Tubeless tyres are what they say on the package in that they’re tyres that don’t have an old school tube inside to keep it up. Rather than a tube, the tyre makes an almost airtight seal with the rim to keep the air in.
To make that airtight seal work the rim needs:
- special rim tape that is a very tight fit on the rim;
- a valve that looks like the valve on a Presta tube but with a rubber bung on the inside to seal with the rim tape;
- and finally, some tubeless sealant to fill up any remaining small holes between the tyre, rim and valve. Tubeless sealant is a milky liquid with small particles of latex or other materials that seal small holes.
So what do you need to fit tubeless tyres to your bike?
- Tubeless compatible rims (or wheels). On these rims the bead hook where the tyre connects is made to ‘lock’ the tyre into it as there is no pressure from a tube pushing the tyre against the rim to keep the tyre in place. We do not recommend setting up non-tubeless rims as tubeless because the tyre can blow off! You can tell if your wheels are tubeless compatible by looking at the stickers on the side of the rim. They should say something like “Tubeless ready” “Tubeless Compatible” or there will be an acronym like ‘TLD’ or ‘TCS’ indicating they are tubeless.
- Tubeless tyres. Like rims, the bead of a tubeless tyre is made to ‘lock’ into the rim. Tubeless tyres need to be made more accurately than standard tyres hence they are more expensive. Tubeless tyres are always folding. As with rims, don’t set normal tyres up as tubeless even on tubeless rims.
- Tubeless rim tape. Tubeless rim tape is thinner, stretchier and tighter fitting than normal cloth rim tape. You need at least two wraps of tubeless rim tape to seal the rim. Some rims even come pre-taped with rim tape.
- Tubeless valves. These look like someone has cut a Presta valve out of a tube.
- Tubeless sealant. A milky mix to seal up the remaining holes.
- A tubeless pump, compressor or high volume pump. To inflate tubeless tyres a large and quick volume of air is needed to pop the tyre onto the tubeless bead and ‘lock’ it in place – you’ll often hear bangs and pops when this happens. A normal floor pump can sometimes do it but is much easier with a tubeless specific pump as it includes a chamber to ‘pre-charge’.
Why would you want to go tubeless?
- No more pinch flats! Without a tube to squeeze between the rim and tyre pinch flats become a thing of the past.
- You can run much lower pressures safely due to not having to worry about pinch flats. This is especially useful for mountain bikes, gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes.
- Small punctures are sealed by the tubeless sealant. If a small puncture occurs the pressure inside the tyre pushes the sealant into the hole and the small particles clog the hole and seal it up. Some pressure will be lost but typically you won’t need to put a tube in.
Why would you not go tubeless?
- It can be a bit messy especially if you get a flat bad enough that you need to put a tube in. Yes, if the puncture is big and bad enough that the sealant doesn’t plug it a tube can be put in the tyre but you have to deal with the mess of the sealant.
- It’s more expensive. Even though you aren’t buying tubes so often, sealant, tape and the more expensive tyres more than make up for it.
- Tubeless tyres are typically ‘performance’ tyres. It’s hard to get tough commuter tyres so tubeless tyres don’t tend to last as long.
- Simplicity. Fixing a flat tube is straight forward!