This is a really,really long-term review! Back in November 2019, the guys at Ratbite were kind enough to give me a set of their foam tubeless inserts to try out. I’ve been keen to try something like this on my winter bike, which is a steel hardtail. I wanted to find out if being able to run lower tyre pressures would make the ride a bit more comfortable and maybe improve grip. I love my hardtail but riding it regularly takes it out of my back a bit, as I'm getting on a bit at the age of 51!
This won't be an expert review - I'm not an expert. If you want an expert review, consult an expert. This is my ‘ordinary rider’ review, and what the benefits are for an ordinary rider.
Foam inserts for mountain bike wheels have been around for a while and have received a wide range of reviews. Inserts are seen as a fairly low-cost option for improving grip, reducing damage to wheels and reducing the chances of punctures due to crimping the tyre on the edge of a rock or other unforgiving edge.
Ratbite inserts are made of a semi-malleable foam which have a distinctive, v-shaped profile and sit inside the rim of the wheel, effectively adding a compression buffer between the tyre and the wheel, absorbing impacts and spreading any forces which would otherwise be acting on your wheel rim. The addition of an insert also enables you to run lower pressures, thereby supposedly improving the grip of your tyre.
I fitted the inserts to my Production Privée Shan 27 steel hardtail, which runs a Specialized Butcher Grid Gripton 2 Bliss Ready 27.5 x 2.6 tyre on the front and a Specialized Purgatory Gripton 2 Bliss Ready 27.5 x 2.3 tyre on the rear. These are tyres with somewhat flexy side walls, unlike say, a Maxxis High Roller. Neither of the tyres were new, but they were paired with a fairly new set of Hunt Trail Wide wheels.
Fitting the inserts to the rim was easy, as they're nicely shaped to sit inside the rim due to the v-shape profile. Getting the tyres on is a bit more of a challenge though, as you don't have the ability to 'roll' the tyre on due it the insert being in place. My advice would be to get the tyre on before you put any sealant in, then once the tyre is on, take the valve out and add the sealant through the hole. It'll result in much more sealant staying in your tyre and not ending up on the floor.
Once on, the tyres sat as they should on the rim and the inserts didn't to change the profile of the tyre at all.
Out on the trail
On the Shan, I usually ride with 22psi in my front tyre and 28psi in the rear. I find this gives decent grip and isn't too harsh on my back unless I'm on a ride of over about two hours.
I took the bike down a local trail on the South Downs which is fairly steep, chalky and has ruts and small undulations.
First run down, I went for 10psi in the front and 16psi on the rear, maintaining that 6psi difference. I wasn't impressed. The bike felt terrible, as if it were 'rolling' on its tyres as I made my way down the trail. I found it difficult to maintain speed due to the bike squirming away underneath me, threatening to slide away or pull the tyres off the rims.
For run two, I upped the pressures to 14psi in the front and 20psi in the rear. That run was definitely better, the front was OK, but the back end still felt like it lacked control and when I hit a high speed corner at the bottom of the trail I felt that horrible rolling sensation again.
Run three nailed it. I got the front tyre up to 18psi and the rear to 24psi. It felt like I'd hit the sweet spot and the bike rode down the trail like a dream. There was definitely still less chatter from the rear over bumps and yet the grip was still there.
That day I was out on the bike for around three and a half hours with no back problems at all. The inserts definitely made for a more comfortable ride.
Long term use
Although I don't ride the hardtail that much in the summer months, I've clocked up a fair amount of miles on the bike since last November. The rides have ranged from graded trails at 'easier' destinations such as Bedgebury Forest, to hitting jumps and roots at the more gnarly Surrey Hills.
The Ratbite inserts have held together well and are still doing their job. Despite being an average rider who breaks bones and bikes, there isn't a single ding on the rims and I can honestly say that the hardtail is a much more comfortable ride.
Did the inserts improve grip? Difficult to tell, as I'm not a rider who finds the limits of grip that often. However, once I had the tyre pressures dialled the grip was certainly as consistent as running a regular wheel and tyre setup - but with the added advantage of being able to run lower tyre pressures and enjoy some extra comfort.
Spending £40 on something you can't see is always going to be challenging, but it's kinda cool knowing that even if you case something or hit an edge with your wheel, it's pretty much going to get through it undamaged. I guess with some wheels costing upwards of £1000 the Ratbite inserts represent a very cost effective insurance policy.
For me though, the biggest benefit was definitely the improvement in the quality of the ride, and the reduced harshness, especially when it came to my back. If anyone out there loves riding their hardtail but find it takes it out of their back, then I'd recommend giving the Ratbite inserts a go.
The only drawback is the faff of getting the tyre on. Maybe a different tyre would be easier? Maybe the wide profile of the Hunt wheels made it more difficult? All I know is that by the time I'd got both tyres on to the wheels I could hardly hold a celebratory beer as my hands were numb from gripping and rolling tyres!
- Price - £19.99 each or £31.99 per pair inc. free UK mainland shipping
- For more information, visit: www.ratbite.co.uk
Thanks for reading,
Founder Broken Riders