Tuesday, March 27, 2018

State Of Tubelessness: Ten Years Down The Road- Part 2

So, yesterday I hit on the overall historical background for tubeless tires, focusing on why there is no single standard and why certain tires do not fit certain rims. before I go much further, I also wanted to point out that this issue- tires marked the same size as rims but do not fit well with each other, is not the sole domain of tubeless/tubeless ready tires. There have been certain combinations of clincher rims and tires throughout the decades that were tough, or nigh unto impossible, to mount to each other. One famous example of that is Continental Gatorskin tires and Trek matrix rims. Mechanics shudder with disdain when presented with this combination to work on.

So, moving on from there, I wanted to get more in to what I have experienced personally within the last several years in terms of tubeless tire usage. I am pretty much "tube free" when it comes to gravel bikes. I cannot remember the last time I rolled tubed tires on gravel. It's been a couple of years at least. Mountain bikes are generally tubeless for me, but a couple of my single speeds have been reverted back to tubed set ups just because they get ridden so rarely anymore. Fat bikes are all tubed here, and my utilitarian bikes are tubed for the most part, with the exception of my Surly 1X1.

Despite the casing failure, we were able to limp the bike back to Emporia!
So, I spend a fair amount of time using both types of tires. But for this post, I'll stick to my tubeless stories. One of the standout situations I have been involved with was my DK200 experience in 2016. Back when I was doing mtb tire reviews, I got a set of Maxxis Ikon tires. The really expensive ones. (Note- I actually paid out of pocket for those tires.) Anyway, they were full on XC geek tires, were really light, and were not tubeless rated. Keep in mind that the lightest set ups, still in 2018, are folding bead tires set up tubeless on Stan's rims. This is exactly what I did with the Ikons. They were mounted to Sun Ringle' Black Flag wheels, which used Stan's dimension bead seats. (In fact, many say Stan's rims are made by Sun Ringle') Anyway, I wasn't too keen on removing those tires because I wanted to wear them out. I paid a lot for them and nothing else that big rolled that well on my Fargo at the time.

So it was that at the DK200 I was on a pre-ride and the casing gave up the ghost. (See image to the left) Well, you can read all about it here, but the point was that tires were needed ASAP and I found some Teravail Sparwoods that would fit the bill, but maybe not my rims! The mechanic couldn't get the tires to fit on the Stan's dimension rims because the Sparwoods must have been made closer to a UST dimension. I ended up having to lever both tires on myself, and I knew that if I cut one on the flint the next day during my own ride, I was going to be dead in the water because there was no field servicing that set up!

Fortunately I was able to complete that ride and I actually left those Sparwoods on until last year when I replaced the tires for some Terrene test tires I had to review. At that point the Sparwoods came off, but they required a pair of tire levers and some muscle to dismount.

The Teravail Sparwood and Black Flag wheel combo was almost a no-go as far as fit went.
 Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum- tires that won't mount for various reasons. I have had trouble with tires that seem to be a good fit but will refuse to mount up, or that require "special techniques" to mount tubeless. I'm specifically NOT referring to tires that are fat bike tires, mtb tires, or non-tubeless rated rims or tires. These have been tires in the 40mm range, meant to be tubeless, and just are really stubborn about being set up.

Of these tires, there is one common thread- they all had some sort of puncture protection layer or an anti-stretch bead technology. This made the airing up/bead seating process very difficult, if not impossible. The sidewalls of the tires didn't want  to be moved by air blasts from compressors, and therefore a temporary seal was hard to get initiated, which is critical for a successful tubeless tire installation.

Another critical feature is the valve stem. Tubeless valve stems are one of the biggest reasons tubeless installations are difficult or why tubeless set ups sometimes fail. There are good stems and really bad ones. Then the valve hole is another possibility for failure. If the stem cannot effectively seal at the hole it passes through, you will have a headache on your hands. Also worth noting is that after a time tubeless valve stems get corroded by sealant, and this mainly where the core seats into the outer portion of the stem. Replacing cores often will help with this.

Sealants are another ongoing development in the tubeless marketplace. There are basically two kinds of sealant. You either use a glycol based sealant, like the trucking, ag, and industrial industries use, or a latex based sealant like most bicycle sealants have used since Stan's developed his basic latex formula back in the 90's. Glycol based sealants have also been used in bicycle tires. You may know Slime, and that is a glycol based sealant that typically doesn't dry up in tires. Latex works faster and is lighter, (usually) than glycol based sealants for the same volume, but these sealants dry out faster.

These carbon rims made by Irwin Cycling are so precisely made they make going tubeless a breeze.
I've tried just about all of them, and some that you haven't heard of. Glycol has been the worst of the two types for me, with the notable exception of Slime. Latex sealants perform best from my standpoint. Stan's, Orange Seal, GEAX, (Maybe no longer made?), Caffe Latex, and MG's home brew sealant have been my best.

So, you can see how so many standards, choices, and ways of doing things can add up to situations that could be awesome or somewhat less than satisfying. In my opinion, if you stick to a system- using true tubeless components, and/or a one brand solution, (tire/rim) the issues can be put to rest. For instance, a WTB TCS set up is pretty bomber. So is the Bontrager one. There are others.

I have also noted that many rim and tire manufacturers are really stepping up their game in regard to precision molding techniques which have really made things fit and seal so much better than before. I think the trend is toward more uniformity, but it has been a slow road.

You'd think by now we'd have it figured out!

That's it for this "State Of Tubelessness" series. Hit me with any questions in the comments. 


Jim Bogue said...

A number of years ago I ran a set non tubeless rated Kenda tires on a Stan's Crest wheelset with no problems either mounting or riding. Then for some reason I reverted to tubed setups until last summer when I decided to go tubeless again running 3 wheelsets tubeless. These involved tires, both road and gravel, from Panaracer, Schwalbe, and, very briefly, Donnelly. The rims were from Stan's, the old Crests and 340's, and Velocity. All the tires mounted by hand and sealed with a 30 year old floor pump. If I remember correctly I may have used a tire lever on a couple of them but it was not difficult. All the setups hold air well and I've had no problems at all. The one puncture I was aware of sealed immediately. I used both Stan's and Orange Seal. This year I may try the Finish Line sealant which is supposed to not dry out and last the life of the tire. All in all I'm quite happy with running tubeless. BTW All tires and rims are rated tubeless ready. With the wide availability of tubeless tires I see no reason to convert a tubed tire to tubeless, at least for road and gravel use.

Skidmark said...

I do know not many customers offer to pay for time spent “trying” to mount any of the many tire/rim combinations that don’t want to mount and “bead up” properly.

Exhausted_Auk said...

I built a set of 26" wheels several years ago, using Ritchey rims, not tubeless rated or anything. They were my main gravel wheels for a while, until I bought a proper gravel bike. Never had a set of wheels that tires fit on so tight. I was always terrified of getting a flat.