So you’re already convinced that tubeless is the way to go? Great choice! While running tubeless can have its own advantages, there are few things you need to know before making the change. One of the most important things to know is, how to maintain tubeless tires.
Similar to a normal setup, maintaining a tubeless tire requires that you monitor tire pressure and manage leaks. Tubeless tires also require that you maintain appropriate levels of sealant, knowing how it can change over time. Let’s discuss further how you can get the most out of your tubeless tires and examine what it really takes to maintain them.
Before we get into it, there are a few things you may need to maintain your tubeless tires.
Things you may need:
The Basics of Tubeless
If you’re new to biking or even just new to tubeless tires, you may be wondering what tubeless is and how it works.
Fortunately, it is actually quite simple to understand and implement. I will give you a basic rundown and also answer a few commonly asked questions about tubeless tires, and what it takes to maintain them.
Tubeless tires are different than regular pneumatic tires in the main sense that they don’t use a tube. So how do they keep air in your tire? By adding a special sealant that prevents air from escaping the tire bead.
While that can sound a little complex, it is actually really simple to implement. If you can seat a regular tubed tire, you can manage a tubeless tire.
Is Tubeless really better?
If the initial setup and maintenance sounds intimidating, you may be wondering if tubeless is even worth the conversion.
While I can’t tell you how you’d feel going tubeless, I can give you a few pros and cons of running tubeless tires.
Fewer Flats – Virtually no more pinch flats. Plus, smaller punctures are sealed almost instantly.
Better Ride – Although this is objective, it is pretty easy to see why the ride is better. When your riding tubeless, you’re able to run lower psi in your tires, taking full advantage of your tire’s traction. As well, the extra room that your tire has to deform, allows you to roll over bigger objects faster and easier.
Lighter weight – you actually save a bit of weight losing the tube in a tire, the weight is minimal, but worth it if you’re looking to save weight as much as possible.
Kind of Costly – Tubeless ready tires and rims can be pricey compared to a standard setup. As well, the conversion kits can run anywhere from $70-100. If you’re a dedicated rider, this may be worth the money.
Involving Mounting Process – Mounting tubeless tires can be a bit of a challenge. Once you’ve done it a few times, you will start to get the hang of it.
Sealant is Messy – This one speaks for itself. If you’re new to tubeless tires, prepare to clean up sealant quite often.
Do you need sealant for tubeless tires?
Yes. The tubeless sealant plays a vital role in keeping air in your tire and also makes it possible to inflate the tire in the first place.
Though it can be a pain to deal with, you will definitely appreciate the sealant after a long ride when you see how well it helps your tire hold up.
How does tubeless tire sealant work?
Tubeless tire sealant is much more than a sticky liquid that fills cracks.
In general, both sealants use the escaping air, tire rotation, and gravity to seal the tire when punctured. However, their chemical make-up gets the job done in two different ways.
With Fiber-based sealants, the internal tire pressure forces the sealant into a cavity, blocking any escaping air. The fibers and particles in the sealant then form a bond with the rubber, effectively blocking the hole. Fiber-based sealants work better with tubeless ready tires and rims.
Latex-based sealants are much simpler, as they are already made from a rubber based synthetic. This time, when the tire pressure forces the mixture into a leak, the compressed air helps the sealant solidify, forming another solid bond with the tire. Latex-based sealants make it possible for you to convert your non-tubeless tires to tubeless.
Latex sealants are much more popular since they are inexpensive to manufacturer and very effective in plugging leaks, however, there are certain reasons you will want to limit their use.
Regardless of which type you use; it will always be more effective to plug a hole with tubeless sealant than with a regular patch.
Traditional plugs, patched from the outside, can further expand the puncture and even damage the rubber. A tire plugged with sealant is a more natural repair, as it forms a self-healing skin from inside the tire.
How long does tubeless sealant last?
If the idea of a self-healing tire sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Unfortunately, there will come a time where you must change your sealant.
Depending on the type you use, your sealant may have a certain lifespan. So, how long does tubeless sealant last?
Latex-based sealants last around 9000 miles and fiber-based sealants can virtually last for the life of the tire. Plus, fiber-based sealants tend to be easier to maintain.
That is why we recommend fiber-based sealants if possible. Although latex sealants can be cheaper and more effective, they can also develop some nasty properties over time.
Latex-based sealants start to dry over time, especially as you reach closer to 9000 miles. Once dried, it can stick to the rim and tire, making it hard to remove, and even harder to clean. If you leave it long enough, it can even cause corrosion to your rim and tire, prompting an even more costly repair.
Fiber-based sealants are typically water based and retain their soluble properties for a long time. This makes cleanup a lot easier and helps keep you mind at ease as to what’s rolling around in your tire.
In general, the first thing to know when learning how to maintain tubeless tires, is when to replace your sealant. That leads to our next question.
How often should I replace tubeless sealant?
You should aim to replace your sealant every 3 to 6 months, although, you may want to replace it more often than that.
Since your tire is healing itself, you may not even notice how many punctures you’ve accumulated over time or how much fluid you’ve lost. In addition to adding sealant regularly, you should clean and replace the old sealant in your tire.
Over time, sealant continues to dry and become less effective. As well, latex-based sealants can leave clumps of mixture that distribute weight unevenly through the tire.
