Regardless of your chosen cycling discipline, tubeless tyres have benefits to offer over standard tube-type setups. Those benefits are certainly more obvious with wider tyres, lower pressures and rougher surfaces, but even skinny road racing rubber can potentially gain from losing the inner tube.
However, tubeless isn’t just a matter of removing the tube and riding blissfully into the sunset. Tubeless carries real compromises, including new knowledge and more maintenance than trusty tubes. Whether the positives outweigh the negatives will be up to you, and this article is designed to arm you with all the knowledge you’ll ever need on the topic.
In this endless FAQ (it’s called that as it’s long and we’ll regularly update it), we skip the crap and share what we’ve found to be the best methods, the best parts to use, and the best ways to save you from feeling deflated. This comes from almost two decades of experience in tubeless, going all the way back to Mavic’s original UST system for mountain bikes.
(Last updated March 4, 2022.)
Tubeless in a nutshell
Much like on modern cars, a tubeless system on bicycles is an airtight system where the tyre is held on to the rim with little more than tight tolerances and air pressure. As it is airtight, no inner tube is required to hold air like on a standard clincher system, and no glue is required to keep the tyre connected to the rim as per a tubular system.
Tubeless was first introduced for mountain bikes over 20 years ago and has become the standard choice amongst enthusiast and competitive mountain bikers. It was introduced for road use almost 15 years ago, but the initial uptake was slow. However, the boom in wider tyres for road and gravel has seen increased attention given to the technology and an increasing number of wheel brands are now pushing the uptake of tubeless technology.
With no inner tube to pinch puncture, tubeless allows you to run lower tyre pressures with a greatly reduced risk of flats. This results in increased traction, a smoother ride, and in many cases reduced rolling resistance. Additionally, removing the inner tube itself can further aid in reducing rolling resistance since, in some cases, the tyre system can end up being more supple. Schwalbe is one company that offers tubeless, tubular, and clincher racing tyres, and states that tubeless is its fastest system.
Tubeless is also considered more resistant to puncturing. Since there’s no inner tube at all, there’s also no inner tube to pinch-flat (although the tyre casing itself can still be pinched). This is an especially important point with the increased attention given to lower tyre pressures being more efficient over inconsistent terrain. Meanwhile, liquid sealant inside tubeless tyres also helps to seal small cuts (such as from glass or thorns) on the move.
All of this is most beneficial off-road where wider tyres and lower running pressures are more common. The benefits are more nuanced on the road, but they can still apply, especially where wider rims and tyres are now becoming more common.
Compared to using a humble inner tube, tubeless is certainly more involved, in terms of both initial setup and maintenance. Slow air leakage is not uncommon with tubeless and so you may need to top up to your preferred pressure every few days. Likewise, the tyre sealant that helps to create an airtight seal and provide ongoing puncture protection will dry out and will need replenishing every few months.
Compared to clincher systems, tubeless tyres are also sold at a premium. And while things are rapidly changing, when looking at road or gravel tubeless tyres, there are often fewer choices compared to what’s available for tube-type clincher use.
Tubeless is already the standard in mountain bike and gravel racing. However, it’s yet to hit widespread acceptance in the top ranks of professional cyclocross and road racing.
Tubulars (which are glued to the rim) have been proven in pro road racing for years, and while they’re not so practical for the regular cyclist, they make a lot of sense for someone who doesn’t need to worry about fixing flats or replacing tyres. Tubulars still afford an impressively lightweight setup, a unique road feel, and in the case of professional racing, you can ride them after a puncture without risk of the tyre rolling off. For cyclocross racers, tubulars also allow inflation pressures that are even lower than tubeless (some pros run as little as 13 psi in their 33 mm-wide tyres!) since air pressure doesn’t affect (much) how the tyre is held on to the rim.
However, perhaps the biggest reason is legacy. Many pro teams can be stubborn to change, especially when the everyday practical benefits of tubeless aren’t so important to a pro race team. By all accounts, tubeless is starting to be used at the top level, but tubulars will likely continue to be a common sight in pro racing for many years to come.
There are a few things to ask yourself here.
1. Are you planning on running tyres that have a measured width of at least 28 mm? (There are fewer benefits available to narrower tyres.)2. Are you prepared to top up your sealant every 3-6 months?3. Do your existing wheels support tubeless use?
If you answered no to any of these, then we’d suggest sticking with tubes.
Tubeless is typically lighter than a tubed setup, at least where wider tyres are involved. However, on the road, the answer is not so simple.
