Mike goes tubeless

This weekend, Mike set up his first set of tubeless tires. They are Hutchinson Fusion 3s on wheels built with WI T11 hubs, Stan's Alpha 400 rims, and CX Ray spokes with 20/28 lacing. They are a lot like the wheels in the picture below except Mike has reb hubs (color!) and his front wheel has fewer spokes. My first tubeless setup came several years ago on my mountain bike, and now have tubeless setups on road, cx, and mountain.  

Mike's reluctance to going tubeless was typical of most people who haven't yet tried it. The typical resistance points are:

1. It's difficult to set up

2. I'll need a compressor to inflate my tires

3. It doesn't offer any real benefit 

4. My rims aren't tubeless ready

5. Tire selection is limited

As with many things in life, there is both truth and BS in each of these, so let's take them in order, but first a PSA - for road, YOU MUST USE TUBELESS TIRES. Tubeless road tires have a stronger bead than non-tubeless tires. At the higher pressures you use on the road, there is a serious risk of blowout if you use a non-tubeless tire. Do not try it, do not listen to anyone who says it might be okay. For road tubeless, use road tubeless tires, period, end of story.  

ROAD SET UP: Depending on the wheels and tires you are setting up, going tubeless can either be as simple as installing tubed tires, or somewhat complicated. In Mike's case, he's using Stan's Alpha 400 rims, which have a great tubeless interface. Tubeless tires mount, inflate, and seat easily and securely on them. To prep these and similar rims, all you need to do is use two wraps of Stan's tape (or similar) per rim, and install a tubeless valve in each rim. November supplies all Stan's builds with two wraps of tubeless tape and valves pre-installed, so you don't have to worry about that step. When you install the tape, pull hard and stretch it so it conforms to the rim bed and becomes airtight.  

While the tires you use for road tubeless MUST be tubeless specific, your rims needn't be. I'm using Stan's rims for illustrative purposes here, just because setting them up is child's play. I told someone a few weeks ago that at this point I could install a dirty t-shirt on a Ritz cracker and get it to inflate and seal, but I've been screwing around with tubeless for a while.

When you're ready to install your tire, wet the inside of the rim with some soapy water. Be generous with the soap, and don't worry about the water, it will evaporate soon enough.  

As you see in the pic, this rim has a channel in the middle. When you install the tire, push the tire beads into the channel. This makes mounting the tire much easier. This channel is a big part of the reason why you want to stretch the tape.  Mount the tire almost all the way, and then before you do the last bit of the second bead, shake up your sealant and install it.  Just pour it in.  November supplies Stan's builds with a cute little 2oz bottle of sealant which is plenty for a pair of road tires.

 After your sealant is in, rotate the wheel so you don't pour the sealant back out when you're putting the last bit of the bead on, and voila. At this point, you should have no problem inflating the tire with a floor pump. You will hear the bead pop into place, which is normal but can be jarring. If there are any air leaks, you will see bubbles forming there (thanks, soapy water!) so simply shake the wheel to get some sealant there and they will seal up quickly enough.


I've installed road tubeless tires on Rails, Stan's 340s and 400s, Kinlin XC279s, and Pacenti SL23s, and have yet to need a compressor to inflate any of them. If you find that you can't inflate your tires, take a Presta to Schrader converter plug ($2 from a jar on the checkout counter of every bike shop in the world, and you should keep one in your flat kit anyway) and 4 quarters, and head down to the gas station and use their compressor. In the unlikely event you flat on the road, don't worry about reinflation - you'll use a tube then anyway.


I'm something of a chronic flatter, so much so that I've even done the ultra-rare tubeless pinch flat. With tubeless, apart from that one instance, I don't get flats. I also love the way they ride and find a better feel with lower psi. We'll be testing rolling resistance of a lot of setups this week to learn more about that aspect, but reports we've read suggest that there are gains on that front.  I've removed a worn out mountain bike tire and found two dozen little sealant asteroids on the inside of the tire - each of them representing a flat that I got but didn't get. It's awesome.  

Before using tubeless, I'd never in my life worn a road tire out without getting at least one flat. Since using road tubeless, I've now done it three times.  


While tubeless specific rims generally make tubeless installation easier, they are not necessary. Some rims specifically prohibit tubeless setup, and it's best to listen to the rim supplier in those cases. Some rims are also known to have a poor response to sealant. Of the rims I've set up for road tubeless use, Stan's and Pacentis are designed with a tubeless rim bed, but Kinlins and Rails were easy to go tubeless, and none of them have any adverse response to sealant in my experience. 


