How To Convert To Tubeless on Your Mountain Bike
Are you sick of punctures when you're out for a ride? What about switching to tubeless?
If this term is new to you, it’s an alternative to using inner tubes, which can save you weight, give you better traction and stop those dreaded pinch flats mid-ride. All being well, you can count on saving time too, as it should reduce the number of punctures you have, and in turn, leave more time to ride the trails!
So What Does Running Tubeless Mean?
Essentially, you’re not using an inner tube, but it’s not as simple as just taking it out and off you go. Whilst most wheel rims now come 'tubeless ready', there’s a number of simple steps you need to take to get going.
Firstly though, I’ll recap on the main benefits of riding without tubes:
You’ll be ditching heavy, rubber inner tubes, which can be around 200g or more. Times that by two wheels, and you’ve got a reasonable amount of additional weight to propel on your ride. Whilst there might be the addition of rim tape and special sealant - you’ll knock off the grams easily if you make the switch.
When you use an inner tube, you have to be wary of pinch flats, and in many cases, might have to run your tyre pressures a bit higher. Doing this can compromise the level of grip you have on the trail. Living in Scotland, our riding consists mainly of roots, mud and rocks, so grip is a key factor for a successful ride. Your suspension does do most of the work to soak up the bumps, but second to that is tyre pressure. The opportunity to lower them will improve your staying power, as well as your confidence, in many cases.
Well, this is a little more subjective, but from personal experience, I’ve only had to stop and fix my tyre a handful of times, thanks to a pesky tear or hole. For small holes, you’ll often never even notice they appear; as the sealant that’s used inside quickly and easily reacts and creates a barrier.
So on to the process of switching to tubeless on your mountain bike!
Here are the key things you’ll need to make it a success:
Tubeless Ready Wheels
Most wheels do come set up with tape to seal the holes. You do need to check this though and be sure that in production, it’s been applied correctly. If you don’t have tubeless ready, you can do this yourself by apply rim tape.
I already have my mine set up, and would suggest watching this short video from Stans No Tubes if you need to add it to make them air tight.
If you’ve out-the-factory tubeless ready wheels, there’s likely already an insert for you place the tubeless ready valve. In fact, my new bike came with specific valves I could use, but if this isn’t the case, you’ll want to by a set. These are designed to plug the hole, ensuring there’s no leaking of air. Valves also come in various lengths, so you’ll want to check how deep your rims are to make sure you have enough length to attached a pump.
I use Stans Fluid, which is a latex solution that acts quickly to seal holes in your tyre. According to Stans, the fluid will act to fill punctures up to 6.5mm, and also lasts a reasonable length of time too. You can expect to get 5 - 7 months of life from a singe injection of fluid.
Per tyre, that’s around 55 ml.
A Compressor or High Pressure Track Pump
Either of these will make your life so much easier when switching to tubeless. Whilst a compressor isn’t the easiest tool to get your hands on, there are specific floor pumps like Bontrager’s Flash Charger, which I’d recommend. I have in the past managed with a track pump, but there are a few other tricks (as well as a lot of hard work!) that you’ll need to make that happen.
Valve Core Removal Tool
To make life easy, I remove the valve core and inject the fluid this way (as you’ll see from the photos). This isn’t the only way, but I think it’s far simpler. To do this, you’ll need a valve core removal tool, which again are easy to buy, or even ask your local bike shop.
Sealant can get messy, and whilst it’s not harmful to you, it’s best to keep clean and use a pair of rubber gloves.
For the same reason, to avoid any mess on the ground, using sheets of newspaper, an old rug or matting, will stop your lovely floor from soaking up the sticky mess from tyre sealant.
Steps to Converting to Tubeless on a Mountain Bike
Once you’re all prepared, it’s time to take to the workshop (or kitchen, or garage) and get to work.
1. Removing the Air From the Tyre
Release the air from the tyre, then working either side, pull the tyre from the rim.
2. Remove the Tyre
This can sometimes be a bit tricky, but remove the tyre completely from the rim, so you’re left with just the wheel. As I was already tubeless, you can see how the fluid collects in the tyre. This had been in the bike for over a year, so that’s pretty good to see there’s still plenty liquid inside.
3. Tubeless Ready?
Add the rim tape at this stage if you need to, making sure to wipe clean the rim surface beforehand. If you do already have tubeless ready rims, then add in the value core and make sure it is secured properly.
4. New Tyre
Always best to use a new tyre for a conversion, but it’s not essential. You might find, depending on the tyre make and your rim type, it can be pretty tight! If you have a pair of helping hands, now’s the time to give them a shout. You can also use tyre levers to get it on.
(Tip: if you are using a standard track pump, a good way to ensure you get the tyre to seat is to use an inner tube before you insert the tubeless specific valve. Adding the tyre and tube as normal, once it’s in place, empty the tube of air and remove it from one side. Then add the new valve. This just helps ensure the tyre connects properly to the rim, otherwise it’ll be a wasted effort trying to pump air into it.)
Check the rotation too - there’s a useful arrow on one side, which will tell you which way the tyre will roll.
5. Compressor Time
One the type is firmly on the rim, and the valve in place, you can step towards the compressor, or high pressure pump. The compressor injects air at a rapid rate, instantly inflating the tyre. You’ll hear a ‘pop’ sound as it seats. At this point, you know it’s secure.
6. Remove the Air and Valve Core
Now you’ll do the same again, by firstly removing the air and then the valve core. Don’t just take off the value core, or else the air will release at an almighty rate! Do it in stages.
7. Inject Sealant
I use one on the small bottles of Stans fluid, which you can empty and recycle each time. Tip it quickly upwards and squeeze gently, so the fluid fills the tyre. Once you’ve done that, just replace the core value (take care to not screw it on incorrectly) and you’re almost done.
8. Air Time
Now you’ll replace all that air! Back to the compressor or pump. The Flash Charger pump is great, as you just fill until the gauge reads around 100 psi, then attaching the hose to the valve, pull the lever and release! The air will instantly fill it.
9. Spread and Seal
Lastly, you’ll want to bounce the wheel and spin it in a figure of eight, to spread the fluid around the tyre. This seals any tiny holes, of which there often can be sometimes on new tyres. A handy tip is to place your wheel horizontally on a bucket overnight, so the fluid can seal against the rim nice and securely.
Now you’re ready to repeat it on the next wheel!
To follow my adventure stories or get in touch, you can find me at The Trail Angel.
About Catriona Sutherland
Catriona is an avid mountain biker from the UK, favouring endurance events. She has competed in various 24 hour, marathon and stage mountain bike races around the world including the Joberg2c, Epic Israel and the Strathpuffer. Currently working as freelance marketing consultant, mountain bike guide and serial adventurer, Catriona is happiest riding her bike, drinking coffee and planning her next trip!
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