Review: 6 of the Best Tire Inserts Ridden & Rated - Pinkbike (2022)

May 26, 2021

by Henry Quinney

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Welcome to the two-part insert test. First up, some visual comparisons and my initial assessment of how they feel. The second part will feature a data led approach with impact resistance and real-world telemetry testing. Stay tuned for part two!

Tubeless tires have won-out against their tubed counterparts in mountain biking but that doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect system. Not only is it vulnerable to the possibility of burping the air out of the tire at high load or while cornering, it also needs to be a system that keeps damage and destruction at bay while withstanding a whole variety of different forces and abrasions.

How to best keep our tires inflated? And, what’s more, is there a way that not only means we’re less likely to puncture but also includes a handful of performance benefits?

Tire inserts are one potential solution. Maybe you need them, maybe you don’t. How we spec our wheels, tires and even our inserts largely depends on where and how we ride. It’s a really interesting topic. Some people would choose a heavy tire and no insert and some would combine the two for all out protection. What I’m interested in during this comparison is the idea of running a slightly lighter tire than I normally would while hopefully reaping all the benefits the insert has to offer.

Typically, I would run a rear tire weighing around 1200g or 1250g. For this test I ran tires that were around two or three hundred grams lighter. My ultimate goal was to have a tire and insert that was roughly the same total weight as a heavier duty tire.

The benefits of this could be three fold. A more supple tire that was yet further enhanced by running lower pressures to give higher levels of grip, combined with added support from the insert in turns while also offering better rim protection.

The testing involved an initial dry run while I was in Portugal using a Trail casing Vittoria Martello 2.35” tire on some 30mm wide Silt AM 29 wheels. This period was very brief and was largely by way of making the above video. I was due to begin another test period on a new set of wheels, a set of Mavic Crossmax XL, also with 30mm width, and I didn’t want to muddy the water by adding a variable.

During this extended period on the Mavics I ran Maxxis Assegais MaxxTerra 2.5" and Exo+ front and back as a control tire. I chose it because it’s a popular aggressive and wide tire choice, and it's also lighter than I would normally opt for. During this comparison we have inserts from six leading brands.

Before beginning testing in earnest, I acquainted myself with the tires and wheels with no inserts in. They behaved admirably, however burping wasn’t uncommon, clangs and bangs were a running theme and I could often feel the tire roll and squirm in turns. For your reference, I weigh 85kg and wouldn’t say I’m overly aggressive on the bike.

Contents
An Insert System or Merely Rim Protection?
Installation
The Test Track
Table Comparison
Tannus Armour Tubeless Insert
Rimpact Pro

Panzer EVO
CushCore Pro
Vittoria Air-liner Medium

An Insert System or Merely Rim Protection?

How different could two inserts feel from one to another? I thought it would reasonably clear, but I didn’t anticipate just how pronounced the difference in feeling would be between them. In my mind, I quickly separated the inserts into two groups: a system that uses inserts to maximize tire performance and a device that helps cover some of the blind spots of a tubeless tire such as stability and rim protection.

I think it's also worth mentioning that just because something is quiet it doesn't necessarily mean that it means the rim is impervious to damage. Similarly, if something is making noise it might not be from the insert bottoming out and the rim hitting an obstacle but rather something such as the insert slapping the rim. In the second part of testing, we'll look further into maximum loads for the inserts in a more controlled manner. For now, it's a fool's errand to try and assert which impact would mean what in something that is so hard to repeat.

Because of the dozens of times that I refitted the EXO+ casing tires, I'm not that confident in committing my findings in the article regarding the regularity with which the tire burped when pushing hard in rough terrain. For a relatively light tire, this is a problem I would normally encounter and I feel uncomfortable laying anything, positive or negative, at any particular inserts feet in relation to this because I would struggle to be certain. I think they all helped to a degree, and that's not to say I didn't get the feeling that some were less prone to losing air than others, but because of the constant reinstallations being such a huge variable (by the end I could fit the inserts without using levers) I would feel uncomfortable asserting anything for sure.

