Monday, September 09, 2019

Tubeless Maintenance How-To

You're set up tubeless? Great. Do you know about maintenance for tubeless?
Tubeless tires are ubiquitous in gravel and MTB circles these days, but not everyone is running tubeless yet, and many who are don't know about maintenance of tubeless tires. If this describes you, read on. If not, then head on over to your next stop on the internet. (Unless you are just curious about how I do this)

Of course, just having your tires set up tubeless isn't the end of your concerns for your tires. Tubeless set ups require a sealant to seal the tires and to ward off any puncture issues, (hopefully) from sharp objects like bits of glass, thorns, or goat heads, for instance. That said, you can still get a tubeless tire to fail in any number of ways, (Which, by the way, would slay most any tubed tire anyway, so going tubeless doesn't get you a "get out of jail" card, so to speak)

I'm not going to give you the reasons to go tubeless, this article assumes you already have been over that road. No, this is going to give you some ideas on why, and then how, maintenance is done of tubeless bicycle tires. This mostly has to do with sealant, so let's talk about that briefly.

Bicycle tires could be made so they do not need sealant. I've tried those, and, for the sake of brevity, I'll just say you really don't want to go there! Why? Weight. Nuff said.

So, tubeless bicycle tires need sealant. This is typically from two major families of sealant products. There are the latex based sealants and the glycol based sealants. Examples of both would be Stan's and Slime, respectively. The carrier in a latex based sealant is typically ammonia, but in a glycol based sealant it is, well.....glycol, which is a liquid from the same family as your automobile coolants.  Glycol based sealants for bicycle use aren't common, and they act differently than the latex sealants do. Since latex is, by far and away, the most commonly used bicycle sealant, I will be focusing on maintenance for that type of sealant.

Tools needed: A valve core remover and a cable tie, (or Orange Seal dipstick, as shown)
Latex sealant is great stuff, when it is not dried up. Oh......maybe you didn't know, but your sealant has a service life. Typically this can be anywhere from three months to as long as six months. This depends upon the sealant brand, frequency of riding, and temperatures both while riding and where you store the bike. There is no "hard and fast" rule or service interval for sealant. It will vary with everyone. This is why you need to check your sealant levels. I typically go about three months in before I check on my tires. Here's how to do this.
  • Tools: First you'll need to have a small width cable tie at least 4" long, a valve core remover, and your air inflation device. (See image above for a visual on the core remover and cable tie/dip stick)

Valve stem at the "six o'clock" position.
Then you'll need to, preferably, hang your bike so that you have no weight on the wheels. Next, you should put the valve stems at the "six o'clock" position, make sure the wheels don't rotate freely from this position, and leave the bike hanging for at least three hours. This allows the sealant- if there is any left- to pool in the bottom of the tire underneath the valve stem.

Once the time has expired, we can safely assume any sealant has migrated to the bottom of the tire underneath the valve stem. then you should open the valve, release as much air as you can- but do not squeeze or touch the tire at all!  This and having no weight on the tires is VERY IMPORTANT so you do not break the seal on the bead/rim interface.

Once the air is mostly out, remove the valve core. I like the Park Tools VC-1 since if the valve core is tight, or gummed up with sealant, you can use a 10mm box end wrench to turn the tool without handling the tire. Hopefully you don't need to do that, but just in case, a tool like the Park one that allows for extra leverage of some sort could be helpful. Bonus: The Park tool also removes Schrader valve cores as well. So if you are running tubeless with those valves, the Park tool will work there as well.

Once you get the valve core out, examine it carefully. As stated, most latex sealants use ammonia as a carrier which is corrosive to rubber and metal. Also, there are two places on a Presta valve core which must seal correctly to make the valve air tight. If your valve core is corroded, or if those rubber, (or in some cases, plastic) seals are damaged, or look "collapsed", then just pitch them and put in a new one. Valve issues are a big reason for tubeless problems and you don't want to be chasing down a leak-down issue and find out it was your valve core. Valve cores can typically be purchased at most good bike shops, or on-line. Get some and make sure you do not re-use a corroded core, or one with used up seals. It isn't worth it. One more thing- Obviously the rest of the valve can get corroded and nasty looking at some point as well, but it is much more common to see a bad core first.

