The Vittoria Air-Liner Light is a new mountain bike tyre insert primarily intended for XC riding and racing, two activities where weight is an important consideration. According to Vittoria, the liner can protect the tyre and rim while also enhancing stability and grip. There is a hefty price to pay for all the claimed benefits, but is the price justified for something that could be described simply as a strip of foam with the ends glued together to form a circle?
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In recent years, tyre inserts have become more common – especially in cycling's gravity-based disciplines such as downhill mountain biking. Currently, inserts are available for practically all types of bikes, even those used on roads.
Inserts are now available for almost all styles of bikes, and even within the road market. There are many claimed advantages for inserts but the one that appeals to most people is the protection offered and the ability to hold the tyre on the rim in the event of a puncture.
Vittoria Air-Liner Light tyre insert – Technical details
Vittoria was among the first to manufacture a tyre insert but the early models were relatively simplistic, consisting of a cylinder of foam that needed to be cut to the correct length to match different wheel sizes and then zip-tie together to secure. While it may have worked in the past, technology has advanced and modern versions are shaped to offer specific benefits and are now pre-sized for different wheels.
When compared to the standard Vittoria Air-Liner MTB, the Light version has a different shape and a lighter-density foam construction. While the conventional MTB version is available in four sizes, the largest of which is for fat bike tyres, the Air-Liner Light is only available in one size, to fit 2.1- to 2.4in tyres with suggested internal rim widths of 25mm to 30mm.
To keep the valves from becoming clogged, specific multiway tubeless valves must be used, and one is included with each liner. The liners are £50 each and are sold separately rather than as a pair.
The Air-Liner Light is advertised to weigh 55g but our liners weigh 59g each. Despite the minor weight increase, these remain among the lightest available. CushCore XC version inserts weigh 150g apiece, Nukeproof Horizon ARD inserts weigh 130g, and Rimpact XC/Gravel inserts weigh 70g. Effetto has the TYREINVADER, which has a different shape to most other alternatives and a claimed weight of 68g for the 50 version to fit 2.1- to 2.4in tyres.
Vittoria Air-Liner Light tyre insert – Installation
Riders who have previously used tyre inserts will be aware that fitting and inflating them can be challenging depending on the particular insert as well as the rim and tyre combination. Some combinations are extremely difficult and require specific tools to install.
Vittoria has created a video to help people and the process is pretty simple. With a tubeless valve installed, one side of the tyre is inserted and placed in the rim channel followed by the insert, which must be held within the rim channel. Finally, the most difficult piece to install is the section tyre bead.
Installing the Air-Liner Light was more time-consuming than a normal tyre taking around five minutes. I used two standard tyre levers but no specialist tools and, compared to many other inserts I have used and installed, it was probably the easiest liner I have installed. The most important point is to ensure the beads remain in the rim channel, giving the maximum amount of slack in the bead and finishing off with the valve end.
While it would be possible to add sealant to the carcass before mounting, it could make spilling some sealant more likely. Installing sealant using a syringe through the valve is the easier option.
Inflating was simple and, with the insert supporting the bead, I would anticipate that almost all rim/tyre combinations would be the same.
Vittoria Air-Liner Light tyre insert – Performance
If you are fitting the Air-Liner Lights to an existing bike that does not have an insert, riding immediately before and then immediately after is a great way to see the difference – and the sensation is quite noticeable, especially when using a tyre with a supple carcass.
The insert adds extra support and gives a slightly stiffer feeling. They also improve stability in corners, preventing the tyre from rolling over in faster turns, without affecting feedback from the tyre. Burping sealant may be uncommon with newer tubeless technology but the inserts should prevent it.
I didn't get any punctures on the test rides, so I simply deflated both tyres to see how much protection they provided and how well they could be ridden while flat. The density of the foam is the most noticeable difference between the Air-Liner Light and other inserts, such as CushCore, as well as the standard Vittoria MTB version. A denser foam insert will likely provide additional protection in more extreme circumstances, such as a blow-out on a very rough descent but this will come at a significant weight increase.
With the tyres completely flat, I was able to ride on Tarmac and gravel tracks and, while the handling characteristics changed, I was able to pedal up and down hills while keeping control of the bike through corners.
For racers, I have no doubt that the inserts will get you to a tech zone for a wheel swap or, for regular riders, get you home or back to the car park.
Vittoria Air-Liner Light tyre insert - Verdict
Tyre inserts are currently expensive across the board, with some companies asking for a premium. Each Vittoria Air-Liner comes with a multi-way tubeless valve with holes that allow air to flow in at 90-degrees. A single Air-Liner Light, complete with a single multi-way valve, costs £55 making a full set a £110 investment. While "investment" may sound like a weird word for a chunk of foam, they boost cornering grip and stability at a level that no other component can currently match and they won't degrade, so you can transfer them between wheels as much as you like.
While the Vittoria Air-Liner Light makes tyre installation a bit more difficult they are among the easiest and cheapest tyre inserts around.
CushCore TRAIL inserts are some of the most expensive, costing £170 for a pair (with valves) and weighing 217g each. The Nukeproof Horizon ARD is one of the cheapest, at £50 for a pair without valves and a reported weight of 130g each. The Tubolight EVO SL 29, priced at £40 and weighing 58g, is the main competition for lightweight tyre inserts. The Tubolight Gravel version was similarly fairly easy to install.
If rim protection is your primary motivator, a denser tyre insert may be a better option; however, for riders looking to keep bike weight down, such as cross-country mountain biking, the Vittoria Air-Liner Light is currently the lightest option on the market.
The combination of protection and affordability makes these an excellent choice, giving a degree of performance you wouldn't expect from just a few strips of lightweight foam.