From the Workbench: At-Home Tubeless Conversion 14
Thankfully, going tubeless with mountain bike tires has become far easier than it was only ten years ago. With a wide variety of both rims and tires being produced as "tubeless ready," gone are the days of fudging around with smaller diameter tubes and cursing like sailors at gas station air compressors. Well, the cursing like sailors part still happens sometimes, but hopefully reading this how-to will reduce your frustration. We will demonstrate what we have found to be the simplest and most straight-forward method of going tubeless without a dedicated UST setup. And, if your specific rim / tire combo isn't cooperating, we'll throw in a few tips and tricks that might help you seal the deal.
Hex Keys (aka Allen Wrenches)
- Tire Lever(s)
- Floor Pump or Air Compressor
- Flathead Screwdriver (optional)
- Razor or Poker
- Truing Stand (optional)
- Rags or Paper Towels
- Rim Tape / Strips
- Tubeless Sealant
- Tubeless Valves
- Denatured Alcohol (optional)
Tubeless valves are now available from a variety of manufacturers with some rim manufacturers even making valves specifically shaped for their rim profile. If that's not an option for you, we've found that many valves are practically universal. In particular, we've found the Stan's No Tubes Universal Valves will do the trick 99.9% of the time, and they're one of most readily available valves, which is a bonus. In our tutorial, we used a different valve as they were in better shape than the others we had on-hand, so if you don't have a Stan's valve at your disposal, you're likely still in the game.
Like valves, there's a variety of tubeless rim strips and tape available now, coming in pre-cut widths specific to rim width and diameter. While these tubeless-specific products do a fine job, we've found good ol' Gorilla Tape, which comes in black, white, silver, and our favorite color, CAMO, to do a fine job when converting to tubeless. It's available at most hardware stores, and if you buy the wide roll, it can be cut to fit pretty much any rim width. Other advantages to using Gorilla Tape is that it's inexpensive and the roll will last you many conversions over. We've had this plain, old black roll for well over a year, and it's probably converted ten wheels or more.
Removing Your Wheels
Sure, this is pretty basic, but we'll cover it just in case.
For the rear wheel, shift your chain into the smallest cog on your cassette. This makes dropping the wheel out of the frame easier.
If you have a SRAM derailleur, you can use the cage lockout to slacken your chain making removal easier. If you have a Shimano derailleur with a chain stabilizer switch, flipping it to the "off" position will make wheel removal easier.
Our bike uses a DT Swiss RWS quick release-style thru-axle which requires no tools to remove. If your bike isn't equipped with with a quick release-style axle, find the appropriate hex key to remove your axle.
Once the axle is removed, drop the wheel out of the frame.
A good habit to form is always replacing the axle after you've removed the wheel. This ensures the axle stays clean and that you're not wondering where your axle went when it comes time to put the wheels back on.
Repeat Step Two for the front wheel.
Removing the Tire, Tube and Rimstrip
You'll have to completely remove the tire, tube and rimstrip to install both the tubeless tape and valve.
Deflate the tube and unseat the tire's bead by applying pressure with your thumbs. Once you've unseated the bead in one spot the rest should come easily. Repeat this step to the other side of the tire.
Using a tire lever, hook the tire under the bead, making sure to avoid the tube, and carefully slide the lever all the way around the rim. Once that side of the tire is completely off the rim, you can remove the tube, and then the tire completely.
To remove the current rimstrip, you can use the optional flathead screwdriver / poker. In our case, our tire lever worked just fine when it came to hooking the rimstrip at the valve hole opening.
Pull and remove the rimstrip completely, you won't be using it once you're tubeless.
Applying the Rim Tape and Tubeless Valve
For this process, we find it easier to apply the rim tape with the wheel on a truing stand. But, if you don't have a stand don't fret, this is easily done on a table, your lap, the floor...pretty much anywhere really.
To make sure your rim tape adheres properly, we recommend using denatured alcohol and a shop towel to clean the inner surface of the rim. If you don't have any alcohol on-hand, at least give it a good wipe down with a clean rag.
