​Thankfully, going tubeless with mountain bike tires has become far easier than it was only ten years ago. With a wide variety of both rims and tires being produced as "tubeless ready," gone are the days of fudging around with smaller diameter tubes and cursing like sailors at gas station air compressors. Well, the cursing like sailors part still happens sometimes, but hopefully reading this how-to will reduce your frustration. We will demonstrate what we have found to be the simplest and most straight-forward method of going tubeless without a dedicated UST setup. And, if your specific rim / tire combo isn't cooperating, we'll throw in a few tips and tricks that might help you seal the deal.

Tools Needed

Supplies Needed

  • Rim Tape / Strips
  • Tubeless Sealant
  • Tubeless Valves
  • Denatured Alcohol (optional)

Tubeless valves are now available from a variety of manufacturers with some rim manufacturers even making valves specifically shaped for their rim profile. If that's not an option for you, we've found that many valves are practically universal. In particular, we've found the Stan's No Tubes Universal Valves will do the trick 99.9% of the time, and they're one of most readily available valves, which is a bonus. In our tutorial, we used a different valve as they were in better shape than the others we had on-hand, so if you don't have a Stan's valve at your disposal, you're likely still in the game.

Like valves, there's a variety of tubeless rim strips and tape available now, coming in pre-cut widths specific to rim width and diameter. While these tubeless-specific products do a fine job, we've found good ol' Gorilla Tape, which comes in black, white, silver, and our favorite color, CAMO, to do a fine job when converting to tubeless. It's available at most hardware stores, and if you buy the wide roll, it can be cut to fit pretty much any rim width. Other advantages to using Gorilla Tape is that it's inexpensive and the roll will last you many conversions over. We've had this plain, old black roll for well over a year, and it's probably converted  ten wheels or more.

Removing Your Wheels

Sure, this is pretty basic, but we'll cover it just in case.

Step One

For the rear wheel, shift your chain into the smallest cog on your cassette. This makes dropping the wheel out of the frame easier.

If you have a SRAM derailleur, you can use the cage lockout to slacken your chain making removal easier. If you have a Shimano derailleur with a chain stabilizer switch, flipping it to the "off" position will make wheel removal easier.

Step Two

Our bike uses a DT Swiss RWS quick release-style thru-axle which requires no tools to remove. If your bike isn't equipped with with a quick release-style axle, find the appropriate hex key to remove your axle.

Once the axle is removed, drop the wheel out of the frame.

A good habit to form is always replacing the axle after you've removed the wheel. This ensures the axle stays clean and that you're not wondering where your axle went when it comes time to put the wheels back on.

Repeat Step Two for the front wheel.

Removing the Tire, Tube and Rimstrip

You'll have to completely remove the tire, tube and rimstrip to install both the tubeless tape and valve.

Step One

Deflate the tube and unseat the tire's bead by applying pressure with your thumbs. Once you've unseated the bead in one spot the rest should come easily. Repeat this step to the other side of the tire.

Step Two

Using a tire lever, hook the tire under the bead, making sure to avoid the tube, and carefully slide the lever all the way around the rim. Once that side of the tire is completely off the rim, you can remove the tube, and then the tire completely.

Step Three

To remove the current rimstrip, you can use the optional flathead screwdriver / poker. In our case, our tire lever worked just fine when it came to hooking the rimstrip at the valve hole opening.

Pull and remove the rimstrip completely, you won't be using it once you're tubeless.

Applying the Rim Tape and Tubeless Valve

For this process, we find it easier to apply the rim tape with the wheel on a truing stand. But, if you don't have a stand don't fret, this is easily done on a table, your lap, the floor...pretty much anywhere really.

Step One

To make sure your rim tape adheres properly, we recommend using denatured alcohol and a shop towel to clean the inner surface of the rim. If you don't have any alcohol on-hand, at least give it a good wipe down with a clean rag.