Installation

In terms of installation I would suggest that the Panzer and MegaNorris separated themselves as the easiest to fit. The Rimpact, Vittoria and Tannus would make up the mid table while the CushCore would bring up the rear. It’s not that any were particularly hard, or would dissuade me from buying them, but if this is a concern then that’s how I would rank them.

During tire removal I would rank them in a similar way.

I started each test period with 21 psi in the front and 24 psi in the rear before gradually going lower.

Of the inserts, the CushCore and Rimpact require non-standard tubeless valves to work with them. Handily, they’re all provided with your purchase. All the others use regular tubeless valves. Panzer, even go so far as to provide a bottle of sealant with every purchase. The sealant, which is latex and ammonia free, is remarkably thin to make injecting through the valve even easier.

The Test Track

Each insert got multiple days mainly riding the same test track. It had a great mix of rocks, roots and turns. It also included plenty of areas where grip was essential. This meant I could really reap the benefits of running lower pressures in my pursuit of the optimum setup. My initial run on the track with no inserts, while running 21/25psi, left me wincing in sympathy for my rims as the rock strikes made them call out with concerning regularity. It certainly had the terrain to use the full travel of the tire and turns that you could hit hard enough that they’d highlight any deformation and twisting.



Tannus Armour Tubeless Insert

The Tannus uses an interesting two-chamber design. The wings snap onto the bead of the rim and the holes let the air migrate between the two areas.


The Tannus is a tubeless insert that isn’t to be confused with the tubed-protection system that the company also makes. It uses a curious winged, two chamber design and was very different looking to the other inserts on test. The insert, on impact, felt really good. The inserts provided a very linear feel that was consistent, and didn’t just turn on as you got nearer to the end of the tire's stroke.

Tannus Tubeless Armour
Weight: 164g
Price per set: $100
Special Valves? No
Wheel sizes: 27.5 & 29"
Website: tannus.co.uk

The insert feels very smooth in that it feels like a cushioning as opposed to a large rubber bump stop. When I did get down the rim it felt like being parachuted back down to earth. You came down with a bump more than a thud. This isn’t to say you couldn’t damage your rim this way, but rather rimming out wasn’t an unpleasant sensation that would have you pulling over to check your rim.

The Tannus wasn’t the most reassuringly supportive in turns. It was adequate but not as strong as some of the others. I could also get some decent noise from the rim if I ran particularly low pressures. I ended up running a front/rear setup of 20/23psi.

It feels like it’s not to stop you from rimming out, but rather it makes that impact far more pleasant and takes the edge off. It’s very light. I’m not sure about the two chamber system, but both sides of the insert were snapped onto the side of the bead, which would suggest that it does as it promises and would back up the sensations when riding that the air is doing the work, as opposed to riding on the material itself.

I would put the Tannus in the category of added rim protection as opposed to a system. It’s light, it offers a tangible gain over no inserts whatsoever and I consider it to be something to be run with slightly lower-than-normal pressures for added protection, rather than something that can enable you to run extreme lows. The wings of the insert really did snap on to the rim and I think their claim of utilising two air chambers in the tire is very interesting. It could potentially lead to some of the aforementioned riding characteristics but it’s hard to say just how much difference it really makes.

Pros

+ Very comfortable
+ Added support in turns
+ It feels very smooth

Cons

- Not the most supportive
- Not to be used with ultra-low pressures
- Could be noisy



Rimpact Pro

The Rimpact Pro uses two densities of foam. There is the larger, softer arear that sits against the rim and the harder compound strip on top.


The Rimpact Pro is a malleable, dual density, wedge shaped insert that only comes in pairs. You can get sets that mix the Pro with the Original, which only uses one density, or sets that include a 29" as well as a 27.5" insert. Because the insert sits on the well of the rim, a trait shared with the CushCore, special insert valves are needed and are included in the box.

