Tech How-To: Ghetto Tubeless for Mountain Bikes

A little while ago I posted an article on Tubeless MTB tires. In it, I briefly mentioned a DIY method for going tubeless: the ‘ghetto’ method. As it turns out, there are two different ghetto methods people seem to be using. One involves using a tube as a rim strip, the other involves using Gorilla tape instead. The Gorilla tape method is much lighter, and seems like it would be much easier, so I decided to give it ago on the WTB LaserDisc Trail 29er wheels I have on test (full review coming soon!). I used a Specialized 2Bliss ready tire, thinking the tubeless-ready bead would be better suited to this possibly risky set up. I’ve got over 100 miles of hard riding and racing on the conversion and have had zero issues so far, so I thought it was time to put together a how-to for those interested in trying it themselves.

Disclaimer: It Might Not Work!

One word of caution – depending on your rim and tire combination this may not work for you, and could be dangerous. I HIGHLY recommend you use a tubeless-ready tire and try the conversion on the rear wheel first, and ride it for a while before converting the front wheel. If the tire comes off the rear wheel while you’re riding there’s a good chance you’ll be able to ride it out and not crash. If it comes off the front wheel however, you’re probably about to eat a dirt sandwich. TRY THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK! I also recommend doing some research online to see if others have had success with your particular rim.

What You Need

-Rubbing Alcohol
-Clean rag or paper towel
-Gorilla Tape – I found a 1″ wide’Handy Roll’ that was the perfect width for my rims. Do NOT use regular duct tape, it isn’t strong enough
-Old tube or tubeless valve stems
-Scissors
-Knife
-Tubeless tire sealant
-You may also need some soapy water and either a spray bottle or rag

Step 1 – Rim Prep


The tape will stick best to a clean rim.

-Remove the tire and tube currently on the rim
-Remove the factory rim strip
-Clean the inside of the rim using the rubbing alcohol and rag/paper towel
-Let dry

Step 2 – Valve Stem Prep (not needed if using tubeless valve stems)


I used presta valves cut out of a tube.

-Take the old tube and cut the valve stem out using scissors.
-Leave enough rubber at the base so the valve won’t pull through the rim, but not so much it interferes with the tire’s bead.
-Test install – it should sit completely down in the rim’s center channel.

Step 3 – Tape it Up


The tape should be pressed firmly all the way around the rim, with no air bubbles.

-You’ll need to tear the Gorilla tape to a certain width, slightly wider than the rim.
-It should be wide enough that when you put it on the rim it reaches into each bead hook, but not up the sides/top of the bead hook. For my LaserDisc rims the 1″ wide roll of tape was perfect.
-Put the tape in the rim all the way around, with about 6″ of overlap, 3″ on either side of the valve hole
-When installing the tape be sure to stretch it tight, and make sure it goes on straight. Press it down into the center channel, and run a tire lever around the bead hook, pressing the tape down firmly.
-Use the knife to make an ‘X’ cut over the valve hole so you can install the valve.
-Optional: You may want/need to install a tire/tube and let it sit overnight, this will put pressure on the tape and make sure it stays in place and adheres in the center channel.

Step 4 – Tire Mount and Test


The valve should sit inside the center channel, not up in the bead hook where it will interfere with the tire.

-Install the valve in the rim.
-Mount the tire onto the rim – do not add any sealant yet.
-See if you can get the tire inflated. You may need touse the soapy water to lubricate the bead so it can slide into place. I was able to get mine inflated with a floor pump, but did need a bit of soapy water. In some cases you may need an air compressor.
-DO NOT INFLATE TO MORE THAN 40PSI – the tire could blow clean off the rim. This could damage the tire bead, and will likely leave your ears ringing for a while.

If you can’t get the tire to inflate at all (or if it won’t hold air very long even though it does inflate) you’re probably done – it doesn’t look like this will work with your tire/rim combo. Head to the LBS and pick up a Stans Conversion Kit.

Step 5 – Seal it up


Stans – the magic goo that makes tubeless possible.

-Let the air out of the tire.
-Unhook one bead enough so you can add the recommended amount of sealant.
-Re-inflate the tire. Use more soapy water if you need to.
-Follow the shake procedures used any time you mount a tubeless tire. Don’t know what that means? Check out this video on the No Tubes site, skip ahead to 7:55 to see the shake procedure. This will splash sealant up onto the bead and tire sidewall, and the sealant will seal any leaks, leaving you with an air-tight set up.

