How To: Set Up Your Bike Tires Tubeless

Tire
Tubes called. You’re on a break. Photo: Mike Lavery

Tubeless tires are old technology at this point, but I know a surprising number of people that haven’t converted. Either they don’t care or just think it’s too complicated. In fact, I ran inner tubes for an embarrassing amount of time before finally taking the leap. Why do it? You’ll get less flats and it’s an easy way to cut up to 2 pounds from your ride. Yes, tubes can be that heavy.

Tubeless is easy, here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Get the supplies. You’re going to need some tubeless rim tape, sealant, tubeless valves and an air compressor. If you don’t have an air compressor, likely you know someone that does, or they aren’t that expensive. I have a 3 gallon/100psi pancake compressor from Harbor Freight that was about $50.

Tires
Some Tubeless Stuff. The valves declined to be photographed. Photo: Mike Lavery

Step 2: Tape the rim. If you’re converting over from inner tubes, you’ll have some sort of rim strip already in your wheels, but its not creating a seal. Some manufacturers are spec’ing wheels with tubeless rim strips, in which case you can skip this step. If not, you’ll need to remove the factory strip and apply new tape. Wipe down the rim quickly to remove any dirt.

Tires
Starting to tape the rim next to the valve hole. Photo: Mike Lavery

I use Stan’s tubeless rim tape but I know people that use Gorilla Tape for this too. Start just adjacent to the valve hole, and apply the tape to the inside of the rim so that it covers all the spoke holes and is cleanly adhered to the rim. Work your way all the way around, covering the valve hole, and overlap the ends by an inch or two. Some people don’t cover the valve hole, some people do multiple layers, it’s really up to you. You’re just making the inside of your rim air tight.

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The final product. Make sure the edges are nice and clean. Photo: Mike Lavery

Step 3: Insert the valves. If you covered the valve hole with your rim tape, poke a small hole and shove the valve through. Thread the nut onto the part on the inside of the rim, and hand tighten. At this point I also like to remove the valve core (the little part that pops up and down, they just unthread) to make things easier down the line.

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Put the valve in just as you would with a tube. Valve core removed here. Photo: Mike Lavery

Step 4: Install your tires and add sealant. If you’ve been running inner tubes, and likely changing a lot of flats, you’re probably well versed on tire installation. This is the step where I like to add my sealant. Usually I just squirt a few ounces into the tire before I install the last section of bead over the rim. Some people like to inject it through the valve after the tires are installed…doesn’t matter, either works. I use Stan’s sealant but there are a number of different brands out there.

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A nice puddle of sealant will do. Then just finish installing the tire. Photo: Mike Lavery

Step 5: Set the bead. This is wear the air compressor comes into the game. Since you don’t have an air tight system yet, you need a big blast of air from the compressor to rapidly inflate the tire.  Having the valve core removed (step 3) makes this a lot more effective.

Once my compressor is up to about 90PSI, I inflate until the tire bead snaps evenly up  against the rim. You’ll see it happen and it’s going to make some very loud popping sounds as it sets into place. Don’t be alarmed, its normal. Once I am done, I quickly plug the valve hole with my finger and then re-install the valve core so all my sealant doesn’t come flying out.

Tires
Compress. Photo: MIke Lavery

It’s not uncommon that the tire will be holding air without the bead being fully seated. You’ll hear a leak, notice a wobble in the tire, or see an area of the sidewall that is shorter often with some sealant bubbling out. From here you can inflate the tire with a pump until the final sections snap into place. It often takes 60-80PSI and will produce another loud noise. Don’t be scared.

Step 6: Distribute the sealant. The latex sealant is what is going to make the system air tight, so you want to evenly distribute it throughout the tire. I like to lay the wheel on each side for a few minutes, and then just give it a few spins to coat the tire. Don’t forget to drop your air pressure down into the recommended range printed on the sidewall of your tire.

This is just how I do tubeless but there are a lot of different methods that work. Even stopping to take pictures the whole process took me 15 minutes.

That’s it! Time to ride!