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What’s the Difference Between Tubeless vs
Tubed Tires for Motorcycles?

March 27, 2024 Comments Comment

Motorcycle tires come in two types – tubed tires and tubeless tires. Tubed tires use an inner tube to hold air, and tubeless tires hold air without a tube. But there are more intricacies to motorcycle tire types.  Here’s what you need to know about tubeless vs tubed tires for motorcycles and more.

Tubeless and Tubed Tire FAQs

What are tubeless motorcycle tires?

A tubeless tire and wheel combination is designed to hold air without an inner tube. On motorcycles, these wheels are typically cast aluminum. The wheel is equipped with an air-tight valve stem for adding or releasing air pressure, and the bead of the tire and the wheel rim are designed to seal tightly.

There are a number of benefits to a tubeless motorcycle tire. It weighs less than a tire and tube combination, generally runs cooler and can have a higher speed rating. If it is punctured, the nail or other debris is often surrounded by the tire and air pressure may drop more slowly than would be the case with a tubed tire. Often a punctured tubeless tire can be temporarily repaired with a tire plug without removing the wheel from the motorcycle. Tubeless tires can also be equipped with TPMS with the air pressure sensor in the valve stem.

Because almost all tubeless tires rely on cast wheels, they are less desirable for rugged off-road riding, where stronger laced wheels are preferred. Tubeless tires cannot be used on many laced wheels for street or off-road bikes.

Harley-Davidson offers Original Equipment replacement tires for models equipped with tubeless tires.

What are tubed motorcycle tires?

Most of us are familiar with the traditional bicycle wheel. There’s the metal rim, a tire and an inner tube that fits within the tire that holds the air under pressure. This is exactly how a tubed motorcycle tire and wheel combination works. 

Tubed tires used to be the norm on motorcycles, because like bicycles, all motorcycles had laced wheels with spokes that connect the wheel hub to the wheel rim. Those spokes go through holes in the rim, which made it impossible for the wheel alone to hold air. Holding air was the job of the inner tube, and that is still the case today on most motorcycles with laced wheels. We say most because some laced wheels offered for late-model Harley-Davidson® motorcycles have rim-sealing technology that makes it possible to combine a laced wheel with a tubeless tire. There are also some laced wheels that attach the spokes to the outer flange of the wheel rim, so there are no holes within the rim and it will hold air without a tube.

Today, most tubed tires are found on off-road motorcycles like motocross and enduro bikes, and some adventure touring motorcycles. These bikes are equipped with laced wheels because they are more rugged than the cast aluminum wheels used on street bikes. This is the main benefit of a laced wheel/tubed tire combination – the laced wheel is stronger and less prone to damage off road than a cast aluminum wheel. If the tire and tube is punctured it can often be repaired by replacing only the tube, rather than the entire tire, an advantage for long-distance adventure tours – it’s easier to travel with spare tubes than spare tires. You’ll also see laced wheels on some touring or cruiser motorcycles, mostly for retro style.

Tubed tires can have a number of challenges. The tube adds weight, tends to run at a higher temperature, and usually has a lower speed rating. Tubed tires may also not be equipped with TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) technology (for a number of legitimate reasons, not sure if you want to list here).

Harley-Davidson offers Original Equipment replacement tires and tubes for models equipped with tubed tires. Your authorized local Harley-Davidson® dealer can provide expert advice on tires and can also provide professional mounting service for new tires.

Tubeless tires vs tubes – which is better?

In short, neither tire type is “better” than the other. Both tubed and tubeless tires have advantages and disadvantages and often the best tire type for your ride depends upon your riding style. Motorcycle manufacturers choose a tire type for each motorcycle based on the type of wheel – cast or laced – that is best for that motorcycle application or the desired style.

Do certain types of bikes use tubed or tubeless tires?

Tubed tires are usually paired with traditional laced wheels, which may be found on modern off-road and some adventure touring motorcycles, and also vintage or classic bikes. Tubeless tires are a feature of all motorcycles using a cast aluminum wheel.

Can you put tubes in tubeless tires?

While you can put tubes in a tubeless tire, Harley-Davidson only recommends riding with the Original Equipment tire-and-wheel configuration.

Are Harley-Davidson® tires tubed or tubeless?

Most Original Equipment Harley-Davidson tires are tubeless but may require a tube if the tire is mounted on a laced wheel. An authorized Harley-Davidson® dealer can help you select the right combination for your Harley-Davidson® motor cycle.

For a complete selection of Original Equipment tires for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, see an authorized local Harley-Davidson® dealer.

An authorized Harley-Davidson dealer can provide expert advice on tires and provide professional mounting service for new tires. The Harley-Davidson Service Information Portal offers a detailed Tire Chart Matrix which can be used to identify the Original Equipment tire size and part number for Harley-Davidson motorcycles 1980-Current.

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