Tubolito’s new PSENS inner tube tells you how much air is in your tires
Austrian company Tubolito — the brand behind those distinctive orange inner tubes — is at it again, with a new high-tech inner tube called PSENS. It’s made of polyurethane just like the company’s other inner tubes, and carries similar claimed benefits: weight and rolling efficiency similar to latex, better air retention than standard-weight butyl, and more puncture resistance than either.
What sets the PSENS inner tube apart, however, is a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip that’s embedded inside. This NFC chip detects the pressure inside the tube, and can send the information to a nearby iOS or Android smartphone that’s running the Tubolito app. The process is very simple: you just fire up the app, tap the phone on the tire near the valve stem, and then the chip returns a pressure reading.
Tubolito doesn’t explicitly say who the PSENS is for, but seeing as most of us are carrying our smartphones with us on rides anyway, it could be handy if you like to tweak your pressures out in the field, or if you use a mini-pump that doesn’t have a gauge built into it. The NFC chip doesn’t require a battery so it’ll theoretically run for just about forever, and there’s also almost no weight penalty, either. My 29″ sample tipped the scales at just 85 g.
There is a price premium, but it’s relatively modest. Retail cost is slightly higher than Tubolito’s standard inner tubes, but those are already quite expensive as it is, so the PSENS’s US$50 / £42 / €45 price tag is pretty hard to swallow — and that’s just for one.
The process of getting a reading from the PSENS happens just as easily as Tubolito claims, and I have to admit that the novelty is kind of fun. But even if you’re able to find a good application for what the PSENS offers, the execution is decidedly lacking.
Tubolito says the claimed accuracy of the PSENS’s NFC chip is +/-3 psi, and the tests I conducted comparing to a couple of other digital gauges I have on hand showed my sample to sit at the far end of that range. Worse yet, the chip didn’t always return the exact same number. For example, in one round of testing, the chip told me most of the time that I had 19 psi in my tire, but it also occasionally told me I had 17 psi when I had made no changes in pressure.
Further complicating matters is the fact the NFC chip doesn’t provide real-time readings like what you’d get in a Bluetooth pressure sensor (like in some Silca pumps, for example). If you add or remove air when using the Tubolito PSENS, you need to repeatedly take readings to see where you’re at. It also takes a few seconds for the chip to reset itself when changing pressure. In other words, if you’re not patient you might not get a good idea of what’s actually in the tube.
I could live with some of the quirks and hassles of the PSENS tubes if it was at least more accurate, but that +/-3 psi range is just a deal-breaker in my book. Given that Tubolito is only offering the PSENS in 29″ and 27.5″ mountain bike sizes right now, that’s a huge spread when you consider that even 0.5 psi changes in pressure can lead to tangible performance changes on the trail.
I generally like Tubolito inner tubes (especially as spares since they’re so light and pack down so small), but this one seems like a pass to me.
New ultralight gravel tubes, too
On a brighter note, Tubolito has also introduced its new S-Tubo CX/Gravel All inner tube for — as the name suggests — cyclocross and gravel bike applications. Claimed weight is a paltry 35 g for a 700×30-47c version, and my sample actually comes in slightly under that at 33 g (and that’s with the valve cap). For comparison, a standard butyl tube in a similar size is more like 140 g, so all things considered, the difference is pretty substantial.
Weight savings aside, the more tangible benefit for most riders is how tiny it packs down relative to a standard butyl tube, easily occupying less than one-quarter the volume.
Retail price for the S-Tubo CX/Gravel All inner tube is US$38 / £30 / €33.
Australian pricing for both of Tubolito’s new inner tube models is to be confirmed, and both models are approved solely for use with disc brakes.
More information can be found at www.tubolito.com.