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review

Tubolito X-Tubo CX/Gravel

6
£27.99

VERDICT:

6
10
Light and supple alternative to a normal tube or tubeless but expensive and still not resistant to punctures that are fiddly
Supple ride feel
Light
Packs away small
Expensive compared with butyl
Awkward to patch
Fiddly to shoehorn into narrower tyres
Weight: 
136g

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The Tubolito X-Tubo CX/Gravel inner tube is an expensive alternative to a butyl tube, but it does offer an improved, almost-tubeless-supple feel to your off-road ride. Tubolito is so confident in its puncture proof claims that the tube comes with a one-year warranty, but that doesn't make it impenetrable to sharps or pinches, and mending it is a lengthy process. It's light and rolls up small, which helps with portability when carried as a spare, but bringing it out to save a ride can be a fiddly affair depending on tyre size.

I've been around long enough to be deeply suspicious of any inner tubes that are any colour other than black. There were the green ones, and the blue ones, and the pink ones that looked like a cow's insides when they exploded out of a tyre, and those clear ones – all of which offered magical ride enhancement and alluring puncture protection but invariably had issues over and were all way more expensive than your cheap, easy to fix, know what you're doing, butyl inner tubes.

All of these revolutionary rainbow tubes quietly disappeared, although some of those colours are rotating back again to tempt a new generation of cyclists... And so now we have orange inner tubes from Tubolito. Would my prejudices on coloured tubes be justified, or would I find I've been suffering confirmation bias and be pleasantly surprised?

Tubo stats

Tubolito does a full range of tubes to fit anything from your old school skinny 18mm road bike tyres to your 16in-wheeled folding bike and your 29er 2.3in fat mountain bike and everything in between. The ones here are designed for 32-50mm 700C tyres, and specifically cyclocross and gravel bikes.

Tubolito tubes are made of TPU, which stands for Thermoplastic Polyurethane, a very elastic and flexible material. It's smooth to the touch but at the same time, says Tubolito, extremely durable and strong.

The particular tubes on test use Tubolitio's X-Tubo technology (other tubes come under its standard rating and its superlight S-Tubo). It's designed to be a sturdier tube to suit the harsh environments that cyclocross, gravel, city and touring bikes find themselves in. Tubolito says they're extremely resistant, promising no punctures in everyday use, and backs this up with a one-year warranty for registered X-Tubo tubes. I raised an eyebrow at this bit.

Weight

One of Tubolito's claims that isn't up for discussion is the tube's light weight and small pack size. The X-Tubo CX/Gravel is very light compared with the random selection of standard butyl inner tubes picked from the dusty pile. Tubolito claims 131g on the box (ours came in at 136g), and the weight difference increased as butyl sizes grew to match the orange tube's range of up to 50mm. Thinner CX butyl tubes were about 30g heavier, and a larger gravel tube weighed over 60g more, so if you've spent time shaving weight off the rest of your bike then these would be an easy and good value £ for lb investment, and easily scratch your rotating weight itch, if that's your thing. And if you're concerned about the bulk of an inner tube in your rear pocket spoiling the lines of your jersey, or would appreciate the extra space you might gain in a saddle bag then they're a worthwhile look.

For the gravelly bikepacker who considers pack space a premium and is the sort to weigh different sleeping mats and needs a spare tube or two 'just in case' their tubeless setup fails, then a tightly rolled Tubolito will easily hide in the corner of a frame bag and allow valuable extra room for snacks or whatever.

However, because they're more delicate in build it's a good idea to wrap them with something protective if you're going to have them rubbing up against tools, and that valve does look a little fragile, too, by the way.

Fitting

It's a fight to fit the X-Tubo CX/Gravel tube into a tyre at the lower end of its designated range, where it's more CX than Gravel. Deflated and flat, the tube measures 44mm across, while blown up so there's just enough air in to hold its shape and ease installation, it's 30mm in diameter – both of which make it a struggle to squeeze or fold into a 33mm cyclocross tyre.