Rimpact Pro
Weight: 150g
Price per set: $99
Special Valves? Provided
Wheel sizes: 27.5 & 29"
Website: rimpactmtb.com

From the first run on the Rimpact and its qualities were very apparent. It's far more of a platform and significantly firmer than some of the other inserts on test. After a few runs, I let down the pressure to 18/21psi. It was so much firmer that it had a noticeable effect on how I weighted the bike. Initially, I didn’t have as much spring in the tire so my weight fore/aft was off when riding drops. This is something you get used to very quickly, but the way you preload the tire seems to be a little different.

The Rimpact’s performance could be summed up in one sentence - the harder you push it the more it gives you. What I would term the corn flour effect where the harder you hit it the more it firms up is very apparent.

It feels like far more of a system. It’s not something to be used with your normal pressures but rather in conjunction with the lower pressures enabled by running the insert. The grip was fantastic. The firmer feeling is not dissimilar to running a heavier compression tune. It thudded through everything it came across and it felt amazing. It rewards you the more you push and I consider it to be a performance product aimed at people who don’t merely want to protect their rims from occasional impacts, but rather people who need inserts to enable them to run lower pressures without them immediately breaking wheels.

I found that the Rimpact could be fatiguing at times. It doesn't feel that comfortable, in that you often feel like you ride on the support of the material as opposed to solely on the tire supported by a chamber of air. It offers huge amounts of grip, but to say that there isn’t a trade off in terms of comfort wouldn’t be true. I also tend to run a very firm spring rate, which could have exacerbated this issue to some extent. I would, however, be very curious to try the Rimpact with a slightly lighter compression tune on my fork.

I eventually went down as low as 17/19psi on a particularly wet day. The grip of the Rimpact is genuinely quite fantastic. Getting onto high lines over off camber roots is very impressive and there is a tangible gain to be had. Going down to such low pressures felt very bizarre and I was certainly a little skeptical. However, the Rimpact supports the tire in such a way that it delivers enormous grip and a great platform in turns. Once you hit something, instead of your wheel deflecting off, it tends to "stay hit". I would liken this to the use of a shot-hammer.

When riding turns without inserts, should you run lower pressures, the tire can almost be left behind as it finds grip, and the rim moves laterally across it. The Rimpact’s support means that although you can get the grip of the low pressure, it’s supportive enough that it can really carve turns and stops the rim running amuck under lateral load.

Through compressions, it took some massive clangs. When striking the wheel against rocks, the noise that came out definitely let itself be known. Although the Rimpact offered a huge amount of support it wasn’t as quiet as I would have liked. It was hard to say if this was the insert slapping against the rim or perhaps the wheel itself transmitting the sound. Either way, I did notice it.

It’s definitely more fatiguing than other inserts but that could also be something to do with the grip - it wills you to hit things harder. To get the most out of the Rimpact you have to crack on to go into the stroke of the insert. And if you do so you will be duly rewarded. If the Tannus is a parachute then this is more like a bungy jump - the freefall is minimal and, much like the chord of elastic taking up the tension, the insert duly picks up the load from a relatively early stage.

Pros

+ A genuine performance product
+ The most supportive on test
+ Offered a transformative change
+ Enables you to run ultra-low pressures

Cons

- Not everyone wants a transformative change
- Could be slightly noisy
- Prioritises performance over comfort



Huck Norris MegaNorris Toast & Sandwich

The MegaNorris is a very different design from the others. It floats inside the tire as opposed to being pressed against the rim. Like the Rimpact, it also uses different densities of foam.


The Huck Norris brand's new insert, the MegaNorris, improves on the original design and now comes in several different flavours. In order of weight there is the Toast, the Sandwich and the Hamburger. They recommend mixing and matching depending upon the application. For light enduro riding, which sounds about right for my riding, the Toast in the front and the Sandwich in the rear is a suggested option. The MegaNorris comes in a 29" length and you simply cut it to size and attach the ends together. There are even markings to make it a very simple task indeed.

