tube fail
How To

A Compendium of the Best Tubeless Tips

Words Cam McRae
Photos Cam McRae - unless noted
Date May 26, 2017

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. 

tape

Enve branded Gorilla-type tape on the left and Schwalbe tape on the right. Plastic tapes leave less residue and are easier to install. Gorilla tape is readily available at your hardware store and you can easily cut it to the correct width, which makes it cheap.

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.

Bead Slip

A couple of the commercially available lubes to ease installation and seating of tubeless tires.

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.

SKS RideAir AndrewM

A portable high pressure air cannister that can be filled with a floor pump is a great substitute for a compressor. Photo - Andrew Major

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. 


Sealant

A trio of the many sealant options. I haven't yet had any miracle saves with sealant, but I guess there are seals that went undiscovered.

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. 

Note - they literally ride through their disaster strip 23 times, so you should probably skip ahead. And how much sealant is in there exactly?

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. 

Why Bother?

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.

Trending on NSMB

Comments

jonas-dodd
0
Jonas Dodd  - May 26, 2017, 6:44 a.m.

Any advice for a tubeless set up that once held air but has become leaky over time? The valve stem is snugged down to the rim and the core is tight.

Reply

grimwood
+3 Merwinn Pete Roggeman Jonas Dodd
grimwood  - May 26, 2017, 7:06 a.m.

Have you recently installed a new tire? I've lifted the tape a couple times after a new install. Pain in the ass, but I had to start at the beginning each time. 

Sometimes you can find the leak by spraying some soapy water on the tire and watch for growing bubbles.

Reply

jt
+3 Merwinn Cr4w Jonas Dodd
JT  - May 26, 2017, 7:06 a.m.

Wife's bike had this issue. Turns out some chuckle head overtightened the valve stem, causing the rubber to break away from it slightly. Yet she still stayed with him. Fill the bathtub with enough water to submerge the rim and tire and roll it around to find the leak. If air is coming from the spoke holes, it's worth checking out the stem and tape.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 Jonas Dodd
Cam McRae  - May 26, 2017, 8:34 a.m.

Does the tire spin true? It could be a seating issue. Or it could be a tape issue. Or you could have a hole in your tire that the sealant didn't completely deal with. 

Time to fill the bathtub with water.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+1 Jonas Dodd
Pete Roggeman  - May 26, 2017, 10:05 a.m.

This seems like something you would have covered off, but it hasn't been suggested yet - have you refilled the fluid? You need to top it up every few months - more often in hot climates.

Reply

grimwood
+3 Cam McRae Merwinn Pete Roggeman
grimwood  - May 26, 2017, 7:04 a.m.

Canadian tire sells 25 mm wide gorilla tape for $3. I've used it on 25-35 mm rims without issue.

Reply

mrbrett
+1 Cam McRae
mrbrett  - May 26, 2017, 7:08 a.m.

I like Stans sealant as bead lube - just use a small paint brush and brush it on the bead.

Reply

rvoi
0
rvoi  - May 26, 2017, 7:57 a.m.

I ran a set of Maxxis UST tires last fall naked (without any sealant) and they worked surprisingly well. I carried a tube and expected tragedy on the first ride, but they reliably held air - until the goat head thorns caused too many micro leaks. I actually left the thorns in the tires to keep the holes plugged for the last ride of the season. I did this experiment mostly because I am cheap and didn't want to pay for the sealant turning to curd over the winter :D

Reply

davetolnai
0
Dave Tolnai  - May 26, 2017, 8:36 a.m.

I did this with a Santa Cruz test bike a few years ago.  Maxxis UST tires as well.  No problems keeping air in the tires for a ride, but didn't work for anything beyond that.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - May 26, 2017, 10:06 a.m.

UST does work, but the casings are heavy.

Reply

LoamtoHome
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Jerry Willows  - May 26, 2017, 1:54 p.m.