The following table gives one example of how the weights stack up. In this example, tubeless is 15g heavier per wheel compared to the equivalent clincher setup, assuming the same wheel and rim tape are used. Using more or less tyre sealant, a lighter tubeless valve, or a lighter inner tube will sway the results.
Further on this, a tubeless-compatible wheel often needs to be able to handle higher compression forces as a result of the tubeless system, something that also carries extra weight. On this point, Roval’s top-end road racing wheels are tube-only to optimise for reduced weight (according to the company).
Tubeless Tyre and rim compatibility
Tubeless road, cyclocross, and gravel tyres typically incorporate a reinforced bead that is resistant to stretch, along with a bead that is totally smooth around the entire circumference with no ridges or pockets where air can escape. Oftentimes, the bead itself will have a specific shape that is designed to interface more tightly with a tubeless-compatible rim. As tubeless is a feature, the tyre will be advertised and obviously marked as such on the casing.
Never use a standard clincher road tyre for tubeless as there will be a significant chance the tyre will blow off the rim once it’s inflated to a reasonable operating pressure.
Mountain bikes are run at lower pressures, and generally, there is less internal force trying to expand the tyre off of the rim. As a result, many riders have had good success converting standard tube-type tyres to tubeless, but that should only be done at your own risk; we don’t recommend this practice.
A true tubeless tyre will feature a specific bead construction along with an airtight casing that (theoretically) doesn’t require liquid sealant. More commonly are “tubeless-lite” or “tubeless-ready” tyres that are built with tubeless-specific beads, but standard casing that require tyre sealant to create an airtight seal. The latter style has become more common in modern tubeless systems as they allow for a lighter and more compliant tyre construction.
Tubeless rims have two basic requirements: they have to securely hold the tyre, and they have to hold air.
Some brands, such as Fulcrum, Campagnolo, Ritchey, Mavic, and Shimano, produce rims with no spoke holes on the outer rim wall, which makes them inherently airtight. More commonly, most tubeless-compatible rims require special sealing tape to create an airtight barrier from the spoke holes.
Most tubeless rims also feature a special shape that helps locate the bead of the tyre in place. A newer trend is for rims with no obvious bead hook, otherwise known as hookless rims. These rely on tight dimensional tolerances from both the tyre and rim in order to work. Regardless of rim shape, a smoothly rounded centre channel is usually present to help get the tyre on and off, and to create a path that aids with initial inflation.
Some brands, such as Stan’s NoTubes, offer kits that convert regular rims to tubeless ones. This is common practise in mountain bikes, where many riders have successfully converted to tubeless use with the correct parts. Sometimes this only requires tubeless tape and valves, but other times, specific rubber or plastic rim strips are required to provide a tighter fit that’s easier to inflate. These conversions are inherently hit-or-miss, and a substantial amount of care should be exercised before setting out on a converted setup.
On the road, and where higher operating pressures are used, it’s advised to only use recommended rims for tubeless use. We strongly advise against converting non-tubeless road wheels to work with tubeless tyres.
More bikes are being marketed as “tubeless-ready” these days, but it’s important to be clear on what that really means for that specific bike – because it does differ.
In many cases, a “tubeless-ready” bike will come equipped with tubeless-compatible rims and tyres, but is assembled with inner tubes to make things easier for dealers until the bike is sold. Most bike companies will include the tubeless valves, rim tape, and sealant needed for the full conversion, while other companies require the customer to purchase these parts in addition to the bike. Giant is one exception to the rule and many of its bikes arrive set up tubeless from the factory.
As far as industry-wide standards for tubeless on road, cyclocross, or gravel bikes go, the situation has greatly improved since 2019, but it remains somewhat confusing.
Hutchinson and Shimano introduced a proper road tubeless standard back in 2006, but it was not widely adopted by the rest of the industry. In the following years, other road tubeless adopters instead developed their own various tubeless systems, with little-to-no cooperation among relevant parties. As a result, there are some rims on the market that are oversized to provide a tight fit, and then some tyres that are undersized with the same intent, and the potential outcome is a combination that is extremely tough or near impossible to install. As of today, the market is full of tyres and rims that could be either virtually un-installable or simply dangerous when paired together.
More recently, Mavic released a new tubeless standard called UST Road. This system included specific dimensional and pressure requirements for the tyres and rims in the hopes of providing more predictably consistent (and safer) fitments. And this system helped form the groundwork for the new European Tire and Rim Technical Organization (ETRTO) road tubeless standards that were implemented in late 2019. As of 2021, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has released its standards that follow those of the ETRTO.