Also, as the Tubolito tube is shiny and slippery it's very much like wrestling a greased eel into a tight hole; thumb it in one bit of the tyre and it pops out another bit. It's certainly not an operation I'd relish if I was using a Tubolito as a lightweight spare and trying to do this by the side of the road with cold hands.

Also, because of its gossamer construction it feels precarious wrestling it into a tyre, and extra extra care is needed when popping the last inches of a tyre onto a rim, especially if you have to resort to levers. If it's a tight-fitting combo then pinch puncture panic is sweatingly high. Luckily that orange colour does help with making sure the tube isn't nipped between rim and tyre.

Fitting the tube gets easier once you're playing with 40mm-and-above tyres, so if you're more gravel based then it should be faff free.

The valve is 60mm in length (for the non-X-Tubo it's 42mm or 60mm), and there's no thread on it and therefore no tightening grommet thing (what are they called?), but as I don't use them anyway this wasn't much of an issue, and there hasn't been any trouble with slippage or rattle. That valve does feel brittle, though; be tender with the track pump head.

Puncture proof

Testing didn't start so well with a puncture two miles from home. Ooops. Seduced by the super smooth ride feel of the Tubolito tube at a low off-road pressure rolling inside a supple tan-sidewalled tyre, I pinch punctured on an innocuous rock on a farm track. Ah. I'll happily take the blame for that. Tubolito does say that, in spite of its puncture resistance claims, its tubes do have similar characteristics as traditional rubber tubes when it comes to snake bite resistance.

Tubolito says it had a had a clear and ambitious goal when developing the X-Tubo and that was to produce a bicycle inner tube that cannot be punctured. It built tubes made of different materials, produced them with different methods and then subjected them to various tests that in day-to-day use the tubes might roll through – across thorns, pieces of broken glass and over its exclusively developed ramp equipped with a nail. Tubolito eventually found a product which satisfied its high expectations of making punctures a thing of the past, and backed it up with a one-year warranty for all kinds of flats.

While we're here, mending a punctured Tubolito tube is more complicated, expensive and takes more time than a standard inner tube. Because of their TPU construction they need a special patch (it's made from the same material) and glue. It costs £5 for a pack containing glue, five alcohol cleaning tissues, five small patches and five large ones.

Fixing is, in essence, just like a normal puncture – once you clean the area round the hole with the alcohol patch, you spodge the glue on, wait a while for it to become tacky, then press the patch down and hold it firm with your thumb for a minute, and then you have to leave it for another 30 minutes to cure properly. This makes it a 'do at home with a cup of tea' job rather than a quick roadside fix.

One of the pinch punctures I had was on the fold of the tube. The Tubolito returns to its very flattened state when deflated, and the thinness of the tube means that fold is quite sharp – which meant it was a real pain to get the patch to stick, and took a couple of tries.

Wheel world testing

The ride feel of the Tubolito tube is lovely. It's somewhere close to the suppleness of a tubeless system, and the bigger the CX/gravel tyre you pop one in, the more you seem to benefit from it, so if you're averse to the concept of a tyre full of gloop and the issues that can sometimes occur then these orange tubes could be the answer, although, as demonstrated above, they don't have the 'carelessly smash the tyre into anything' resilience of a tubeless system. Because they're such a thin and squishy tube you might want to compensate by putting a few extra psi into them than your usual, to prevent unwanted rim impacts and tyre squirm; the quality of your tyre and silkiness of the sidewall will determine this to a large degree.

I spent a long time testing the Tubolito inner tubes to try to put holes in them, and for a significant while they did very very well. I run tubes on my 33mm CX tyres and tubeless on my fatter tyred gravel bike with 40mm-ish and above tyres, and during testing partnered the Tubolito tubes with both for comparison.

