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Vittoria Air-Liner Road Review: Do Road Bikes Need Tubeless Tire Inserts? Maybe...

Tire inserts make a lot of sense for gnarly mountain bike trails and rough gravel roads. But what about smooth pavement? Inserts like Vittoria Air-Liner Road haven't experienced wide-spread adoption in road cycling. So do roadies even need them?

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Road

Punctures derailed Wout van Aert's Paris-Roubaix win, but Air-Liners gave him a fighting chance. Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Do road cyclists need to run inserts?

The short answer is: No. Of course not

But the more complicated answer is: Maybe… Sometimes. 

I've spent the last year riding the Air-Liner Road inserts, and it's been pretty uneventful. I actually started wondering if I even needed them. Then guess what happened… Yup, I flatted.

Vittoria Air-Liner Road ReviewI honestly think my inserts kept me from crashing. Afterwards, I was able to creep home on a fully deflated rear tire. Tire Inserts are not for everyone (especially since plenty of riders still run tubes), but I think they do exactly what they advertise and make sense for road riders who want to be ready for anything. 

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What Are Vittoria Air-Liner Road Tire Inserts Good For?

Off-Road inserts keep rims and tires safe during harsh impacts and damp out chatter. Road inserts, however, have a very different purpose. 

Off-road inserts (like CushCore) boast a long list of (potential) benefits:

  • Pinch flat protection
  • Rim protection
  • Better tire damping
  • Extra tire sidewall support
  • Extra bead retention (fewer burps)
  • “Run-flat” ability

Vittoria's Air-liner Road is different though. On the road, bottoming the tire out against the rim is a rare occurrence. With high pressures, sidewall support is pretty much a non-issue. And while damping out chatter would be nice, it would come at a cost (more on that in a sec). 

Instead, here are the main benefits that Vittoria’s Air-Liner Road provides:

  • “Run-flat” ability
  • Extra bead retention (fewer burps) when the tire deflates

Vittoria Air liner run flatAfter speaking with Glenn Lee, Vittoria’s Managing Director, he explained that changing the tire’s ride characteristics wasn’t the design intention. When the tire is inflated, the inserts are actually made to compress so they don’t fill the tire or even touch the tire sidewall. There’s a very important reason for that: rolling resistance

I’d suggest reading the in-depth Air-Liner test done by They found that Air-Liners didn’t affect the tire's rolling resistance at all. Off-road inserts, on the other hand, increase rolling resistance by several watts because of friction between the insert and the tire carcass. 

    Vittoria Air-Liner Road reviewThe Air-Liner essentially serves ONE main purpose. If you experience a puncture, the resulting drop in air pressure causes the insert to expand instantly and fill the tire. This allows you to continue riding on a flat and keeps the tire beads seated so your deflated tire doesn’t roll off the rim in corners. You effectively have a run-flat tire. 

    What Is It Like to Ride on the Air-Liner Road?

    Vittoria Air-Liner Road reviewI essentially don't even notice the Air-Liner Road is there. For many roadies, that’s a good thing! On the road, you want your tires to feel light, supple, and fast. The Air-Liner Road doesn’t change any of that. It’s just there as extra insurance if you puncture. 

    So how does it feel to ride on the Air-Liner when you do puncture? Well, it doesn’t feel anything like a fully inflated tire. In fact, it feels pretty much just like a flat tire. The difference is that it’s still fairly safe and rideable. You can cruise around, hit some bumps, and even rally around a few corners without destroying your tires or rims. 

    My personal puncture experience happened on a fairly fast descent (~27-28 mph). My rear tire instantly deflated after getting sliced by a piece of glass but the insert kept the rear end supported so I was able to easily and safely come to a stop. If I were on a regular tubeless (or tubed) set-up I’d probably have damaged my nice carbon rim while stopping. In a worst-case scenario, I might have lost control and crashed. 

