Thursday, January 19, 2017

Value Based Decisions And Tubeless Tires

Trying to "garage tech" my way into a tubeless set up.
Tubeless tires are really a great idea for bicycles. Really, they are. There are a lot of reasons to pursue that for your bike, and I would wager to say that the wider the tires are on your bicycle, the more vital it is that you go get those tires set up tubeless. Fat bikes, as an example, really will make that fact, (and it is a fact), better understood.

So, keeping the above in mind, I will let you know when it is a bad thing to even mess around with trying to do a tubeless tire set up.

The first clue you should take note of when discerning whether or not to try tubeless with your current stuff is identifying what technology it is that you possess. Old, (as in maybe only three years ago old), components like tires and rims, may not be tubeless compatible. In the fat bike world the likelihood that your fat bike came with tubeless rims or tubeless ready tires is slim to none. While you can set those kinds of things up tubeless, and you will get folks screaming it out from the rooftops that "It works!!", there is no reason to mess with that these days. In fact, the benefits vs headaches ledger will show that converting the non-tubeless stuff to tubeless isn't at all worth it.

I know, I've seen it work both ways. The main point that one should take into consideration is your time. If you do not value your time, well then......have at it. I've got better things to do than sit around taping up a special layer for a tubeless set up, or splitting a tube, to get my tires to work tubeless. Especially when there are ways to do tubeless on fat bikes that takes minutes and can be pumped up with a hand pump with the valve core still installed. Plus, you can swap tires at will. No messing up a tape job or replacing a split tube. We've got that kind of luxury today.We don't need to beat our heads against the wall and try to make something work the way it wasn't designed to work.

But.....if you must know, here's the tape I used.
So, here is what happened with my attempt. I spent probably 45 minutes on this, and keep in mind that the rim was pre-taped from a successfully done tubeless set up with these same components before.  Oh, and that was all on one tire. I never even tried the other.

I had the tire actually taking air, then the bead let loose on me and it wasn't taking air again. That's when I cut my losses. 45 minutes of messing around on one tire and rim is 35 minutes longer than it took me to set up two fat bike tires at work which were tubeless components.

To me, that's a significant difference in time spent to the point that I pulled out of my attempt at this, cleaned up the one tire, and had both wheels set up with another tire set, tubed, ready to ride, in fifteen minutes. Oh, and there was absolutely zero issues getting that done. None. And it won't give me any trouble with seepage, "burping" at low psi's, and it won't need a sealant refresh down the road.

By the way, the set up I did at work held air without sealant, held psi with a loss less than 5psi for both wheels for one week, and can be safely run down to lower pressures with no burping or problems at all. Why try to make my set up be what it isn't? 

Now, you may rightly say, "But you would have to buy a new wheel set and tires!" Yes......obviously. That isn't the point, and it shouldn't be either. The point should be, which way has a higher benefit versus time/money spent? That answer is obvious. The more correct tool for the job is going to yield a higher benefit in the end. You can cut grass with gas motor grafted on to a push reel mower, or you can just go buy a Lawn Boy and be done with it. I know which one works better and takes less time to set up and use.

So, I will be looking at newer tubeless compatible wheel and tires in the future for my fat bike. Stay tuned.....


Rob said...

Unless tinkering, and making things you already own work better, is part of the fun of cycling for an individual...

Smithhammer said...

It still boggles my mind how the genre of bikes that arguably benefits the most from going tubeless - fat bikes - continues to be the area where there are still so few good tubeless-ready options.

That said, I value my time. And I can set up a tubeless fat tire with a split tube in 10 minutes with no real hassle to speak of. Do you wish it was as easy as putting a WTB TCS tire on a TCS rim? Of course, but I'm also not swapping fat tires around all the time, especially for what they cost.

Michael Lemberger said...

I've had really good luck with those Uma II rims tubeless so far. Neither tire I used was strictly speaking tubeless-ready (On-One Floater on the front, late-production 120 TPI Endomorph rear) but both are holding air really well both at low pressure and over time. I do tend to think the chances of getting those particular rims to work are a little better than most older rims because of the proto-beadlock Greg designed into them.

Yes, I spent a lot of time setting them up, but for me, that was part of the fun in doing something like this. I like tinkering almost as much as I like riding. There's also an inherent value in owning my equipment on the level of doing things for myself and being able to solve problems, though I can certainly understand why a professional mechanic might feel differently.

I did the cost/benefit calculation before I tried setting my wheels up tubeless and decided my time and materials were worth the gamble. Happily it worked out for me and I'm free to spend the $500+ that would otherwise have gone to new rims, tires, spokes and labor on something else. Considering I spend only about 20% of my annual cycling time on my fat bike, I'm calling it a win.