The new tubeless road standard covers two rim types – Tubeless Crochet (TC) and Tubeless Straight Side (TSS). Tubeless Crochet (TC) applies to traditional hooked (crochet) rims, while Tubeless Straight Side (TSS) refers to newer hookless rims such as those being produced by Zipp, Enve and Giant. These standards dictate the specific Bead Seat Diameter (BSD) of the rim, the height of the sidewalls and the shape of the centre channel. The topic of new tubeless road standards has been discussed on the CyclingTIps Nerd Alert podcast with Bastien Donzé from Zipp (and a member of the ETRTO committee).
The ETRTO standards are effectively a guideline for wheel and rim manufacturers to follow, and from there it’s up to the tyre manufacturers to ensure safe compatibility. Where things get confusing is that there is no law forcing tyre or wheel brands to adopt these new standards and so care is required by the consumer to ensure the products being purchased are compatible. If you’re unsure, then contact the brand directly and ask if their products are designed to the new ETRTO road tubeless standards.
Things are more defined in the mountain bike world and the vast majority of the industry has followed the dimensions first outlined in 1999 with the introduction of the Universal System Tubeless (UST) for mountain bikes.
When it comes to moulding carbon fibre rims, the straight sidewalls of hookless allow for the use of hard tooling which can lead to greater compaction of the material, less use of resin, less waste in manufacturing, and fewer paths for the material to make. The result is a product that is cheaper to manufacture with the potential of being lighter and stronger, too.
Hookless rims first came about in mountain biking as a way to increase the sidewall strength of carbon rims against impacts. The low tyre pressures of mountain biking and even gravel don’t present too many issues with tyre security on such hookless rims. However, the higher running pressures of road have introduced unique demands when running hookless wheels.
Tyre manufacturers will almost always indicate directly on the sidewall when it is a tubeless-compatible tyre. The chart below shows the tubeless nomenclature used by a number of popular companies.
Things get complicated when it comes to road tubeless tyres, especially when hookless rims are involved. Currently, there are a number of tubeless road tyres on the market that are not safe for use with hookless rims and so care must be taken in choosing tyres. For example, Continental’s older GP5000 TL tyres are not suitable for use with hookless rims, whereas the new GP5000S TR tyres are suitable.
The TSS (hookless rim) standard calls for a maximum tyre pressure of 72.5 psi – if a rim or tyre has this figure printed on it then it’s almost certainly compliant with the new ETRTO TSS standard. Furthermore, Enve, Zipp and Giant all have approved tyre lists for their respective hookless rims. If you have a hooked tubeless rim (crochet) then chances are that most tubeless tyres on the market will be fine to use.
Wheel or rim compatibility is often far less obvious, and will usually be stated in the component’s specification list. New road tubeless wheels are likely to have a sticker with something such as “ETRTO TSS 622 25” printed, in this case, this would be a rim that meets the ETRTO Tubeless Straight Sidewall standard. The “622” is the Bead Seat Diameter of a 700c wheel, while the “25” refers to the internal rim width. If in doubt about compatibility, contact your place of purchase.
With hundreds of possible combinations and no enforced fitment standards, it’s unfortunately impossible to give clear guidance as to what does and doesn’t work.
Mountain bike tubeless setups are pretty robust, and you can run just about any tubeless mountain bike tyre with any tubeless rim (widths and diameters considered).
On the road, as long as you’re using a claimed tubeless-ready tyre and hooked (crochet) rim, you should be fine, although variations in rim and tyre diameters still yield a disconcerting amount of variability in terms of ease of serviceability. Those with hookless (TSS) rims need to pay extra attention and should consult the recommend and approved tyre lists from the respective wheel brands. If you’re in doubt, contact your rim/wheel or tyre manufacturer for advice.
This is a grey area. The best way to be sure is to consult the information provided by the tyre and/or rim manufacturer.
A test that can be done at home looks at the security of the tyre on the rim. While a loose-fitting setup may work for a lighter rider with a smooth style, it could prove a disaster for another rider. Our global tech editor James Huang’s own test is to fully deflate the tyre while leaving it on the rim. From here, he’ll forcefully push the tyre sideways against the ground and test to see whether he can roll the deflated tyre from the rim. Even so, while he’s found that that test works for him, it’s still hardly universal or foolproof.
The reverse of this test is being able to get the tyre on in the first place. Although rare, some oversized rim and undersized tyre combinations can fit together so tightly that they aren’t practical to use, even though they’re very secure.
Again, the current transition to a widely adopted industry standard and the availability of pre-standard legacy parts is a problem.
