There is no doubt that the emergence of tubeless mountain bike tires and rims have changed the industry for the better. Riding tubeless enables the rider to run less pressure, giving the rider more grip, better ride feel and also less weight. Adding a sealant to the system adds an extra measure of security as many small holes or cuts in the tire can be patched internally by the sealant. Should a cut happen that is too large for the sealant to do its magic, then the rider can install a tube as normal to get home!
Tubeless has come a long way since the emergence of UST (universal system tubeless) over 10 years ago by Mavic and Hutchinson (two french companies, hence the french abbreviation). Now most rims and tires on the market can be made tubeless very easily, BUT there are few hidden tricks that both shop and home mechanics can use to make the system easier and more affordable.
Editors note: Most Bontrager rims do not apply to these tricks!
Tubeless rim companies have developed their own tape to ‘tape’ over the spoke holes on the inside of the rim causing it to be sealed. The valve is then poked through the tape. When sealant is added, the combination of these things is what makes the system air tight.
This tape is on the expensive side as it is designed to work with the specific rims. Many professional mechanics, from local shops to World Cup DH, tend to use ‘Gorilla Tape‘. This tape is basically duct tape on steroids and can be bought on the cheap at any local hardware store. Not only that, it comes in many widths to accommodate different rim widths and tends to be thicker than the proper tape. In some opinions, it can lead to a more solid tire seal.
One of the main benefits to Gorilla Tape is how easy it can be found. Being able to buy it at Wal-mart at 10:30pm the night before a race is handy when you break a spoke on the course pre-ride! The key to it working well is to make sure the rim surface is clean for proper adhesion.
Like tubeless tape, specific valves are recommended to go tubeless. The main benefit of the specific valves is that the rubber base (what hugs the rim) is built up. This works to prevent sealant from going into the valve, clogging it, and also preventing it from pulling through. If you are on a very tight budget or in a pinch, you can cut up an old presta tube. This valve is very similar and can work. If you have a couple of extra bucks you can buy the proper tubeless valve.
We have all been there. Installing a new tire and cutting it on the first ride. Tubeless tires don’t come cheap these days and it is very frustrating to cut one before you get your moneys worth! It is possible to patch tubeless tires, but it is very tricky. It’s recommended to buy patches in the automotive isle of the hardware store as they tend to be thicker, more stiff, and generally cheaper. Your DON’T want a flexible, thin, patch with some stretch to it.
Be sure to clean the inner part of the tire thoroughly with alcohol and scuff it up with sandpaper. Once clean, buy the best crazy glue you can find. A favorite is ‘KLEBFIX’ from Wurth brand. It is a fantastic glue and doesn’t corrode rubber. Be careful as it will bond ANYTHING in a matter of seconds. Traditional patch glue doesn’t work well. Keep in mind, this is to get the remaining life from your tires. If you are concerned about it holding up before the biggest race of the year, you should error on the side of caution and buy a new tire.
The Rim-Pop technique:
Lets face it: Tubeless is annoying to set up without a compressor. Thankfully Bontrager has come out with a pump that stores air inside of it causing a burst of quick air popping the tire into place. This is the definition of “Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?” type products.
However, there is another way! Once the tire, valve, tape, sealant are all installed, run your tire lever just under the bead of the tire, gently pulling it up onto the high spot of the rim (where it should sit when inflated). Run the lever all the way around the tire. You will feel it getting tighter and tighter as the lever approaches your starting point. From here, gently pull the lever out and do the same to the other side.
The goal here is to pre-set the tire on the high point of the rim so when you start pumping there are fewer places for the air to escape which aids in the force of the air ‘popping’ the tire into place so the sealant can do its magic.
You will almost always make a mess with this system, but it works. Once you get good at it, it usually works the first attempt. Again this is handy for those without a compressor or who happen to be at a race or on the road. Another good method is before you put the sealant in, install the tire with a tube and inflate it to seat the bead. Then carefully remove one side of of the tire to remove the tube, install the tubeless valve, and add sealant. Then do the above trick on the one side. Also wiping the bead of the tire with a warm, wet, soapy sponge will help the tire to seal.
The bicycle industry has come a long way from UST over the past 10 years. Tubeless tires are more accessible, more affordable, and much lighter compared to then. Is the ‘Stans’ system easier to use than UST? Depends who you ask, but these tips will help you out if you’re in a pinch.