Adventures in Tubeless
I’ve never felt the need to make the switch from inner tubes to tubeless. Part from habit and part from hassle. The thought of changing rims, tyres and buying all the bits and bobs has always put me off. But, as I built my bike for this year I picked up a set of tubeless-ready wheels cheap and when talking to Continental and Schwalbe it was simply an additional option to choose, suddenly it had became easy to make the switch and my curiosity was ignited. This is a little note on my first experiences with tubeless tyres.
Stans Flow rims
Tubeless tyres (Continental Baron UST and Schwable Hans Dampf Tubeless-ready)
Tubeless fluid (Stans and Schwalbe)
Schwalbe Mounting Fluid
Roval rim tape
The first thing you notice trying to mount tubeless tyres is that they use a strong bead (the tough strip around the base of the tyre that holds it onto the rim) – it’s closer to a downhill tyre than a light single-ply tyre. With the first set I mounted, the Continentals, this wasn’t an issue. Once one side was on the rim I then added a cap of fluid in the front tyre and two caps in the rear tyre – the latex tubeless fluid washes round the tyre and helps keep the system airtight, sealing any small holes that appear. It takes a bit of thought to avoid splashing the fluid all over your clothes. Then working the tyre they seated on the rim nicely, although they take more force and experience than a single-ply tyre. One worry with tubeless tyres is the air pressure you need for the tyre to expand into the rim and form a seal (this is called seating), in the past a compressor was needed to do this, but the Continental tyres seated well with just a regular track pump.
Unfortunately the rear tyre didn’t stay inflated. After searching the whole wheel it turned out that the valve core had failed – there was a small split at the base. With the Stans system the valve core and rim strip are integrated, so I had to buy a roll of the rim tape and some valve cores (it’s always good to have spares). Roval tape feels surprisingly flimsy, you simply roll it along the inside of the rim and then pierce a small hole for the valve core to pass through. It takes about five minutes to do and actually works very well. For just 15 Euros a roll it will do plenty of wheels and that means it’s good value. Once this was done the tyre seated easily once more.
After a few months with the Continental tyres it came time to change to some dry tyres and that’s where the Schwalbe tyres came in. What was noticeable with the Schwalbes was how much tougher they were to get on the rim than the Continentals. Fortunately Schwalbe make mounting fluid, after struggling for more than an hour with the front tyre and destroying a rim strip with a tyre lever while mounting it, a simple wipe of the fluid around the rim meant the rear tyre slide on easily. Once on, like the Continentals, they seated easily with a track pump.
So what did this translate to out on the trail? Weight-wise there is very little in it, we haven’t weighed these, but on the bike you can’t feel any significant difference. The main reason I wanted the tubeless system was durability – to rule out pinchflats. Because of this I kept the air pressures relatively high, although one of the claimed benefits of tubeless is that you can run lower pressures. After three months and two different tyres they really have meant for problem-free riding. A few times the bike has taken big hits where you can feel the rim on the rock and the system has stayed fast, times you are sure that a tube would have pinch-flatted.
Yes, tubeless is more of a faff to mount and changing tyres becomes a much bigger deal – to the point where I did put it off for a while to avoid the hassle. Weight-wise there is little or nothing in it, but overall, it is well worth it for the additional resistance to problems. However, do keep an inner tube in the backpack still, just in case…
Words and Pictures: Matt Wragg