What are the differences between Butyl, Latex & TPU inner tubes? Vittoria White Paper explains!

Vittoria continues their mission to bring clarity to bicycle tire tech, now with a White Paper explaining the pros & cons of the 3 main types of inner tubes – Butyl, Latex & TPU. Sure tubeless has come to dominate much of modern road, gravel & mountain bike tires, but the majority of bicycles out in the world still have inner tubes in their tires. And with road Grand Tours and even Spring Classics being raced and won on clinchers, tube tech is still worth a deeper dive…

S0, how do you choose?

Vittoria: Bike Inner Tube Types Explained

Vittoria Bike Inner Tube White Paper, stretched Latex tube

c. Vittoria

This is the second in the Vittoria White Papers explainer series – following up January’s “Bicycle Tyre Types and Systems“. And the idea is the same… try to clear up some common confusion around different types of on-road tire and off-road tire setups in order to give cyclists enough information to make more informed purchasing decisions based on what is going to be best for them and their type of riding.

So, for everyone out there riding with inner tubes in their clincher tires, or just looking to carry a spare tube when a roadside tubeless repair won’t work, this primer should help pick the best tube for you…

Vittoria Bike Inner Tube White Paper, differences between Butyl, Latex & TPU tubes

Butyl vs. Latex vs. TPU bicycle inner tubes (l-r)

Pretty much every modern bike has pneumatic tires, and while many have gone tubeless, most still have inner tubes inside. Tubes are just simpler and cleaner to install, don’t require much technical skill, and work pretty well across a wide range of bike riding styles. Plus, they are easy to replace or even patch in most cases if you get a flat, are small & light enough that it’s easy to carry a spare, and they are typically a low-cost item to replace.

The three basic types in use are synthetic butyl rubber (classic black), more premium natural latex rubber (in a number of light & pastel colors), and the most expensive thermoplastic polyurethane, i.e. TPU (in a few translucent, or often vibrant colors).

Vittoria’s White Paper goes pretty deep into the inner tube, its history on bikes, and why you might choose tubes vs. tubeless.

In-house Testing Comparisons

Vittoria Bike Inner Tube White Paper, differences between Butyl, Latex & TPU tubes - speed, durability & weight

But they also evaluate the key performance differences between each tube type, and did a bit of in-house testing to suggest how they compare. Unsurprisingly based on everything we’ve read in recent years, the heavier standard butyl tube has the highest rolling resistance of the three, and is a bit more susceptible to pinch flats & punctures. It’s even the most resistant to heat build-up, and has the longest lifespan inside your tire, most likely.

Latex comes in the middle in terms of weight and puncture resistance, but is just as good as TPU for lowering rolling resistance.

That leaves TPU – the newest technological advance in bicycle inner tubes – as the fastest rolling, the most durable, and the lightest weight. It also appears to be more sustainable as it requires less raw material and is readily recyclable.

So what’s the downside of TPU then?

 

Vittoria Bike Inner Tube White Paper, differences between Butyl, Latex & TPU tubes comparison

Price of course. Vittoria’s own butyl tubes start at $8, latex at $16, and TPU tubes at $35. Each newer material is 2x as expensive as those below it, a big step up in cost to get relatively small gains. Then again, upgrading a pair of TPU tubes is a relatively low-cost way to improve the performance of your bike in the grand scheme of things.

Free watts aren’t really free. But for $70 this could get you lower rotational weight, lower rolling resistance, and improved durability if you are replacing the stock butyl tubes already in your bike. And those old tubes can still be a functional spare if you do flat the fancy TPU tube in the future.

Of course, Vittoria’s White Paper perspective skews towards their own products, but the same assumptions can be made for just about any other tube manufacturer.

TPU inner tubes from Tubolito, Schwalbe, Pirelli & RevoLoop

And Vittoria did just release their new Ultra Light Speed TPU tubes this summer. Yet there are plenty more TPU inner tube options from Tubolito, Schwalbe, Pirelli, RevoLoop & several more… and they come in varying sizes and thicknesses to suit everything from road to gravel to cyclocross to MTB to city commuter bikes.

Read the full White Paper PDF to find out more, and keep an eye out for future tire tech explainers at: Vittoria.com/ww/en/White-Paper

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Astro_Kraken
Astro_Kraken
3 months ago

Anyone have any non anecdotal evidence of rolling resistance and cold temps? I used some off brand plastic tubes one winter and they felt slower than butyl.

This is Minnesota cold, so generally 10-30F and studded tires. Colder than that and I’m on a fat bike.

arp
arp
3 months ago
Reply to  Astro_Kraken

Studded tires would be the absolute worst thing to compare rolling resistance with. The contribution of the tubes vs the studs is minuscule.

Astro_Kraken
Astro_Kraken
3 months ago
Reply to  arp

That was a lot of effort to tell everyone you don’t know.

