A) Tyre fitment
The best method today is to fit tyres tubeless with sealant.
Let’s take a fast tubeless-ready or true tubeless tyre (the latter is different in that it can be fitted without sealant; the true tubeless is often referred to as UST, although that is just one particular implementation of true tubeless — the first one ever, hence the name’s become generic). The tyre itself is not very puncture resistant, but the sealant will fix that. There are three important points here.
Firstly, most sealants don’t work well at road pressures. By many accounts, and my experience as a cycling club leader & camp organiser, one of the best sealants is Orange Seal (Regular, Endurance, Sub-Zero — all work well). Often recommended also are Stan’s Race (specifically Race, not regular) and Silca.
In my experience Stance works not as good as Orange Seal. I have not used Silca — but they say it is so strong that it clogs valves, which is critical for everyday use. Also to consider: how easy a sealant is to clean off, whether it smells funny and if it is compatible with CO2 cartridges. Again, Orange Seal ticks all the boxes. I always recommend it, and people how follow my advice have always been happy.
Secondly, the sealant works the better the thicker the tyre. For example, the fastest* Vittoria Corsa Speed G+ 2.0 (TLR) is only 1.8 mm thick, while the second** fastest Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL is already 2.8 mm thick. It will seal much better.
* — the ranks have changed since this article was first published. The new king is Veloflex Record TLR. Being 1.1 mm thick, extremely weak to punctures, and far from hard-wearing — this is not the most practical choice, but pretty much the ultimate one for pure speed.
** — I left out the Schwalbe Pro One TT TLE Addix because it doesn’t have much grip — a factor not covered in this article, but no less important. Added later: I keep this outdated comment just to leave a reminder that rolling resistance is not everything, and grip should also be taken into account when choosing tyres.
Thirdly, the sealant manufacturers say it needs to be changed periodically. The official recommendation for Orange Seal Regular, for example, is every 30–45 days, which sounds sad when you imagine “changing” the sealant.
But in reality, it is sufficient to just check the sealant level from time to time (similar to checking oil in a car engine — unscrew the valve core, insert something long and thin, like a ballpen stem, take a look). If it doesn’t come out marked with sealant to a good level, pour some more through the valve. Throughout the lifespan of a tyre, some 20–30 grams of dry sealant will accumulate in it, which is nothing to worry about.
If you are like me and hate the idea of being too disciplined with your bike maintenance — just accept the probability that you will ride out with the sealant completely dry one day and have a puncture. For such an instance, I carry a tiny bottle of fresh sealant in my saddle bag that goes back and forth between my bikes, but a spare tube is fine, too.
The minimal amount of sealant is 20–30 g per 25 mm tyre. I advise to use generously more, as that way the sealant will cover sidewalls better, and if a puncture is not sealed immediately, you will have at least something left after the sealant is partially sprayed out. Extra 30 grams of sealant add about a watt of resistance per wheel (2 watts for both), which is insignificant, as well as the weight, really.
A separate advantage of tubeless tyres is the ability to reduce pressure. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the pressure, the less likely the tyre is to be punctured by an external sharp object, but the higher the likelihood of a “snakebite” — a double puncture of the tube against the rim when hitting a blunt object. Tubeless tyres are way less susceptible to the latter than tubes. This allows you to ride on reduced pressure, which is especially important on bad asphalt or gravel.
Considering how easy maintaining a tubeless setup in fact is, I see only two scenarios where tubes are still relevant: either if you rarely ride a particular bike and sealant is drying out between your rides (which takes weeks of keeping a bike still), or as a spare.
Either way, I keep the below tube ranking only as a legacy feature — these days a light and strong TPU tube costs some 5 bucks/euros/quid apiece (google — or rather baidu — RideNow or Cyclami), so there is hardly any reason to choose anything else. That being said, here is the outdated tube chart:
• resistance of a latex tube (weights 50–80 g) is comparable to that of sealant (a couple of watts per pair of wheels); it has average (for tubes) puncture resistance; but it leaks air so quickly that you have to pump up before every ride;
• lightweight (25 g) thermoplastic (TPU) tube is comparable to latex in its properties and does not leak air, but is not officially suitable for rim brakes (may fail due to overheating); regular (40 g) TPU tube has slightly higher rolling resistance (~4 watts for both wheels), but also higher puncture resistance; it can be used with rim brakes; it is probably the best tube option; the most popular brand is Tubolito (but they now seem way too expensive in comparison with quality Chinese TPUs — same also goes for Schwalbe, Pirelli, Vittoria and other western brands that cannot compete cost-wise);
• lightweight (40–60 g) butyl (i.e. “standard” material) tube is comparable to a regular thermoplastic tube, except it is much easier to puncture. It used to at least be way cheaper — but not anymore. A standard butyl tube weighs 110–150 g (or even more for gravel width) and gives up to 8 w of resistance, which is too much.