Running mountain bike or road tyres ‘tubeless’, as the name suggests, means without an inner tube has many advantages. A tubeless setup is lighter (your bike is minus the extra weight of two tubes), more resistant to pinch flats (so you can run tyres at lower pressure with more grip and more confidence) and, because a tubeless tyre will contain liquid sealant, it also helps to avoid penetration punctures from thorns and sharp stones.
Tubeless tyres also roll faster – by conforming more readily to the ground and absorbing impacts, rolling resistance is reduced for a faster overall speed.
However not all tyres and wheel rims are ‘tubeless ready’, so if you want to run a tubeless setup on your bike you may need a conversion kit. This normally consists of replacement valves, rim strip (to seal the spoke holes) and sealant.
It’s worth noting that Stans have a very useful guide on compatibility and rim configuration.
Read on for more information on the different types of tubeless conversion kit available and what you need for your bike to ‘go tubeless’.
Here’s how to change your tubeless tyre:
How to convert your bike tyres to tubeless
A wealth of information is available on how to use a conversion kit to make your tyres run tubeless – check out the kit manufacturer’s website or visit YouTube for a video tutorial – but here’s a quick rundown of the main steps.
You will need: A tubeless conversion kit that includes rim strips and valves (either separately or with the valve moulded into the strip) and sealant; soapy water and a brush or sponge, a floor pump or ideally an air compressor; lots of patience.
1. Remove the old tyres and any rim tape.
2. Carefully clean the rim bed and the inside of the tyre to remove any grit or old sealant (light sandpaper following by a rub-down with baby wipes will do this).
3. Apply the rubber rim strip to the rim bed, taking care to do so. This needs to be as airtight as possible so apply it under tension and move it from side to side to seat it properly. Smooth it down with a cloth as you apply it in order to get rid of any trapped air bubbles.
4. If you are using a rim strip with moulded valves, ensure the valve lines up with the valve hole so you can insert it. If using a separate strip and valves, cut a small, clean cross in the strip over the valve hole, insert the valve and tighten it in place with the locking nut (if your valve hole is too small – e.g . designed for a Presta valve when most conversion kits use Schrader – you may need to drill it out using a 21/64”/8.3mm drill bit).
5. Mount the tyre on the rim (this can take some effort with tubeless-ready or UST tyres that have reinforced beads, so strong tyre levers are advised). Positioning the tyre bead in the centre channel of the rim, mount one bead beginning opposite the valve and finishing at the valve. Once the first bead is mounted begin mounting the second bead opposite the valve and again finish at the valve.
6. Use a brush or sponge to apply a generous amount of soapy water to the bead and rim, all the way around. This will help to seat the bead on the rim hook, and you will be able to see where any air is escaping post-inflation (look for tiny bubbles coming out at the bead or through the tyre sidewall).
7. Now comes the tricky bit – inflating the tyre so that the bid sits properly on the rim and creates and airtight seal. Many experts advise use a compressor for a quick blast of air, but if you haven’t gone one to hand it is possible to do it with a high-volume floor pump. When inflating, hang the wheel up by the rim so that the tyre is not deformed by contact with the ground. It’s advisable to do a ‘test inflate’ first, and you may need a couple of runs at it.
8. Once the tyre is inflated, look for any escaping air (tiny bubbles in the water). If this is down to the bead being incorrectly seated on the rim, deflate and try again. If there is air escaping through the sidewall, it indicates a porous area, which is where the liquid sealant comes in.
9. Deflate the tyre, remove the valve core and pour in the recommended amount of sealant (2-3oz) using the supplied funnel. Re-inflate the wheel, then rotate and bounce it to ensure adequate dispersal of the sealant – it should seal any areas where air is escaping though the tyre, with a little left over that will remain liquid and seal any future punctures.
10. If the wheel isn’t holding air, re-apply a layer of soapy water and look for tell-tale bubbles. Rotate the wheel to slosh sealant over the affected area.
11. Inflate to the recommended pressure (usually not more than 45psi for MTB tyres) and you’re done. Tubeless!
Best Tubeless Kits Buying Guide: in-depth
Tubeless systems were developed primarily for the MTB market with the aim of avoiding pinch flats and enabling tyres to be run at lower pressures, but their advantages have also seen the standard increasingly adopted by road riders. The principle behind the tubeless system is to create an airtight seal between the bead of the tyre and the rim of the wheel, forgoing the need for an inner tube (as with car tyres).
There are three main ways to run tubeless tyres on your bike – either with Universal Standard Tubeless (UST) wheels and tyres, with tubeless-ready rims and tyres or by using a tubeless conversion kit to make ordinary wheels airtight.
• UST wheels and tyres: These are tyres and rims designed specifically to be run tubeless, with tight tolerances between the tyre bead and rim. UST tyres will have a reinforced bead and an extra layer of butyl in the casing to make them non-porous.
• Tubeless-ready wheels and tyres: Tubeless-ready tyres don’t have an additional airtight layer, relying instead on liquid sealant to stop air escaping, but they do have the reinforced bead. Tubeless-ready rims will typically have a tighter-fitting bead hook that holds the tyre in place, and a shallower ‘drop channel’ (the centre of the rim) which makes inflation easier. They will still need a tubeless conversion kit to be run tubeless, but are designed to make the job easier.
• Tubeless conversion kits: These typically consist of a rubber rim strip (with valves) to help create an airtight seal on the rim and liquid sealant and can be used to convert ‘ordinary’ tubes and tyres to tubeless (the valves have removable cores to allow you to ‘top up’ with sealant). ‘Going tubeless’ on a normal set of wheels and tyres can be a little trickier than with UST or tubeless-ready options – creating an airtight seal, seating the tyre and inflating can take some practice – but it is the most inexpensive conversion option if you don’t already have UST or tubeless-ready rims and tyres.
When choosing a tubeless conversion kit be sure to match the included rim strip to the size of your wheels – MTB rims come in three different diameters of 26”, 27.5” and 29” and rims for different applications may also vary in width (e.g. XC racing rims will be narrower than those intended for DH or Enduro).