Experiencing flats often even with tubeless tires? Tubeless has come a long way and it's pretty accepted that the best performance comes from running a tubeless setup. My only bike with tubes is my dirt jumper, and honestly, if I was only riding pump track on that it would also be tubeless. But let's get back to flats.
If you did not know, most tires are available in a few different casing options. Some have two versions, others like Maxxis have about 5 you can choose from for your personal preference. If you are a rider who is flatting all the time, your buddies are always saying “another flat Adam?” or you are denting your rims often, it might be time to up your casing and tire protection. If you are running stock tires, it's very likely you have the basic amount of protection. From Maxxis that is EXO, WTB that is Light, and Schwalbe that is Snakeskin. All these companies offer the same tire in a thicker, more protective casing.
Thicker tires are a great move to put in the rear of your bike, where your not able to see what your tire might hit, and a bit more of your weight is on it as well. So many riders will choose to add a thicker casing to the rear, with a lighter up front to get the best of both worlds.
Thicker tire casings are normally an added layer of protection to both the sidewalls and center tread. They all vary between brands, but most of the time it's a bead to bead added layer and sometimes even added to that is more sidewall protection. Because you are adding more layers to the tire, they do get heavier. Roughly 200g or so depending on tire model and brand, but if you are that rider getting lots of flats, adding that 200g is like putting that cliff bar in your back into your tire. It's noticeable, but not extreme.
One of our favorite rear tires, the Maxxis Aggressor is available in both EXO and DD in 27.5/29 and 2.3/2/5 options. From the same size and width, the tire gets about 210g heavier when going from EXO to DD casing. While you take a weight penalty, you get more reliable tires, a more reliable ride and as some would say better ride feel on rough terrain.
Flats can happen from a ton of different trail issues, the most common being a sharp rock either causing a puncture or a slice in the sidewall. Many of these more common flats would be fixed with a thicker casing tire, the added protection really helps cut down on what is able to puncture or slice your tire.
There is also the pinch flats, where you hit a rock, or square edge of dirt and the tire is pinched between your rim and the object. This was a very common issue with tubes, but with modern mountain bikes being pushed so damn hard now, tires are now being pinched and having two holes, one on the sidewall and on the top of the tread. A thicker casing would also heavily prevent one of these from happening, with more rubber to pinch through, it would take much more force and that perfect combination to pinch a more protective mountain bike tire.
Last would be denting rims and while that might not cause an immediate flat, it leads to tire burping, or not seating the next tire you install correctly. Again, thicker tires protect your rims just as they do the air trapped in your tire.
Maxxis might be one of the biggest tire brands, and with that comes with the biggest range of tires. I'm going to stick to heavier duty XC-DH here, basically all the tires that have basic protection and up. There are some lighter tires without protection, but those just apply for full weight weenie XC riders. Starting from the lightest casing to thickest we have: EXO, EXO+, DD, DH (folding), DH (wire bead). So as you can see about 4 options for trail bikes and 5 total for aggressive mountain bike riding.
Most likely if your bike came with Maxxis tires or you bought some new tires, they are EXO. This is the most common casing and works well for the large majority of riders. New for this year is EXO+, having just a bit more protection on the sidewall than standard EXO, helping prevent a few flats. EXO+ has one layer of silk shield added and adds about 80g to the tire. If you are flatting these or having any issues mentioned above, the next step for you would be DD, standing for DoubleDown.
DoubleDown is legitimately 2 120tpi tire casings, so as you would guess with two casings, it's quite a bit more protective. Along with a butyl insert, the DoubleDown tires are the most popular version for enduro racers that need some protection but also don't want the full weight of a DH tire. The DD tire adds about 200g, and isn't offered in all tread patterns but most commonly used for aggressive trail bike riding. Tires like the Aggressor, Assegai, Minion DHF, DHR, and SS all have EXO, DD, and some EXO+ and DD options within tire size and width. So if you like any of those tires, you could get the same tire with thicker, more protective casings.
WTB is one of the original mountain bike tire companies, and they have some great learning experiences from that. With a large range of tires, lots of their aggressive tires are offered in two different thicknesses of casings, Light and Tough. They keep it pretty simple, but the performance is still amazing. The Light tire is going to be the lighter, less protective option while providing some decent protection, and the Light tire is more about balancing grip to gram ratio. The Tough casing is all about the protection, allowing for more partying on the trail. Similar to the DD, the Tough casing is composed of two full layers of casing, keeping you covered from bead to bead. About the same weight penalty is taken with WTB, on average about 200g between Light and Tough tires.
New for WTB is the Slash Guard - this is a nylon insert on the sidewall found on the new Light casing tires. Tires like the new Trail Boss and Vigilante have this new technology and helps a ton with those annoying sidewall cuts or pinch flats.
By this point, it might be repetitive, so we will just name the lighter and thicker casing tires from these companies. Schwalbe makes great tires, and they are no different, offering at least two if not three different casing options depending on the tread. For Schwalbe, they are Snakeskin, Supergravity, and DH. Snakeskin will be the lightest and least protective, and similar to the Maxxis DD and WTB Tough. SuperGravity will be the more protective tire casing, taking that same 200g weight penalty, but be much more suited for aggressive riding and avoiding flats.
Newer to the tire game, e*thirteen now has two tread patterns with multiple casings in each. Their lighter less protective casing is called TRS, the trail version. This tire provides decent protection while the more protective casing called the LG1, the more gravity oriented tires. The same rules as above apply to these as well, the TRS will be lighter less protective while the LG1 will have more protection and wight, on average about 200g heavier depending on tire tread.
Our last brand to dive into will be Teravail, with a fresh go at the mountain bike tires, they have been making Gravel, Plus, and Fat bike tires for a bit now. Teravail also has two casing options in almost all treads patterns across the board: Light & Supple, or Durable. Again, different names but the same basic thought. Light & Supple is going to be 200g lighter than the durable option.
Getting into thicker tire casings could really improve your ride reliability and quality. For some, it's not needed as they have never flatted or it's far and few between. For others, it's a must, sometimes just rear, often times front and rear is the needed upgrade. You do get a weight penalty, but in the event of a flat vs finishing your ride, I'll take that weight penalty all day. I personally run either DD from Maxxis for Tough from WTB front and rear. For myself, it's not worth ending a ride due to a flat that could have been avoided from a thicker tire. In addition to the protection, thicker tires provide a solid feel on the trail, especially over rough terrain. Not only feeling better but helping keep your bike on the right line you want to be on. If you are getting flats, make yourself and your riding buddies happy and get some thicker casings for your mountain bikes.