I ride in the land of the hawthorn and the flint, and punctures on a skinny CX can be every-ride common if you're having a bad week, and despite not holding back testing the Tubolitos, doubts about their puncture resistance pretty much disappeared from my mind as it just wasn't happening. Despite their light weight, I didn't experience any significant annoying air seepage over time either.

The science of evaluating puncture resistance is an inexact one at the best of times, but in relation to a lifetime of previous experiences I'd put these down as surviving very well. This was a good thing as being a tubeless convert I wasn't keen to go back to saving up punctured tubes to do a drawn-out patching session on a rainy evening.

I did eventually force a puncture on the Tubolito, a failure that only became apparent the day after a ride, with a disappointing morning flat, which no one wants.

On inspection there was one obvious hole in the tube, and then further old school 'tube in a bowl of water' checks revealed another four pinprick punctures, and also one of the patches giving up the will to stick, all of which is an impressive fail. That would be comprehensive work to fix with Tubolito's patching time and quicker to try to return under warranty than mend all the punctures. If this was a butyl tube with that many holes in I'd bin it, or put it in the bag of dead tubes to send off to a company that makes wallets and bags out of them.

Value

At over three times the price of a standard butyl inner tube, the Tubolito is a hard sell no matter the benefits.

That said, it's smack bang in the middle of similar offerings from Pirelli and Eclipse.

The Eclipse Road Tube is £26 and has similar supple ride characteristics but a longer puncture mending time with special patches. Shaun tested the skinny road fit, but a 30-45mm gravel tyre version is available.

The Pirelli Cinturato SmarTUBE, which is made from the same material, is £29.99, comes in a gravel-friendly size and shares a lot of the features of the Tubolito: its light weight and puncture resistance, comes in a funky colour, and needs a specialist patch.

Conclusions

Would I fit these in my gravel bike? No. I'm a full-on devotee to tubeless for that and it's been a fair old while since I've had a puncture that's required a tube.

Would I fit these in my skinnier tyred cyclocross bike? Maybe. I've tried tubeless on thinner off-road tyres and it tends to be a little more fickle than with girthier rubber, so tubes can be more reliable – and one that gives a little extra suppleness to a tyre is a good thing for off-road use. If you're into CX racing and are also tubeless averse and don't fancy stumping up the commitment to tubs then the Tubolito tubes would be a very viable option.

Would I carry a Tubolito as a spare? Probably not. While the smaller pack size and lighter weight are definite bonuses, their fragility while being squished in a bag would worry me, and the playing snooker with rope antics of fitting one into a thinner tyre by the side of the trail would be a real no no for me, and I'd only want to use them on tyres at the fatter end of their range.

If I'm putting a spare tube in then I need something reliable that I know is going to get me home and if that fails can be easily fixed. The Tubolito tube still doesn't quite fill me with that amount of confidence.

Verdict

Light and supple alternative to a normal tube or tubeless, but expensive and still not resistant to punctures that are fiddly to fix

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Tubolito X-Tubo CX/Gravel

Size tested: 32-50mm

Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

Tubolito says: "Good gravel rides guaranteed. X-Tubo-CX/Gravel-All is made from a specially developed X-Tubo technology for maximum puncture protection, which makes it extremely puncture resistant against thorns, nails and broken glass. Therefore we offer a one-year warranty after registration including all kinds of flats. Ready for disc and rim brakes."

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

From Tubolito:

Specially developed X-Tubo technology for maximum puncture protection

One-year warranty on all flats

Ready for all Cyclocross and Gravel Bikes

Extreme puncture resistant against thorns, nails and broken glass

Ready for tire widths from 32 mm – 50 mm

Weight 131 G

Width 32-50 mm

Valve 60 mm

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
8/10

Well made, and though it felt flimsy and the valve felt fragile there was no issue with either.

Rate the product for performance:
 
8/10

As a lightweight and compliant inner tube it did very well.

Rate the product for durability:
 
7/10

Tricky to mark this considering the fickleness of punctures, but for a long time they did very well.

Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
10/10

Compared with a standard butyl tube their lack of weight is noticeable, and that only gets greater the bigger the comparison tube gets.

Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
 
9/10

They added a noticeable level of compliance to a gravel tyre over a standard inner tube.

Rate the product for value:
 
5/10

Over three times the price of a standard butyl inner tube, but they sit smack bang in the middle of similar offerings from Pirelli and Eclipse.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

When the Tubolito tubes worked they were lovely, pliable and creating a more responsive ride, but they could be niggly to fit, could still puncture and were long winded to fix.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

Light weight, nice ride feel.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Expensive, tricky to fit in thinner tyres, lengthy repair.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

It's smack bang in the middle of similar offerings from Pirelli and Eclipse.

The Eclipse Road Tube is £26 and has similar supple ride characteristics but a longer puncture mending time with special patches. Shaun tested the skinny road fit, but a 30-45mm gravel tyre version is available.

The Pirelli Cinturato SmarTUBE, which is made from the same material, is £29.99, comes in a gravel-friendly size and shares a lot of the features of the Tubolito: its light weight and puncture resistance, comes in a funky colour, and needs a specialist patch.

Did you enjoy using the product? When it worked it was lovely, when it didn't it was more of a pain than a normal butyl tube.

Would you consider buying the product? No. For the larger end of the tube's range I'd be tubeless without question; for the thinner end I'd probably stick with the cheaper devil I know.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd express caveats.

Use this box to explain your overall score

My overall conclusion is that it's quite good; it's an expensive but light and supple alternative to a butyl tube and running tubeless. When it works it's lovely, but it's still not impervious to punctures and it can be an arse to fit and fix.

Overall rating: 6/10

About the tester

Age: 50  Height: 180cm  Weight: 73kg

I usually ride: It varies as to the season.  My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

Add new comment

7 comments

Avatar
Xenophon2 | 3 months ago
0 likes

I tried them but found the tubes neither better nor worse than regular butyl.  Developed a puncture on day 4, binned it and simply went back to butyl.  I don't patch tires.

As far as I can see, lower weight is their only advantage but whether that marginal difference means anything in the real world is another matter.

Considering the price differential with butyl, these are simply not for me.

 

Avatar
Velophaart_95 replied to Xenophon2 | 3 months ago
0 likes

For the autumn/winter riding season, if they're not better at resisting punctures than butyl tubes, then I don't see the point in them.

Low weight/ faster rolling are no good if you're at the side of the road fixing a puncture.

I've considered them, but I'll pass on them.....

Avatar
billymansell | 4 months ago
0 likes

I bought one of these to give it a go and, I think, I'm on my fifth warranty claim so I've got value for money out of that single purchase.

I also found the sheer number of pinhole punctures they develop to be extraordinary. With the latest one that punctured, when I immersed it in a sink of water I found 10 pinhole punctures in addition to the main puncture.

After much trial and error I found this kit works really well and is good value; https://amz.run/7GoW 

Avatar
Pot00000000 replied to billymansell | 4 months ago
1 like

TPU patches are junk. After a lot of testing I found the regular park tool self adhesive patches to be outstanding with TPU tubes of various brands. 

Avatar
Geoff Ingram replied to Pot00000000 | 4 months ago
1 like

Interesting!!! I also found their patches rubbish. They'd work fine for a month, give or take, and then just let go. Luckily usually while I was at home. And another patch then didn't take.

Avatar
Pot00000000 replied to Geoff Ingram | 4 months ago
2 likes

I agree. When they're used on butyl they're pants but they are fantastic on TPU.

I tried removing a park patch from a TPU tube and there was no chance. Even using pliers to grip the corner it wouldn't budge. 

Avatar
ktache replied to Geoff Ingram | 4 months ago
2 likes

I use them as an emergency patch, if something goes horribly wrong to my carry round tube. enough to get me home, then slap in a spare tube, and then use a "long" patch using the solution to fix the hole when I have a bit of time.

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