Step Two

Grab the roll of Gorilla Tape (or whatever tape you're using) and hold it up to your rim to eyeball how wide your tape needs to be. One of the big pluses to using Gorilla Tape is you don't have to cut it with scissors to dial in the width. Peel back the tape a few inches, then tear it lengthwise, roughly the same width as the inner width of your rim. Re-adhere the tape on the side of the roll you won't be using. As you apply the tape, it will continue to "cut" itself at the proper width.

Notice how our roll of tape has different "levels" from using it on different width rims?

Step Three

Locate the valve hole on your rim. Start taping about an inch above it. You will tape over the hole.

As you tape around the rim, use your fingers to fully seat and adhere the tape.

While we've gotten away with only doing a single layer of tape, we recommend two layers of tape for a couple reasons. While two layers is obviously less likely to fail at a spoke hole than one layer, two layers of tape will sit higher on the rim making the fit of the tire's bead a little tighter, which can help with seating the tire when initially adding air. This also allows you to tape over the other side of the rim on your second pass if you cut your tape narrow compared to your rim.

Once you've going completely around the rim twice with your tape, overlap the valve hole by about an inch and cut your tape. Go around the whole rim pressing the tape in with your thumbs and visually check you've completely covered all the spoke holes.

Step Four

Once you've checked your work, locate the external valve hole with your index finger and use your thumb to press into the tape to find the inner hole. Once you've found the inner hole, carefully use a razor to cut an "X" into the tape over the hole. If you don't have a razor, a poker of some sort can be used.

Step Five

Using the hole you made in the tape, firmly press the tubeless valve (with the lock ring removed) through the tape and valve hole in the rim.

Screw the valve's lock ring on, snugging it up to the rim just a bit. You want this to be reasonably snug, but you don't have to go HAM on it.

Reinstalling the Tire and Adding Sealant

There are two general ways to do this. One involves removing the valve core after tire installation and injecting the sealant into the tire via the valve. If you bought the little 2-oz bottles of Stan's or have a sealant injector, this method can definitely be less messy, but we'll show you the "no-special-tools" method anyway.

Step One

Making sure to put your tire on the proper direction, we recommend starting install process with the disc-side of the wheel up to help avoid bending the rotor. While lining up the logo of your tires with the valve stem obviously won't affect performance, it's one of those pro techniques that will help you get Bike of the Day after you add your bike to our Bike Check section. Start pushing the tire's bead over the rim, going all the way around the circumference of the wheel.

You shouldn't need a tire lever here but if you do, at least there's no tube to pinch anymore.

Once you've installed one side of the tire, make sure the bead is on the proper side of the valve.

Left side right, right side wrong.

Step Two

Start working on the other bead of the tire. You're not going to fully install it just yet, but you will want the bead in the rim for the most part, leaving just a small area off the rim.

Once you have most of the tire on, grab your sealant and shake it vigorously! Really get that sucker mixed up as the solids mixed in there tend to clump up and sit at the bottom. With the unmounted portion of your tire down, add the appropriate amount of sealant. You can check the sealant container or the brand's website for this information. For the specific sealant we used, they recommend 150ml for our 27.5 x 2.25-inch tires. Your results may vary.

After you've added the sealant, carefully rotate the wheel so that the unseated portion of tire is now at the top of the wheel. This will help keep spillage to a minimum while you muscle the remaining portion of the tire on to the rim. Again, you can use a tire lever here to finish installing the tire as there's no tube to worry about pinching.

Airing Up The Tire And Setting The Sealant

Hopefully you've made it though that last step without making too big a mess and you're ready to inflate this sucker. There are a number to ways to go about this, like using an air compressor, one of those fancy new floor pumps with pressurizing chambers or the ghetto pressurizer, but we're old school and will be attempting this using only our floor pump. If you can't make it through this part without swearing a ton and getting mega-frustrated, we'll include a few tips later on that might be helpful.

Step One

With the valve at 12 o'clock, connect your floor pump. It's important to always inflate and deflate your tires while tubeless with the valve on-top as this helps prevent the sealant from clogging up the valve.

