A Compendium of the Best Tubeless Tips
There is nothing worse than fastidiously installing the correct rim tape, wrestling a tubeless tire into position, adding sealant, airing it up until it cracks into place only to discover it's leaking. If you have ridden tubeless for more than a year or so I'd bet this has happened to you. It's happened to me more times than I care to remember. And then what? Start from scratch by reapplying tape? Add more sealant? Pump it up again and hope for the best? The answer is; it all depends. Is it leaking from the valve interface? Is air making its way through your tape job? Did the rim not seat perfectly? Does that new tire have a hole in it FFS?
Thankfully there are some tricks and practices that will prevent this scenario from occurring as much as possible and to lubricate the entire process. Feeling like you are playing Russian Roulette when you are setting up tubeless is a special kind of hell. Removing the tires is usually a bitch and you are going to get sealant everywhere and have to top up what you added the first time. Here are some tips to help you get it right the first time.
We'll start with the premise that you are running tubeless ready tires and rims. If you aren't, just search for ghetto tubeless set up and you'll be rewarded.
Installing Tubeless Rim Tape
The first step for many tubeless installs is rim tape. Stan's and Schwalbe make their own tape and others like Enve put their name on Gorilla tape and have it cut to size. Unless you have a non-perforated rim (high five to you!) you are going to have to install something. Here are some guidelines.
1. First off make sure your rim is clean. Remove any residue from previous tape (isopropyl alcohol and elbow grease usually work fine).
2. Beginning at the valve hole can create a poor seal so start at the opposite side. This also means you won't need to overlap as much - 100mm or 4" should be fine. Anchor the first section of tape by smoothing it down with your finger. Some tapes will easily seat in the channel and others (Gorilla tape) will require help from your finger.
3. I sit down and anchor the vertically oriented wheel between my feet and pull the tape straight toward me with one hand while smoothing it down with the other. Then rotate and repeat. Don't pull too tight or the tape will creep and cause leaks, but make sure to center the tape as accurately as possible. The tape should be approximately 2mm wider than the inner width of your rim to account for the channel.
4. Finish your taping 100mm or 4" beyond your starting point (unless you start at the valve hole - if so go at least two spoke holes in either direction) and then inspect your tape job. If there are any folds or air bubbles you're going to need to fix them or start over.
5. Use the valve or something smaller to push through the tape. The smaller the hole the better. And be sure the rubber end of your valve matches the shape of the inner profile of your rim or you won't get a good seal.
Bonus Trick - Use a conventional smooth plastic rim tape (like Stan's) for a first layer and then use Gorilla tape on top to prevent any leaks. The smooth plastic tapes also leave less residue as a bonus.
Tire Install Tricks
1. Wear gloves. You'll be able to push and prod with much more force - your regular riding gloves will work fine.
2. Use a tire lube. There are commercially available products like Uncle Dick's Bead Slip (which we like and are almost out of!) and Schwalbe's Easy Fit mounting fluid which has a nice applicator. Or just use regular soapy water; put some dishwashing liquid in a bowl and add water to suds it up but then scoop only the suds to wipe along the bead of the tire because water and sealant are not a good combo. Anything you use as lube will also help the tire seat when you get to that step.
3. When installing the second side especially, end with the valve hole because the valve takes up space in the channel of the rim and you are going to need that space to get the tire mounted.
4. Once you get to that last few inches that refuse to budge, rotate the wheel and grab the tire bead from the already mounted end and work it back toward the valve hole alternating your efforts right and left and pushing each side down and into the channel. Repeat until it relents. It may not seem like it's moving but stick with it.
Seating your tire
1. Get a compressor. Not always practical, noisy and expensive, but worth every penny. Do not overinflate. It's suggested that you shouldn't go above 40 PSI. I have blown a tire off a rim and it's not something you want to experience, particularly because it destroyed a carbon rim. It also shot my heavy industrial Presta adapter into the drywall of my workshop ceiling. #couldhavebeenmyeye
2. If a compressor isn't practical for you, use a high-pressure reservoir system like Uncle Dave's homebrewed version or the SKS Rideair system that Andrew just wrote about. There are also floor pumps that include a chargeable high-pressure reservoir.