MegaNorris Toast / Sandwich
Weight: 127g / 210g
Price per set: $121
Special Valves? No
Wheel sizes: Any
Website: hucknorris.com

The MegaNorris excels in some areas and is a real outlier compared to the others. Just to look at it you can see it goes down a very different route of design. It doesn’t sit on the rim but rather floats within the tire.

The strongest area of the MegaNorris is definitely in the turns. They not only give a reassuring, stable feeling but also feel as if they help you to get the edge knobs of the tire driving into the ground. If you’re not convinced by inserts, either due to the extra process in the installation or because you don’t ride suitably rough trails, then the MegaNorris could provide a very good option.

The way it dealt with compressions left a little to be desired. It feels more like a last defense rather than a full system. I don’t think the MegaNorris is something to be run with sub-20psi or for somebody who is happy to rely on the insert to do the heavy lifting duties for the tire. The MegaNorris feels like you ride it as a normal tire, with normal pressure and it will provide added protection and stability.

Over the rocks it gave out quite a lot of noise and I’m not particularly enamoured by the sensation it provides. It almost felt as if the insert was less of a cushion and more of an interruption. If the Tannus was a parachute to gently take you to the ground, and the Rimpact gradually adds an increasing amount of support, then the MegaNorris is landing in a well placed blackberry bush with a thud.

I think the MegaNorris does have its place and it does offer excellent stability in turns. This is the insert for somebody that rides hard, corners harder and isn’t particularly worried about feel or how it copes with rough choppy terrain. There are lots of people who ride high-load berms and want something very secure that will stop their tire squirming and rolling over, this could well be that option.

The MegaNorris is a very real alternative to the prevailing trends in insert design and having that alternative can only be a good thing for the end user. All that said, this isn’t the kind of riding I particularly enjoy. So, my own preferences might have coloured my overall view of it somewhat. I really tried to find a varied track for these inserts to show their capabilities over a whole selection of different terrain but it was definitely more a natural and battered old-school downhill run than it was groomed and high load turns. If I enjoyed that second type of riding more then perhaps it would increase the likelihood that I would run it on my own bike, but in my bike on that track on that hill in South Wales it wasn’t the pick of the bunch.

Pros

+ Available in different compounds and weights to suit your needs
+ Excelled in turns
+ Easy to install

Cons

- Venturing below 20psi could be problematic
- Doesn't feel particularly smooth through the stroke



Panzer EVO

The wedge-shaped insert means that the widest part of the insert actually sits quite high up within the tire. It also means that special valves aren't needed.


The Panzer Evo is by far the lightest on test and a remarkable claimed 90g. It doesn’t have a distinct feel like the other inserts. Truthfully, it feels the most like having no insert in there whatsoever. This is no bad thing - there are plenty of people who like the feel of their tires as they are, thank you very much. It didn’t particularly have a positive or negative effect in terms of grip, which could be seen as a good or bad thing.

Panzer Evo
Weight: 106g
Price per set: $121
Special Valves? No
Wheel sizes: 27.5 & 29"
Website: ridepanzer.com

The support in the turns was adequate. The place that the Panzer really shines though is how quiet the bike becomes. Its profile is almost T-shaped and it really overlaps the edge of the rims. I can’t say how this would cope under huge amounts of load, and I’m very excited to see how it compares in the test jig. Whatever happens, I can say that this is one area where I was thoroughly impressed.

I know this isn’t a performance thing, but how much noise comes out of my wheels and rims as I smash into rocks does have an effect with how I ride and the caution with which I approach things. The Panzer was muted and a pleasure to ride in that regard.