Try inflating the tire. If you're lucky (like we were), it'll air right up. If not, skip down to the Tips And Tricks section below for some help. Once you you start seating the bead, keep on airing up until the tire is completely seated all the way around, on both sides. Be careful not to exceed the maximum air pressure of your tire, which is 60psi in our case. You'll find this info on the sidewall of your tire, so be sure to check it.

As the bead starts seating, you'll likely hear some loud pops. If you've ever inflated a tire to the point it blew off the rim, those pops will likely still scare the hell out of you, even if you've done this hundreds of times since. We typically inflate the tire up to at least 40psi to start before we take the pump off and check the bead.

What you're looking for when you check the bead is that the seam pictured above is completely exposed outside of the rim and not stuck down inside the rim lip. You'll notice in that photo a thin ridge on the left side, right where the tire meets the rim. That ridge goes into the rim right above the "X" graphic on the rim. You do not want this. Re-attach the pump and continue inflating the tire up to the maximum pressure. This will hopefully completely seat the rim. If it doesn't, skip down to the Tips And Tricks section below.

Step Two

We hate to quote TayTay (this might be a lie), but it's time to "shake it off, shake it off." Grab your wheel, shake it, spin it, rotate it around in different positions. What you're trying to do is coat the sealant all over the inside of your tire.

Once you've done this for at least 30 seconds, leave the wheel on each side for a few minutes allowing the sealant to fill any leaks in the sidewalls of the tire. We're finding this step less and less necessary since the introduction of tubeless ready tires, but we still feel like we're doing it wrong if we skip the step. Old dogs, new tricks...

Boom, you're done! Repeat these steps to your other wheel and tire, mount them up on the bike and go get some! Oh, don't forget to recheck your pressure before hitting the trail. 60psi is not fun to ride on. Neither is 10. Remember, valves up!

Tips And Tricks

If the tubeless setup process didn't go as smoothly as ours, which is often the case, here are a few tips and tricks that can be helpful.

Tip / Trick One

Soapy water. Grab some liquid dish soap, a brush or rag and water. Add a good amount of suds to the water, mix and apply around the bead of your rim and tire before trying in to inflate. It's messy, but if you're struggling to get the bead to seat, or even the tire to begin airing it up in the first place, this can make all the difference.

Tip / Trick Two

Remove the valve core. Sometimes a compressor and soapy water isn't enough. By removing the valve core you allow a higher volume of air in the tire at once which will hopefully start airing it up. When it's starting to hold air, quickly remove the pump / compressor and plug the hole with your finger to prevent it from deflating too much. Grab the valve core and quickly reinstall it while the air is rushing out. Re-attach the pump and continuing airing up if necessary.

Tip / Trick Three

Add more height to the rim tape. If none of the above is working, it's possible your tire and rim combination isn't fitting snugly enough to form any kind of seal. While it may be a lost cause, it's worth trying this trick. Pull the tire and valve stem and clean up the sealant mess with a rag and some alcohol or water. You can either add a layer or two of more Gorilla tape to build up the height of the inner rim, or what we've used in the past is a layer or two of Velox rim tape. All this does is help the fit of your rim and tire to be a bit more snug, improving the chances you'll be able to get the combo holding air a bit better.

Tip / Trick Four

If the tire's holding air but the the soapy water and valve core tricks didn't work to get that last pesky area of bead to seat, try this method: With a fair amount of air in the tire (20-45psi), put the area of the tire that won't seat on the ground. Tilt the wheel slightly so you can step on the tire where it's being stubborn. While stepping on the tire, push the top end of the wheel sideways towards the ground. You're basically trying to flex the tire and pull the bead into place.

