Tubeless tires are extremely popular in the mountain bike world, and they’re starting to appear on road bikes as well. The idea is quite simple; get rid of the inner tube, install a special rim strip, and with the right tire a liquid sealant can be used to create an airtight installation. The lack of inner tube allows for lower tire pressures without the risk of pinch flats (when the tube get’s pinched between the rim and the ground). That means a larger contact point with the ground, better traction, handling, and bump absorption. And for the most part, punctures are usually stopped by the liquid sealant in the tire.
While many new mountain bike wheels ship as “tubeless ready”, you can actually convert your existing wheels to a tubeless system. I recently made the switch to tubeless with a kit made by Orange Seal. This includes the rim strips, valves, and sealant. Make sure you get rim strips with the correct width for your rims. 24mm is pretty standard for mtb wheels, but measure the inside width of your rims to be sure.
Lay the strip in the center of the rim. It should come up on the sidewall of the rim on each side. I removed the existing rim tape before applying the tubeless strip, but I recommend leaving it. There’s no reason to get rid of it and many tubeless kits recommend using two layers of their tape if you do remove it.
Old tires, tubes, and rim tape. Good riddance!
The Orange Seal system has the valve separate from the tape. Once the tape is installed, cut a small slit over the valve hole and push the valve through. Depending what valve type you used before, the hole size may vary (presta vs. schrader). I’ve heard of some people having the separate valve pull through on the larger schrader hole, so in that situation a system that has the valve integrated with the strip may be better (like Stan’s No Tubes).
Time to install the tire. I upgraded to a lighter set, but with a kit like Orange Seal you can use your existing tires. To accomplish the initial seal more easily, cover the rim and the tire bead with a soap and water mix. Until the sealant is properly distributed inside the tire, the soapy water will allow for a temporary seal.
Install one side of the tire, then squirt the sealant into the tire at the bottom. Push the other bead onto the rim and grab your compressor. In order to inflate the tire quickly enough for it to seal, compressed air is a necessity. If you don’t have a presta fitting for your compressor, a schrader to presta adapter is a quick fix and handy to have around anyway. A quick blast of compressed air should push the beads of the tire against the rim and seal it up. Once seated, you need to distribute the sealant throughout the tire to make sure it covers every inch of the seams. Turn the wheel around, shake it, spin it; whatever it takes!
Once you feel that sealant is evenly coating the inside of the tire, inflate to your desired psi and get riding! Finished tire sans tube:
While the sealant does a pretty good job of stopping air from leaking out in the event of a puncture, a large hole or tear in the tire can be a problem. If you’re out on the trail you should carry a spare tube just in case. It can be installed if necessary to get you home.