This article is a one-stop-shop for anyone who is interested in going tubeless and contains everything you need to know about tubeless setup, valves, sealant, rim tape and more!
As the name suggests, setting up your MTB to run tubeless allows you to ditch the inner tubes and instead, run a system where the air is sealed inside the tire, not a tube. This brings a number of important benefits, not least of which are increased grip and better puncture resistance. If you are considering switching to a tubeless setup, you will probably already have come across the term ‘tubeless-ready’. Tubeless-ready (sometimes denoted TR or TC) means that the components labelled as such (tires or wheels) have been designed to work with or without a tube. For example, a tubeless-ready tire will have a specially designed bead to help it seal to the rim, but you may need some additional accessories such as valves, rim tape and sealant to actually convert to tubeless.
Tubeless setup – A sealed system allowing you to run your wheels without inner tubes
Tire sealant – Tubeless sealant seals small punctures in a tubeless system. It also coats the inside of the tire and seals the tyre bead/rim interface to prevent air loss.
Tubeless valves – Tubeless valves are essential for your tubeless setup. They are simply installed through the rim’s valve hole and secured by a threaded lock-nut.
Tubeless rim tape – Rim tape plays a vital role in a tubeless system and ensures the rim bed is sealed, preventing air loss through the spoke holes.
Tubeless-ready – A term signifying that a product has been designed to work with or without tubes and is ready for a tubeless conversion.
Tire bead – The tire bead is the edge of the tire that sits on the rim and seals the tire to the rim in a tubeless system.
Tire sidewall – The sidewall is the smooth area of the tire between the edge of the tread and the bead. Some sidewalls are a little porous and need sealant in order to hold the air, while others are almost air-tight out of the box
Tire casing – The backbone of every tire. It gives the tire its shape and structure and significantly influences cornering stability, puncture protection and weight
Here at WILDSIDE, all our staff members who ride MTB are big fans of tubeless setup. We highly recommend tubeless as the cheapest and most effective upgrade for the vast majority of riders. However, a select few riders may still be better off with tubes. Read on for the pros and cons of tubeless and find out if you should set your mountain bike up to run without inner tubes!
It’s true, tubeless comes with pros and cons. However, for most riders, the advantages of tubeless greatly outweigh the drawbacks. Should you go for tubeless, or is there a reason not to go for tires without tubes? Here are the pros and cons of a tubeless setup:
A tubeless setup allows you to get the maximum performance from your tires. Tubeless allows you to run your tires at lower pressures, resulting in more grip and comfort. A tubeless system is also less likely to puncture (even when running lower pressures) than a tubed tire as there is no tube to pinch between an obstacle and the rim – the cause of the dreaded snakebite. Tubes are expensive and if snakebites are a common occurrence on your rides, it is probably cheaper to run tubeless in the long term. Any small punctures that do occur are immediately sealed by the sealant. In fact, as well as being less prone to punctures, setting your MTB up tubeless can also reduce your rolling resistance. With less pressure the tire can deform better around obstacles, allowing the tire to deflect and roll over them more easily, compared to higher (tubed) tire pressures where the bike has to move up and over the obstacle, saving you a little bit of energy.
- more grip
- better puncture resistance
- self-sealing system
- less rolling resistance
- probably cheaper to run for most riders
The main downside of a tubeless system is the increased complexity of setup and service. While the initial cost for valves, tape and sealant is not very high, the overall cost will quickly skyrocket if you do not already have tubeless-ready tires and rims on your bike. As with any part on your bike, a tubeless setup needs to be serviced regularly. Lack of servicing can lead to the sealant drying up and the valves getting clogged and will result in less efficient performance and sealing. Some tire and rim combinations will require a special tubeless inflator pump or compressor for the initial installation. Tubeless setups also tend to leak a bit of air between the rides, so you should check your MTB’s tire pressure before every ride.
Please see link to attached tire pressure guide from Enduro Mountain Bike Magazine: https://enduro-mtb.com/en/what-mtb-tire-pressure/
- setup can be expensive
- requires more servicing
- more complex to install than a tube
- air loss between rides
We recommend tubeless to anyone who frequently rides their mountain bike off-road. The benefits of tubeless are invaluable for riders who push their limits and want maximum performance from their bike. If you only use your bike infrequently and don’t need the performance benefits of tubeless, a tubed system is easier to set up and requires little to no servicing.
Before you attempt to set up your tubeless system, you should make sure you have the necessary parts and equipment ready. You will need tubeless-ready rims and tires (check out our tire group test to find the best tubeless tire for you), sealant and a pair of tubeless valves. If your rims are not pre-taped, you will need to install tubeless-specific rim tape as otherwise, the rim bed won’t be airtight. To inflate the tire, you may need a tubeless inflator pump. The process of installing the tubeless system is quite straightforward, but small complications can make it a lot more tricky.The process should take no longer than 20 minutes per wheel and is mess-free if you do it right.
- a compatible rim and tire
- tubeless sealant
- a high-volume pump (tubeless inflator pump recommended)
- tubeless valves
- tubeless tape (if not installed already)
- tire lever
A tubeless system allows you to run a lower tire pressure than a tubed setup, without compromising the overall puncture resistance of your setup. This is because there is no tube to pinch between an obstacle and the rim – the cause of the dreaded snakebite. The ability to run lower tire pressures is a great benefit of tubeless and allows you to get more performance, grip and comfort from your tires. To fully take advantage of these benefits, you have to find the perfect tubeless tire pressure for you. It’s important to remember that while you may need a special tubeless inflator pump for the initial setup, you can use any standard pump for the regular pressure check or top-up.
