The human race has managed to put a man on the moon, have a different man skydive from the edge of the earth's atmosphere (thanks for that Red Bull), cure unimaginable diseases, and have printers that can print... well, things... like real 3D things! But can we have a bicycle tyre that won't go flat? Nope. What about a tube? Nope again.
But with every winter that passes the greatest human beings on earth (the ones that create and develop bike parts obviously) are inching closer to a solution. The closest we have at the moment is called "tubeless". The simple act of running your tyres without a tube.
Why should I go tubeless?
These are some of the questions you should be asking yourself if you are considering going tubeless or if you are currently set up tubeless but are having some issues:
- Am I suffering from pinch flats?
- Am I tearing holes in my tyres?
- Are my tubes suffering the "death of a thousand slow leaks"?
- Am I rolling the tyres off in every corner because I can schralp harder than Corner Fearnone?
Is tubeless for everyone? Nope. It may be unnecessary for:
- Lighter riders
- Less aggressive riders
- Riders that prefer Netflix to bike maintenance
- Riders who dont ride frequently, the sealant will most likely go off between rides
If you fit into the top column, or you just cant shake the curiosity about tubeless, I recommend you give it a go.
When originally written, this piece was quite long (like the book War and Peace long). So like any classic piece of literature, we have decided to break it up into acts. This is a 4-act piece, so prepare your mind, thumbs and victory chants for an odyssey of everything tubeless.
Special considerations and tips
- If you suffer from pinch flats while riding with properly inflated tubes, tubeless will almost certainly fix the issue. It is possible to pinch flat a tyre, but it usually takes some very low pressures or a very hard impact.
- If you are constantly tearing holes in your tyres or puncturing through the tyre tread it is time to be real with yourself and install some sturdier tyres. You can get tyres with many different casing compounds and casing thicknesses. We've done a wrap-up of Maxxis tyre casings and compounds here.
- If the terrain is rough or you are a brute of a rider who enjoys bludgeoning rocks and roots to death with your wheels, I would be considering burlier tyres. Personally, I think DH casing tyres on a trail bike is rad. Try it- go on, do it!
- If every time you go out to your bike the tyres are flat or low on pressure it means your tubes have become porous, the sidewalls of your tubeless tyres have kicked the can and are seeping sealant (time to replace them) or your sealant has dried up.
- If your sidewalls are seeping the cause is usually either:
- They are not tubeless ready tyres
- The additional butyl rubber layer of the tyres sidewalls have broken down due to mechanical abrasion (rubbing on roots and rocks, etc) or UV degradation of the butyl.
- Sealant manufacturers recommend checking your sealant every 3 months or so. I generally check it when I get a flat tyre or need to change a tyre. Lazy I know... Truth is the effectiveness of most sealant begins to depreciate after a period of time. How much time? It's hard to say because of the many environmental and physical variables that can affect sealant. If you want to be diligent, check your sealant levels monthly and be sure to add fresh sealant before any big adventures or races.
- If you are the proverbial Corner Fearnone (or Dave McMillan for that matter) and smash every corner like a landmine has gone off. You probably suffer from "burping" tubeless tyres. (Causing your tyres to distort under lateral load to the point you break the seal between the tyre and rim).
- I have tried all kinds of things over the years to help you folk out but outside of running 2,000,000 psi, what seems to work the best is a thick tube with plenty of pressure inside it. The amount of force you can transfer through your rear tyre in a corner is impressive and hopefully one day we will be able to 3D print a space age "burp-free vaccination" that will help you folk out.
- There are other rim/tyre protection solutions out there now that help prevent pinch-flatted tyres and impact damage carbon and alloy rims.
- If you are hard on wheels and tyres have a look at the offerings from Huck Norris Anti-Flat Tubeless Protection, Flat Tire Defender Tubeless Protection, Vittoria Air Liner Tubeless Inserts, or CushCore Inner Tyre Suspension Systems.
- These systems utilize a mechanical barrier between the rim and the tyre.
- Leaving your newly taped tubeless wheelset set aside with a tyre and inflated tube installed for several hours is beneficial. Not only does the pressure seem to help the tape bond to the rim better; it also helps give the tyre the required shape to make the tubeless installation easier.
- If you are struggling to get one side or section of the tyre bead to slip into the rim bead even after inflating it to 40psi or so:
- Try dropping the tyre pressure until you can deflect the tyre with your thumb or fingers and spray some additional soapy water into the rim bead.
- Do the best you can to get it between the tyre and the rim bead. Then reinflate.
- If that doesn't work, you can try to step on the tyre section that refuses to seat into the rim and lever the top of the wheel away from yourself.
- Sometimes you can get enough friction between your shoe and the tyre (Five Ten's help) to cause the tyre bead to slip.
- Try dropping the tyre pressure and repeating the process.
- Some tyre/rim well combinations just will not slip. I have had to resign to using a tie down wrapped around the tyre to compress the centre of it forcing the tyre beads out of the rim well.
- I've also been known to remove the valve core and use the air compressors air gun pressed into or up against the tubeless valve for maximum airflow punching the tyre beads out of the rim well.
If you're struggling, don't get down on yourself. Keep at it. You will get it!