Go Ride!

Take it easy at first, keeping your speed low just in case this isn’t a safe set up with your rim/tire. Put some side load into the tire (lean the bike WAY over beneath you, lock up the rear wheel and skid sideways, etc.) to see if the bead will unseat. If not, you’re good to go! Enjoy your cheap and light tubeless set up.

Related posts:

  1. Tubeless Mountain Biking Guide
  2. Topeak JoeBlow Mountain Bike Pump: A Tubeless Tire’s Best Friend
  3. Review: Orange Seal Tubeless Kit
  4. Mountain bike gadgets and tech
  5. Mountain bike trail tech

14 thoughts on “Tech How-To: Ghetto Tubeless for Mountain Bikes

  1. -Unhook one bead enough so you can add the recommended amount of sealant.
    -Re-inflate the tire. Use more soapy water if you need to.

    I assume there’s a reseat the bead step in between those? :D

    My LBS actually does this setup for a fee of $20 + the cost of the sealant

  2. What’s great about this set up is how cheap it is. Just hang onto a few flat tubes to get the valves from, and buy a roll of Gorilla tape for a few bucks.

    When I converted the front wheel, I got rid of the 2.55″ wide WTB Weirwolf LT in favor of a 2.0″ Specialized Fast Trak. Between the weight difference of the tires, minus the tube + tape and sealant I dropped 3/4 of a pound off the front wheel! Woot woot!

  3. Gorilla Tape is now on my list for my next store run…its worth a try, I will try it on my second bike…I will post about it on the forums…

  4. Is there a “Best” sealant to use? Is there a difference between tubeless sealant and regular ol’ slime? Looks like this whole set up can be done for around $15.

  5. Stick with Stans, its the best. Slime can’t seal up the really small holes like Stans can. I have heard of people adding some slime to the stans to make it last longer before it dries up.

    I tried CaffeLatex…didn’t seal anything at all, went back to Stans.

  6. Funny to see this post. i just took ghetto tubeless to a new level yesteday. How timely. Gorilla tape is great stuff and looks very cool and professional. The stuff doesn not want to come off though. It means business be careful with it.

    I went a little lower tech. I used black electrical tape with a double wrap around the rim. Seems to be working great. Will report back if I experience failure after a few rides. I used only a little stans to ward off any reactions between the tape adhesive and the sealant, that is keep the tape stuck. Regardless, so far this is working better than anything I’ve done with 20″ tubes for five years in the ghetto.

    Great idea and thanks for the Gorilla Tape report!

  7. Pingback: On Test: Ibex Maroc 29er Carbon Fiber Mountain Bike | Mountain Bike Blog || SINGLETRACKS.COM

  8. The Gorilla tape is as good (or better)as the stuff we useta get in the ship yard called EB Green. All the old sailors I’ve talked to about it agree. :D

  9. I did this on my old Gary Fisher with Bontrager Corvair rims. Four bucks for a roll of tape plus the sealant (which I already had) and two valves from tubes that were headed to the garbage. This brought new life in an old bike that I never ride much anymore. This is probably not something that I would do on an expensive rim, but on a clunker, it was great. I have read elsewhere that the tape should be changed every 6 months to a year. I don’t know about Gorilla Tape, but duct tape does get brittle after a while. Will reply if something major happens.

  10. I converted my 2.5″ Kenda Nevegals a couple of days back and so far so good. Used 20″ bmx tubes. I was having trouble until I built up the rim inner channel with a few more wraps of electrial tape and then had to hold the bead to the rim near the valve stem to get it to inflate.

  11. I used weatherstripping to build up the deep center channel on my WTB Speeddisc AM rims, and it works great and is super light weight (lighter than many layers of tape to build up the center?). I just measured the depth and width of the center channel and bought the right dimensions for a couple of bucks for a whole bunch of it. I have Stan’s tubeless conversion rim strips, but I have also done this with the ghetto smaller tube conversion and it worked great. It might get a little bit difficult with the Gorilla tape and having to try to squeeze the air pockets out, but I am sure it could be done. Anyway, there is my two cents.

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