Road tubeless setup can seem like a bit of a dark art to the uninitiated, but the technology has improved massively in recent years. Here, we demystify the process and explain exactly how to set up your road tubeless tyres.
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- Why gravel roads made me a believer in road tubeless
- Mavic road tubeless is late to the party but safer and easier than others, company claims
What you need for a road tubeless setup
To understand how to set up your road tubeless tyres, it’s first useful to explain what makes up a tubeless setup and what each component does.
Tubeless tape is an airtight rim tape that is applied to the bed of a rim to seal up spoke holes and rim joins.
There are a few variations of tape available, with some rated for both road and mountain bike use.
A tubeless valve is a Presta-style valve that is identical in function to a regular inner tube valve. It’s usually (though not always) fitted to a conical bung that sits in the valve hole.
When the lockring is tightened down, it deforms the bung around the valve hole and tape, creating an airtight seal.
Any good tubeless valve should have a removable core. This helps with initial inflation and seating and, should the valve core become clogged up with sealant, allows you to either clean or replace this easily without having to unseat the tyre.
Sealant is a milky, most commonly latex-based liquid that will seal small holes in your tyre, usually before you’ve even noticed there’s a puncture at all.
An excellent explainer on how tubeless sealant works can be found in our guide to the best tubeless sealants.
Stan’s No Tubes Race Sealant and Effetto Caffélatex are two of our favourites.
Like the tyre, tubeless ready road rims are visually identical to a regular clincher rim.
However, closer inspection reveals that, like tubeless tyres, the profile of the hook of the rim (where the bead of the tyre interlocks with the rim) is subtly different. The well of the rim is often slightly deeper as well.
A select few rims — mostly from Mavic — are built to UST (Universal System Tubeless) standards. Among other things, this standard dictates that the rim must be sealable without tape, with the rim bed free of holes.
These are relatively few and far between and you’re much more likely to come across a rim with a regular drilled bed.
Tubeless road tyres may look the same as a regular clincher, but they are subtly and critically different.
The two key differences are the dimensions and profile of the bead; the bead is usually very slightly smaller (or, more accurately, made to tighter tolerances) than a clincher and the profile of the bead is designed specifically to interlock with the unique hook of a tubeless rim.
A little bit of jiggery-pokery can get most mountain bike tyres to go tubeless — though not always safely — but on the road, we absolutely recommend you only ever use proper tubeless tyres and rims as the pressures, speed and consequences of failure involved are very, very high.
The best road tubeless tyres
- Best road bike tyres in 2018: everything you need to know
- Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless (4.5 stars) — Read the full review / Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles
- Hutchinson Sector 28 (4.5 stars) — Read the review / Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles
- Fusion 5 Galactik Tubeless — Read the lab test / Buy now from Tredz
- IRC Formula Pro RBCC — Buy now from The Cycle Clinic
- S-Works Turbo Tubeless — Read the lab test / Buy now from Evans Cycles
How to fit and set up road tubeless tyres
The following video includes paid product placement for Schwalbe
1. Prepare the rim
Before applying tape, ensure your rim bed is absolutely clean and free of residue from any old tape or old sealant.
It’s best to avoid mechanical removal for all but the most stubborn of residue. Instead, turn to methylated spirits and a clean rag to soften up any old glue.
Avoid using any solvents, particularly on carbon rims, as this can damage them. If you’re in anyway unsure whether a particular chemical is safe to use, contact your rim manufacturer.
Give the rim one last final wipe down with a clean rag.
2. Tape the rim
Starting from the side of the rim opposite the valve hole, begin by holding the tape down into the well of the rim with a few fingers and apply around 6 to 8 inches onto the rim, ensuring it is central and kept very taught.
Once you have applied this small section, the tape should hold itself in place. At this point, I like to hold the wheel around the hub and rotate the wheel away from me as I apply further tape, keeping the tension high and ensuring it stays nice and central.
Wrap all the way around the rim, again keeping the tension high and avoiding straying to the edges. Once you have reached the start of the tape, overlap by around 4 inches, cut the tape and firmly press the tape down with your thumbs, working out any bubbles.
3. Apply tubeless tape
Once the tape is applied, thoroughly check around the wheel for any bubbles, tears or areas you have strayed too far from the edge.
If you have damaged the tape, it is possible to patch it, but bitter experience has shown that this often doesn’t work and it’s best to just retape the rim. Faff now will avoid roadside heartache later!
Once you’re happy the tape is in good order, run the lip of a plastic tyre lever around the bead of the rim to seat it fully.
4. Fit the road tubeless valve
Start by finding the valve hole on the rim and pushing, from the inside outward, a small prick or spoke through this to mark exactly where the valve hole is.
Then, from the outside, make a small hole in this. If you really want to show off, you can use a soldering iron or heat the prick up to make a clean hole.
Push the valve through the hole and let it ‘cut’ the hole to size. Some recommend cutting the tape with a Stanley knife, but I’ve found this to sometimes tear the tape.
Push down on the valve with your thumb such that it deforms the bung, screw on the lockring. It’s good practice to put the tiniest dab of grease on the lockring to make roadside removal easier.
5. Fitting the tubeless road tyre
Fitting a road tubeless tyre is exactly the same as a regular clincher, but can be a bit more difficult due to the tighter bead.
The good news is that you can be a bit more liberal with your use of tyre levers, as there’s no tube to worry about. Don’t go totally gung-ho though because it’s still very easy to nick or otherwise damage tubeless tape, forcing you to start all over.
With a bit of good technique and a heavy, grippy pair of gloves, it’s normally good to go sans levers.
Once you’ve got both sides of the tyre on, massage the tyre and ensure it is sitting in the well all the way around the rim and the tyre sits on either side of the valve.
6. Add the tubeless sealant
If you’re confident in your ability to get the tyre on with minimal fuss, you can add your sealant before fully fitting the tyre.
However, if it’s a new combination, you may find it much easier to add the sealant via the valve. This can be done via a syringe or a small applicator bottle.
Gently rotate the wheel to coat the inside of the tyre.
7. Seat the tyre
With the valve core still removed, double check that the tyre is seated correctly around the whole wheel.
Fit your track pump and, hopefully, a few swift blasts of air will pop the tyre into place.
If only one side or a section of the tyre seats, keep pumping until you hear a number of satisfying pings and the tyre is seated around the full circumference of the wheel.
As soon as it is seated, remove the head of the pump and replace the valve core.
Add a bit more air then give the tyre a vigorous shake and spin to fully coat the inside of the tyre. Once done, pump your tyres up to the recommended pressure.
It is often possible to seat a high-quality road tubeless setup without removing the valve core, but this is so dependent on the quality of your track pump, so I recommend avoiding any faff and taking the extra 30 seconds that removing your valve core takes.
And that’s it! Do you have any recommendations for road tubeless setup? Any experiences, good or bad, that you want to share? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.