Once I cleared off the old sealant from this core, I found it to be okay. Note the white plastic seal.
Now lets take that cable tie, or use that dealie that Orange Seal sells with their sealant, and use this as a "dip stick" of sorts. Make sure the cable tie serrations are intact. The Orange Seal dip stick has these, by the way. Then insert the end of the cable tie carefully until it hits the bottom, which will be the inner carcass of the tire directly underneath the valve stem. Whatever pooled sealant s there will adhere to the cable tie and when you remove the cable tie, you can determine how much sealant is left, if any. Obviously, if it comes out dry, well then- you'll be needing sealant!

I used the Orange Seal "dip stick" to check my fat bike tires.
 In my estimation, if you see less than 1/4" wetness on your cable tie, you need to add sealant. You can introduce sealant in any number of ways, but most sealant brands have small bottles meant for re-upping sealant and will have clear tubes, or nozzles on the bottle that allow you to cleanly introduce new sealant through the core-less valve stem. I use a syringe set up from Effetto Mariposa since I do a ton of tubeless tire set up/maintenance here. I also mix my own sealant, using the "MG Formula" developed by my good Brother from another mother, MG. (Of course!) Here that is, (because I KNOW yer gonna ask)
  • Three heaping table spoons of Latex Mold Builder 
  • Four ounces of Purple Power windshield washer solvent.
  • Makes enough for two 29" X 2.4" tires. 
  • Adjust for smaller/larger tires to taste. 
I checked two of my bikes over the weekend. Obviously one was the Ti Muk 2 with the 26" X 4" Cake Eater tires. The other was the Black Mountain Cycles MCD rig with the 700 X 42mm WTB Resolutes. I found that the Cake Eaters had a little bit of wet sealant yet, but it was only about a 1/8th" on the "dip stick". So, I introduced about 60cc's of sealant into each tire. I could have rechecked then, but I am assuming that will get me by. NOTE- These tires were set up the second week of June, ridden fairly regularly, typical hot weather, and stored in a cool environment. 

The Resolutes were set up at the end of May and I found that they still had about a 1/4" sealant pooled at the bottom of each tire. That bike was ridden pretty consistently through June and July but then it was in the cool, dark storage for the month of August. 

Again- your mileage may vary. I just give you my examples as a data point to chew on.  

Despite running quite a bit in hot weather for a couple of months, the Resolutes didn't need sealant.
 So, if you don't need sealant, or if you had to introduce some, you then, obviously, have to put that valve core back in, or replace the old one with a new one. I cleaned up my old ones, which were new three months ago, and replaced them. Then aired up the tires, and I was good to go after that. 

That pretty much covers your maintenance issues with tubeless that will be the most common, recurring ones. You might, after some time, need to replace the valves. Depending upon your frequency in changing tires, you may need to re-tape your rims. But those things are far less commonly needed.  

Once again, I know I may have missed something you think I should have covered. Maybe I am not as clear as I could be on some points. Perhaps you just have a question you'd like answered. Well, if any of those are true for you, please hit me with a comment here or e-mail me at 

Okay, I hope that helped someone out there. Thanks again for reading. 


Dan said...

Any tips for re taping rims? Specifically cleaning old tape residue off?

Guitar Ted said...

@Dan- Typically I haven't seen a lot of issues with tape residue, but if you use Gorilla tape, or something similar, then, yes. I have seen that leave some adhesive residue. In any case, a quick wipe down with denatured alcohol generally will get most rims cleaned up. If you have heavy residue left from adhesive, I would use a naptha type chemical or Goo Gone followed up with the denatured alcohol.

Sometimes, if the tape residue is minor, or spotty in nature, you can simply "roll it off" by scrubbing trouble spots with a dry terry cloth or like cloth. This takes a bit of "elbow grease", but by avoiding the previously mentioned chemicals you reduce the time in cleaning and exposure to those things. That's up to your discretion though.

