A version of this article appeared in the October issue of BRAIN.
VIENNA, Austria (BRAIN) — Inner tubes retailing for $38 might seem like a hard sell when most enthusiasts are determined to go tubeless. But at this spring’s Sea Otter Classic expo, staffers at Tubolito were having a hard time handling the demand for the Austrian company’s shiny, orangy, tiny tubes.
Said to be lighter, stronger and more compact than butyl or latex tubes, Tubolito tubes had rarely been seen in person in North America before the Monterey, California, event.
The Austrian company held off opening U.S. distribution until it developed enough capacity to serve the European market.
The company, which declined to share sales figures, said it now has capacity to supply the U.S. market and has expanded its product line with sizes, wall thicknesses and valve types to fit most applications.
The tubes are all made in the EU; Quality Bicycle Supply and Ergon USA are now distributing them in the U.S. and were filling out their stock in early fall.
So what’s different about the Tubolitos, other than the price and the color?
They are made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). The company’s founders, Christian Lembacher and Akos Kertesz, developed cellphone speakers using similar materials before they decided to develop the bike tubes. Lembacher’s name appears on more than 20 U.S. patents and patent applications, most related to methods to manufacture with membranes and composites. Tubolito has patents pending related to manufacturing the tubes, a company spokesman told BRAIN.
The most impressive tubes are the S-Tubo models, available for mountain and road bikes. They use a thinner wall material for reduced weight and rolling resistance than the standard Tubolitos and pack into a tiny package, allowing racers to easily carry two or three spares in a standard seatpack.
The company claims the tubes have two or three times the puncture resistance of butyl.
An S-Tubo 29er tube, fitting tires 1.8-2.4-inches, weighs just 45 grams, compared to more than 200 grams for a standard butyl tube of the same size. The standard Tubo tube model in the same size weighs 85 grams.
The company says its standard tubes retain air over time at about the same rate as butyl and much better than latex. The S-Tubo models lose air slightly faster than butyl but still retain it much longer than latex. The company claims the tubes have two or three times the puncture resistance of butyl.
The tubes have just one seam and use a polymer valve stem with a nonremovable bonded valve core. Tire sealant will not work with the tube material.
Tubolito offers tubes for road, cyclocross/gravel, mountain bike, BMX, city and cargo use. Presta and schrader valves are available for BMX, city and cargo tubes, and other sizes are available with Presta only.
Retail pricing starts at $25 for city bike tubes and tops out at $38 for the S-Tubo road and MTB models. A patch kit is $5.