Tip / Trick Five

This mostly applies to new tires, but it's worth mentioning. If none of the above tricks get the system to start airing up, sometimes throwing a tube in there and riding it for a day, or even just letting it sit aired up in the garage for a night, can help. After the tube has been in there for a while, pull it and try converting it to tubeless again using the steps above. Sometimes there's a kink in the bead or some other weird deformity and the tube will help "shape" or break in your tire properly.

Tip / Trick Six

Give up and run tubes.

Stay tuned for more From The Workbench Tutorial covering a variety of topics.

Read our General Drivetrain maintenance tutorial

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FredLikesTrikes 5/6/2016 6:00 AM

20 comments newest first

often the max pressure of the tire is much greater than the max pressure the rim is designed to take. check your rim specs before you just go blasting up to 60 psi. My DT Swiss XM481 rims for example have a max pressure of 45ish psi.

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Just found the tried and true Deore disc 135x10mm hub with Rhyno Lite rim new on Performance shipped for $80. Had won some Trucker Co. Valve stems and sealant at a race and decided it was a good time to try the worst combo ever. Mounted a brand new Specialized Butcher Grid 2.3" tire to it using the Gorilla Tape method. Bead seated perfectly, was able to put it on by hand no less. Not a drop of fluid has come out yet. Aired up using a portable air tank just in case to 30psi and finished it off at 40psi.

Did it for the heck of it not expecting it to work. Seems fine. Nothing is ever fine with my install of anything though. Tick...tick...tick....

Literally my first ever attempt at tubeless.

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Any chance you can use Schraeder drilled rims? I am old school and have had schraeder valved rims forever but won some sealant and valves at a race and want to tinker with it. Would be on a Sun Rhyno Lite.

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Another Pro-Tip: Consider the layers of Gorilla Tape around the valve hole, imagine how thick and heavy the tape is when layered. If you start 1" away from the hole, wrap twice, and end 1" past the hole in the other direction... You now have 3 layers of tape around the valve hole. Coupled with the weight of the valve stem, you now have enough weight in that one spot to throw off the rotational balance enough where you can feel your wheels wobble in the air. This also creates a thickness difference in the tape and how the tire will sit against the rim, directly at the valve stem. To help counter-act these effects, I start my wrap at 180 degrees opposing the valve stem, 2 full wraps and end the second wrap directly at the position where I started. This gives you a nice uniform wrap with no bulges or weight imbalance, while still retaining a full 2 layers over all of the holes.

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I'm appreciating that this was written by someone who's given a little thought to technical writing!

I think it's important to add, though, that just because a tire mounts up and holds air doesn't mean it won't burp or roll under hard riding. Rims that don't have a pronounced center channel/depression are the most suspect, because the bead will often seal against the relatively large diameter center, but once seated against the walls isn't really held much tighter than what it took to get the tire onto the rim in the first place. On these rims (Sun CR18 for example) by the time you get enough tape to get a safe bead lock it's going to be almost impossible to get the tire on, unless you do something special with the tape to create more of a center channel. As mentioned in the article, you want that really loud, crisp pop when the bead seats.

My right AC joint is speaking from experience....

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SAND PAPER!!!! YOU NEED SAND PAPER!!!! If you don't rough up the rim surface your tape will roll off (just barely) when you change tires 6 months from now, and then air will leak into your rim, but it will only leak out of your valve, and you'll think your valve is the problem, and you'll spend hours trying to fix the seal on your valve, but it's not your valve, it's a huge gaping section of your tape that rolled out of the way and is letting air in through the spoke holes, and then when you finally figure it out, you spend a an hour cleaning all the sealant off your rim with compressed air and alcohol, and you finally get new tape on there, and then six months later you go to change tires, and the whole process begins again until two years later you realize you need to start sanding your rim bed so the tape sticks better. And then everything's fine.

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been doing tubeless for years, never had to do this, ever, had tape last for several tire changes. I assume you're cleaning your rim with rubbing alcohol and a clean lint free rag before your first install?

