Tubeless mountain bike tires have been in use for years. Cyclists use them for their reliability. They are lighter than a tire with a tube and are cost-effective. This article looks at the types of tubeless tire systems, tubeless tire maintenance, sealant, and the benefits of tubeless mountain bike tires.
What does tubeless mean?
A tubeless tire has no inner tube; the valve, rim, and tire seal the tire to prevent flats. Liquid sealant is used inside the tire to plug air leaks. A tubeless tire requires maintenance and uses a unique rim bead. Installing a tubeless tire is more complicated and does not guarantee you will never get a flat.
A few things you should know
While tubeless mountain bike tires remove the chances of getting a pinch flat (when the bead cuts through the inner tube on extreme impact of your tire), the rim bead can still cut the casing, creating an alternate pinch flat.
Things such as thorns may not puncture the tubeless tire, but you can still puncture the tire. There is a chance of getting a hole big enough to tear the tire that sealant can’t patch. Plus, unridden bike tires leak air over time, especially when stored improperly.
If you want to adjust the tire pressure by your casing, weight, and riding style and not overinflate the tire to protect the intertube, then tubeless mountain bike tires are the way to go!
Tubeless Tire System Choices
Tubeless tire systems can get confusing, so let’s sort them out.
Tubeless-ready tires have a bead lock that provides security and simplicity. They offer spoke beds that are sealed. These tires are light and require less sealant than the other tubeless options but need increased maintenance. Tubeless-ready wheels are the most popular choice.
Tubeless compatible wheels also have a bead-locked rim without the sealed rim bed. While people use the terms tubeless-ready and tubeless compatible interchangeably, the sealed rim bed or lack thereof is the difference.
Universal system tubeless, also known as the UST, has a square bead lock rim. Its butyl rubber coating keeps the tire air tight without any sealant. Although these two benefits make maintaining and mounting the tire easier, the UST and its parts are heavier. In the past few years, cyclists have gotten away from the universal system tubeless.
Reasons to go tubeless
- Ability to lower tire pressure improves traction on rough terrain
- Greatly reduces pinch punctures
- No longer need to carry a patch kit
- Reduces added tire weight
While the reasons to go tubeless offer many benefits, there are a few drawbacks. You will need to carry sealant on every ride, which is messy sometimes. You’ll want to have an extra tube with you just in case something does happen to the tire that you can’t fix on a ride. Any time you lower the tire pressure, the rims are more vulnerable. Most of all, some tubeless tires are harder to seal and very messy when changing them.
Sealant is liquid rubber with a thin consistency. It swishes around inside the tire and fills
and seals any punctures. Most tires require 90 ml of sealant, but more is needed in larger tires. Sealant is meant to create an airtight seal during a puncture. Admittedly, this does not always happen, hence carrying an extra tire and sealant.
Changing sealant is done according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. But hotter temperatures may dry out the sealant, making it necessary to add more. Most manufacturers recommend changing sealant every two to six months. It is best to check it every couple of months to ensure it is still liquid. Never mix sealants. Use the recommended ones and stay with that brand unless you change it completely. Each manufacturer uses different additives and ingredients, changing how the sealant seals and coagulates.
Tubeless tire inserts
A Tubeless insert is made of foam and goes into the tire. Inserts do not go all the way
around the tire. They assist the bead in holding the tire on the rim when you ride at a lower pressure and cushion the rim to prevent rim damage if you bottom out. They are not supposed to soak up the sealant as they are made of foam. Though it is not significant, they add a bit of weight to the bike.
Before purchasing a tubeless system, ensure your bike doesn’t already have one. Some bicycles are shipped with inner tubes, while some are tubeless-ready.
You can buy a conversion kit. It is cheaper than buying it piece by piece. Check your bike’s existing system to know what kit you need. You will need rim tape, sealant, and a valve at the very least. Always check the conversion kit to see how difficult the change will be.
If you opt for a complete tubeless stem change, be aware that it can be expensive, though most think it is worth the expense!
Tubeless Mountain Bike Tire Maintenance
New season maintenance
Before you start biking each season, do the primary maintenance.
Step 1: Lay down some newspaper or have an empty bucket for the old sealant. Take the tire off the bike and clean it with soap and water. After drying the tire, remove the tire from the rim. Taking off one side and draining the sealant on the newspaper or into a bucket will keep the mess to a minimum.
Step 2: Wash the inside of the tire with soapy water after draining the sealant. Check the rim tape for cuts, tears, or other damage. Then make sure the valve stem is free of clogs. Replace them if they are compromised in any way.
Step 3: To reassemble the tire, place ½ the tire on the wheel. When doing the back tire, the name of the tire needs to be at the valve stem.
Step 4: Place the second tire on the wheel by starting the beading opposite the valve stem while finishing the installation at the valve.
Step 5: Inflate the tires with an air compressor or tubeless tire pump before putting them on the bike. Removing the valve core to help the bead seat as you use the high-volume air to inflate the tire. Once the beads are correctly seated, replace the valve cores and finish inflating the tires.
Maintenance during the season
Adding more sealant during the cycling season is quick and easy.
Step 1: Place the valve stem in the four o’clock position. Then, remove the valve core.
Step 2: Add a bit of sealant through the valve. Positioning the valve at 4 o’clock lets the sealant go to the tire’s bottom without clogging up the valve stem.
Step 3: Replace the valve core and reinflate the tubeless tire.