Your choice of mountain bike tube deserves more consideration than you might think. Cheap models are prone to split at the seams or at valve seats, leaving you with damage that can’t be repaired and a long walk home. The tube’s ability to maintain consistent pressure can also have considerable impact on handling and braking performance.
Our concise guide shows you what to look for, and we've featured several of the best at the end. Our favorite, the Sunlite Mountain Bike Tube, is a great all-rounder with a reputation for durability and reliability over the toughest terrain.
How a mountain bike tube is made
Mountain bike tubes are made of either butyl rubber or latex. The former is cheaper and the material is thicker. They are more resistant to punctures but quite a lot heavier than the alternative. Latex tubes are usually used in competitive mountain biking because of the weight reduction they allow. Although the difference isn’t huge, steering response is quicker. However, a latex mountain bike tube is almost impossible to repair, so in the event of a puncture changing it is the only option.
In terms of actual construction, tubes have either a welded seam or are seamless. It’s not common for seams to fail, but it can happen, and some prefer seamless tubes for that reason.
Valve type is another consideration. Normally it’s a choice of either the Schrader valve or the Presta valve. Schrader are the same as you find in your car or truck tire, so you can inflate them with all kinds of different pumps. Presta valves are slimmer and lighter, so again more likely to be found on competition equipment. They are more fragile though. You may also come across Dunlop valves, though they aren’t common. Similar to Schrader, they are sometimes found on imported mountain bikes.
Two methods are used to try to increase the durability of tubes. First, you may find a rim strip (also called a tire liner) designed to prevent the wheel rim wearing on the tube. Second are tubes prefilled with some kind of sealant. Despite the obvious benefits, there are drawbacks that limit their popularity. They are often more expensive, they can make installation more difficult, and they add weight. None of these are a problem for riders who use their bikes mostly on the road, with occasional off-road trips at the weekend, but they can be for enthusiastic riders and pros who in particular don’t want that extra weight.
What to know before you buy a mountain bike tube
Tube sizing can confuse. While diameter is fixed, tubes may fit a variety of different tire widths. For example, a tube might be marked as 26 x 1.95-2.125 which means it will fit a 26-inch diameter wheel, with a tire width of between 1.95 and 2.125 millimeters. The mix of imperial and metric sizing doesn’t help.
Wheel sizes can also be confusing. A 26-inch rim is just that, but a 27.5-inch rim might also be called 650B, and a 29-inch rim can be called 700c. If you’re not sure which tube you need, the relevant information should be on the sidewall of your existing tire. If it’s not, pop into your local bicycle dealer with the wheel, and they will be able to tell you.
Mountain bike tube cost
The cheapest mountain bike tubes may only cost a couple of dollars but are often poorly made. Quality tubes start at around $5 or $6, and even the most expensive rarely exceed $10 each, so trying to save a buck or two doesn’t seem worth the effort.
Mountain bike tube FAQ
Q. What pressure should I use for a mountain bike tube?
A. It varies, depending on tire size. You should find recommendations on the sidewall. They may give maximum and minimum pressures — higher for road use, and lower to give more traction when off-road.
Q. Can I use tubeless mountain bike tires instead of tubed?
A. It depends on your wheel rim. Some can take either tubed or tubeless, but most are one or the other. However, you can put a tube in a tubeless tire to get you home in the event of a puncture, and some riders carry a spare for that eventuality.
Which mountain bike tube should I get?
Best of the best: Sunlite Mountain Bike Tube
Our take: A pair of high-quality tubes rated by some as the best in the industry.
What we like: Renowned off-road performance holds pressure in tough conditions. Rim strips help protect the tube from wear. Easy to install or change. Schrader valve. US veteran-owned business.
What we dislike: Problems are rare, but seam splits have happened.
Best bang for your buck: Continental Mountain Bike Tube
Our take: An economical tube from a well-known, quality brand.
What we like: Wide range of sizes. Seamless construction from durable vulcanized rubber. Removable valve cores allow for addition of tire sealant. Presta valves.
What we dislike: A small percentage have valve faults.
Honorable mention: Slime Smart Tube
Our take: Tubes are pre-filled with popular, fast acting "Slime" tube sealant.
What we like: In the event of a puncture, Slime fills the hole rapidly. Often reinflation may not be necessary. Sealant can last up to two years. Schrader valve.
What we dislike: Occasional tube splits. Slime treats tread areas, not sidewalls.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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