Wednesday, March 16, 2016

WW4M: Tubeless Tire Tips

Okay, ya'all should know the drill now. "WW4M" stands for "What Works For Me". NOTE- It may not work for you. Consider everything here carefully. Think it through, and if it makes sense, it may work for you as well. may not! 

There are more tubeless gravel oriented tires coming out all the time.
 Recently I have been reminded how many riders are not really very well versed in tubeless tire lingo, knowledge, or usage. I have been dabbling in tubeless tire technology for over ten years now, and I have handled, set up, and used a ton of different tires tubeless and have used several "systems" along with having used several "garage based tech" tubeless solutions. Maybe I could pass on some of the basics that work for me to you out there? That's what I was thinking anyway. Let's see if I can manage that.....

Get With A System:

New to tubeless tire users really have no excuse, or reason to not go with an already proven system. I think a system is, at a minimum, a tubeless tire and rim that a manufacturer, or group of manufacturers, say will work. Sometimes you'll get roped into using a specific rim strip, but many times you have options there, as well as in choices for sealant, so I won't talk about those things just yet. Let's stick with tires and rims for a moment.

I am not at all a fan of garage based tech, normally, as I tend to favor engineered solutions in the area of tubeless tires for bicycles. (A shout out to my enginerding friends!) Garage tech is sometimes very useful, but typically it has a failure rate which I am not comfortable with, so I typically will not use it personally, nor do I recommend doing so. And again- why would you? There are many great ways to go that avoid the hassles and potential pitfalls of garage based tech out there to choose from.

Tires and rims that go together are your best bet. That way the fit is pretty much guaranteed. Mix things up and you start running into issues. Not always, but the chances go way up that failures creep in, so keeping things basically "same to same" is your best bet. When rim manufacturers don't make tires, and vice-versa, that's when things get iffy. I'll go over this later......

I happen to be a huge fan of a few systems, and WTB's TCS system is one of those solutions I like that encompasses everything you need to go tubeless. They make tires and rims, sealant, valve stems, and tape. Bontrager has a really bombproof system which uses a specific rim strip, and of course, they have valve stems, sealant, and tires as well. Velocity, while not making tires, does make tubeless ready rims and sells tape and valve stems to go with that. I haven't found a tubeless rated tire yet that won't work on a Velocity rim that is rated tubeless ready. So, there are a few systems, but there are way more than this out there to choose from. 

A tubeless ready rim still needs tape, like this Velocity Cliffhanger.
The Basic Parts:

Obviously you have a tire, and you have to have a rim, but you need a couple more items to go tubeless. Rims have holes to pass spokes through when building up a wheel. So, those holes need sealing off. That's what tubeless rim tape is for. I have had excellent results with Velocity tape, WTB/Stan's Yellow tape, and Bontrager plastic rim inserts for Bontrager rims. Other tapes I've tried are not anywhere in the same league as the ones I like and use. (Orange Seal, Specialized blue tape, Caffe Latex red tape, and others don't measure up.) You'll also need a tubeless valve stem. I really like Bontrager's stem, but it doesn't fit all rims because of its flat interface. When that is the case then I would go with a Mavic stem, Velocity's, or the excellent WTB ones. Stay away from Specialized's stems, as they are the absolute worst I've tried. Stan's are not the best either, in my opinion. Finally, you'll need sealant. I'll get to that in a bit.

Stan's vs The Rest: 

There is a huge community of riders that loves Stan's No Tubes stuff, and that company is synonymous with tubeless tire use. However; one should clearly understand what Stan's is all about, and how that differs from the rest of the industry, so you do not get caught out with noncompliant  components.

Stan's rims work best with non-tubeless, folding bead tires
Stan's No Tubes made their name by allowing riders to convert non-tubeless tires to tubeless use. That's what the company has been about, and still is. So, Stan's does this by messing around with the standard clincher bead seat design, and in many ways, they have come up with something completely different now. There are several unique features to a Stan's rim. One of those things is a slight diameter increase where the tire sits on the rim over other rims meant for tubes or, especially UST designed rims, or rims closely based upon UST dimensions. UST stands for "Universal System Tubeless", and was developed by Mavic, amongst other companies. It represents a standardized dimension for several parts of tires and rims to allow for a perfect fit at the bead seat between tires and rims. It also covers other details, but for the sake of this post, I'll simply say that Stan's dimensions for the bead seat and a UST bead seat dimension are different enough that tires for UST, or closely based off UST, will not work well, or at all, with Stan's rims. Stan's is for converting folding bead tires to tubeless, and while some tubeless tires will work, you may not have luck with those based off UST dimensions. That is something that is not very clear when you buy tires. Again- stick with a system and you will be okay. 

