After getting to know why you would want to go tubeless, we now will delve into the “how” of going tubeless with your “wagon wheels”. There are a couple of standardized systems out which I will cover first. Then I will touch briefly on the typical ways folks are turning components meant to be used with tubes into their own tubeless systems.
But before that, we need to understand a couple of key things that must be done by any company or individual that attempts to attain a state of perfect “tubelessness”. Without making sure these things are secured, disaster, possible injury, and even death may result. Really!
First, a way to seal the rim well must be found, and usually this means sealing off a bunch of spoke holes drilled into the rim. Of course, if you can find a way around drilling all those holes, it makes this job a lot easier, and in fact, that is why a UST standard rim is so appealing. Unfortunately, only pre-built wheel sets are available with this sort of rim, so unless you buy into a complete system, the UST rim isn’t an option. Other ways to seal a traditionally drilled rim have been done, and usually in conjunction with a specific rim extrusion.
Stan’s NoTube system consists of a specially extruded rim that features a “bead socket” for the tire and a rim well designed to assist in making a tubeless tire air up without much effort. The spoke holes are covered with a specially developed rim tape, thus sealing off the holes in an effective manner. Bontrager does something similar with its Tubeless Ready System, but instead of a tape, they developed a rim well and plastic strip that mate together. The rim can be built on any hub, then the plastic rim strip is snapped into place, sealing off the spoke drilling. In fact, a tubeless tire set up on this system actually seals against the strip, and not the rim.
Now you’re almost there. You will need a special tubeless valve stem to finish off the job. Bontrager, Stan’s, Mavic, and others make these, and home made ones will also work. The valve- usually a Presta, but not always- is made to have an inner seal of some sort. Either an “o” ring seal or a rubber type collar around the valve on the inside is employed with a nut that threads on to the outside which pulls the inner seal against the rim strip, sealing off the valve hole in the rim.
Okay, now the final piece of the puzzle is the tire. A typical folding bead tire isn’t made to keep air inside its carcass- that is the job of the inner tube. So tire manufacturers either do one of two things- they make a true, air tight casing and bead, or they make an airtight bead with a casing that requires sealant to become air tight. A standard developed by Mavic and other tire manufacturers called “UST” is one way this can be done, but most manufacturers have eschewed this avenue for their own systems which all are of the “tubeless ready” type requiring sealant to become air tight. The common denominator of all of these though is a tighter rim bead diameter standard and special bead construction. Without holding the rim bead dimensions to tight tolerances and reinforcing this critical area of the tire, blow offs and other failures would result and cause possibly catastrophic results for riders.
Sealant is the last bit needed before most systems will operate safely and effectively. Usually some sort of latex based sealant is introduced into the tire carcass which seals off the carcasses porous inner walls making it air tight without using an extra layer of rubber as UST tires do. This results in a lighter, more supple casing, and a heightened level of performance in most cases. Sealants come in many forms, some being glycol based, and even home brews are popular with many riders.
DIY Tubeless Set Ups: Note: Twenty Nine Inches does not endorse any of the following. It may be dangerous and cause a crash leading to personal injury and even death. Taking any of these measures to set your bike tires and wheels up tubeless is done at your own risk:
Many riders have been doing their own conversions of standard tubed wheels and tires using home made sealants and rim strips for years. Most of these systems use some sort of combination of reinforced packing tape, a foam backed tape of some sort to fill in deeper rim wells, and home made valve stems. Some folks use split open tubes as rim strips as well. Sealants based on mixtures of commercially available sealants, or mold building latex mixed with an ammonia based substance like windshield washer solvents are common. The tires used are typical tubed tires resulting in various levels of success ranging from bulletproof reliability to hit and miss successes resulting in occasional failures, crashes, and injuries.
Mixed Systems: Some riders will try “mixing and matching” systems or components with each other, and may even do this while introducing their own “home brew” solutions as sealants. Generally I have found that some things work, and some things don’t. Here is a short list of my personal findings in messing around with tubeless systems. Your results may vary.
-Bontrager TLR tires: Works with decent reliability on Stan’s rims and I have heard enough about failures with Mavic/UST rims that I will not use TLR tires on those types of rims.
-Bontrager TLR Rim Strips/Wheels: Works really well with Specialized’s “2Blis” tires. Geax tires are waaay too tight and will not work at all with the plastic strip installed. A Stan’s strip in a TLR rim will work with a Geax tire, however. Continental tires work well on TLR rim strips. TLR rim strips have also been used by myself in Velocity Blunt rims with Rampage tires with good results.
-Stans ZTR Rims and Strips: Works great with Specialized, Bontrager, Continental, and some non-tubeless tires. GEAX tires are just too tight to be field serviceable. I won’t use a Geax tire on a Stan’s rim for that reason. Stan’s strips: I have used these only on ZTR rims with the exception of some DT Swiss TK 7.1 disc rims and that works flawlessly.
Sealants: I have used Bontrager’s Super Juice which seals a tire casing really well but is very poor at sealing punctures. Slime Tubeless Sealant works very well, staying wet for well beyond six months. Stan’s sealant works well initially, but dries out in a span of three to four months, still keeping the carcass air tight, but the puncture protection falls off dramatically, as you can imagine. Hutchinson Fast Air- Seals up casings really well, but does not stay liquid very long at all and does not provide very good long term puncture protection. Geax Pit Stop works almost exactly as the Hutchinson product. (Note: To be fair, the Hutchinson and Geax products are for inflation/quick repairs. Both companies have a product that claims long term puncture protection.) CaffeLatex: This has been the best available solution I have used so far. It is easily introduced through valve stems and seals punctures very well. It claims the sealant foams up while riding to provide better sidewall protection. While I can not vouch for that yet, it does foam out of my valve stem when I open it. In my still ongoing tests, the CaffeLatex product remains wet going on month five now. Homebrew- I have a home brew that I will not divulge here, but has outperformed everything else on the market I have tried so far with the possible exception of this new CaffeLatex solution.
Next time I will get into the day to day care and feeding of your tubeless tire set ups. Stay tuned!