year. If you’re a tubeless user who goes much beyond that, you probably need more air pressure, or a tire insert, or better line choice. If I can get three uses out of a Tubolito MTB-PLUS inner tube before it hits a landfill, that’s not bad. This is a good place to mention that I’m careful about how I store these tubes. They’re not duct-taped underneath my saddle, exposed to the elements. I put each in their own little plastic bag, and then zip them away from sight in a their designated bike’s Cordura essentials pack. They won’t last forever, but at least it gives them a fighting chance.

Now, justifying the fact that I’m also carefully stowing a RideNow tube is more complicated. I only expect to get one use out of it, and even if I end the ride at full pressure, I’m not sure I’d trust it again. But we’re talking about an object that weighs 56 grams. A normal 29-inch butyl tube weighs about four times that much. It’ll probably take me more than two years of wonton RideNow disposal before I throw away enough TPU to equal the mass to a single butyl inner tube. Again, not that big a deal.

Regarding in what scenario would I turn to my RideNow tube instead of my Tubolito MTB-PLUS, it depends on the situation. If I damage a tire beyond plug-ability very early in a long ride, or if its wound is bad enough that I have even less faith in the RideNow, I’ll use my MTB-PLUS. I simply trust it more. But if I’m on the last few miles, or if I’ve merely dented my rim, or if I’m helping out a companion, I’ll use my RideNow. It’ll at least get me to the end of the ride. And if either one fails, I’ll always have the other to step in. Multi-flat rides used to happen all the time. It’s why I don’t use tubes anymore … unless I have to.

See more at RideNow

See more about the alternatives from Tubolito, Schwalbe, Pirelli, or WTB

RideNow Pros:

  • Light
  • Compact
  • Cheap
  • Will probably get you home

RideNow Cons:

  • Only available with ultra-light, flimsy wall thickness
  • Not as cheap when purchased anywhere but Aliexpress
  • Rarely come packaged with patches
  • More difficult to reliably patch than butyl tubes

Tubolito Pros:

  • Light
  • Compact
  • Multiple wall-thickness options available
  • “MTB-PLUS” likely to survive multiple uses
  • Always comes packaged with patches
  • Easy to purchase from your local bike shop

Tubolito Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Standard version may only be slightly more reliable than RideNow
  • More difficult to reliably patch than butyl tubes