There are no issues with using inner tubes within a tubeless tyre system. In most cases, you’d simply remove the tubeless valve and install an inner tube just as you would with a regular clincher system. This also means that if you were to cut a tubeless tyre while riding, you can get going again by removing the tubeless valve and installing an inner tube.
If your rim is hooked (crochet) then you can also use a regular tube-type clincher tyre with an inner tube.
However, if your rim is of the newer hookless (TSS) style, then you must use a compatible tubeless tyre, regardless of whether you want to use it tubeless or with a tube inside.
All about tyre sealants
Tyre sealant is a liquid added into the tyre. It’s required with tubeless-ready tyres to make them airtight, and acts as a preventative measure on both true tubeless and tubeless-ready tyres to seal small punctures. Usually latex-based, most tyre sealants also feature solid additives to help physically plug holes. Better tyre sealants will typically fill holes and small cuts up to 3 mm in diameter.
True tubeless tyres don’t require the use of tyre sealant, but it is still recommended as a preventative (self-sealing) measure in the event of a puncture.
The best tyre sealant for you will depend on the intended riding discipline, what pressures you plan to use, and whether you’d rather have absolute puncture protection or sealant that needs less frequent refreshment. Those with an allergy to latex will also need to take care to avoid the popular options.
For general use, we’ve found the tried-and-true Orange Seal Regular and Stan’s NoTubes Original sealant to be reliable choices, with the former being best for sealing larger punctures while the latter lasts longer. It’s common to have a trade-off between puncture-sealing effectiveness and longevity.
For example, Stan’s newer Race Day sealant is better at sealing larger punctures than the Original, but the thicker formula is more likely to clog valve stems, and it also needs to be replenished more often since it dries faster. Similarly, Orange Seal’s Endurance formula lasts far longer than the Original blend, but it’s not as effective at sealing larger punctures.
On the road, I’ve found the larger sealing particles of the Race Day sealant or Orange Seal Standard to better resist the higher tyre pressure which tends to blow out more conventional sealant formulas.
This answer will vary based on the sealant you use, the climate you live in, and your tyre construction. Hotter and drier climates will require sealant to be replenished more often – about every three months for popular products – while those in cooler and wetter climates may extend that timeframe to around six months. Likewise, a weeping tyre (see below) will need fresh sealant more often.
There are some sealants that claim to last forever (which, in our experience, is not the case). Ultimately, you’re best off selecting a sealant for its proven sealing properties, rather than its claimed longevity.
Maybe, but it’s typically best not to.
Every brand of tyre sealant will tell you that they can only ensure the effectiveness of their product if it’s not mixed with other sealants or chemicals. Some sealant manufacturers go as far to say that there could be an adverse chemical reaction by mixing products.
That said, a large segment of the sealants on the market share similar ingredients and while perhaps not ideal, it shouldn’t present any major issues to top up a tyre with a different brand of sealant to what was previously used.
This is up to you. The more sealant you use, the longer it’ll last and the better puncture protection you’ll have. The only negative is additional rotating weight.
If you use a more watery sealant such as Stan’s, then aim to use between 30-60mL for road tyres, 60-120mL for most mountain bike tyres, and somewhere between that amount for gravel. A thicker sealant such as Orange Seal tends to form a sealing layer around the tyre and so more sealant is typically needed versus those with a thinner viscosity.
Interestingly, Joe’s No Flats has found that the higher pressure and fast-rolling speed encountered with road tubeless calls for more sealant to be used. They recommend 60ml per tyre as the fast-rolling speed creates a centrifugal force on the sealant, resulting in a thin strip of sealing liquid along the tyre’s centre. The more sealant you run, the wider and deeper that strip of sealant becomes.
There are a number of gadgets on the market for this, such as the Milkit system or simpler syringes such as Park Tool’s TSI-1. None of these are perfect, however, and the easiest (and cheapest!) solution is to deflate the tyre, pull a small section of bead off of the rim, and look inside. If the sealant inside looks murky or is no longer liquid, then add more sealant and re-inflate the tyre.
An even easier method is to simply remove the wheel from the bike and give it a shake. If you don’t hear any liquid sloshing inside, it’s time to top up the sealant. Likewise, if you hear a rattle or knocking sound, it’s likely your sealant has dried up and left you a sealant “Stanimal” or “goober”. These are basically sealant snowballs. Pull a bead off and see what marvellous creature your sealant has conjured.
