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Don’t Get Caught without a Tube – The Right Inner Tubes for Bikes, Tires and More!

The bicycle inner tube forms an air cushion that’s sealed with a valve and reacts flexibly to uneven ground. You probably knew that already, but what about the rest of the quiz questions? How old is the tube-tire principle and what was the first one made of? By how many times does a bike inner tube expand when pumped up? How much do the lightest bike inner tubes weigh today? Have we piqued your interest? If you’d like to find out the answers to these and more exciting facts about the latest developments on the inner tube front, you’ve come to the right place! Read more

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The Invention of the Bike Inner Tube

It’s very likely that you’ve ridden over cobblestones for an extended stretch at some point. After that you feel thoroughly shaken up. That’s about how cyclists must have felt nearly all the time until almost the end of the 19th century. 
The bikes they used in those days with steel frames easily weighed 20 kg, and not many of the streets were surfaced. At this point the tires were still made of solid rubber, which was very heavy – they had searched in vain for a lightweight tube and riding comfort.

According to an anecdote, Scottish inventor and visionary Robert William Thomson also experienced this problem with vehicles from that era, which is why in 1845 he is said to have begun experimenting with air-filled animal guts and a leather tire on the wheels of his coach. However, the real breakthrough for bike inner tubes came a good 40 years later. In 1888 John Boyd Dunlop filed a patent for the pneumatic bicycle tire including inner tube featuring the Dunlop valve (also known as bicycle valve), which is still in widespread use today.

Structure and Function of a Bike Inner Tube

In detail a bike inner tube is an airtight sealed thin-walled ring tube with a valve on the inner side, made from plastic or rubber. The tube material, which is 1.5 to just 0.45 mm thick, is bonded using vulcanisation or modern adhesive technologies. Inside butyl tubes you usually find talcum powder, to stop the rubber sticking together and making it difficult to inflate.  
This very lightweight and uniquely delicate construction forms a system with the tire and rim or wheel, to protect it from all sides and cushion the rider from impact and uneven ground. At the same time the rotating mass has been hugely reduced in comparison with solid rubber tires. The tube can either be placed inside the semi-open clincher tire, or sewn in with a tubular tire. Nowadays an extra light latex tube is generally used in the latter situation.

Supposing you had your bike in storage for a while over winter, it’s highly likely that you’ve almost got a flat tire by now. So you reach for your bike pump. But what’s actually going on inside? When you pump up a tube while it’s fitted, pressure builds up on the inside of the elastic material. The bike tube expands sometimes up to 4 times its original surface area, until an equal pressure is achieved across the inside of the tire and the rim base. If you carry on pumping, the air inside is compressed even further and even more pressure builds up – up to 11 bar.

The general principle of air pressure is: There needs to be enough pressure for the contact surface to be as small as needed for the desired traction, so that nothing breaks through.

Otherwise there is unfortunately a risk of damage to the tube, tire and rim, or you will get a flat. If in doubt, a good starting point is the pressure specified on the tire. 
The wider the rim, the higher the volume of air in the tire or tube, and then the minimum pressure can be correspondingly lower. However depending on the wall thickness and temperature, a few air molecules will diffuse through the tube over time. So you need to pump it up from time to time.

What Disciplines Is the Tube Intended For?

What Disciplines Is the Tube Intended For?
In principle the tube is suitable for all bikes, for instance road bikes, MTB, city bikes or kids’ bikes. Here’s an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of a bike inner tube to help you understand which application it’s most suitable for.

Advantages Disadvantages
you can buy inner tubes round the clock almost everywhere, in all sizes – from inner tube vending machines in some regions friction (flexing) between the inner tube and mantle causes loss of performance
easy for anyone to fit, repair or replace more rotating mass
can be used with all clincher tires and compatible rims low pressure range is more susceptible to punctures and impact damage
can easily be replaced with a tubeless system in the event of a flat tire  
high pressure stability and low material aging  
low cost  

On that basis the inner tube works best for bikes if the goal is not to squeeze out every last drop of performance or traction, but to implement a low-maintenance, durable system. This includes for instance everyday bikes like city and trekking bikes, and kids’ bikes.  
For these bikes the standard models with normal wall thicknesses of approx. 1 mm offer a good balance between durability, impact protection and moderate weight. But on the classic street bike, road bike inner tubes are still the first choice for training purposes and tours, because the advantages of tubeless and tubular tires barely outweigh the higher costs and complicated handling for this hobby sport.  
At competitive and professional level, things do look somewhat different, most people opt for tubular tires here. They offer a lower rotating mass with a minimal roll resistance. Gravel road bikes are often supplied pre-fitted with inner tubes for bicycles. But tubeless systems are a popular retrofit choice.

