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Road Gear

Review: Riding a flat for five miles with a Vittoria Air-Liner

New foam liner is a decent Plan C (with Plan A being "don't flat" and Plan B being sealant) for people who hate fixing flats.

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No one enjoys dealing with a flat tire, but some riders really don’t like putting in a tube by the side of the road. For those riders, Vittoria has a new foam liner called the Air-Liner Road designed to let you ride home — carefully — on a tubeless tire that has lost air.

After installing the system and riding a 25mm Vittoria Corsa Control tire with sealant for a few days, I let all the air out of the rear tire and rode a few laps around my neighborhood at various speeds to see how it felt.

In short, the foam liner did a decent job of protecting the rim and allowing me to ride at 15-20mph in a straight line without it feeling dangerous. To corner, I would slow down to 10mph or so, as the tire would squirm noticeably.

Riding a flat tire with the Air-Road Liner is doable without destroying your rim. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s manageable. Photo: Caleb Delaney

To be clear, riding a flat tire with a foam liner absolutely does not feel like riding an inflated tire. It feels like riding a 25mm tire with maybe 20psi in it. You need to ride gingerly, avoid holes, and brake and steer very cautiously. Think riding on ice, with a dozen eggs in your backpack. You can do it, but you need to be careful and pay close attention to everything on the road.

The weight is negligible, as the liner weighs 24g for the size that fits in a 25mm tubeless tire.

Installation — not easy, but easier than expected

Vittoria is selling a Tubeless Tool Kit that consists of a set of plastic pliers, clips to act as additional hands, and sealant. With that as context, and knowing that many tubeless tire/rim combinations can be a real struggle, I expected that installing a tubeless setup with a big circle of foam inside would be difficult.

However, I was able to get a Corsa tubeless tire on a Zipp 303 tubeless rim with my hands, without needing tools. As a friendly reminder, it is essential when mounting tubeless tires that you get the tire bead down into the rim’s inner channel before trying to mount it. And having a liner inside the tire makes getting the second side into the channel a bit trying. But again, this was doable without tools.

The Air-Road Liner comes with special valves that have holes on the side in addition to the center hole. This is so you can release air from the system without the liner plugging that main hole.

The benefit — a good ‘plan C’

Vittoria isn’t claiming that its tire liner acts like an inflated tire. The idea is insurance, in the case that you get a flat that your sealant can’t fix, and you’re unsure or unable to install a tube. I wouldn’t want to ride very far with a liner, and I wouldn’t feel safe riding fast, especially with corners. But the system is indeed workable, in that if you ride carefully you won’t destroy your rim, and you can keep riding.

The Air-Road Liner comes in three sizes for 25mm, 28mm, and 30mm tires. I tested the small size in a 25mm tire. Photo: Ben Delaney

The drawback — there is no going back

If you put the liner in, you are committing to using it until you can get home or to a shop if you flat. Because while installation without tools is doable, getting the tire off with the liner inside is impossible without the pliers. At least that was my experience.

Typically with tubeless tires, the levels of defense are:

  • A) you have good luck and don’t flat
  • B) the sealant plugs any punctures; perhaps you top off the air pressure on the road
  • C) a major tear or cut bursts your bubble, sending sealant everywhere, and necessitating the installation of a tube and perhaps a boot into a messy, sealant-covered tire

While C is rare, it certainly happens. And once you’ve dealt with the mess — provided that you removed the offending shrapnel and/or booted the tear — you can continue on with a normal ride.

With the Air-Liner, the normal C is not an option. You’re not getting that tire off. So you ride the foam liner home, or to a shop, as it is designed. But it’s not going to be a normal ride.

The Air-Liner Road offers enough cushion to protect your rim if you ride carefully, but you are still essentially riding a flat tire. Photo: Caleb Delaney

Vittoria Air-Liner bottom line

Having a foam liner does make riding a flat doable. If you’re careful, you can limp home without damaging your rim. You just have to completely recalibrate your riding, as you are nursing a semi-functional system. And you have to understand that once you put it in, you are probably not going to be able to take it out by the side of the road. You’re committed to riding it flat.

For me, I would prefer to just use a standard tubeless system, knowing that sealant will handle most punctures, most of the time, and that when a major cut or tear takes the air out, I can put a tube in. But for riders who aren’t comfortable changing a flat, the Air-Liner is absolutely a workable option, so long as you ride cautiously and with patience — and hopefully for not a very long distance!