It's true that a lot of tires aren't yet available in a tubeless ready model. In mtb, this doesn't matter even at all - any tire can be used tubeless. For cx, some work better than others (more on this in a subsequent post), but you can find a great tire for any condition that's going to do great as a tubeless tire. For road, your options are a bit limited. There are plenty of great road tubeless tires, but it's a classic chicken and egg deal - the tire makers are loathe to invest in tubeless products when the market isn't clamoring for them, and the market is loathe to adopt road tubeless en masse without all of the favorite tire options available in tubeless ready versions.

We'll check in with Mike periodically to see how he's enjoying his tubeless experience, but personally I'm a convert. I've got my cx tubeless setup so dialed that I have no desire to go back to tubulars. I'm using the same pressures tubeless that I did with tubulars. For road, it's my preferred option as well. For mountain, I think I'd rather go for a road ride than ride mountain bikes with tubed wheels.  


Don't be afraid of tubeless. Like any new technology, it takes a bit of getting used to how you do things, but once you do, a whole realm of convenience and performance opens up to you. As we head toward the long slog of cold winter miles where getting a flat REALLY REALLY stinks, check out a tubeless setup and we bet you'll be glad you did. If Mike found it to be as easy as he did, chances are you'll find getting started to be a total breeze.

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I tried road tubeless (with Hutchinson Fusion 3 tires) on my road bike for a season. I got more flats with those tires than my GP4000S ties — and they felt slower. Also, I found that sealant didn't hold the seal on punctures above 40-50psi. So that wasn't that great. I am a diehard tubeless fan on my CX band MTB setups, but haven't yet seen any great value on road. I might give better tires a try, but honestly there are faster rolling and much cheaper non-tubeless options so I am not rushing to do this.


I don't know what it is that causes the reaction between Stan's and Shimano rims, but it's not ammonia. Stan's has claimed no ammonia for a long time, and based on their MSDS sheet (http://www.notubes.com/literature/NoTubesGHSmsds_5_9_2012-1.pdf) I'd believe it – lying on an MSDS sheet incurs a fine probably equivalent to a year's revenue for Stan's. You don't f with your MSDS. Water, latex, propylene glycol. The Giant reps were warning people of reaction between their aluminum rims and latex at Interbike this year (which of course got relayed to me by a shop guy as "you shouldn't use latex tubes in aluminum rims because they eat away at the rims" – le sigh), so maybe it's latex. I don't know. Other sealants abound – Orange Seal, Slime, Caffelatex, etc. Stan's rims were used in this discussion simply because they are SO easy to set up, but you can use road tubeless on any rim that doesn't prohibit it. It might be a pain in the butt to get set up is all. The aforementioned 3 worn out tires got worn out on Rails, for example.

Dave K

Hi Dave – Many 29er and some cross/gravel-specific rims like Iron Cross have low psi limits which apply to tubed or tubeless use. Although I've heard it said that an Iron Cross, for example, can handle up to 90 psi with a road tire, I wouldn't do it. There are some good crossover rims available and you might expect more to come. – Dave

Dave K

Just posting this for the sake of clarification. November wrote, "…While the tires you use for road tubeless MUST be tubeless specific, your rims needn't be…" From emails I received from Stan's and Velocity a few seasons ago, one still needs to use a road rim designed for higher air pressures (ie above 70 psi), if one wants to mount road tubeless tires. For example, although the first generation Stan's Iron Cross rims were designed for tubeless cyclocross tires and relatively low air pressures, they were not designed to handle the higher pressures of a road tubeless tire [although Stan's said the narrower Alpha 400 would be fine for road tubeless pressures]. I thought about this when I considered replacing both my road and cross bikes with a disc brake cyclocross bike a few seasons ago, thinking that I could simply throw a pair of 28mm Hutchinson Secteur road tubeless tires on when cross season ended, effectively turning my cross bike into my road bike. Unfortunately, rims like the Iron Cross or many lightweight 29er mountain bike rims are not designed for higher pressure road tubeless tires. And the last thing I want is risking a potential rim blowout while maching down some twisty canyon road (which is why I considered disc brakes for road bike use a few seasons ago, before November posted their rim brake heat information). But all this is moot for owners or potential owners of disc hubset Rails, since high pressure road tubeless compatibility ain't an issue ;^)

another dave

I have been using tubeless since January…Hutchinson Sectors on HED Ardennes+, Orange Seal…I'm in NYC. I get a lot of punctures. 4 in the month of July alone. Sometimes the street is like a flak barrage…The Orange Seal works admirably. Seals up significant punctures, I usually stop, check the tire, add a few PSI and am on my way.Worst was a sidewall puncture, penny nail sized hole when I took the tire off. I was able to hold 60psi and ride 10 miles home at a leisurely pace.I'll never go back to tubes. I carry my tools and spares for group rides, the other guys need them.


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