Sealants: When it comes to sealants, however, Stan's is pretty much the gold standard. It works well, and it is pretty well understood. You really cannot go wrong if you use Stan's sealant, however, they are not the only game in town. I have used Caffe Latex sealant, which has been recently tweaked to work even better than it used to, with great success. I have also used some GEAX/Vittoria sealant which was really good. Hutchinson had a similar product which worked nicely. I have made my own sealant, the special "MG" formula, which is really good stuff and cheaper than the competition. I was somewhat impressed with Orange Seal's sealant also.

Then there are some real clunkers when it comes to sealants. I don't like Bontrager's sealant, Velowurks was a bust, and Continental's sealant was a bummer too. The old school "Slime" isn't very good in comparison to modern sealants, but mix it with Stan's, or use the car tire version, with black bits of rubber in it, and that stuff is great. Basically, stick with Stan's or go with Caffe Latex if you are a beginner. Bonus: Caffe Latex can be injected right past your valve stem- no need to remove a valve core.

When you use a system, like WTB's TCS tires and rims, all you need to mount tires is a tire pump.

Probably the most frustrating element about tubeless tires for beginners is the mounting of the tire to the rim. Sealant is wet, it can get all over you, and tires like to hang up, burp, or splat tubeless goo all over you and your garage. If you follow a couple of basics, you can avoid this situation.

First off, and you are going to get real tired of reading this, but use a system that features a tire and rim meant to go together!! You can save serious trauma and headaches if you just buy a complete system. Many times you can mount the tires with a simple floor pump. However; if you must mix and match, you should do the following:
  • Get a small air compressor or one of the new tubeless tire pumps like Bontrager's Charger. You need air power to mount many tubeless tires, and your floor pump won't cut it most of the time. 
  • Remove the valve core!! You need maximum punch when you hit that valve with air, so get that valve core outta there. A spoke wrench of the proper size will make do as a valve core remover, or you can get specific tools to do that job as well.
  • Lube The Bead!! You can use sealant to wet the bead of the tire, or a small paint brush and warm soapy water also does the trick. I've used straight dish soap, like Dawn, or a product like Uncle Dick's Bead Slip also will work. Anything to make the bead "slippy-slidey"will help that bead slip up into place easier than it would if the rubber is trying to slide on dry metal. 
Generally, doing those three things will win you the day. If not, you may have to take other measures, but this gets specific and maybe you need to call in the cavalry at this point. A good friend or LBS mechanic, a sixer of beer, a 20 spot, and you'll be golden. Trust me- it would be well worth that!

Anyway, once you get the tires seated, the air stays in, and everything is all good to go, remember these basic tenets  of tubeless tire use:

  • It's all about lower air pressure. Sometimes I see where guys want to pump their new gravel tubeless tire set up to nearly where they were when they used tubes. (Usually that was too much air pressure, but that's another story.) That's not necessary anymore. Without a tube, you automatically have lower rolling resistance because there is no tube chafing the tire from the inside. Plus, the casing can work over the gravel better, and it won't/cannot do that at higher pressures. Besides, many rims are not rated for much over 50psi when used tubeless, (like Stan's), and blow-offs are much more apt to happen with higher pressures. As an example, I weigh 240lbs and never use higher than 50psi in any tubeless gravel tire. I never use higher than 30psi in mtb tires tubeless. Think about how cyclo cross racers use lower pressures, and how mtb tires tubeless work better at lower pressures, and you may start to understand this aspect of tire pressure for any rougher surface. 
  • You need to maintain your sealant: Tubeless tire sealant doesn't last forever. You'll need to recharge the system, or break down the tire from the rim, and clean up the sealant once in a while. When that is depends upon a lot of factors, but three to six months is rather common. It is one of the dirty secrets of going tubeless. 
  • You still need your spare tube, pump, and patch kit: Tubeless sealant will usually seal little punctures and small cuts, and it virtually eliminates pinch flats, but there are still little land mines and meanies out there that can cut down your tubeless tire and leave you......well, deflated, if you didn't bring a repair kit. You may want to throw in a pair of small pliers to get the valve stem off and allow your tube to work. I've found that handy a couple of times myself. A rag to wipe down excess sealant is also advisable. Oh yeah.....another dirty secret to going tubeless, but it is still worth the trouble.

In the end, while there are downsides to tubeless, it is still better performing than a tubed set up and well worth the effort to set up.
So, I haven't covered absolutely everything here, but that's a good start. See anything you want to know about that is missing here? Give me a shout out in the comments section. If I get enough questions, I'll post a follow up.

In the end analysis, it may seem that tubeless is a hassle, messy, and not easier than tubed set ups, and you are right to think those things. However; tubeless systems in gravel tires and mountain bike tires are definitely something you can feel a difference in terms of ride quality and speed. Grip is enhanced, and pinch flats- the most common form of tire failure- is virtually eliminated. It is not necessarily lighter, but that's not the "why" of going tubeless. It is for lower rolling resistance, less flat tires, and a better ride on rough surfaces. Many tubeless devotees would never want to use tubes again, and for good reason, despite all the maintenance factors and potential for messy failures in the field.

