Mountain Bike Tire Inserts: Do You Need Them?

Mountain Bike Tire Inserts: Do You Need Them?

Mountain bike tire inserts make bold claims. They’re rising in popularity. Several manufacturers offer their own versions. Many riders swear by them; others think they’re over rated. 

What are they, and what’s the fuss?

This season I switched to a custom aggressive hardtail. At the time, many people (including the wheel manufacturer) recommended running a mtb tire insert in the rear, at the very least.

After researching and talking with other riders, some former pros and other hard chargers, I decided to go with this setup: the much-hyped Cushcore in the rear tire, and the more conservative Nukeproof ARD in the front.

Bottom line: they’ve made a huge difference and I absolutely would not go without them.

I also don’t think they’re for everyone. But, if you are a big or aggressive rider they are worth it, especially if you’re riding a hardtail.

For bikers who want to ride lower pressures or protect their nice wheels, mountain bike tire inserts are also a great option.

Finally, if you want to run a lighter casing tire but still have protection against punctures, inserts are how to make it happen.

Article Outline:

  • Mountain Bike Tire Insert Claims
  • Different Tire Inserts
  • Tire Insert Trail Performance
  • Should You Use Mountain Bike Tire Inserts?
  • Drawbacks and Limitations

Table of Contents

Mountain Bike Tire Insert Claims


Cushcore–The King of the Pack

Manufacturers make any one (or sometimes all) of the following claims about mountain bike tire inserts: rim protection, damping+absorption of big impacts, improved tire stability, lower tire pressures, suspension-like action.

These are big claims for a thin piece of foam inside a tire.

At the basic level, all mtb tire inserts will protect your rims. There’s some low-range options (like the Huck Norris) which also absorb bigger hits. The foam creates a buffer between the tire and your rim–when there’s a hard hit, whether on a pointy rock or a sharp edge, the tire collapses. Without the insert your rim takes the impact. With an insert, the foam takes most, if not all, of the impact. This protects your rim from dents and dings.

The mid-range, like the Nukeproof ARD, make additional claims of increased sidewall support and lower pressures. They have a larger profile than the low-range inserts and do provide some sidewall support. It’s safer running your tire at lower pressures, as the insert takes up more volume. At this range, weight does become a consideration.

At the high-range, where mountain bike tire inserts are beefy and make the full spectrum of claims, Cushcore is the flagship product.

Cushcore claims all of the above and adds suspension-like damping in all conditions and better tracking.

Check out Hardtail Canada’s Cushcore review.

Before we break down performance we’ll have a quick look at different mtb tire insert options.

Different Mountain Bike Tire Inserts

nukeproof tire insert ard

Nukeproof ARD–An affordable option if you want a bit more support.

More and more mountain bike tire inserts come out each year. Although I only have direct experience with two, I will share what the other big players offer. This is just meant to be a broad outline to give you an introduction to the market.

At the low-range there’s the Huck Norris. These are thin foam inserts that protect the rim and claim to provide some damping on big hits. If you just want to protect your nice wheels, these are a great option. They look simple to install and are relatively cheap.

One point against them, which is coming from a Shop Mechanic, is that they have a habit of moving around and might naturally wear out after a season. On the other hand, a former DH pro friend of mine says he runs them in the front wheel of his DH bike with no issue.

Rimpact looks to be in this range of tire insert, although they now have beefier options

In the mid-range there’s the Nukeproof ARD and the Flat Tire Defender. I only have experience with the Nukeproof; the Flat Tire Defender has a similar profile and similar claims of improved tire support.

At the high-range you have Cushcore. They make the biggest claims, are the most expensive, and the heaviest. However, if you need the extra performance features, these mountain bike tire inserts are incredibly well performing. They are well worth the money, as long as you’re a rider that will benefit from its features.

MTB Tire Insert Trail Performance

This is my experience with two mountain bike tire inserts: Nukeproof ARD and Cushcore.

I run a ARD in the front wheel of my hardtail. I ride it down everything and this insert has made a big difference. I comfortably dropped my PSI from 26 to 20 with no rim hits. I weigh 220lbs and regularly take my Rocky Mountain Growler down steep rocky descents.

The tire is less ping-pongy, more predictable, and tracks incredibly well down bumpy steeps. The true test will be when I upgrade my front shock to a 36mm. Since I had to stick with the stock Suntour Air shock on this build, the front end is naturally weak. How the ARD stands up to a proper shock and heavier steering input will be the true test.

