Whether it’s out of curiosity or necessity, you may wonder if ATV tires have tubes in them. It’s a legit question to ask; I remember asking the same question myself when I bought my first ATV.
So are ATV tires tubeless or not? Almost all ATV tires are tubeless due to the downsides of running tubes in a low-pressure tire. You can install tubes in an ATV tire, but for most users, it is not the best alternative.
Why are ATV tires tubeless? (pros and cons)
Most, if not all, new ATV tires are sold without tubes. But why do the manufacturers choose this setup instead of using inner tubes?
Let’s look at the pros and cons of tubes vs. tubeless ATV tires and why tubeless is the preferred alternative.
Tubed ATV tires may spin on the wheel, causing valve stem breakage
ATV tires run on low tire pressure for optimal off-road performance. For optimal traction and flotation on soft surfaces such as mud, snow, or sand, you may go as low as 2.5 psi to 3 psi.
However, do not go any lower as this will increase the risk of popping the tire of the bead. When running low pressure in a tire, the tire is not being pushed as hard against the rim’s inside, causing less friction.
This makes it more likely that the tire will spin on the wheel during hard acceleration or hard braking. When this happens, the tube wants to spin along with the tire. The valve stem, however, is fixed to the wheel.
This usually causes valve stem breakage and instant deflation. Plastic valve stems are more likely to break than ones made from metal.
Valve stems on tubes are generally long and will break in mud or ruts
The steel valve stems on tubes are generally longer than on a tubeless tire. Partly so that they will work with multiple applications.
This leaves them vulnerable to breakage when riding in mud or from hitting ruts.
Farm tractors and forestry equipment, such as skidders, often use inner tubes. They often use an impact-resistant valve stem protector made from steel to solve the valve stem breakage issue on these machines.
So low pressure is no good with tubes. Why not use high pressure?
A tubed tire will be less likely to break the valve stem if you run higher pressure, but it will negatively affect ride quality.
Also, you will get less traction and less flotation, which are both important for off-road driving.
It is not as easy to fix a flat in a tubed tire on the trail
Flats don’t happen when ATVs sit in the garage; they occur on the trail or in the woods.
You’re likely miles from the nearest tire shop, so you will need a way to repair the leak in-field.
Tubeless tires are relatively easy to repair out on the trail. All you need to get going again is a string-plug tire repair kit and an air pump.
Tubed tires, on the other hand, cannot be patched easily out on the trail. The tire has to come off the rim for you to access and patch the damaged tube.
String plugs are generally not recommended for long-term repairs, but they are great for emergency repairs for ATVs out on the trail.
Here is why string plugs shouldn’t be used on car tires.
ATVs tend to get leaks much more frequently than cars. Also, you are likely not running at the same kind of speed on salty roads. Therefore, many riders choose to leave the string plug permanently.
Ideally, the string plug should be replaced with a patch and rubber stem combo as soon as you get home. We prefer using the pull-through style one-piece unit with a stem and patch portion.
A set of new stock tires do not cost that much more than a set of tubes
Moderately sized all-terrain ATV tires are relatively cheap. If you’re trying to fix a leaking stock tire, you’re likely better off by just getting a set of new, similar-sized tires instead of tubes.
The overall result will be much better. As a bonus, you get fresh new rubber and grippy threads, all for just a few dollars more than the cost of a set of tubes.
You can get a decent ATV tire for around $40 to $50. Tubes are typically $20 to $30. New tires will cost you a bit more than tubes, but the result is many times better.
In this post, we are comparing the price of different types and sizes of ATV tires.
Can you put tubes in ATV tires? And should you?
Nothing is stopping you from putting tubes in your tubeless ATV tire. It’s a solution that may work for some, but there are better alternatives in most cases.
In this post, we look more in-depth at different methods for fixing a leaking ATV tire.
Can you put tubes in ATV tires?
Some leaks are harder to find and repair. A common problem people have with tubeless tires is that it keeps leaking air on the bead. It may be tempting to give in and get a set of inner tubes in situations like this.
But is it ok to install tubes to fix a leaking ATV tire?
Yes, you can install tubes in ATV tires, as long as you can live with the downsides, such as the risk of valve stem breakage and having to ride at a higher tire pressure.
But for most ATV riding applications, it is generally not an alternative we recommend. For fixing flats and leaks, there are much better alternatives.
You may need to make some modifications, such as putting silicone around the valve stem.
The valve stem on tubeless tires often has a bigger diameter than the valve stem on tubes. If you leave this gap, exposed sand and debris will soon find their way to the inside of the tire, causing leaks.
When considering tubes as an alternative to fix a tire leak, it’s a good idea to install the tube and patch the hole. Otherwise, you risk dirt getting inside the tire through the tear or hole.
How do tubeless ATV tires stay inflated?
A tubeless ATV stays inflated because the pressurized air inside the tire pushes the tire walls out against the wheel’s bead, creating an airtight seal.
ATV tires often use low tire pressure for better off-road traction. If tire pressure is dropped too low, the seal may become weak, and the air starts seeping out of the tire.
If you have ever watched a tire being installed to a rim, you may have heard the distinct popping sound when the tire seats to the rim.
Inside the rim, there is a small bump close to the tire bead. This bump goes all around the rim, one on each side.
When inflating the tire, it will pop over this bump before it rests against the inside of the bead flange.
Many believe that this bump keeps the tire inflated, but that is only half true. The bumps’ main purpose is to prevent the tire from sliding sideways when cornering at high speeds or riding sideways on steep slopes.
This prevents the tire from deflating suddenly from a sharp turn or sideways impact. But for the tire to seal completely, you need a certain level of air pressure inside the tire.
Using tubes to fix a sidewall tear
Some ATV tires have soft sidewalls that prevent a patch from holding up. Stiffer sidewall tires are not as exposed to this problem as they do not flex as much.
Sidewall tears are not supposed to be fixed in the first place. Tears in the sidewall may cause a blowout, and a tire with such damage must be replaced.
That being said, as an emergency repair, a tube will do a better job than a patch to stop a leak in a soft-sidewall tire. Again, please note that this is not a solution we recommend as a long-term repair.