From the workshop: experience on riding tubeless
Updated: Dec 21, 2019
This is another article in our article series: "From the workshop". In these series we write brief notes on bicycle maintenance, ranging from wiring of dynamos to basic service of internal gear hubs. These articles will sometimes deal with the most obvious of maintenance tasks, but still we find them useful as reminders for our future selves, and perhaps also for some of you other amateur mechanics out there..
This article is about our experience with tubeless setups. Last winter we became very curious about tubeless setup for mountainbike wheels. There is a huge number of articles written on this subject, and there are also a lot of different experiences out there. We decided to make up our own opinion, and set up our first tubeless set of wheels early this season. With great expectations we replaced the tubes with liquid latex sealant, and never looked back.
If you are new to the concept of a tubeless setup or maybe thinking of trying it out, we hope this article can prove helpful.
We will start with a brief explanation of how the tubeless setup works. Further on some of the advantages and disadvantages of a tubeless setup compared to a standard setup with tubes will be discussed. We will also share our own experiences after some months of tubeless riding, and look closer on the process of how to set up a tubeless tire.
In short, a tubeless setup contains no inner tubes inside the tires. In order to make this setup airtight you attach a tubeless rimtape to the inside of the rim. A tubeless set of valves is also required. Further on, the tires’ bead need to lock properly onto the rim. To make the tubeless setup as airtight as possible, it is recommended to inject or pour a special liquid sealant into the tire to ensure a proper seal of all possible airleaks.
So why should one consider tubeless setup over the well proven tube solution?
Lower airpressure represents a great advantage
Especially when riding on trails or other surfaces with different obstacles, a lower airpressure in the tires will increase the tires’ contact with the ground. This will in turn lead to more friction between surface and tires, and better traction. Enhanced grip leads to better performance and possibly also a safer ride.
Riding with reduced airpressure with inner tubes leaves you more vulnerable to pinch flats. These are punctures caused by hitting an obstacle hard enough to compress the tire so much that the tube is pinched between the obstacle and the rim. The result can be a perforated inner tube and a flat tire. In lack of an inner tube, a tubeless setup is highly resistant to pinch flats. This means that you can enjoy the advantages of riding with a lower PSI but without the increased risk of a flat tire. Sharp objects that can perforate the tires also leave the inner tubes vulnerable to damage. With a tubeless setup the liquid sealant inside the tire is likely to quickly seal the damaged area of the tire and prevent loss of air.
Running at a lower PSI the tires are to a larger extent able to conform to obstacles, rather than bounce off of them. This allows the tires to more effectively absorb bumps caused by stones and roots and so forth, giving you a smoother ride with less vibrations. This in turn is likely to give you better control. Tubeless setup also represents a slight weight-saver. This is due to the lack of the inner tube which represents a rotating force when riding. However, this will depend on the amount of sealant used and choice of tires. Another point we find worth mentioning is that a tubeless setup still can be used with a tube. In that case the tubeless valve and the sealant has to be removed before the tube is installed.
Possible disadvantages versus our own experiences
Possible disadvantage: With no inner tube there is a risk of airleaks between the rim and the tire, often referred to as «burping air». This is most likely to happen when cornering, as the tire then will be pushed towards the edge of the rim Our take: When using rims and tires that are made for a tubeless setup, we argue that loss of air or «burping» is no longer very likely. These rims has a lip for the bead of the tire to seat itself in, and with a proper setup it works perfectly fine
Possible disadvantage: The liquid latex sealant can create quite a mess and lots of frustration if you spill it on for example clothing and surroundings Our take: So far we have not experienced any mess what so ever when setting up the tires. Of course there might be a difference in dealing with this in the workshop compared to fixing damaged tires when you are out riding. However, all our tubeless rides so far have been pursued without any need of repairs
Possible disadvantage: The sealant has to be refilled on a regular basis Our take: The sealant will dry up over time, and some of it might leak out due to damage to the tire. The frequency of this action will depend on the climate you ride in, and how often you experience damage tires. A hot and dry climate will demand a more frequent refill, whereas cold and wet conditions require less. In general we think it is fair to state that this action is needed every few months to once in a year. Not a big issue in our opinion
Possible disadvantage: With a tubeless setup it is more difficult to seat the bead of the tire onto the rim Our take: As argued earlier, the use of tires and rims that are made for tubeless setup makes the process easier. You can also simplify this process further by using a compressor or a shock-pump. We explain this in more detail in the section of the actual setup
Possible disadvantage: Even with a tubeless setup you still have to carry a tube in case of a flat Our take: Although a tubeless setup is less likely to puncture and deflate, it does not guarantee that it cannot happen. It can be a wise precaution to carry a tube anyway, but we will leave that for each rider to decide
Based on our own experiences we find that the benefits of riding tubeless outweigh the cons. To be able to ride with lower PSI without the increased risk of flats is great, and we have not yet experienced any negative effects. We highly recommend trying it out, especially when riding on trails or mountain terrain.