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Most of the time I use alcohol, but it hasn't made a difference. The tire glued to the gorilla tape and when you take the tire off, blammo! tape comes with it. I've taken to spray contact adhesive on the rim first, and even using a heat gun on the tape before mounting a tire. I will say I've had marginally better luck with Stan's yellow tape because the tire doesn't stick to it as much, but the downside is it doesn't stick well to the rim.

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sounds like you're making this way more complicated than it needs to be with the contact adhesive and heat guns and all that. keep it simple. I've had the best luck with the DT swiss tape, but the stans stuff works pretty good too. the key with real rim tape is to tension it as you place it on the rim. I usually have the wheel on the ground and pull vertical with about a 2 foot section of the tape off the roll, keeping the tape pretty tight as i lay it on the rim bed. making sure you are using the correct width tape for the rim is also important. you don't want any tape rolling up onto the sidewalls of the rim. The stans youtube instructional video on going tubeless shows what I'm talking about as far as tensioning the tape as you lay it. Its a bit tricky to start, but if you get about a 4 spoke overlap, having a bit of loose tape to start isn't a big deal. IMO gorilla tape is not the way to go, its too sticky and will gum up your rims making changing the tape a huge hassle.

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With new tires that are stubborn to get started airing up. I use electrical tape wrapped around the outside of the tire. Like using straps on motorcycle tires. Couple times around the diameter on the tread snug enough to hold the bead on the rim.

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I'd always set the tire up dry and add sealant last of all, once you know the setup combination you're using works. Just means that if you find you're going to need to use a tube, or add tape or whatever to make the setup work you haven't already got everything covered in latex already.

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All pretty basic and accurate. A couple of items need to be reconsidered.
1) I've used Gorilla tape and it is great stuff for sure. However it is pretty heavy and thick and it will break down. Removing the adhesive is a MFer especially on Carbon rims since you don't want to scrape those with anything sharp for fear of damaging the layup. So don't use it. I use Stans and/or Wheels Mfg tape which is very thin. I use a narrow Stan's for the first pass over the spoke holes then a wider layer of Stan's or Wheels tape that rolls up to the sidewall edge.
2) Instead of cutting the valve hole which can lead to a small leak if a cut goes too far I use an awl and heat it with a propane torch to melt a hole for the valve.
3) Tape selection is still the critical dilemma in these conversions and I have my system. There is still room for lots of improvement in this area. I still get blowouts from broken spokes when they occur. A more flexible and adaptable tape or strip that can be used on a variety of rims would be ideal.

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sharp exacto blade has always worked fine for me. how do you cut "too far" if you're using the valve hole as a guide? I cut a circle out of the tape for the valve to pass through, I've had issues with the X method not sealing.

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Nice write up. Just want to add to expect the tape to seal for a maximum of about 3 years before the tape adhesive breaks down, unsealable air leaks are the result. To fix, a complete retaping is required starting with step 1, the alcohol rim bed clean.

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One thing to add, I have found Gorilla tape does not work well on Stans rims and others with beads similar to BST. The sidewall is too low and gorilla tape is too thick. Some tires will work, but most tires I've tried have a difficult time seating the bead in the limited space. For those I recommend 2 layers of Stan's tape.
Also, I personally used to use it, but now I try to stay away from trimming the wide Gorilla tape. The edges tend to fray up, stick to the tire, and just generally make a big mess. It's even been bad enough customers request us to not use it because of previous experiences on the trail changing a flat. If I do use gorilla tape, I find the 1" Handy Roll works best. Most rims internally wider than 1" are newer and have better beads and won't require tape to help raise the tire bead.

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Another tip...

After taping the rim I always mount up the tires with a tube and inflate to the high end of the recommended PSI (45 - 60 psi). This helps seal the tape up better. After letting it sit for about 30 min I'll remove the tube, but leave one side of the tire bead set in the rim. This will make it easier to inflate it without the tube because you are only seating one side of the tire. If you have the ability to inject the sealant in through the valve stem I will seat the tire first without sealant and add the sealant later. This keeps things less messy.

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