Some of the other inserts really felt as if they “turned on” as you went through the tire’s stroke. The Panzer is different in this regard. It feels neutral and there’s no place where it really feels like it switches on or times where it makes you realise “that was all insert”. There are other inserts that dominate the feel of the tire but that isn’t the case with the Panzer.

The Panzer feels like the most organic, if you will, and least like an insert. The Panzer was so quiet I almost worried it gave me a false sense of security and under the guise of silence I would hit something too hard, making a cheque my rim couldn’t cash. I got down to 18/20psi on this remarkably light insert and still had a good time. That said, I was mainly riding in wet conditions so maybe I wasn’t pushing it as hard as I truly would have liked.

The “chopping board feel”, as you sandwich the tire between insert and rim, is distinctly lacking in this insert, which is actually quite a nice thing. It does without a lot of the traits that might put you off inserts and subtly goes about its business to still give you the things you may well seek - extra rim protection, a quieter bike, tire stability and the ability to run lower pressures. However I do have doubts how this would cope if you rode somewhere truly brutal.

This is a great insert for somebody who is skeptical about inserts. The weight trade-off is minimal, the installation easy and pound for pound I think this is a very good option.

Pros

+ Very light
+ Comes with sealant included
+ Suprisingly quiet for something so light

Cons

- Not as supportive under load as some
- Probably best not to venture too low with pressures



CushCore Pro

The CushCore is noticeably lower profile than some of the others on the test. It is, however, one of the wider options.


CushCore were one of the first brands to really lay claim to the insert market. They now offer a range of different options for different applications, including XC, gravel and plus-sized bikes. The closed-cell insert has seen the biggest uptake in the professional field on the World Cup and EWS scene and their renowned green valves are a familiar sight of racer's bikes, sponsored or not.

CushCore Pro
Weight: 269g
Price per set: $149
Special Valves? Provided
Wheel sizes: 27.5 & 29"
Website: CushCore.com

Installing the CushCore was arguably one of the harder to do on test. It snaps onto the bead and is somewhat under tension around the rim. This is probably good in some ways as I imagine it means that even if it does stretch a little it will still be secure and not slapping around within the tire.

Over the period of testing I eventually got down to around 17/19psi in the wet. Despite these low pressures, the CushCore offered plenty of support, is great in the corners and makes a strong case for being the most versatile insert on test. It’s reassuringly supportive in the turns and, along with the Panzer and Vittoria, is the joint quietest. This is an overall insert package and works best when treated as such. The grip it enabled was fantastic with the pocket of low pressure to do the grippin’ and the insert to cope with the hittin’.

It has a very different feel to the Rimpact, for instance. The CushCore feelings like something you use on occasion, and you can feel the bike using it, whereas the Rimpact feels like something you use passively and all the time. The stack height of the CushCore is 7mm lower and I wonder if that plays a role. The Rimpact feels like it provides added support earlier in the travel.

Both grip admirably but I personally preferred the feel of the Rimpact. That said, the CushCore was far more comfortable. For somebody who doesn't want the feel of their tire drastically changed but does want all the support they can get their hands on, it's got to be the CushCore.

During those low pressure runs, even when compressing the insert against rock and rim, it was muted and it dulled any impact to a reassuring thud. In some ways, this is what you’d hope for as, at 260g, this is the heaviest insert on test. That doesn’t really bother me but it may put off some. I feel that the conversation around inserts is changing and people are realising that something can weigh more and still be a big performance upgrade. I’m a big believer in “good bikes ride light” and inserts, especially the CushCore, fall into that category, for me anyway.

Pros

+ Incredibly versatile, if you ignore the weight
+ Comfortable with excellent support
+ Quiet

Cons

- The heaviest on test
- Not the easiest to install



Vittoria Air-liner Medium

The Vittoria Air-liner has a channel above and below the insert and holes to let the air pass through and because of this it doesn't require any special tubeless valves.