3. If you are using a floor pump, in a pinch, you can fold the hose of your pump with one hand and pump with the other to get a rush of air all at once. I haven't tried this one but others have had success. Let us know how it works.
4. Always remove the valve core for this process. If you are using a floor pump you'll get improved airflow and if you are using a compressor it will allow you to use the blowgun attachment for better control and flow. Once it's seated you can try to jam your core in to save the air you have pumped in or simply let it release; the tire should stay seated either way.
5. If the tire fits loosely on the bead of the rim and you are using a floor pump, try to work the bead to the outside of the rim to get a better seal before you start pumping. Also, you should support the tire off the ground so it can take its natural shape.
6. The last resort is to install a tube to seat the tire, remove one side of the tire to ditch the tube and once your valve is installed the tire should seat easily.
Bathing in Sealant
First take a deep breath and enjoy the distinctive odour. Apparently that's ammonia which is added to the latex to prevent premature... coagulation. Sealant is mostly non-corrosive and non-reactive so it's relatively benign - but don't feed it to your kids.
1. When should you install sealant? I have had pretty good luck with installing one side of the tire, getting the second side almost finished and then pouring in the sealant. Remember to rotate the tire so the sealant is at the bottom before you finish installing the tire. Others recommend seating the tire, opening a small section, pouring in your sealant and then closing it up again. I don't love this idea. Why mess with things at this point? After using Cushcore, which necessitated pumping sealant through the valve (with core removed) I'm sold on this method. In most places I've seen a syringe suggested but I've had great luck with single serving sealant bottles made by Stan's, Schwalbe and others. Just fill one with juice, put the valve at 4:00 or 8:00 and squeeze it in. You can squeeze a little air out of the tire and then pull the tire outward to create some suction, but squeezing has worked fine for me. Keep one of these around and refill it as necessary.
2. More is better. Don't skimp or you'll be stuck with a flat in some unpleasant location. Use the recommended volume or more.
3. Jeff Bryson (Jesse Melamed's mechanic) has been trying the glitter trick. Add a little glitter to your sealant to add some chunks that will help clog holes. We've also heard rumours of riders using quinoa. No word on whether Kale works as well. Note - Stan's recommends against doing this but they seem to think their sealant will seal any hole, as evidenced in the video below.
4. Make sure to shake your sealant well before the install so the crystals don't sit at the bottom where they won't do you any good. Seriously - shake it for 30 seconds at least.
On The Trail
A few tools will make your tubeless life vastly more pleasant.
1. Bring a spare valve core or two. These often get clogged with sealant and cleaning them out isn't a trailside job.
2. Bring a valve core remover. E*Thirteen makes one that comes with their excellent tubeless valves and it just screws onto the valve stem for safe keeping, but many sets of wheels come with these in the package.
3. Carry a set of pliers. Many riders have a Leatherman in their possession on rides but any set of pliers will do, as small and light as possible. These will remove the valve core or free a stuck valve. I have encountered a valve that had cemented itself into the rim making it impossible to install a tube. Without pliers, Trevor would have been walking out from the top of Whistler.
And You Are Done.
Hopefully, that is. Rotate the tire in several directions to get the sealant spread around evenly. Some people recommend banging the tire on the ground to aid this process. I like to put the bike in the stand, crank the pedals to get the tire moving very quickly and then clamp the brake. The idea is that the tire will stop but the sealant will continue to rotate and coat the inside of the tire. I have no idea if this works but the cost of admission is low.
In an ideal world, you'll have a day or two before you are riding these wheels. Sometimes it takes that long for everything to settle. If your world is less idyllic hopefully any leaks you have will be slow, but if you are worried add a little more sealant. This has done the trick for me several times.
If you are new to the sport or you have been resisting tubeless, you are missing out. The benefits of tubeless tires are substantial. Without a tube inside to pinch you can't get a pinch flat. You can tear your casing on something sharp or puncture on a thorn but the vast majority of flats most of us experience are pinch flats (aka snake bites). Beyond that, the absence of a tube makes your tire more supple for better grip and ride quality. You can also run lower pressure for even better traction. You may save a little weight but it's likely to be a wash.
Got any tips to share? Please add them in the comments.