It’s not just about RR, but when the plastic tubes I used got cold and hardened they changed the feel of the tires and limited their ability to deform over uneven ice.

DynoHub
DynoHub
3 months ago

TPU can’t be used with rim brakes, TPU can’t stand the heat.
So disc and grognards with drum or spoon brakes.

Andrew
Andrew
3 months ago
Reply to  DynoHub

Thats not across the board. Pirellis are usable with Rim brakes.

Nick
Nick
3 months ago

Four stars in the durability category for TPU tubes is a joke, I’ve seen numerous TPU tubes ruined before even seeing dirt or pavement – I would only recommend them to my worst enemies

Chris
3 months ago
Reply to  Nick

And I’ve seen exactly one failure of a TPU in the past year of use on road and light gravel, which was a puncture.
I’m not silly enough to believe that my experience is necessarily typical, though.

Milessio
Milessio
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris

In my experience, latex tubes will ‘rot’ in a few years. I had a Panracer TPU tube many years ago (~20?) & it had the same issue. It looked & felt fine, but you could pull it apart without much force.Not sure if the latest TPU tubes have solved the issue. Butyl tubes seem to last forever without degrading.

Nick
Nick
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris

A coworker of mine has attempted TPU tubes for his fatbike and couldn’t get a single one to work – and tried half a dozen times. It’s not just me.

Robin
Robin
3 months ago

BicycleRollingResistanceDotCom’s tests showed latex to have less rolling resistance than TPU tubes. Further, Josh Poertner said any gains from the low weight of TPU tubes are balanced by losses in Crr. That leaves TPU with just having a much higher cost and taking up less space in a saddle bag. There’s also question about the repairability of TPU tubes, with at least one manufacturer saying they are not repairable. Latex tubes can be patched.

$70-ish for two TPU tubes is a significant cost for so little gain. Latex, IMHO, is much easier to deal with (so long as you’re not doing long twisty descents with CF clincher rims). I’ve been running Michelin latex tubes for two years, with no issues. As a bonus, I only have to pump my tires every other day. The Michelin’s are a bit thicker than Vittoria/Silca tubes, so they’re a wee bit less air permeable. I think pumping up tires counts as an upper body workout for us roadies……so, win-win. And since those Michelin latex tubes cost about 3x less than TPU tubes….well….win-win-win.

TPU tubes definitely hold promise and are great option for a spare tube in a saddle bag, but the price needs to come down a lot to really make them a viable alternative to latex or butyl.

Chris
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin

The pumping up before every ride was the kicker for me when I used latex. I didn’t mind it per se, but forgetting was a major pain, particularly if it had been a few days between rides. Nothing quite like getting out of the saddle at the start of a ride and bouncing the front end… do I go back or just put up with it??

satanas
satanas
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris

For commuting, latex tubes are a PITA, often needing topping up twice a day; there are better things to do, and repairing them is a more chancy thing than with butyl, as is QC. I can see TPU tubes as race day items or spares, but repairability seems to be near zero. If you’re only doing 1-4 hour rides and the bike lives next to a track pump things might be different, but I’d rather just use reasonably light butyl tubes…

Angstrom
Angstrom
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin

Velonews recently posted a butyl/latex/TPU comparison. Similar result — latex and TPU were very close on rolling resistance, with both better than butyl.
If you’ve already got fast tires, and are willing to deal with the permeability, latex tubes seem a reasonably cost-effective way to minimize rolling resistance.

Loz
Loz
3 months ago

Can’t you only use butyl with folding tyres. Notice how I spell tyres correctly.

Smokin Paul
Smokin Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  Loz

You spelled it wrong. In the US we still speak & spell Elizabethan English correctly. Tire is the correct version but we won’t hold it against you.

njblackadder
njblackadder
3 months ago
Reply to  Smokin Paul

I am a proudly patriotic Englishman, but I like that!!!

An203
An203
3 months ago

There is a clear limit in the TPU tubes that is not widely mentioned: their stiffness increases the impedance losses (how much vibrations are transmitted to the rider, then energy wasted) when the road degrades.

Their “equal” performance to Latex is only valid on very very good roads. Overall Latex remains more efficient.

For puncture resistance, they do resist better to perforation but lets be honest, if you have something in your tire that penetrated the protection bed, the tube is not what will resist. where latex has another benefit if for “snake-bite” types of punctures, they resist more when “pinched”

Thomas
Thomas
3 months ago
Reply to  An203

Alleluia!

An203
An203
3 months ago

Just forgot… the white paper is rubbish… graphs without scale, no numbers, just a marketing claim on a topic where you have plenty of ways to publish interesting numbers.

John A
John A
3 months ago

I’ll be sticking to latex as they are extremely easy to repair and you don’t feel a “thump thump” where the repair is. My sacrificial latext tube will probably get me 100 latex patches out of one latex tube.

MBR
MBR
2 months ago

Need two more comparison graphs: 1) Air retention and 2) Ease of repair.