Mountain bikers always want those special technical extras – no surprises there. In the wide tire brigade, the trend barometer has swung decisively away from inner tubes towards tubeless. But if you aren’t such an expert on two-wheeled tech or want to save some money, rubber air cushions are still a good choice here. Same goes for new starters on mountain bike. Your new MTB will run just as well on inner tubes. Take your time with an inner tube in your tire to test out your limits. Once your tires are worn out, you can always swap them. Then, once you start using a tubeless system you should still always carry an MTB inner tube in your jersey or rucksack. It’s often the final lifesaver at the end of the trail.

What if you’ve fine-tuned your bike to a low weight, but you still want the straightforward inner tube handling you’re accustomed to? Then lightweight tubes made from thinner butyl or even plastic is the right choice for you. For only a small difference in price and sometimes in terms of durability, you can reduce the rotating mass by approx. 100 grammes using the latest products made from thinner butyl or super-light thermoplastic – not to be underestimated! 
Learn how to work out what size inner tube you need and what tube types and specs are available in the next few paragraphs.

26" or 28" tube – Which Size Fits My Tire?

An example from a completely normal day in a bike shop. Customer: "I need a 28" bicycle inner tube”, sales assistant: "For what tire width and bike do you need the tube? Our range has over 30 size options in the 28", with different valve types and in a variety of weights." 
Whether you buy your next tube online or from a shop, to make sure you aren’t bewildered by the choice, we’re going to tell you how to find the right tube size for your bike.

Most importantly: the size of your tubes depends on your tire size and width.

If you bought your bike ready to ride from the dealer and need to replace an inner tube for the first time, you can normally buy on the basis of the marking stamped or printed on the tube.  
You might find one of three possible markings; the dimension in inches, the ETRTO specification and/or the French size designation. You can find out what each mark means in terms of tire and wheel size, and what 26" for instance translates to in the other size systems, in our article about bicycle tires here: Size systems for clincher tires.

You might find the following information on your MTB inner tube: 27.5" (size in inches), 54/75-584 (ETRTO), 650B (French sizing). However, if you ride on a road bike tube, it might look like this: 28", 18/25-622/530, 700C.  
The only truly dependable size spec is ETRTO. The first part refers to the width in mm. For instance, in the MTB example it’s 54 to 75 mm. The second designation – 584 in the example – applies to the internal diameter of the tire measured at the rim seat. A from-to range is standard because the tube is elastic and can stretch to many times its original size like a balloon. What if you don’t have a flat tire at all, but you want to be ready just in case? Don’t worry – you don’t have to remove the tube yet. You can buy an inner tube on the basis of the ETRTO tire pressure specification as well. What if you can’t find an ETRTO specification and your tire or inner tube just has a cryptic label like 28x1 1/2 x 1/8"? No problem.  
We can explain in simple terms what the equivalent would be in the ETRTO system here: Bike tires - Size systems for clincher tires.  
So now you know which bike inner tube you need to buy, but you’re still worried about choosing the wrong type? Don’t be afraid to ask our BIKE24 service team for their expert advice. 
As well as the size of a bike inner tube, you also have to choose between different materials and thicknesses. Find out what the most important considerations are here.

Bike Inner Tube Made from Butyl, Latex or Plastic?

What if you had a flat tire and want to make your bike roadworthy again with new tubes, or reduce the rotating mass at the key point? But when you go to buy an inner tube you are faced with an absolute deluge of tube variants and descriptions, such as Extralight, Downhill and Supersonic. In this section we give you an overview of materials and specifications. Furthermore we’ve provided a comparison showing puncture protection, weight and price ranges and general availability.

Inner Tube Materials in Detail

Bike inner tubes are made of butyl rubber, latex or plastic.

Of these, butyl is the most frequently used, most established and cheapest material. The synthetic rubber began to replace natural rubber made from caoutchouc over 70 years ago. Tubes made from butyl are highly stable under pressure with normal wall thickness and are not heat sensitive. Depending on application the wall thicknesses can be optimised either for lower weight or more durability. A standard robust freeride/downhill tube for instance has a wall thickness of 1.2 mm and weighs around 300 g. Schwalbe’s Extralight or Continental’s Supersonic tube specification by contrast is more of a weight-minimising design, at less than 70 g for a road bike and around 130 g for the MTB. Unfortunately, as the wall thickness reduces, this causes an increasing conflict in objectives with regard to puncture protection, pressure stability and flexibility, as well as weight.  
In practice this means: Thin-walled bike inner tubes made from butyl rubber need to be pumped up more often. But at the same time the lightweight tubes are usually more flexible, which means that less energy is lost through flexing and the roll resistance is lower. Almost all big-name tube manufacturers produce mostly butyl tubes, which are compatible with absolutely all bike types and wheel sizes, as well as kids’ balance bikes and cars. As well as the standard butyl construction, you can also get special variants with additional puncture protection using repair sealant and/or special extra inlay.