The method above of pulling a small amount of tyre bead from the rim is the easiest if you’re already checking. Alternatively, you can often inject sealant through the valve stem. To do this, you will need a tool to remove the valve core, a small squeeze bottle of sealant or a syringe, and a piece of tubing (a drinking straw can work). Unscrew the valve core and inject the sealant through the stem with your chosen tool. If it’s the small squeeze bottle, be sure to hold the tip of the bottle firmly against the valve to minimize leaking.
Whatever method you choose, be sure to shake the bottle of sealant first. This will ensure the sealing particles are not left out. You want that pulp!
Raoul Luescher of Luescher Teknik Pty Ltd has specifically tested for this and found no evidence that tubeless sealant leads to corrosion in wheels. While the ammonia in some popular sealants is known to corrode aluminium, the use of this chemical is very minimal. As Luescher points out, a tubeless system that is properly set up should be fully sealed, and so sealant shouldn’t be in regular contact with the wheel nipples at all. Aluminium rims are almost always anodized, too, and should already be protected.
One theory for the correlation between wheel corrosion and tubeless sealant comes from Adrian Emilsen of Melody Wheels, who believes that some leaky tubeless tapes allow sealant to seep into the nipple bed and retain water and salt. On this basis, it shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using a quality tubeless tape that’s correctly installed.
The answer to this will vary based on the brand of sealant, but typically tyre sealant has an incredibility long shelf life if unopened.
Tyre sealant that has been opened should also last for years, but pay attention to bundled bits of sealing latex and signs of water ingress. Always shake tyre sealant vigorously before use.
Adding glitter or similar fine particulates is an old trick to help with clogging larger punctures. Peaty’s tyre sealant is one product that used to include glitter from the factory. In our experience, the newer tyre sealants do a fine job already without having to resort to such tricks. Additionally, covering yourself, your bike, and your riding mates in glitter may be funny when it happens, but a pain to clean off, and isn’t good for the turtles.
This is unfortunately pretty normal. You can start by pulling out the valve core and cleaning it with a rag. A thin framing nail or similar object can then be inserted through the open valve stem to clear it out. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, then I’d suggest replacing your tubeless valves altogether.
As most tubeless-ready tyres are somewhat porous, it’s quite common for tyre sealants to weep through the sidewall. Some tyre brands and sealant types do this more than others. For example, I’ve experienced it plenty with Specialized, Continental, and Schwalbe mountain bike tyres, especially with age.
It’s not something to worry about, but there are things to be aware of. A weeping tyre will require you to replenish the sealant more regularly. Additionally, that moisture on the outside will likely collect debris when riding, and so wiping your sidewalls down periodically will ensure you don’t drag the mess where it shouldn’t be.
Use a rag and water to wipe up spilt sealant before it dries. If it’s on your clothes, Stan’s NoTubes recommend an immediate cold wash with a light detergent. If left to dry on clothes, the sealant will likely stain.
In the event of a puncture, it’s likely you’ll have some sealant spray on the areas of your bike that surround the tyre. Spraying this off with water from a bidon before it dries is the easiest solution, but this isn’t always possible. If the sealant has dried onto a painted surface then wipe clean with a light solvent – brake cleaner, citrus-based household goo removers and similar work well, just avoid products that can damage the paint.
It depends. Well-fitting tyre and rim combinations will keep the bead in place even when there’s no pressure inside the tyre, and no sealant should leak out. However, many combinations lack a perfect fit and so a part of the tyre bead will sometimes pop off when the tyre is deflated, which then allows space for sealant to leak out. Given this, it’s best to keep air in your tyres when stored or travelling.
You’ll need to use gravity to your benefit when inflating tyres with sealant inside. Always place the valve at the top or side when inflating, and never at the bottom where the sealant will be resting. This will prevent making a mess and save your pump and/or gauge from being filled with sealant.
Yes! Most tubeless sealants will work well within butyl and latex inner tubes. You’ll need tubes with removable valve cores for easy injecting of sealant. While those with latex tubes need to take special care to not let the tube deflate and stick to itself.
Tubeless tyre sealant can also be used with tubular tyres and there’s a small handful of pro teams doing just this. Israel Start-Up Nation is one team that has confirmed it uses tubeless sealant at all races (Orange Seal Regular).
Currently, almost every major tyre manufacturer offers tubeless tyres, so there are plenty of options, depending on your priorities.
On the road, our team has had good success with the Schwalbe Pro One TLE, a performance tyre that offers great grip, rolling speed and easy compatibility with most wheels (including hookless). Goodyear’s Eagle F1 tubeless is another nice well-rounded performance option that works across hooked and hookless rims. And the newly announced Continental GP5000S TR looks set to be a very good option, too.