Though the chances of you doing any actual damage is small, it’s still good practice to replace your sealant regularly.
How often should you replace a tubeless tire?
All in all, tubeless tires aren’t all that different than regular tires. You should only have to replace your tubeless tire when it’s worn down or no longer holds air.
To get a good idea of how long you can expect your tires to last, check out this article, “How long do mountain bike tires last?”.
You may find yourself needing to replace your tubeless tire a little early still. If the punctures are too severe to be patched or if the bead of the tire no longer seals in the rim.
Since tubeless tires rely heavily on that seal, any damage to those vital areas could mean a new tire is needed.
How to add tubeless sealant?
Something a lot of people struggle with initially, is adding the sealant and getting the tire aired up. Understandably so, as airing up a tubeless tire can be something of an art.
But don’t worry too much, you can still get the job done, and there are two separate ways for you to add sealant. Since both methods require that you quickly inflate the tire, it is recommended that you have an air compressor. For further instruction, there is no better teacher than ParkTools.
- Pour Method – Essentially, you pour the sealant into the tire before seating the bead. To seat the bead of the tire – slowly rotate the tire to even distribute the sealant as you seat the rest of the tire bead. Then air up the tire to the least maximum psi to allow the tire to fully seat itself.
- Injection Method – You will need a removable valve core, a syringe, and an air compressor for this method. For this method, you mount both tire beads before adding sealant. You will then air the tire up to the max psi to fully seat the tire, and then release enough air to inject the sealant through the valve stem.
Check out this video from ParkTools for a visual guide to adding tubeless sealant.
How do you seal a tubeless tire?
For tubeless ready rims and tires, the sealing process is fairly simple. However, if you are converting non-tubeless rims and tires, there are a few steps you must complete before adding sealant. Always remember to add enough rim tape to prevent the sealant from escaping the spoke holes.
Other than the initial setup, the air pressure and sealant will do the rest of the work for keeping the tire sealed.
Just like when you setup the tires, sealing will involve inflating the tire to the least maximum psi and making sure the bead is seated on both sides of the tire.
From there, you just want to watch out for any obstructions that could get lodged in the tire bead or sidewall, as this can make the sealant ineffective in sealing the tire.
How do you stop a tubeless tire from leaking?
It can be devastating getting your tubeless tires all setup, just to see it start to leak out. Or even worse, what if you spring a leak while riding on the trail?
Unfortunately, leaks are a common issue when you run tubeless tires. On the road to learning how to maintain tubeless tires, you will also learn how to manage leaks.
Since there’s not that many places for sealant to escape, you will run into 2 types of leaks. I will list them here, with a brief summary of how to stop a tubeless tire from leaking.
- Leaking through the Spokes/Valve – Although this can be an annoying issue, leaking through the spokes is just a sign that the rim tape needs to be sealed better. This is not cause for alarm, as the sealant usually fills the holes and plugs the leak. Worst case scenario, you will have to remove the tire and sealant to re-apply the rim tape.
- Leaking through the bead – This is the most common leak experienced by those running tubeless tires and its pretty straight forward to treat. To seal a tire leaking at the bead, first make sure there are no obstructions between the rim and tire bead, then inspect the tire to make sure the bead is fully seated. If you are still getting leaks, you may need to lower the air pressure in the tire. Sometimes, high air pressure can prevent sealant from drying enough to seal any gaps.
Do tubeless tires go flat?
Tubeless tires are known for their versatility and resilience to the same pinch flats that would stop a standard tire in its tracks. So can a tubeless tire go flat?
Yes, tubeless tires can still go flat.
If you have low, old, or even bad sealant in your tire, you can find it hard to keep a seal, making your tubeless tire go flat.
If you rip a hole in your tubeless tire that’s too big to seal, even a tire full of sealant won’t stop it from going flat.
And of course, if the bead is not properly seated, you can lose air and sealant in a massive leak.
But don’t worry, learning how to maintain tubeless tires prevents these issues.
Can tubeless tires be repaired?
In general, punctures in tubeless tires cannot be repaired and it is often not recommended to try and do so. Although it can be a bit of an expense, it is always safest to buy a new tire.
How do I remove a tubeless tire?
The last step in learning how to maintain tubeless tires, is being able to remove the tire.
Whether you’re replacing the sealant or replacing the tire all-together, there will come a time when you have to remove the tire from the rim. This can be a bit of a challenge.
Similar to a standard tire, removing a tubeless tire consists of deflating the air and using your hands to push the bead off the rim. Only with tubeless tires, you have to be aware of the sealant that could make a mess during the whole process. Again, check out ParkTools for a visual representation of the process.
What is the best tubeless tire sealant?
Now that you have a firm understanding how to maintain tubeless tires, you probably already realized what type of sealant you want to use. For those still looking for a little direction, you may still be wondering what is the best tubeless tire sealant?
Knowing what we know about the different types of sealant and their properties over time, we recommend a sealant that gives you the benefits of both, without most of the drawbacks.
That is why we recommend the No Puncture Hassle Tubeless Sealant from Muc-Off.
In conclusion, it is really simple to learn how to maintain tubeless tires. Just like any other maintenance on your bike, it can be a challenge at first, however, once you get the hang of it, it can be a rewarding task.
If you find the task particularly daunting, see if you can watch as your LBS does the work. The price you pay will be worth the knowledge and tips.