When they talk about latex tubes in the bike world, they actually mean tubes made from the natural sap of the rubber tree. All bike inner tubes for bicycles were made from this material before the Second World War. Since the extraction process was complex and it was expensive to import, they developed butyl rubber.  
But latex does have an advantage: It has a lower density than butyl at the same wall thickness, which makes latex tubes lighter. Furthermore natural rubber has more flexible properties, which makes latex tubes more resistant to punctures and impact damage (better puncture protection): Latex also offers low roll resistance at the correct pressure.  
However, the latex surface gets sticky depending on the temperature. They are covered with talc to stop them sticking to the tire. This needs to be renewed regularly when you carry out bike checks, e.g. in spring.  
Where there’s light, there’s also shade. The main disadvantage of latex tubes is their high air permeability, or in other words consistent loss of pressure. They have to be pumped up before every tour and every race. Remember that natural rubber is more sensitive to grease and oils when storing and transporting latex tubes.  
Sad but true, the selection of latex tubes is getting smaller all the time because they are being pushed out of the market by tubeless and the emerging plastic tubes. These bike tubes are mostly only still available for road bikes, cyclocross and gravel bikes.

Thermoplastics are the third option and the most modern and innovative material for tubes. The tubes consist of 100% TPU or TPE – including the valve, which makes them fully recyclable and super sustainable. But this was just the first set of advantages associated with plastic tubes.  
The new, thin-walled material also makes them incredibly light and at the same time it’s highly elastic and tear-resistant at any temperature. This increases puncture protection and snakebite resistance, as well as minimising roll resistance. The pressure stability of plastic tubes is also respectable and compares to butyl options with normal wall thickness.  
By the way, the thicker a normal tube is, the higher its packed volume. Plastic tubes are different, they have similar properties yet pack down smallest by a long way.  
In the early days of researching alternative materials, there were still problems associated with connecting the tune ends and fitting the valve.  
With today’s products the ends are usually seamlessly welded, with a combination of welding and adhesive technology used to fit the valve. Established manufacturers include Tubolito, Revoloop, with Schwalbe - a company known for decades for top tire and tube products - as a newcomer to the plastic tube market.  
Thermoplastic tubes are perfect for almost all applications e.g. road bike, MTB, plus-bike, gravel road bike, trekking, everyday and city bike. If you do get a puncture during your ride, just stick on a special patch, fit the tire, pump it up and off you go. The choice of valve for plastic tubes is a matter of taste. Until now the only valves available have been Presta, which come in lengths of 40 or 60 mm. But they can be extended if required for high-profile rims and disc wheels.

Puncture Protection, Weight and Price in Summary

Whether you’re a road bike rider, mountain biker or trekking cyclist, each discipline has slightly different criteria for choosing a tube. Road riders are looking to minimise weight, mountain bikers need impact protection, even in the low pressure range, and trekking cyclists generally need good puncture protection with low inner tube costs.

We’ve put together what are probably the four most important buying arguments – puncture protection, weight, price and availability – for all wheel sizes for you.

  Butyl Latex Thermoplastic
Availability for all tire sizes and widths yes


generally only available nowadays for 28" wheels up to around 40 mm tire width (road, cyclocros, gravel bike)

a few models for 26/29" MTB


but a growing selection for 16 to 29" for plus bikes and cargo bikes as well

not available for very small wheel sizes (12 - 14”) and fatbikes

puncture protection / impact protection (snakebite) the thicker the wall, the better the puncture or snakebite protection thanks to a high level of flexibility, the puncture and snakebite protection is better even with moderate wall thicknesses (if tube is treated with talcum powder) thanks to a high level of flexibility and tear-resistance, the puncture and snakebite protection is very good under all conditions
Weight range*

road bike / cyclocross / gravel bikes (28"): approx. 45 - 155 g each

children’s bikes / BMX (16 - 24"): approx. 60 - 176 g each

MTB / trekking bikes (26 - 29"): approx. 65 - 439 g each (heavy models for downhill and plus bikes)

fatbike (26"): approx. 505 g each 

special variants (all sizes and variants) with extra puncture protection: 176 - 400 g each

road bike / cyclocross / gravel bikes (28"): approx. 50 - 85 g each

MTB 26x1.70/3.00" & 29x1.70./3.00": approx. 135 & 145 g each (wide tires)

road bike / cyclocross / gravel bikes (28"): approx. 25 - 61 g each

children’s bikes / BMX (16 - 24"): approx. 34 - 95 g each

MTB / trekking bikes (26 - 29"): approx. 42 - 116 g each (heavy models for plus bikes)

