Vittoria already offers Air-liners for mountain bikes and gravel bikes, so it only makes sense that road bikes would be next, right? Hold up. Isn’t the point of most tire liners to run lower pressures while protecting the rim and the tire from otherwise-damaging impacts? Unless you’re smashing potholes with low pressures on your road bike, you probably don’t need that same level of protection on a road bike.
That’s why Vittoria’s Air-Liner Road functions a bit differently…
Like their other Air-Liners, the Air-Liner Road is a green foam insert that you slip into the tire cavity. But the similarities end there. According to Vittoria’s Marketing Director and SVP of Product Development, Ken Avery, the Air-Liner Road uses a different type of foam. While the other liners use EVA foam like you’d find in a running shoe, the foam for the Air-Liner Road is less dense and has more air voids in the foam itself.
This causes it to have a peculiar trait – it shrinks when you air up the tire to road pressures. Instead of acting as a rim protector for big impacts, in this case, it’s specifically designed to collapse under high pressure and push against the tire bead inside the rim. That effectively acts as a bead lock, preventing any burping from tubeless road tires under hard cornering or other conditions.
And what if you get a flat? Well, as soon as the pressure inside the tire releases, the foam supposedly expands back into its original shape, and fills the (now flat) tire. Vittoria claims that this allows you to use the Air-Liner as a run-flat tire liner system.
That means if you actually get a flat that the tire sealant won’t seal, then you might not have to do anything – just ride home on the flat tire. Now, Vittoria points out that this is for “temporary low-speed run-flat riding to get you home.” Specifically, they recommend no more than 50 km at speeds lower than 20 km/h. Realistically, after that distance riding on a flat tire, the tire itself may be toast. Vittoria also recommends checking the size of the tire liner to make sure it hasn’t been damaged in the process. It may need to be replaced, it may not. But Vittoria does recommend replacing each Air-Liner Road after one year of use, and storing them with at least 1 bar (14psi).
Pro-tested (and won)
Already proven at the highest level of competition, Vittoria claims that the first big win on the Air-Liner Road happened all the way back in 2019 when Alexander Kristoff won Gent-Wevelgem. The Spring Classics are not races where you can typically afford a tire-related mechanical, so the bead lock function preventing any tire burping over the cobbles seems like it could be a big deal.
To test it myself, Vittoria sent over an Air-Liner Road Kit along with some Corsa 700c x 25mm tubeless road tires. Note that these liners can be used with any tires, not just Vittoria. I planned to mount them to a pair of Bontrager Aeolus Pro 37 rims – that’s an important consideration since the Air-Liners come in three sizes, each with a recommended tire width and internal rim width.
The Small kit that was sent is meant for 25mm wide tires and internal rim widths of 21mm. Perfect.
How Much Does it Weigh?
With something like this designed for road bikes, weight is a big concern for many riders. Fortunately, the Small inserts are extremely light – just 22g each on our scale. The valves aren’t bad either, at 5g a piece for a 60mm valve.
What’s in the Box?
Inside the complete kit, you’ll find two Air-Liners, two tubeless valves, the Road Tubeless tool kit, and a bottle of their Universal Tubeless Tire Sealant.
The proprietary Vittoria Multiway tubeless valve is designed with holes on the side of the valve as well as the base, which allows air to pass through even when pushed up against the insert…
Which is a good thing since the flat seat of the plastic Bontrager TLR rim strip caused the valve to sit quite high. If I were going to run this set up in the long run, I would probably remove the strip and use standard tubeless tape to allow the conical rubber grommet of the valve to sit deeper in the rim. It worked as is, though.
How is it Installed?
Installing the Air-Liner wasn’t impossible, but it was definitely more challenging than just installing a tire. You start by working the liner into the rim cavity, with one side of the tire installed, just like you would a tube.
I found that while installing the tire, the best tools for the job were standard tire levers and my trusty tire bead jack – basically what you may reach for on any ultra-tight tire/rim combo. The foam makes it so you can’t get the beads to drop into the center channel of the rim like you normally would, so it’s a bit more difficult to wrestle it onto the rim.
But removing the tire, you pretty much have to use the included Vittoria Pliers. It’s a bit counter intuitive, where you use the pliers to pull the tire away from you, which allows you to insert a tire lever or clip, to then pry the bead towards you. Once you get the hang of it, the tire comes off pretty easily.
This definitely isn’t something you’ll be able to do on the road, but thanks to the run-flat capabilities, you shouldn’t have to.
Once you have the tire and the liner all mounted up, the bottle of Vittoria Universal Tubeless Tire Sealant has a clever cap with a built in presta-core remover on top, and a direct-fit to the presta shaft underneath. Squeeze in the proper amount, air up the tire, and you’re good to go.
Does It Work?
Mostly, I was curious about the run-flat claims. What would it be like? Would you have any control if you got a front flat? To find out, I deliberately set up the front tire without any sealant to mimic a slow leak.
What I found was that even with a tire that was noticeably squishy, the ride was surprisingly controlled. You could definitely tell that something wasn’t right, but it rolled, stopped, and even turned pretty well.
But what about if it was completely flat? Like, you gashed-the-side-of-the-tire-open-flat? After completely removing all air from the tire, the ride was much more akin to a flat tire, only the rim was still prevented from touching the pavement. Even with the flat on the front, I was still able to turn and stop – while exercising caution.
If you do manage to completely flat the tire, it won’t be the most pleasant ride home, but it does seem like you’ll make it there.
Of course, this is all worst case scenario since the tire sealant should do the job for most punctures – before you have to resort to riding on the Air-Liner. I tried later with a tire loaded with sealant to puncture the tire with a push pin, but the Vittoria tire sealant made quick work of the puncture before it lost enough air to force me to ride on the insert. At that point, more air could be added to the tire, and I kept riding.
Offered in three sizes, each liner is sold individually for $39.99. The Road Tubeless Tool-Kit is available separately for $24.99, and the Vittoria Universal Tubeless Tire Sealant is priced at $6.99-$24.99 depending on the size. If you want all of that in one kit like the one sent to us for testing, the Vittoria Air-Liner Road TLR Kit includes two liners, one tubeless tool kit, and one bottle of tire sealant for $99.99.