Like mountain bike or cyclocross tyres, gravel tyres need to offer the right tread design and compound for your terrain. If you’re after a fast-rolling, well-rounded tyre for fast road and gravel, we’ve had great luck with the Schwalbe G-One tyres. However, there are countless great options in this space and those seeking a touch more off-road grip should look at tyres such as the Maxxis Rambler, Goodyear Connector, Continental Terraspeed, Panaracer Gravel King SK, and Donnelly Cycling’s collection.
Often your wheel brand will call for a specific tape and for guaranteed best results we’d suggest sticking with what’s recommended.
If your wheel or rim manufacturer doesn’t specify a specific tape, then you have a number of options. Most importantly you need to match the width of the tubeless tape to the internal width of your rims. The general advice is to get a tape that’s an exact match or 1-2 mm wider than the internal rim width.
For the tape itself, we’ve had good success with tubeless-specific tapes sold by DT Swiss, Stan’s No Tubes, Effetto Mariposa, and a number of others. A number of these tapes sold by bicycle brands are often products from the other industries that have been cut to rim-specific widths, and as such, you can sometimes buy bulk lengths of these tapes with fewer width choices – such examples include Tesa 4289 and 3M 8992 tapes.
Gorilla Tape is a popular alternative that is readily available at hardware stores but beware that it’s thicker than most tubeless tapes (which can make tyres a tighter fit) and tends to leave a messy residue behind. Another option is 3M Kapton tape, which is particularly thin, so it’s a good choice if you’re trying to get a slightly looser fit between your tyre and rim.
The listed width for tapes is the actual width of the tape. The general advice is to go just a bit wider than the internal rim width as some of the tape will sit down in the centre channel, and you want it to overlap ever so slightly with the tire bead.
Ideally, look for a tape that’s 1-2 mm wider than the internal rim width.
Pay attention to valve stem length if you’re using deep road rims. Otherwise, any “standard” length valve should do the job. I’ve had great success with using Stan’s NoTubes Universal valve stems on a number of systems, and have even found them to offer a superior fit where other styles of valve stems are suggested (such as Shimano, Bontrager, and DT Swiss wheels).
If grams (nine of them, to be exact) or colours matter, I’ve found the WTB TCS alloy valve stems to offer an equally reliable fit. Similar valves are available under many other brands, and while most look the same, they’re not always equal. And while obviously expensive, Teske’s titanium valves offer a level up for the detail-obsessed.
Whatever you do, avoid carbon fibre tubeless valves! They’re the only valve stems I’ve ever snapped while inflating a tyre.
Tyre inserts are effectively segments of foam that are run within the tyre to aid in rim sidewall protection, tyre sidewall stability, and in some cases (such as with CushCore), help to dampen the air for a more controlled ride. Tyre inserts are a popular product in gravity disciplines of mountain biking and they’re starting to gain attention with lower-volume tyres for road and gravel riding purposes.
Tyre inserts come with a weight penalty and can make installing and setting up tyres greatly more difficult. On the positive side, inserts likely allow for lower tyre pressures to be used with even less risk of flat tyres or wheel damage. Myself and James Huang have taken to using tyre inserts on gravel bikes, where we’re commonly able to reduce our pressures by as much as 5 psi with little negative impact.
Assuming your rims are set up with tubeless tape, then you’ll only require a floor pump with a high-volume airflow and maybe a set of tyre levers. The tighter the tyre fit, the easier the system will be to inflate with a basic floor pump. Looser tubeless setups will require a more immediate burst of air, and so an air compressor, tubeless floor pump (covered below), or a tubeless-specific “booster” canister may be required.
One thing that is definitely not recommended is a CO2 canister. That quick shot of air comes with a serious drop in temperature, and many sealants don’t react well to that level of cold.
The easiest way is to check with your wheel builder or wheel manufacturer and ask the question. Failing that, look for any marking on the tape that suggests it is for tubeless use; both Roval and DT Swiss tapes are clearly marked, for example. Similarly, Stan’s NoTubes tape, which is widely used, is a telltale glossy yellow.
Alternatively, assess whether the tape looks air and watertight. If the tape is cloth, is made of porous plastic, is not adhesive, or has a loose fit on the rim, then it is not suitable for tubeless use.
Start with a bare rim that has been thoroughly cleaned with rubbing alcohol, acetone, or a similar solvent that leaves no residue. Find a tubeless tape that matches or is a couple of millimetres wider than the internal width of your rims. Starting one spoke hole before the valve hole, wrap the tape tightly around the circumference of the rim. Cut the end with scissors once you’ve overlapped past the valve hole. For some road setups, it is advised to use two layers of tape to better handle the higher running pressures, but this also depends on the tape used.
