Vittoria has been making an MTB sized Air-Liner for a while and now its produced a dedicated gravel/cyclo-cross version that protects your tires and wheels well for mid-sized tires without costing a fortune or weighing a ton.
The gravel Air-Liner uses a slightly different trapezoidal extrusion shape to the MTB version. It’s also relatively small (24-15mm width taper, 19mm height). The signature green color is the same though and it uses non-sealant absorbing EVA (the spongey shock-absorbing layer in most training shoes). Despite an absolute bargain price, it comes in a drawstring bag complete with the zip tie you need to join it and a long stem tubeless valve. Make sure you use that valve too as the five slots in the foot mean it can still breathe air and sealant in and out. In contrast, if you leave your standard valve in the flat base of the liner will just completely seal it and while you might get air in, you might not get it out without dissembling the valve and poking a release rod down it. Don’t ask how we know that.
Otherwise, the relatively slim-tapered shape means fitting is less of a brutal and frustrating wrestling match than most inserts. Firstly you need to cut the insert to a snug length, then make a hole on each side of the junction for the zip tie and use that to drag the ends together. It still requires patience to get the tire on but as long as you keep the lower edge of the offside tire in the rim well (rather than letting it seat on the edge) and push the liner right up into the belly of the tire then there was enough slack in the system to coax everything into place. The insert didn’t cause any sealing issues either - if anything it helped - so we had no problem inflating the set up with a track pump, without Vittoria’s recommended soapy water lubrication. It’s worth noting we used a 25mm internal hooked rim with 40 and 41mm tires for testing though so a narrower rim and tire might need more patience and a deeper dive into the NSFW vocabulary but the small insert volume definitely makes things easier than with fatter noodles.
Once fitted the smaller volume translates to a comparatively low weight (less than half the equivalent Cush Core insert) with minimal effect on acceleration. As it only fills around half the height of a larger tire and doesn’t project to the edges that means more air volume in the tire for a more natural, pneumatic feel. It still damps and deadens the ride slightly but doesn’t completely constipate it like some bigger noodles. Having the extra rim protection and air volume progression means you can also safely run a lighter, more pliable tire than normal to restore some of that fluid buoyancy. It’ll even let you run the tire totally flat to get home, although Vittoria warns that the EVA will start breaking apart after an hour so don’t make a habit of it.
The downside of the smaller volume is no obvious sidewall support for your tires (unless you go really tight on sizing) or enhanced bead sealing if you want to run really low pressures. That said we were bouncing down steps and twisting through frozen rut corners with regular rim thumps at 20 psi without belching any pressure or sealant which we definitely wouldn’t have got away with without the Air Liners.
We will definitely be leaving them in our regular rough riding wheels to add some extra insurance when riding rocky terrain and they are a great option for weight-conscious riders/racers or anyone curious about trying inserts.
Tech specs: Vittoria Air-Liner Gravel tire inserts
- Price: $29.99 / £24.99
- Weight: 59g (cut to fit 700x24mm rim)