The Cushcore was recommended by industry pros, former racers, and plenty others. They said it was a foregone conclusion I would have to run one in my rear tire due to my size, being on a hardtail, and what I take it down.

When I read the claims I thought it had to be all hype. Or mostly hype. There was no way a piece of foam could accomplish so much. I figured the price was equally overblown–another textbook example of bike industry marketing.

Well, I can humbly say the difference has been night and day: Cushcore lives up to the hype.

Before installing them I rode my Rocky Mountain Growler down steep, rocky, rooty gnar that make full suspension enduro bikes work. The hardtail was rowdy. The wheels, even with 2.6” tires, bounced and pinged. I thought this was the nature of the beast–a hardtail is going to lose traction and bounce far easier than a full suspension ever will.

And maybe that’s why the Cushcore has made such a huge difference.

Instead of running 28 PSI I now run 22. The damping effect is incredibly noticeable. The tire sinks into hits instead of bouncing off them. The tire tracks incredibly well. There is never a lack of predicatbility: I always know how the back wheel will react.

No doubt running lower PSI has a lot to do with this. More traction.

But the support and damping is real. These mountain bike tire inserts make for a much smoother ride and keep the rear wheel in better contact with the ground.

After a season my aluminum rear wheel is still running laser-true.

Cushcore lives up to the claims.

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Should You Use Mountain Bike Tire Inserts?

Although they do offer great benefits, I don’t believe tire inserts are for everyone. Especially the more expensive options.

For most bikers who cruise around on Blues and have full suspension bikes with stock wheels, there isn’t much to be gained unless you’re over 200lbs.

If you have nice wheels you want to protect, then the low-range inserts are the ones for you.

If you’re an aggressive rider, or a Sasquatch, or want improved tracking, the mid-ranges are a great option. They will provide you with rim protection and sidewall support. You’ll be safe running lower pressures.

If you’re an aggressive rider tackling tight turns, drops, rock gardens, jumps, or if you’re on a hardtail, the high-range mountain bike tire inserts are recommended. The damping and support of Cushcore is amazing and well worth the price.

For anyone riding a hardtail I recommend the Cushcore in the rear–it tames the back wheel and makes it much more predictable. If you’re a Sasquatch riding a hardtail on Blacks, I’d go so far as to claim Cushcore is a necessity.

Drawbacks and Limitations

cushcore installation

Cushcore can be heinously difficult to install. Hardtail Canada will publish a future article about how to make it go smooth.

Mountain bike tire inserts are not all sunshine and flowers, they do have some specific drawbacks which will be deal breakers for many.

The expense, weight, installation, and trail side maintenance are all knocks against them.

Expense can be steep, and there’s a wide range. I can get two of the mid-range Nukeprood ARD’s for half the cost of a single Cushcore!

Weight is another factor for those who count grams or are concerned with swing weight. The beefier the insert, the more it weighs. A single Cushcore is nearly half a pound.

Installation. Some are trickier than others. My Nukeproof ARD went in just like a normal tube. Zero problem.

Cushcores, on the other hand, are renowned for their difficulty, both putting on and taking off. However, the tire insert is well made and hugs the rim. In all honesty, I had little issue with installation. I was able to install it like a tire tube: I only had to pop one bead off the rim. However, it did take a lot of muscling and leverage which may not be possible for all people.

I also found some handy resources on the internet that made a huge difference. I will be publishing a future article about Cushcore installation.

The last drawback is the difficulty of trail-side maintenance. Although I have not yet experienced this, I hear it is notoriously difficult to break the bead on Cushcore and trying to do it trail-side is a major effort (I have not yet had to change the tire).

But, you can still ride on the Cushcore insert–so as long as you’re not too far from the vehicle you may be able to simply ride it out. Not an option if you experience a large puncture without a tire insert!

Mountain bike tire inserts are an evolving product and many manufacturers are getting in on the game.

Although they may not be for everyone, they do offer some great benefits. There is enough variation out there to suit many types of rider and styles of riding.

This is the first of a series: Hardtail Canada will publish specific reviews of Nukeproof ARD and Cushcore, along with installation tips for both types of mountain bike tire inserts in the coming months.

Stay tuned!



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