While a tubeless system is a lot more puncture resistant than a tubed tire, there is still the possibility of things going wrong on the trail. The most common issue is a small puncture (which is too big to be sealed by sealant alone) in the tread or sidewall, often caused by a thorn or pointy rock. These punctures can be fixed quickly and easily with a tire plug. Another common issue is ‘burping’ the tire. This happens when the tire is rolled across the rim in a hard compression (like a tight berm), pulling the bead away from the rim flange momentarily and allowing air to escape before resealing. If you burp your tire all you have to do is re-inflate it to your desired pressure. Big tears in the sidewall and air loss caused by rim damage are a lot harder to repair on the trail. We recommend you install a tube and fix the issue at home.
Just like any system on your bike, a tubeless setup requires maintenance to ensure maximum performance and efficiency. Luckily, maintaining a tubeless system is straightforward and not very labour intensive. Here are the main things to keep in mind:
It is important to keep an eye on the condition of your tubeless valve. Make sure the valve core isn’t bent and that air can flow through it properly. Valve cores can become gunked up with sealant, limiting their airflow. If this happens, carefully remove the valve core (this will release all the air from the tire) and clean it out or replace if necessary.
If you leave your mountain bike stationary for extended periods of time (or sometimes just overnight!), you may notice that your tubeless system loses some air. Do not panic, this is perfectly normal! Just make sure to check your tire pressure before you ride!
Tubeless sealant can dry out over time, reducing its effectiveness. How fast it dries out depends on a number of factors, including how often you ride and how hot the climate is. While it is impossible to determine a precise service interval, we recommend topping up your sealant at least every six months. To check your sealant levels, pick up the wheel and shake it. If you hear a sloshing sound, you should have plenty of sealant left. If you can’t hear any sealant moving inside the tire, deflate your tire and pop off a small section of the bead at the bottom of the rim and check if you can see any sealant.
There are two ways to add tubeless sealant to your tire. The first method involves deflating your tire and popping a section of the tire bead off the rim. You can then pour the sealant into the bottom of the tire, before re-seating the bead and inflating the tire. The second method is easier, quicker and cleaner but requires a syringe or sealant injector. Top tip – most small (around 100 ml) sealant containers have a spout that easily fits into the valve stem for easy refills.To refill using this method, de-inflate the tire fully and remove the valve core. Then, using a syringe or sealant injector, add the sealant straight through the valve. Once you have topped up the sealant, simply replace the valve core and re-inflate the tire.
If left unchecked, sealant can dry up and seemingly disappear by forming a skin along the inside of the tire or turning into spiky sealant balls. If this happens, it is no use and needs to be replaced.
Tubeless inserts are currently a craze in the mountain bike world and there are countless options and designs available on the market. These foam inserts are designed to provide a cushioning layer of protection for the rim, absorbing impacts from rocks or roots that bottom out the tire. While it is very hard to test and comment on their effectiveness, there are some pros and cons to running a tubeless tire insert.
The main advantage of running a tubeless insert is improved pinch flat protection, as the insert will effectively cushion both the rim and tire. The best inserts also help to increase sidewall stability and reduce the chances of burping a tire. They allow you to run even lower pressures, protecting the rim and tire equally. If you do manage to puncture with an insert installed, you can roll back on the flat tire if needed.
The disadvantages are also numerous. Inserts add more weight than upgrading to a tire with a heavier casing and are often a pain to install and remove (the better they are the harder they are to fit), making trailside tire repairs very hard. Inserts also consume a lot of sealant, as, despite being made of closed-cell foam, the sealant coats their large surface area, rendering it useless in the event of a puncture. Inserts are also very expensive. While some will jump at the added protection and improved tire stability that inserts claim to offer, we think the extra cost, weight and tricky installation make them an unnecessary upgrade for most riders.
While CO2 does help to re-inflate your tire in a pinch, it can also have negative long-term effects on your sealant. When CO2 is released from its pressured canister into the much bigger tire volume, a drastic drop in temperature occurs. This temperature drop activates the coagulant of some sealants, causing them to freeze and forming large balls of latex inside the tire.
Most tubeless sealants are based on natural or synthetic latex, which is degradable. However, each brand adds different additives and particles to their sealant to improve its performance. Therefore it is impossible to determine exactly how eco-friendly sealants are as it varies from brand to brand.
Tubeless sealant loses its effectiveness over time, making it useless. This process is sped up if the bike is not used for an extended period. Therefore, bike manufacturers don’t ship tubeless setup bikes, as by the time the bike gets to the customer the sealant may have already dried out. Nowadays, some brands install valves and tires, leaving you with just adding sealant. Most other brands will provide you with everything you need to set up the bike tubeless when you buy it.
We do not recommend mixing tubeless sealants, even if both sealants are latex-based. This is because different manufacturers use different additives and particles, which can cause coagulation and degradation of performance if mixed.
If you already have tubeless-ready rims and tires, converting to tubeless is relatively affordable. All you need is a pair of valves (around £15) and sealant (around £20 for a big bottle, or £5 for a small single-use bottle). You may also need to invest in some rim tape, which costs around £10. We do Tubeless Conversions at Wildside for £25 per wheel, with additional costs for rim tape, valves and sealant.
It is possible to bodge a tubeless setup without paying for the proper components by making a DIY inflator, using Gorilla tape to seal the rims and cutting valves out of an old tube. However, we do not recommend it as it can cause extra problems and isn’t tested or safe.
"Words: Finlay Anderson Photos: ENDURO Team"
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