Price range*

road bike / cyclocross / gravel bikes (28"): approx. 4 - 11 € each

MTB / trekking- / children’s bikes (12 - 29"): approx. 4 - 15 € each (26" fatbike tubes cost a little more)

road bike / cyclocross / gravel bikes (28"): approx. 9 - 19 € each

road bike / cyclocross / gravel bikes (28"): approx. 22 - 30 € each

MTB / trekking / children’s bikes (16 - 29"): approx. 16 - 30 € each

*based on manufacturers’ datasheets and prices from BIKE24

Conclusion: The established butyl tubes offer best compatibility with all wheel sizes at a low price, but they are not particularly lightweight with standard puncture protection. The more expensive latex tube with all its benefits but unfortunately disadvantages as well occupies more of a specialist niche. Thanks to the use of innovative materials, plastic is the future of inner tubes. It offers incredible puncture protection with a sublimely low weight. If the size range in the affordable price bracket continues to expand, the cycle industry will have found a worthy successor to the butyl tube.

Valve Types and Lengths

The three most common valve types are:

Dunlop bicycle valve, Shrader/car valve and Presta or French valve (also known as Sclaverand or road bike valve).

All valve types are covered with a cap, usually made of plastic, to protect them from dirt and dust. Valves are frequently also attached to the rim bed with a lock nut to prevent slipping or turning.

The Dunlop valve is named after the inventor of the tube-tire system and is still the most common valve used for city bikes and children’s bikes.  
Both an advantage and a disadvantage: The valve core is only held in place with one lock nut and can be removed without tools. It’s practical for letting air out and replacing the valve, but not nice if thieves and other undesirables get their hands on it. You can pump up tubes with Dunlop valves with any normal bike pump, but you sometimes need to apply quite a lot of pressure to open the valve. The valve length can be 32 or 40 mm, depending on what fits the rim height best.

What if you can only see a valve shaft with a small pin inside protruding from your rim? It’s probably because your bike has car valves that are fixed in place. To inflate them your pump needs to be compatible with car valves, because there’s a counterpart in the pump head that pushes the valve pin down and facilitates inflow of air. Car valves are used on city, trekking and mountain bikes, and have a valve length of 40 mm.

Finally, we have the valve type used most widely on modern sports bikes and in Europe: Presta (also known as French, Sclaverand or road bike valve). Presta valves were originally developed for high-pressure road bike applications, but nowadays they are also used for high-end MTBs, trekking bikes and e-bikes. With the French valve type, only part of it is screwed into the narrow valve shaft. There’s a pin with a little nut protruding from the top. To pump it up, you have to rotate this nut anti-clockwise. It’s often a good idea to give it a little push when you let air out, to release the valve for pump action later. Presta valves are popular because they can be screwed closed afterwards to prevent pressure loss. Tubes with these valves come in 40, 60 and 80 mm shaft lengths – in other words to suit any rim height.

The Right Tube Accessories

Your bike keeps going on and on, but at some point everyone gets a flat tire or some sort of defect. But with the right tube accessories that’s not a problem at all!

If you cycle regularly, you should carry a standard puncture repair kit with you when you ride: a portable pump, tire lever and a patch kit that’s compatible with your inner tube material. These sets contain repair patches in various sizes, something to roughen the surface, a piece of latex for Dunlop valves and a vulcanising solution to use as an adhesive. Alternatively you can get kits with self-adhesive patches. In addition to this kit, you might need tools to take the wheel off.  
Too much hassle to patch the puncture? There’s always the option of using puncture spray or foam to seal the hole temporarily.

Tip 💡: Keep a pair of rubber gloves in your kit to keep your handlebar grips and clothing clean even if you have to mend a puncture.

What if you’ve splashed out on a set of high-end road bike wheels and now the valves are too short?  
Well, we’ve got some good news for you. You can carry on using them simply by adding a pair of valve extenders. The rim band is an accessory that’s shared between the inner tube and the clincher tire. Especially if you’re constantly getting pinch damage (snakebites) or holes on the inside of your tube, then you need to think about replacing it. Because things sometimes go wrong with valves, you can also find a huge selection of suitable spare parts at BIKE24, such as valve cores, dust caps and more.