The Vittoria comes as one long length which you then cut to size. This isn’t dissimilar from the MegaNorris. However, there are a few notable differences. Firstly, the Meganorris comes cut to suit a 29” wheel, but can then be trimmed further with the aid of markings. Conversely, with the Vittoria, you have to cut off an inch or two. This doesn’t make much sense to me, personally. Sorry if there are any 36er riders who Vittoria are catering to with this, but for a mountain bike insert it felt a bit pointless.

Vittoria Air-liner Medium
Weight: 176g
Price per set: $100
Special Valves? No
Wheel sizes: Any
Website: vittoria.com

Secondly, and regarding the length again, my inserts stretched. When fitting them they were tight. But whether it was during installation and removal or, through general use, the insert became somewhat baggy. This was a contributor to unwanted noise. It was strange, it almost sounded metallic as it slapped about and echoed through the rim.

The performance of the insert was very good. It provided a firm feeling not totally dissimilar to the CushCore - supportive yet not as apparent as the Rimpact. Going through rocks and chunder it was very capable at keeping the bike quiet. It is definitely something that can handle the lower pressures, too. I was happily riding it in the wet at 17/19psi. In turns, again the Vittoria provides ample support but it doesn't feel quite so prominent as the Rimpact or CushCore when really leaning the bike.

Vittoria does make a larger and a smaller version of this insert to suit your needs. I think the Medium was great for my style of riding but if you wanted something a little more volumous or slender then there are options. This does give the option of mixing and matching to suit your needs. The larger size is almost a run-flat system and the smaller size is something I've used previously to give me one last layer of rim protection.

For the test track, and my preference of the aforementioned downhill, smash and grab style runs, the Vittoria performed well. For those that really wish to put a large amount of load through their bikes in turns, I think there are better options. It's a good insert and it does what is asked of it but didn't have me getting to the bottom of a run, eyes glazed with admiration. It handles everything admirably but is the Valtteri Bottas of this test, overshadowed and ever so slightly outperformed.

If the CushCore and Rimpact didn't exist, this would be a very strong candidate for the best on test. Sadly, for the Vittoria however, they do.

Pros

+ Adequetly Supportive
+ Quiet
+ Available in different sizes and you can cut to length

Cons

- Seemed to stretch
- A good insert, just outshined by better ones


Pinkbike's Take

Review: 6 of the Best Tire Inserts Ridden & Rated - Pinkbike (20)I've used inserts before but this test made a convert of me. They'll now be on my bike, front and back, for the foreseeable future. I've come to the conclusion that you may well run inserts in the rear for added reliability but, in my opinion, running them in the front is where you really can reap the rewards in terms of all out performance. All of these inserts, to varying extents helped with performance but some more than others. This first part of the testing was about how they feel so that's what I'm going to try and stick to.

Every single one of these inserts improved the performance of my tires. If I were to separate them, I would say the Vittoria, Rimpact and CushCore offer the most support. The other three, while definitely offering a lot, are better used in conjunction with slightly higher pressures. If it’s all out support you’re after then I would say the Rimpact offers an equal amount, if not even more, than the CushCore but both are leading in this regard. The Vittoria does offer a similar feel to these two, but that stability is not so pronounced in turns.

The three quietest inserts on test were the Vittoria, the Panzer and the CushCore.

The Tannus, while not besting the others in any one area does make for a particularly comfortable setup and I really enjoyed riding it. The Panzer, which is far lighter than the others, offers something of a halfway house for those not entirely convinced on inserts. Not only does it drastically reduce the noise from rock strikes but if we were to measure a performance per gram then that could perhaps come out on top. For something so light, the quietness it offers is remarkable.

You can buy most of these inserts individually as opposed to sets. There is of course no reason you’d have to run the same brand front and back, which could open up a whole new vista of performance for your tires. Keep an eye out for part two of this test, where we'll head in to the laboratory to smash things and get some actual numbers to go along with what I was feeling on thetrail.

HenryQuinney

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