Grab the roll of Gorilla Tape (or whatever tape you're using) and hold it up to your rim to eyeball how wide your tape needs to be. One of the big pluses to using Gorilla Tape is you don't have to cut it with scissors to dial in the width. Peel back the tape a few inches, then tear it lengthwise, roughly the same width as the inner width of your rim. Re-adhere the tape on the side of the roll you won't be using. As you apply the tape, it will continue to "cut" itself at the proper width.
Notice how our roll of tape has different "levels" from using it on different width rims?
Locate the valve hole on your rim. Start taping about an inch above it. You will tape over the hole.
As you tape around the rim, use your fingers to fully seat and adhere the tape.
While we've gotten away with only doing a single layer of tape, we recommend two layers of tape for a couple reasons. While two layers is obviously less likely to fail at a spoke hole than one layer, two layers of tape will sit higher on the rim making the fit of the tire's bead a little tighter, which can help with seating the tire when initially adding air. This also allows you to tape over the other side of the rim on your second pass if you cut your tape narrow compared to your rim.
Once you've going completely around the rim twice with your tape, overlap the valve hole by about an inch and cut your tape. Go around the whole rim pressing the tape in with your thumbs and visually check you've completely covered all the spoke holes.
Once you've checked your work, locate the external valve hole with your index finger and use your thumb to press into the tape to find the inner hole. Once you've found the inner hole, carefully use a razor to cut an "X" into the tape over the hole. If you don't have a razor, a poker of some sort can be used.
Using the hole you made in the tape, firmly press the tubeless valve (with the lock ring removed) through the tape and valve hole in the rim.
Screw the valve's lock ring on, snugging it up to the rim just a bit. You want this to be reasonably snug, but you don't have to go HAM on it.
Reinstalling the Tire and Adding Sealant
There are two general ways to do this. One involves removing the valve core after tire installation and injecting the sealant into the tire via the valve. If you bought the little 2-oz bottles of Stan's or have a sealant injector, this method can definitely be less messy, but we'll show you the "no-special-tools" method anyway.
Making sure to put your tire on the proper direction, we recommend starting install process with the disc-side of the wheel up to help avoid bending the rotor. While lining up the logo of your tires with the valve stem obviously won't affect performance, it's one of those pro techniques that will help you get Bike of the Day after you add your bike to our Bike Check section. Start pushing the tire's bead over the rim, going all the way around the circumference of the wheel.
You shouldn't need a tire lever here but if you do, at least there's no tube to pinch anymore.
Once you've installed one side of the tire, make sure the bead is on the proper side of the valve.
Start working on the other bead of the tire. You're not going to fully install it just yet, but you will want the bead in the rim for the most part, leaving just a small area off the rim.
Once you have most of the tire on, grab your sealant and shake it vigorously! Really get that sucker mixed up as the solids mixed in there tend to clump up and sit at the bottom. With the unmounted portion of your tire down, add the appropriate amount of sealant. You can check the sealant container or the brand's website for this information. For the specific sealant we used, they recommend 150ml for our 27.5 x 2.25-inch tires. Your results may vary.
After you've added the sealant, carefully rotate the wheel so that the unseated portion of tire is now at the top of the wheel. This will help keep spillage to a minimum while you muscle the remaining portion of the tire on to the rim. Again, you can use a tire lever here to finish installing the tire as there's no tube to worry about pinching.
Airing Up The Tire And Setting The Sealant
Hopefully you've made it though that last step without making too big a mess and you're ready to inflate this sucker. There are a number to ways to go about this, like using an air compressor, one of those fancy new floor pumps with pressurizing chambers or the ghetto pressurizer, but we're old school and will be attempting this using only our floor pump. If you can't make it through this part without swearing a ton and getting mega-frustrated, we'll include a few tips later on that might be helpful.
With the valve at 12 o'clock, connect your floor pump. It's important to always inflate and deflate your tires while tubeless with the valve on-top as this helps prevent the sealant from clogging up the valve.
