Ask a Mechanic: Setting Up Road Tubeless Tires

Mark wants to know, do you have any advice for setting up my tubeless road wheels? I’ve had some trouble with them in the past with the tape not forming a good seal.

Tubeless road wheels, both stock and custom set-ups, are becoming more and more common, especially with riders who frequently ride rough roads or are looking to get into gravel riding. With a tubeless setup you are able to run lower pressures, typically 10 psi less than usual, which creates a ride many compare to tubulars.  Along with more plushness, going tubeless offers better flat protection than a traditional tube and tire setup. However, unlike with mountain tubeless, you really need to make sure you are using both wheels and tires that are designed to be run tubeless.  Because road tires run at much higher pressures and speeds than typical for mountain tires, the consequences of trying to make a non-tubeless wheel or tire tubeless are much higher on the road.  Let’s go over the set up process from start to finish with a few tips and tricks along the way.

Most tubeless compatible road rims are UST, or Universal Standard Tubeless-certified, which refers to the shape of the rim’s bead hook.  These wheels are smooth on the inner channel without holes for spokes and nipples, making the wheel airtight when a tire is seated.  However some wheels, such as Stan’s and HED, are tubeless compatible but use a more traditional rim setup that requires tubeless tape to form an airtight seal.

When taping a tubeless wheel, start by making sure the channel in the center of the rim is clean so the tape will stick and form a good seal.  When applying tape, I like to have the wheel in a truing stand and start a few inches above the valve hole and work down.  Hold the tape down securely with one hand and rotate the wheel while pulling pretty hard with the other hand holding the tape. Continue to apply tape to the wheel until you have gone around twice.  I always finish on the opposite side of the valve hole that I started on.  Once the tape is applied, run your finger down the middle of the channel to work out any air trapped under the tape to ensure the best seal possible.

Once taping is complete, insert the valve into the wheel.  I do this by creating a hole where the valve goes using a small screwdriver, an old spoke, or something similar.  Make the hole smaller than the valve going through to ensure a good seal. Push the valve through the hole and tighten down the lock ring on the other end of the valve; I’ll use my thumb to put pressure on the valve as I tighten it to make sure that it’s forming a good seal with the channel in the rim.  Once the valve is in, you can mount the tire.

Tubeless tires mount just like a regular tire, but using some of Schwalbe’s Easy Fit tire mounting fluid on the bead of the tire helps a lot when it comes time to seat the tire bead. Apply the fluid to the outer side of the bead on both sides of the tire and then mount the tire to the rim.  After the tire is mounted pull the valve core from the valve stem and add your sealant of choice to the tire. If your valve doesn’t have a removable core, pull back the bead in one spot and pour the sealant down into the tire.  I usually do this on the side so the sealant travels down to the bottom of the tire where it can pool without you having to worry about it pouring back out. Once sealant is added, replace the valve core or tire bead and add air to seat the bead. I highly recommended using an air compressor, since they are able to rapidly push large volumes of air into the tire to get it seated.  Be wary of using a compressor regulated for really high pressures, which can blow the bead off the rim and ruin the tire.  If you don’t have a compressor, you may be able to use a regular floor pump, but be prepared to work a little here; pump as fast and hard as you can until it is seated.  After the tire is seated you’re job is done, just give the wheel a quick spin to get the sealant circulated through the tire, set your riding pressure and hit the road.