However, both tubes and tubeless are reliable these days and have their own sets of advantages, so at the end of the day it really comes down to each rider´s preference and peace of mind. We also think it is worth mentioning that rims and tires made for tubeless setup also works perfectly with tubes, so you will have the option of either system and switch back and forth. If you think the tubeless option sounds tempting and want to try it out, you will find a step by step description below. There are several ways to complete the setup and we present here our method of choice.
Setting up a tubeless set of wheels
We highly recommend to use tires and rims that are made for tubeless setup for easier to achieve a perfect result, as it is crucial that the tire bead seats in the rim correctly to ensure an airtight setup. Some combinations of tires and rims might be a better match than others, and there are also several possibilities in choice of rimtape, valves and sealant. We have used sealant, tubeless rimtape and valves from Stan´s and CaffeLatex, and this worked perfectly well. Further on we have combined wheels from Stans with tires from Maxxis, wheels and tires from Bontrager, and wheels from Hope with Scwhalbe tires. Either combination has worked very well. It can also be wise to choose a tire with reinforced sidewalls. This can give a slight weight punishment, but also might be the difference between a scratch and a tear in the tire.
The «correct» width on the rim tape depends on size of the rim. On the pictures below a 25 mm tape is used on a rim with 28 mm outer width and 23 mm inner width. At a minimum it has to be wide enough to completely seal all holes in the rim.
Step by step procedure
Clean the inside of the rim with alcohol detergent to ensure a good attachment for the tubeless rimtape.
Apply the tubeless rimtape on the inside of the rim. It needs to be tight and straight, and do not hesitate to pull it quite hard towards you when attaching it. We use one layer of tape, with overlap of two spokeholes on either side of the valve. Cut the tape with a sharp knife or scissors after completing a full round around the rim. A truing stand might be helpful when applying the tape, but you could also place the wheel on the floor between your feet.
Smooth over with fingers to ensure that the tape connects perfectly on the inside of the rim. This step is crucial to make the rim airtight. Use a sharp object to make a hole in the rimtape through the valvehole in the rim.
Press the valve through from the inside of the rim and tighten it by hand. To make it as tight as possible you should press it against the rim from the top as the valvenut approaches its end point from the opposite side.
The next step is to put the tire onto the rim. Before inflating the tire you need to remove the valvecore. The easiest way to do this is to use a dedicated tool.
Now it is time for inflating tire. To make the tire bead seat properly onto the lip of the rim in lack of a tube, a quite strong airflow is required. Therefore air is filled directly through the valvestem. The valvecore should still be removed at this time. This will allow much more air into the tire in a shorter period of time. This step requires a compressor or a shock pump. The latter is a pump that stores compressed air in a sylinder and releases it in one shot with great pressure. When the tire is seated properly, you can let the air out again while the tire still remains seated on both sides of the rim.
Apply the sealant through the valvestem, preferably using a syringe with a tube that can be attached to the valvestem. We use 60 ml in each tire, but the amount might vary depending on personal preference. It is very important that the bottle with sealant is thoroughly shaken before use!
Finally you reinstall the valvecore and inflate the tire to the desired PSI. Using a regular floorpump should now be adequate as the tire and rim should be airtight.
Rotate and shake the wheel in a horizontal plane to make the sealant cover all possible airleaks. You could also bounce the wheel gently off the ground while spinning it slowly around. At last place the wheel horizontally on an even plane, and let it rest for a few minutes on each side. Finally, saddle up, and go for a ride!
Final tip, in case you struggle to make the bead seat you can insert a tube and leave it inflated for a little while to make the tire reestablish its original shape before inflating it using the tubeless valve.
We sincerely hope that you found this article helpful, and that you succeed if you decide to try out the tubeless option. Best of luck and dont hesitate to reach out to us with comments or questions!