Try inflating the tire. If you're lucky (like we were), it'll air right up. If not, skip down to the Tips And Tricks section below for some help. Once you you start seating the bead, keep on airing up until the tire is completely seated all the way around, on both sides. Be careful not to exceed the maximum air pressure of your tire, which is 60psi in our case. You'll find this info on the sidewall of your tire, so be sure to check it.
As the bead starts seating, you'll likely hear some loud pops. If you've ever inflated a tire to the point it blew off the rim, those pops will likely still scare the hell out of you, even if you've done this hundreds of times since. We typically inflate the tire up to at least 40psi to start before we take the pump off and check the bead.
What you're looking for when you check the bead is that the seam pictured above is completely exposed outside of the rim and not stuck down inside the rim lip. You'll notice in that photo a thin ridge on the left side, right where the tire meets the rim. That ridge goes into the rim right above the "X" graphic on the rim. You do not want this. Re-attach the pump and continue inflating the tire up to the maximum pressure. This will hopefully completely seat the rim. If it doesn't, skip down to the Tips And Tricks section below.
We hate to quote TayTay (this might be a lie), but it's time to "shake it off, shake it off." Grab your wheel, shake it, spin it, rotate it around in different positions. What you're trying to do is coat the sealant all over the inside of your tire.
Once you've done this for at least 30 seconds, leave the wheel on each side for a few minutes allowing the sealant to fill any leaks in the sidewalls of the tire. We're finding this step less and less necessary since the introduction of tubeless ready tires, but we still feel like we're doing it wrong if we skip the step. Old dogs, new tricks...
Boom, you're done! Repeat these steps to your other wheel and tire, mount them up on the bike and go get some! Oh, don't forget to recheck your pressure before hitting the trail. 60psi is not fun to ride on. Neither is 10. Remember, valves up!
Tips And Tricks
If the tubeless setup process didn't go as smoothly as ours, which is often the case, here are a few tips and tricks that can be helpful.
Tip / Trick One
Soapy water. Grab some liquid dish soap, a brush or rag and water. Add a good amount of suds to the water, mix and apply around the bead of your rim and tire before trying in to inflate. It's messy, but if you're struggling to get the bead to seat, or even the tire to begin airing it up in the first place, this can make all the difference.
Tip / Trick Two
Remove the valve core. Sometimes a compressor and soapy water isn't enough. By removing the valve core you allow a higher volume of air in the tire at once which will hopefully start airing it up. When it's starting to hold air, quickly remove the pump / compressor and plug the hole with your finger to prevent it from deflating too much. Grab the valve core and quickly reinstall it while the air is rushing out. Re-attach the pump and continuing airing up if necessary.
Tip / Trick Three
Add more height to the rim tape. If none of the above is working, it's possible your tire and rim combination isn't fitting snugly enough to form any kind of seal. While it may be a lost cause, it's worth trying this trick. Pull the tire and valve stem and clean up the sealant mess with a rag and some alcohol or water. You can either add a layer or two of more Gorilla tape to build up the height of the inner rim, or what we've used in the past is a layer or two of Velox rim tape. All this does is help the fit of your rim and tire to be a bit more snug, improving the chances you'll be able to get the combo holding air a bit better.
Tip / Trick Four
If the tire's holding air but the the soapy water and valve core tricks didn't work to get that last pesky area of bead to seat, try this method: With a fair amount of air in the tire (20-45psi), put the area of the tire that won't seat on the ground. Tilt the wheel slightly so you can step on the tire where it's being stubborn. While stepping on the tire, push the top end of the wheel sideways towards the ground. You're basically trying to flex the tire and pull the bead into place.
Tip / Trick Five
This mostly applies to new tires, but it's worth mentioning. If none of the above tricks get the system to start airing up, sometimes throwing a tube in there and riding it for a day, or even just letting it sit aired up in the garage for a night, can help. After the tube has been in there for a while, pull it and try converting it to tubeless again using the steps above. Sometimes there's a kink in the bead or some other weird deformity and the tube will help "shape" or break in your tire properly.
Tip / Trick Six
Give up and run tubes.
Stay tuned for more From The Workbench Tutorial covering a variety of topics.