Ben has been putting the very best of the industry’s tyre inserts through the testing mill to see which one comes out on top.
2 years ago, tyre inserts were not really a thing. Now you can barely open your Instagram without a new rim-saving, trail-taming insert popping up. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, if the claims were true, and which one of the tyre inserts were the best.
For the last 10 months I have been swapping 3 different sets of premium priced tyre inserts between different test bikes, wheels and tyres, riding them in all imaginable conditions. The products tested were Cushcore, Flat Tire Defender, and Ride Panzer.
Here is how they stacked up after months of abuse…
Price for a pair:
- Cushcore £159.99 including valves
- Flat Tire Defender £134.99 including valves
- Ride Panzer £110 no valves
Weight for single 27.5” insert:
- Cushcore 250g
- Flat Tire Defender – Rear – 260g
- Ride Panzer 100g
All three of these products are designed to work with your normal tubeless setup and you should not need any special tools to fit any of them. Each has their own fitting technique videos online and you would do well to watch them and follow them closely to make the process as painless as possible.
Without doubt, Cushcore is the hardest of the bunch to fit. It takes a bit more time, muscle and finesse to get both beads onto the rim, although with practice it does get easier. I also found that I was unable to fit it at all when using the new Goodyear Newton tyres with Race Face Next carbon wheels as the tyre bead was just too tight.
Ride Panzer and Flat Tire Defender were about the same and only slightly harder to install than a normal tubeless tyre if you follow the instructions.
One thing that all three do is make tubeless inflation easy once the tyre is actually on the rim. The inserts all push the tyre walls out, helping it to hold air for those first few frantic strokes of the track pump.
Generally when I seat a new tyre I pump it up to about 30 psi, leave it for a bit and then let some air out the valve to my required pressure. Both Cush Core and Flat Tire Defender come with special valves that allow the air to flow despite the insert. For both of these, I had no problems and the valves never clogged.
Ride Panzer does not come with valves and claims that you don’t need special valves due to the profile of the insert not blocking the air hole on the inside of the valve. In my experience this was not the case though, and a couple of times I was unable to let the pressure out of the tyre as the valve was blocked by the insert.
This is a pain in the ass and meant I had to borrow the valves from the other products or fiddle around trying to move the insert. Ride Panzer needs to provide a set of valves to prevent this from happening.
Whilst all the products (and reviews) talk about fitting, none talk about removing the tyre to swap it out with an insert fitted and this is one area where I encountered massive difficulties.
Cushcore does such a good job of holding the bead on the rim that is makes it really really hard to get the tyre off. I found it super tough to get the bead off the rim and into the well to give me enough slack to get a tyre lever in. On one occasion I had to grip the tyre in a vice and twist the whole wheel to break the seal and unseat the tyre. This would be a nightmare in a muddy field at a race if you needed to do a quick tyre swap.
The Flat Tire Defender made it slightly harder to unseat the tyre and the Ride Panzer did not affect it in my experience as you can dig the tyre lever under the insert to push the bead off the rim.
Puncture and wheel protection.
The main role of tyre inserts is puncture prevention. The idea is that they provide a barrier between pointy rocks and roots and your precious rims, preventing the tyre from snakebite punctures and preventing the rim from being dented and losing its seal.
All three of these products offer a level of puncture and wheel protection, but it does vary. It is very hard to measure exactly how much protection you get, but here are my experiences.
The only wheel to fail was a rear Specialized Roval Traverse that was fitted with a Flat Tire Defender. To be fair to the insert, it was a light wheel and I just don’t think it was up to the job. I do feel the other inserts would have given it more protection and it would have lasted a few runs longer though.
During the test I didn’t get a single pinch flat on any tyre using any of these inserts which is a great result.
The profiles of the Ride Panzer and Cushcore both sit wide, overhanging the rim, providing a physical barrier between the rim and the trail. The Ride Panzer has a little more depth to it, whilst the Cushcore is a more dense material. In the end I feel like they both provide pretty similar levels of protection for the rim and tyre and certainly more that the Flat Tyre Defender.
The Elite model of Flat Tire Defender as tested here is actually front/rear specific, with the front insert being smaller and lighter and the rear insert being fatter and providing more protection. The front insert sits between the edges of a 30mm wide modern rim and has no overhang, whilst the rear insert only bulges slightly over the edges.
Neither insert is very deep and they simply don’t give your rim the same amount of protection that the Cushcore or Ride Panzer do, although they still offer more than no insert at all.
Cushcore make the boldest claims about ride feel, stating that it is an “inner tyre suspension system” and that its unique compound gives it ride-improving damping properties. Whether you call it suspension or not, I would broadly agree with their statement. Of the 3 on test here, Cushcore makes the most noticeable difference to your ride. If you keep the same tyre pressure as before fitting you will experience some reduction in vibration as the Cushcore seems to damp things down.
That is only part of the story though as the Cushcore holds your tyre on the rim with such vigour that you can run very low pressures, greatly improving grip, smoothing the trail and making you feel like an off camber hero without every worrying about burping or rolling your tyre. If outright grip is what you are after then the other inserts don’t come close to Cushcore.
The Flat Tire Defender made the smallest difference to my riding, its low profile only taking a little bit of buzz out of hard packed trails. You can drop a psi or two from your tyres but it just doesn’t hold the tyres enough to go too low without losing support and risking burping. The front specific insert seems too small to make a difference and I actually ended up using the rear version in the front and found I had a bit more grip.
The Ride Panzer sits in the middle ground. It offers some sidewall support to let you use lower pressure, but you can’t go as low as Cushcore. The large profile of the insert does damp the trail and helps to reduce rider fatigue over rougher sections.
What do we think?
For protection and ride quality Cushcore is the clear winner. It is heavy and expensive but if you want to protect expensive rims or simply value grip and confidence over weight then it is the clear choice. For aggressive or DH riders the benefits are clear.
For lighter riders or XC/trail riding they are probably overkill and a heavier casing tyre will probably do the job of keeping you rolling with less weight penalty. If you are the sort of rider who regularly swaps out tyres for different conditions or at races then the faff they add is well worth considering.
Second place goes to Ride Panzer, offering similar levels of protection to Cushcore but with more limited improvements to grip and support. It is the lightest on test which is important to many riders and you can feel this on the trails when compared to the other two. It is still very expensive and you will need to source your own valves. Ease of fitting makes it a good choice for people who swap a lot of tyres.
Last place goes to Flat Tire Defender. I just can’t feel enough of a difference on my bike to make the price and weight worth while. They only offer the slightest improvement in ride feel over a normal tubeless setup and I still managed to trash a wheel. In fact I would pick the more budget friendly Huck Norris that only weighs about 80g over the Flat Tire Defender and still have enough change for an uplift pass.