Tubeless carbon rim tips... scuff the inside of the rim with sandpaper for the rim strip to adhere better to the carbon. My mechanic also uses a mini torch to heat up the rim strip so the glue adheres to the rim better.  Haven't had a leaky strip since.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - May 27, 2017, 9:26 a.m.

On hard impacts I often force sealant out through the valve stem/rim interface no matter how much I tighten this up. I guess I'd rather a tiny leak here than burping the tire but it's something I'd like to resolve. Maybe I need lockrings that have a tool surface so I can get them really tight?

Nice old Turner in the main photo.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Cr4w
Andrew Major  - May 28, 2017, 11:42 a.m.

Is there, or have you tried adding, an o-ring between the valve lock-ring and the rim? 

I know there was epic scoffing at the price but  the E13 valve stems I reviewed recently lock together in such a way - with only rubber seals contacting the rim - that if an o-ring doesn't fix the issue and you care to resolve the issue I'd recommend checking them out. 

Reply

denomerdano
+2 Jonas Dodd Pete Roggeman
Deniz Merdano  - May 27, 2017, 9:45 a.m.

First tip..

-Do it outside... If there is a catastrophic bead failure or you knock something over, you will be glad...

-a dry bar of soap ran across the beads is the perfect lubricant. Irish Spring goodness

-I have tried cooked & raw quinoa, fall leaves, glitter and finally black pepper..

Quinoa does not float and migrate to the holes, leaves actually work ok, glitter is messy and stupid, Black pepper works the best!

-Gorilla tape is fine and dandy, but is a bitch to clean the residue if you damage it and need to replace. 

-Stans tape on stans rims is the way to go. tape 2mm wider than the internal width of the rim.

Reply

andy-eunson
+1 Deniz Merdano
Andy Eunson  - May 28, 2017, 8:06 a.m.

Use a little Triflow on the valve cores to help them to not clog up as badly.

Reply

thebikingbuddha
+1 Cam McRae
Jas Dhiman  - May 28, 2017, 10:32 a.m.

Very well written and informative, Thanks for this article Cam. These are great tips and in particular I appreciate your attention to detail.

Reply

skyler
+3 Andrew Major grambo Cam McRae
Skyler  - May 28, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

I'm so pleased I have something to offer! ...I think. 

The slot at the end of the chain tool, at least on all the multi-true I've used, is the perfect size to work as a valve core remover. No need to carry a dedicated valve core tool.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 28, 2017, 9:11 p.m.

That's awesome!

Reply

denomerdano
0
Deniz Merdano  - May 31, 2017, 2:40 a.m.

so good, that I had to run and try it on mine..

Reply

GBandit26
0
GBandit26  - May 30, 2017, 1:16 p.m.

Another tip: drill out your rim to accept a tubless ready Schrader valve and throw that presta in the garbage where it belongs.

The valve body is more stable in the rim, you can pour fluid in the larger opening after removing valve stem, and now you  can always top up air at any gas station without carrying around some little adapter.  No more fluid mess, top ups are a snap and no syringe that clogs required.

Reply

grambo
0
grambo  - June 1, 2017, 2:32 p.m.

I've run tubeless for a couple years but the last few days was my first time actually changing/setting up new tires on my tubeless rims. A few things I learned:

1) Check that the tubeless valves are FULLY clear of old sealant when you have the tire off. I didn't, and tried to inject new sealant into a clogged valve which caused a mess. This was also done at a gas station at 10pm and without any tools to poke the valve clean (I used a tooth pick at home later), which brings me to point 2:

2) I don't have a compressor and getting a DH casing wire bead non-TR Minion to seat was not happening with my floor pump. MEC sells presta to schrader valve adapters for $2.50, throw one of these on the tire and go to your local gas station with free air. Boom, instantly seated.

3) Someone already pointed it out, but the chainbreaker tool fits onto a presta valve core which is handy if you don't have pliers in your pack.

4) Also in the article, but the 2oz bottles of stans fit into a valve (core removed) so you don't have to buy the syringe.

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.