Park Tool details the steps here:
Assuming your rim has been freshly wrapped in tape, then you want to pierce a hole in the tape without tearing it. There are two common methods here used by professional mechanics. The first is to heat up a sharpened spoke, center punch or similar round pointy metal tool. Once hot, gently pierce the tape with the tool. This will create a perfect hole without tears.
The second method is to cleanly cut the tape. Professional mechanic Brad Kelly uses a small needle file that is pushed into the tape on a 45-degree angle at the edge of the valve hole. See the Instagram post below for details.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by BK (@bee_kay77)
Whichever method you choose to create the hole, the next step is to push the valve through and install the supplied valve nut (and o-ring on the outside if supplied). While the valve nut serves little purpose with clincher tyres, it’s required on tubeless to create and retain an airtight seal.
Tighten the valve nut firmly with your fingers. If you hear air escaping around the valve, tighten it further. You shouldn’t need tools to get the valve nut tight enough. If you’re confident the valve is airtight, but you still hear air rushing through the spoke holes, you likely have a leak in the tape somewhere.
Removable valve cores have small tool flats on them. Ideally, use a dedicated valve core tool to unscrew it from the valve stem (lefty loosey, righty tighty). Alternatively, you can use pliers with care. Simply reverse the process to install it. It should be tight enough that you cannot remove it with your bare fingers.
Although this takes more time, I advise first doing a “dry” installation. This involves installing the tyres and inflating them without the use of sealant. Once the tyre beads seat and the tyre starts to inflate, you can then deflate the tyre and – ideally – inject sealant through the valve (with the valve core removed) without fear of the liquid seeping out around the tyre beads.
With little stretch in the bead and a typically tighter fitment, tubeless tyres can be challenging to get on and off the rim. Our guide to dealing with impossibly tight tyres has everything you need to know and do to overcome this. Do beware that you should pay careful attention if using tyre levers to install a tubeless tyre as it’s easy to damage the sealing tubeless tape. A little bit of soapy water can act as a lubricant and help ease the process. There’s also a few “hook” type tyre tools on the market to ease such installation, such as the TyreKey out of the UK.
With the tyre wrestled on to the rim, you should now be ready to add air to the system. Generally speaking, a well-fitting tubeless tyre will make a few loud popping sounds as the tyre bead firmly pops into place against the rim sidewalls. Look for a uniform bead around the circumference of the wheel, as low spots will reveal a tyre that’s not fully seated.
Park Tool shows common installation methods here:
The best tubeless setups have a precise fit between the rim and tyre, and will require nothing more than a regular floor pump to pressurise the system. However, not all setups are the same, and sometimes the use of a regular floor pump to seat a tubeless tyre can be exhausting – or futile.
An air compressor used to be the secret weapon for tubeless installs, and remains the top pick for absolute ease. You’ll need a suitable tyre inflator to go with the air compressor.While air compressors are great, recent years have seen an influx of more attainable tubeless pumps and inflator canisters hit the market.
A tubeless-specific floor pump effectively combines a regular floor pump with a chamber that can be charged to a specified pressure and then released in one sudden burst. Great examples of this include the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger, Topeak JoeBlow Booster, Lezyne Digital Pressure Overdrive, and others. Another option is a large volume floor pump that simply provides a decent burst of air with each stroke – one great example of this is the Topeak JoeBlow Tubi 2Stage.
If you already own a floor pump you love, then consider a separate tubeless canister that you inflate to pressure. I’ve had great success with the original Airshot, although similar products now exist from Schwalbe, Giant, Specialized, Milkit, and Topeak. There are also plenty of examples for DIY canisters using a Coke bottle or similar, but given you’ll be pumping the thing over 100 psi, I’m not a fan of such ideas.
There are many tips and tricks here. Try these in order.
– Airflow is typically the biggest limiter. Start by removing the valve core from the valve (using a valve core removal tool or a set of needle-nose pliers). This will allow a larger volume of air to flow faster into the tyre. If you have access to a tubeless pump, canister, or air compressor, now is the time to use it.– If you don’t have access to a compressor or tubeless pump, then a burst from a CO2 canister can also do the trick. However, this method is not only wasteful, but can adversely affect the sealant given the extreme cold produced inside the tyre.– Double-check that the tyre is sitting on the rim around the valve stem and not overlapping with it. This is a common issue.– A little soapy water around the bead of the tyre can help ease the bead into place. The soap also aids in slowing the release of air around the bead.– Have a friend help hold the tyre taut against the rim to help create a temporary seal. Pulling the tyre against the rim bead at the valve can also be a useful approach for loose fitting and/or wider tyres.