Finally, I would add that by using typically recommended tapes, like Stan's (WTB's is identical), Velocity's "Blue Tape", or any like products, you can make tape clean-up much easier when you finally end up needing to do that.

Re-taping a rim- I strongly suggest two rounds of tape that is wide enough to cover from rim edge to edge internally and start at the opposite end from the valve hole. (Where the rim is pinned or welded together) This prevents any sealant from creeping up a tape seam to a valve hole easily. Tape most often fails at the edge where you cut it off, so pay particular attention to that. Two rounds ALWAYS because while one round will work, the tape will eventually split over a spoke hole and leave you hanging. Also, use latex gloves, or short of that, REALLY clean off your hands previous to applying tape because skin oils will definitely compromise the adhesive qualities of tape.

On some wider rims, like plus tire rims or fat bike rims, it helps a lot if you apply tape and then mount a tire with a tube, inflate to close to max pressure, and let that sit over night. This presses the tape firmly into place on those wide internal rims which can be hard to tape otherwise. After you let that sit all night, un-mount one bead of the tire only, pull the tube, insert a tubeless valve stem, put in an appropriate amount of sealant, re-mount the one bead, and air up the tire. This process makes mounting a plus sized or fat bike tubeless tire much easier in many cases.

I don't recommend using tape too wide for a rim as that just is too much work to get that to work right. Always spend the money on the correct width tape and on a quality tape. I almost always use Stan's/WTB or Velocity "Blue Tape", but I will be trying out Muc-Off's new tubeless tape, so look for news on that soon.

Doug M. said...

Out of curiosity, what do you use to mix your homebrew sealant? I made my own using various recipes for a while, but could always had a hard time getting the latex to mix in small vessels. Thanks!

Guitar Ted said...

@Doug M_ I have been recycling the same tubs the Mold Builder comes in as a container to mix the windshield washer solvent and latex mold builder. Any sealable vessel with a wide opening will work though. Just do not use it for drinking or food afterward!

I shake the living daylights out of the mixture for a couple minutes typically, with the lid screwed on tightly to prevent leakage. Think hardware store paint shaker- that is what you want to do. Once the mold builder and washer solvent have mixed thoroughly the resulting mixture should look frothy and there should be no lumps of pure latex mold builder. I like to use Purple Power washer solvent because when you get the latex to dissolve into the washer solvent it has a frothy, lavender appearance which helps me know I got it mixed up right. Of course, you could use any washer solvent, but others are typically blue, so for me its harder to "see" that result.

You can also mix up more than you need and save it in a tightly closed vessel which is opaque and kept in a cool, dry storage area. I've had stored "MG" sealant keep for well over a month or two if it was stored in this manner.

Finally, you can "up the sealing horsepower" of MG sealant by adding glitter, or Effetto Mariposa's "Vitamina" additive. Cheers!

Exhausted_Auk said...

Do you recommend liquid latex which is pre-vulcanized, or not? Looks like you can buy the stuff by the gallon from Amazon if you want, but it comes in both kinds.

Guitar Ted said...

@Exhausted_Auk- Mold Builder does not say whether it is vulcanized or not on the packaging or on most any website I have found it on. However; after some quick Google research, my guess is that it is not vulcanized based upon the claimed characteristics that Mold Builder claims to have.

It would then be my recommendation to use non-vulcanized liquid latex rubber mold builder for this tubeless sealant hack. Just be aware that MG took five years of tinkering with this formula before he arrived at this current recipe which works for him, and has worked well for me also. I would assume that altering the formula in any way may result in slightly differing outcomes.

DT said...

Very good information, and it echos what I have been doing thus far. It's nice to have that reaffirmation.

I still have not found a good solution for cleaning up dried tubeless residue from tires and rims. I know that all of it does not need to be removed; but it's nice have a clean tire when swapping them over. I'm hoping to come across some magical "coffee and gasoline" mixture that someone has tried; no luck yet!

MG said...

Great information, Brother. Thank you!

@Exhausted_Auk – My understanding is Mold Builder is not vulcanized. I have not tried any latex other than Mold Builder, but if you do try something else, please let us know how it works for you.