While I’m a big fan of converting older 26″ MTB wheels to tubeless, I have found that if you let the bikes sit for a month or two without riding, the bead will unseat and the tires will go flat. Here in the Southwest, that means that the sealant usually dries up by the time you’ve noticed. I still believe that a tubeless setup is crucial if you have a bike you ride a lot, but when you have a few vintage bikes in your fleet that don’t see as much regular rotation, that can become a lot to manage. Once the bead breaks and the sealant dries up, you must completely clean the rim and tire out to re-seat it. Not ideal!
A few weeks ago, while inserting Tannus Armour Tubeless rim protectors into my 29er, I noticed the brand also makes Tannus Armour Inserts, designed to be run with inner tubes. These inserts are very similar to the tubeless inserts but don’t require the upkeep or regular mileage that tubeless systems demand, particularly with vintage rims.
Last week I posted my Yo Eddy! restoration and, after I shot those photos, I got a few flats from thorns. So, instead of resorting to my normal tubeless conversion, I decided to give these Armour Inserts a try.
Let’s check out what that entails below!
What are these inserts, and why use them? If you live in an arid to semi-arid place, there’s a good chance you have goathead thorns. These invasive thorns get everywhere and wreak havoc on commuters, gravel riders, and mountain bikers alike. Goatheads are a major pain, and while tubeless is the most certain fix to avoid them, not every rim or tire combination works with tubeless. Or, as I laid out in the intro, beloved bikes that just don’t see as much regular action (for whatever reason) also make great candidates for this alternative form of tire protection.
Enter the Armour Insert. With 15mm of padding on the tread of the tire and 2mm of extra protection on the sidewalls, these inserts not only protect your tires from thorns or debris but also protect your wheels. The latter is another benefit of using them on vintage bikes over standard tubeless setups. Old wheels just aren’t as robust as new wheels and denting a vintage rim can result in trying to find a replacement. Depending on your rims, this may be either impossible or very costly.
So what’s the catch? If you use inserts on your mountain bikes, then you know they add some weight and, importantly, they add rotational weight. However, lighter-casing tires and tubeless inserts keep your tires and wheels healthy and usually weigh less than tough-casing tires. Once again, YMMV.
For the 26″ x 2.3″ tires, the appropriate Tannus Armour Insert weighs 300g. In the case of these ultra-supple Ultradynamico Mars tires, that’s half the tire’s weight (610g). Woof. Yet, heavy-duty casing tires can weigh as much as 900g, so I guess it’s not a total loss.
Is this even worth it? Let’s check out the process first…
Since the Armour Inserts take up most of your tire’s volume, you’ll need to buy smaller diameter tubes. Tannus sells these, and I’m sure your local shop has plenty of inner tubes in stock. You’ll also need to ensure your rims have a minimum of 19mm internal width for things to work correctly. These Weinmann rims measure 18mm wide and seem to work fine.
The first step is to clean the insert and the inside of your tire. I use soapy water to make sure there isn’t any debris that could wear a hole in the tube. Then, lay out the insert and slightly inflate your tube. This makes it easier to stuff the tube inside the insert. The inserts don’t have a direction or a specific orientation. Cram the tube in and ready your tire and wheel to be stuffed.
I start with the valve stem part of the insert and tube. Put the valve through the hole and add the thread-on ring if you use Presta valves; Shrader doesn’t matter. Begin pushing the insert around the tire to ensure the thick part of the insert is on the tread. Then tuck the sidewall protector wings into the rim bed. Do this around the rim. I’ve also inserted the Tannus Armour first and then the inner tube. Both procedures work great.
Go ahead and pop the bead into the rim. It helps to use a tire lever for the last six inches. I should also point out that Tannus’ inserts install a lot easier than other tire insert companies’ offerings. This whole process takes about as long as a standard tube swap; there’s no need to ask for a second group of hands or to use special tools to get this to seat up properly.
Once it’s all seated correctly, pump them up to the specified PSI.
One tip I found to ensure the bead seats is to deflate it and roll the tire around the diameter of the wheel with your hands to “pop” the bead in place. Sometimes it helps to leave the tire inflated for a while before you do this.
The first thing on my mind was, “are these going to ride like shit?” I can report back that, yes, you can tell the difference between a tire without the insert and one with the inserts. Duh. Yet, the insert sensation mostly applies to pavement riding. It’s hardly noticeable on dirt. Does the feeling detract from the ride? Well, that depends. If you’re a supple fiend who massages your gum walls down with olive oil and obsesses over the exact PSI, it will probably distract you. But if that’s the case, you probably aren’t riding in terrain that mandates a supple tire. As such, you’ll love it if you want to ride your bike without pulling thorns out and carrying patch kits on every pedal.
My favorite thing is not worrying about pinch flats or sidewall tears. Granted, I don’t thrash my vintage bikes like my modern ones, but I found that 15-20psi on this tire and wheel combination with the inserts is perfect. Without the inserts, you risk tire tears and snake bites and usually err on riding higher pressures to avoid this.
So, in closing, these inserts are an excellent option for those who may have a few vintage bikes and grow weary of maintaining their tubeless setups and live in areas with goathead thorns.
- No more flats from thorns, glass, or road debris, assuming it’s shorter than 15mm.
- Ease of maintenance; no more dried tubeless sealant.
- Install is super easy; easier than other inserts.
- Protects your rims from flat spots or dents.
- Keep riding your favorite light-casing tires without constant flats from debris.
- Pricey ($59.99) Almost the cost of a tire itself.
- Heavy, sometimes half the weight of your favorite supple tire.
- Can “deaden” the ride feel of a supple race tire.
- Can still flat if road debris is longer than 15mm, like say, a roofing nail.
Each insert is $59.99 and available either at TannusAmerica.com or your local dealer.