Tyre brand Vittoria recently released a gravel-specific rim, puncture and run flat protection in the form of the new foam insert named the Air-Liner. We sent a set to James Malone, our in-house mountain-biker turned graveller, to see what just how much protection he thought they offer.
Vittoria Air-Liner on test
The Vittoria Air-Liner inserts were installed in November 2020, paired with the 38mm Vittoria Terreno Wet tyres on a set of 700c stock rims aboard my Marin Headlands 1 during all manner of gravel rides around the south west of England and West Wales through the winter and spring (all in accordance with lockdown restrictions).
For me, making gear last or buying components that are bombproof is essential, so the idea of a foam insert to protect again dings or even more serious damage to wheel rims is a no brainer. They have fast become a staple in the MTB world, and have finally made into the realms of gravel and cyclocross by means of the Air-Liner from Vittoria.
The insert comes in the form of a rim profile fitting foam made of EVA, which is commonly found in everything from boxing gloves to play area floor tiles and gym shoes, so it’s relatively safe to assume it’s designed to take a knock or ten. The EVA construction is also non-absorbent, so your tubeless sealant will stay in the areas you want it, rather than being soaked up like a sponge. During the seven months these inserts have been on test, punctures haven’t been an issue at all.
Gravel insert installation
Installation very is easy, cutting the foam to your desired length and fastening in a loop with the provided cable tie. Then you just seat the insert into the tyre before wrestling your tubeless tyre back onto the rim and bead. Again, my 25mm internal diameter stock rims managed to seat the tyres and Vittoria Air-Liner insert fine, and inflated with a track pump after the second attempt. Vittoria also supply a couple of valves for deeper rims and these have an extra hole in the base for getting air in and out, as the base of the valves sit against the EVA foam and sealant when installed. A really nice, thoughtful addition.
As the insert is cut to size, this means it’ll fit any size of wheel you’re running: 700c, 650b or even 26″: you decide. The Gravel edition is recommended for tyres between 31-40mm width, but you can check out the Road or MTB Air-Liners for alternative sizing.
It’s worth noting that these don’t completely fill the tyre with a foam wall, which allows more room for air and a more natural feel. The insert profile is 24 x 19mm from top to bottom taper, and 19mm high. The added weight is barely noticeable, with an additional 50g or so per wheel (dependant on wheel size).
I ran these down as low as 16 PSI for experiments sake and chanced down multiple short sets of stairs with no damage to my rims whatsoever. If you’re really in a bind then you can run completely flat, however Vittoria doesn’t recommend this for long periods of time.
It’s the insurance policy that your wheels need, especially on multiple day adventures, and running at a lower psi means comfort to me. The foam insert does a great job at deadening feedback on extended choppy bridleway descents, meaning less forearm pump and more control. More control, more speed, more fun right? This can come at the expense of feeling wallowy in the MTB versions I’ve used from other brands, but I experienced no such feeling here which is great.
The Vittoria Air-Liner Gravel verdict
The Vittoria Air-Liner Gravel foam inserts protect against rim damage and pinch flats and can even get you home when you’re in dire straights with the ability to run flat. They are a must for me and my less considered style of riding, especially when my bike is laden with cameras and other gear.
At £19.99 (€22.50) they’re hardly going to break the bank either, and could help you get a lot more life out of your tyres and rims.
Vittoria Air-Liner Gravel£19.99 €22.50 online, RRP £34.99 per wheel
Last modified: 3rd June 2021