Want to set up tubeless tires on your bike, but feel overwhelmed? I understand.
I don’t think there is anything more daunting that working on your own bike. Not only do I feel like a total nincompoop when attempting to do anything on my bike, but I’m also terrified that I am going to screw something up and end up in a terrible situation on the trail.
So, I generally just pay someone at my local bike shop to do all the work. Or, I ask my husband to help me. As an extremely independent person, it hurts my ego more than anything. So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to learn more about bike maintenance.
I am going to write a monthly maintenance series to help empower women to do their own bike maintenance. This month we are going to focus on converting your tires to a tubeless set-up. If I can do it, so can you!
What Are Tubeless Tires?
So, what does that mean? If your tires are tubeless, that means there is no internal tube. This is similar to how your car tires are set up.
Instead of using tubes, a tubeless set up uses tubeless-ready tires and rims, rim tape, and sealant to hold air in the tire.
Most mountain bikes and gravel bikes are running tubeless wheels and tires, while road bikes tend to use inner tubes, although the road biking world has shown interest in converting to tubeless.
Pros And Cons Of Running A Tubeless Set Up
As with everything in life, there are pros and cons of deciding to run a tubeless set up on your bike. Some of them are as follows.
- Fewer flats because the sealant will plug any small punctures in the tire.
- Better rolling performance because you can run lower PSI in your tires.
- No more pinch flats.
- Better traction.
- If the sealant doesn’t plug a hole, you can typically use a small puncture kit to fix the issue.
- It is more expensive to set up.
- It is messy and time-consuming initially.
- You will still have to carry a tube as backup.
Supplies You Need To Set Up Tires Tubeless
- Tire levers
- Tire sealant
- Rim tape (if your wheels do not come with it)
- Tubeless valves
- Air compressor/ Air canister bike pump
Confirm That You Can Convert Your Wheels To Tubeless
First, you want to make sure that your wheel can be converted tubeless. A quick way to check if your wheel can support tubeless is to look at the lip of the rim and see if it has a hook where the tire will “sit”.
Most modern wheels are designed to be used either way. But, if you are unsure whether your wheel can be converted, check with your local bike shop.
Get Rim Tape If Needed
Second, you want to look at your wheel and see if there is any tubeless tape on the inside of the rim. If it has not been set up with tubeless tape, you will want to go pick some up from your local bike shop or REI. I like the Muc-Off Tubeless Rim Tape and it comes in a variety of sizes to fit most wheels.
Many people also swear by Gorilla Tape. It’s super easy to use, but can be difficult to remove when the time comes.
The next thing you will need to have are tubeless compatible valves. Muc-Off makes tubeless valves that come in an array of colors and sizes for you to customize your bike with.
Choose Your Sealant
Once you have rim tape and tubeless valves, the last thing you will need is tire sealant. Tire sealant is a liquid that goes inside the wheel to help plug any punctures or holes that you might get while riding.
It will dry out, so it is important to make sure and check the level of tire sealant every 6 months. If you live in a dry climate you will have to check your tire sealant more frequently because it will dry out much faster.
Orange Seal makes an excellent tire sealant and so does Muc-Off.
You’ll Need Compressed Air
The last step to convert your tire to tubeless is to get the bead of the tire to sit in hook of the wheel. You can use either an air compressor or a tire pump that has an air chamber which stores the air and releases in one large burst similar to an air compressor.
I use the TopPeak Joe Blow Booster Track Pump and it works great. If neither one of these are an option for you, you can always take the wheel to a bike shop, and they should be able to seat the tire for you.
Step #1: Rim Tape (If Not Needed, Skip To Step #2)
Now that we’ve gathered everything that we need, it’s time to get started!
Prep your wheel for rim tape by cleaning the inside of the wheel with isopropyl alcohol. Just make sure you have a clean, dry surface so the tape will stick.
Find where the valve goes and start the tape four spokes away from the valve. Place the start of the tape down and hold it with one hand securing it to the rim while taking the roll of tape in the other hand and pulling it tight around the wheel away from you.
As you place the tape down, run your hand along it to ensure it is sticking and there aren’t any bubbles. You will want to do at least one and a half passes. I like to do two complete rounds of tape.
*Photo courtesy of Muc-Off
After you’ve completed the tape job, next you need to puncture a hole for the tubeless valve. You can either take an x-acto knife and cut an X in the hole or you can use an awl to puncture the hole.
I would not recommend using the valve to puncture the hole. You could damage the valve.
Step #2: Put Your Tire Back On And Fill It Up With Sealant
Now that you’ve prepped the rim for tire sealant, you can put the tire back on with the help of your tire levers. Just make sure you pay attention to the roll direction of the tire, so you put it on correctly.
When putting sealant in the tire you have two options. Either you can leave a little gap in the tire and rim and pour the sealant in that way then finish putting the tire on, or you can put the tire completely on and remove the valve core and use a syringe to get the sealant in the tire.
Both ways work and are easy, so it is your personal preference. I like the pour the sealant into the tire before I put it completely on the wheel because I feel like I get more sealant in there.
Photo on the left is before adding new sealant. The photo on the right is after adding the correct amount of sealant.
Step #3: Seat Your Tire
Now that you’ve got your tape, valve, sealant, and tire on, you can finally seat the tire. By either using an air compressor or air canister pump, you will be able to put enough air in to seat the bead of the tire against the rim.
You will typically hear popping noises as this happens (and it can be loud!), but not always. This is the hardest part of a tubeless setup, so give it time, be patient, and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t seat right away.
Once you’ve put enough air in the tire, take the wheel and spin it around several times to get the sealant worked around.
It is also recommended that you put the tire back on the bike and go for a quick ride. The more you spin the wheel, the more the sealant can do its job to plug any small puncture.
Now that you’ve converted your tires, you can figure out what new PSI you want to run in the front and rear tires. That is a personal preference, and it will take some time to figure out what feels comfy for you.
Another thing to consider is the weight of your bike. On my 55-pound e-bike, I like to run a little more air in both tires than my super lightweight cross-country bike.
Just remember to check your tires every 6 months to see if you need more sealant. If you live in a dryer climate, you might need to add more frequently.
Ready For More?
Way to go! Learning to work on your bike feels rad! Here are some other tutorials we have on the site.
- How to Clean and Lube Your Bike Chain (It’s Easy!)
- How To Clean A Rusty Bike Chain
- Presta vs Schrader Valves: What’s The Difference? What’s Better?
About The Author
Malorie Gage has been mountain biking, road, gravel cycling for many years. She lives in Colorado where she’s raising two tiny humans and balancing biking and motherhood.