I  hope that you found this helpful!


Jacob Hueber said...

Great write-up again, I have HED Belgium + wheels on my Titanium Warbird running Clement MSO 40s tubed right now. What would be your best recommendation for a tubeless tire on these wheels knowing there isn't a system in place, that I know of? Thinking the new MSO tubeless ready 36mm tire. Tried once, unsuccsessfully, to set up the 40s on these rims. Thanks in advance for any advice.

Guitar Ted said...

@Jacob Hueber: I have Ardennes+ wheels, which a the complete wheel version HED does using the same rims you have. The new Clement MSO 36mm tubeless ready tires, the new Maxxis Ramblers, the new Teravail Cannonbals, and Nano40TCS tires all fit your rims well. I've done all of those on the HED rims.

By the way, the 40mm Clement MSO, which is NOT tubeless rated, is a very bad choice for conversion to tubeless use. It tends to delaminate and has a tendency to blow off rims.

Craig Groseth said...

Nice post, Mark, and great timing. Thanks. Followup questions - Is there a "normal" amount of leakage over time? How do you know when you need to add sealant? Any tips for doing so? Assuming an initial 50 psi in 40 mm gravel tires, how often and how much pressure should I expect to add, before there's a problem that needs to be addressed? For a long time cyclist who performs almost all maintenance on all my various bikes, I have an appalling lack of know-how with tubeless. Thanks, again. Craig.

Jim Bogue said...

Thanks for a very informative write up but until the industry sets some standards I think I'll stick to tubes. I have three wheelsets, two Stan's and one Velocity, which could be used tubeless. I did use the Stan's tubeless for one season and they worked OK but I did not notice anything different from tubed wheels. I didn't have any flats but I rarely have flats with tubed tires so I'm not sure there is any advantage for me.

Exhausted_Auk said...

I have never understood the purpose for the split tube type of tubeless conversion kit that Stan's sells. Is the split tube (butyl "rim strip" with a valve) part of Stan's original method to convert non-tubeless rims/tires to tubeless? Was it made obsolete by the yellow tape, or is there a reason you might still need it? I can find nothing on Stan's website to explain this. They seem to just expect you to know which parts you need.

Jacob Hueber said...

Good to know, no wonder I was having a hard time with them. I want a good reliable setup. Thanks for the recommendations.

Guitar Ted said...

@Craig Groseth: Now there are a few questions that beg for another post! I will answer you in my next post on this, hopefully tomorrow morning. Thanks for the comments!

@Jim Bogue: I think there are standards already. UST for one, and WTB follows those dimension very closely with their TCS system. Honestly, and like I said in the post- you will get tired of seeing this- but a systemic approach solves all issues with tubeless. Buy into that and you'll have a much better experience.

I think you also would notice a difference if you could compare tires set up tubeless and with tubes back-to-back. Like a Nano 40 Race, which is a tubed tire, and a Nano 40 TCS tire tubeless. Both the same tire, but one having the tubeless advantage. I think you would easily see the difference. And remember- it isn't just about flat tires going away. It is about rolling resistance going down, tires "working rough stuff better", and ride quality.

@Exhausted_Auk: Yes- you are on the right track. The butyl strip was an early Stan's design to accommodate deeply recessed rim designs and convert them to tubeless, like the old DT Swiss touring rims and older Mavic clincher rims.

David Dorscheid said...

I have been using tubeless system since 2008, Mavic ust rims. My question is about tires, can I use any tire or would I be better off with a tubeless compatable tire. By the way I have a 26 inch mountain bike.


Guitar Ted said...

@David Dorscheid- You would be best served by sticking with a tubeless ready tire of some sort. Converting folding bead tires, or even wire beaded ones, may not prove to be very successful. Non-tubeless tires don't adhere to strict enough dimensions so they won't fit tight enough, and the casings can break down more easily, since they are not designed to be used without a tube.

Doug Mayer said...

Great post! It's to explain all the intricacies to my tubeless-interested friends, but you do it better so I'll just link here from now on :-)

Nooge said...

I am one of the people that has converted non-tubeless rims to tubeless and used Stans rims as wel. it is absolutely critical to distribute the sealant as soon as the tire is mounted By holding the wheel horizontal and shaking it up and down. Then I inflate the tire to 10 PSI higher than I will ride at, being careful to make sure the beads are fully centered. Next I hit the sidewall against the ground all the way around on both sides, which should help fully seat the bead all the way around on both sides. Now take the wheels for a easy 10 minute ride at 10+ MPH to get the sealant distributed over the inner surface of the tire and rim. Let them sit overnight and check how much air was lost. Pump up, ride, wait overnight until they don't lose any air. Then you know you have a solid setup.

craigebaker1 said...

I'm having trouble sealing the new Clement MXP tubeless on Stans Crest. Have you heard of incompatabilities?