    After examining my shredded tire (and cleaning the poo from my bibs), it was clear that a tire plug wouldn’t fix it. I also wasn’t carrying any tubes (more on that below). So I cruised home — a bit over 10 miles — on the Air-Liner. I went pretty slow, but I was impressed I was able to keep riding. 

    What Are the Downsides?

    Vittoria Air-Liner Road InstallIf you've never dealt with installing inserts before, get ready to struggle. 

    So with an Air-Liner Road insert, you get run-flat capabilities that could save your skin during a catastrophic puncture, all without sacrificing any rolling speed. So what are the downsides?

    • More weight
    • Difficult install/removal
    • Harder to install a tube (if it’s needed)

    For competitive roadies, the idea of adding extra rotating weight to their bike can be hard to swallow. Vittoria’s Air-Liner, however, only add 24 grams per wheel, which is pretty much unnoticeable. To me, the Air-Liner Road is so light that weight is essentially a non-issue

    As for installation difficulty, though — well, yeah — it’s pretty difficult. If you have no experience installing tire inserts, be ready for a very steep learning curve. If you’re used to stuffing CushCores into mountain bike tires though, I think you’ll find it to be pretty average in terms of install difficulty. 

    Vittoria Air-Liner tire chartDifficulty does vary depending on your tire and wheel combo. I ride ENVE Foundation wheels with Vittoria Corsa and ENVE tires and find the set-up to be very tight. Vittoria offers some specialized tools (check out the install video) that make it easier, but I managed to install one with a pair of levers, lots of elbow grease and patience, and a bit of swearing. Removal is even harder, but likewise, elbow grease and patience eventually get it done. It gets easier with practice too. My last install only took about ~10 minutes per wheel. 

    Of course, the installation/removal difficulty means it’ll be super annoying to deal with out on the road if I do need to remove the insert to install a tube. So… I just don’t carry tubes anymore. If I do get a puncture that tire plugs can't seal (e.g., a 2-inch long cut due to glass), it’s unlikely that I would trust a tube to get me home anyway. I usually call for rescue in those situations, but with the Air-Liner, I can still (slowly) ride home. 

    Another potential downside is that Vittoria recommends replacing the Air-Liner after a year. Fortunately, they’re not crazy expensive. The liner itself also gets shredded if you do flat and end up riding on it. I did have to replace mine after riding home on it. But to me, it was a small price to pay. 

    Who’s It For? Will I Continue Using the Air-Liner Road?

    Vittoria Air-Liner review pro world tour ridersMany Vittoria sponsored pro teams (Jumbo Visma, Alpecin, EF, DSM, Astana, and Lotto) are experimenting with Air-Liners to keep their riders in the race when they puncture. 

    In my mind, Air-Liner Road inserts make sense for three types of riders:

    • Racers
    • Adventurers
    • Nervous Nellies

    Racing is the best application in my mind. Competitive road racers tend to run very fast (i.e. puncture-prone) tires. If they do puncture, they’ll obviously lose time, but the Air-Liner will help them stay in a race until they can get support. This is why top World Tour teams like Jumbo Visma and EF Education are using Air-Liner Road, especially during the tough Spring Classics. 

    For adventurers way out in the boonies, a run-flat insert can be a nice bit of extra insurance. Though I’d want to be well-versed in how to remove the insert. 

    As for me, I’m going to continue using Vittoria’s Air-Liner Road because I fall into the third category: Nervous Nellie. I like the peace of mind they provide. After experiencing how they kept my rim from skidding across the ground during a puncture, I’m not sure I’ll feel fully confident riding without them now. Of course, this is a very rare occurrence, and I have no definitive proof that anything bad would have happened to me or my wheel without the insert. But I’ve hit the ground before due to a high-speed puncture and I’d prefer for that to never happen again.  

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    Have you used Air-Liner Road or any other road tire insert? What was your experience with them? I’d love to hear about it since road tire inserts are still so rare!