Tech How-To: Tubeless for Mountain Bikes

DIY method for converting your mountain bike wheels to a tubeless set-up.

A little while ago I posted an article on Tubeless MTB tires. In it, I briefly mentioned a DIY method for going tubeless. As it turns out, there are two different 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
-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.