Failing all that, take the tubeless valve out, install a tube and inflate to pressure, and then leave it overnight. When you come back to it, deflate the tube and carefully lift just one side of the tyre off the rim, leaving the seated bead intact on the other side. Install the tubeless valve, push the loose bead back into place and inflate.
If you still can’t inflate it at this point, you’re either dealing with a terrible (or faulty) combination or are missing earlier steps.
You’ve got a leak. There could be a few things causing this and dipping the wheel in a bucket of water can help diagnose it.
Most likely it’s leaking from the sidewall of a tyre. To fix this, give the tyre a shake while turning it on its side (imagine driving a bus with your wheel). Your goal is to distribute the sealant around the entire surface of the tyre casing. Once done, lay the wheel flat on a bucket or similar and leave for a few hours. Repeat the shaking motion and flip the wheel. It’s also a good idea to immediately ride the inflated tyre(s) around the block for a few minutes. The repeated casing flex helps the sealant fill any remaining tiny holes in the sidewalls.
If the leak is coming from your tubeless valve, then make sure you haven’t torn the surrounding tape. Check that the valve’s rubber grommet is matching and sealing to the rim shape; some rims call for specific valves. And of course, check that the valve nut is tight.
If the leak is coming through some spoke holes, then you either have a valve seal issue or a poor rim tape seal. Redo the rim tape installation with fresh tape and ensure the rim is cleaned with an alcohol-based solvent first. Installing a tube overnight can help seal the new rim tape against the rim.
Riding with tubeless and fixing flats
The answer to this question is a simple ‘it depends’, but the general rule is ‘less’. Both Zipp and Silca offer good tyre pressure calculators, which will assist with getting you into the right ballpark, regardless of what tyre and rim you use.
Generally speaking, the recommended tyre pressure will be lower than you think is right. For example, a 75 kg (165 lb) pure road rider on measured 28 mm tyres is likely to be most comfortable and efficient on pressures south of 60 psi. The same rider on gravel with 40 mm tyres will likely be below 38 psi (unless extremely rocky).
Most punctures on tubeless will self-seal with the sealant inside the tyre (assuming it hasn’t dried out). Often you won’t even need to stop, while other times pulling over and letting gravity focus the sealant to the puncture can help.
If the hole is larger and/or not sealing, then a tyre plug can be inserted from the outside. If the repair is done quickly (and if you’re quick to put a finger on the hole while you get the tool ready), you may be able to continue riding without having to top up the tyre pressure.
If you don’t have tyre plugs, or the tyre is properly cut, then you can just install an inner tube as usual. As you would with a clincher system, it’s best to use a patch or boot on the tyre to prevent the inner tube from poking through the hole if it’s particularly big. Installing a tube uses the same process as a clincher setup, but remember that you will need to remove the tubeless valve stem first, and you’re likely to get a bit messier due to the sealant inside.
The spares you carry with tubeless tyres will likely look much like those you carried with tubes. For road, gravel and mountain bike rides we pack a tubeless plug kit, a tyre lever, an inner tube, and a way to inflate the tyre (either Co2 or a mini pump).
On really remote mountain bike or gravel rides, some of our staff choose to carry a small bottle of tyre sealant in addition to tyre plugs, an inner tube, and a mini-pump. It’s highly unlikely you’ll get stranded with such a setup.
In case of a puncture, a tubeless tyre plug can be used to create a reliable fix. If the plug is holding air, then it’s likely fine to leave in place for the life of the tyre.
If the plug continues to leak or the tyre is torn then it can be patched from the inside. We’ve had good success with patching tyres with regular inner tube patches and vulcanising glue, but it can be a messy job given the sealant inside the tyre.
Replace the tyre if there is any damage to the bead.
Without sounding dramatic, there are Dynaplugs and then everything else. Dynaplug combines its trademark “spike” tool and the plug into one, so it’s extremely quick and easy to use. Read our Dynaplug review to see how this product works.
Other systems borrow from the automotive world and use a pronged tool to push a sticky rubber strip through the tyre. There are numerous compact bicycle-specific options on the market that typically run cheaper than Dynaplug and get the job done (but often with a little more fiddling). Just remember that all tyre plugs are most likely to be effective if you have fresh sealant in your tyres.
Have you used tubeless before? What has been your experience? Any tips missed? Let us know in the comments below.