How to go tubeless on the cheap

Why go tubeless?

fixing a puncture in the Sahara - reason to go tubeless

Puncture. It’s a word that fills me with dread.

They seem to happen when you’re tired and hungry, when the tyres are covered in thick sticky mud, when it’s getting dark and cold, and worst of all, when all of the afore mentioned conditions are true. And then there’s the nightmare of multiple punctures in quick succession for the luckless few. People like Dan.

He started talking about running tubeless a while back, and while I thought it was something he would grow out of – a phase or something akin to a teenage crush, it turned out to be more serious.

When we were in Morocco in 2016, we spent a lot of time pumping up sludge filled inner tubes. It felt like every rest day was spent mending and patching. First it was thorn trees, then it was cactus thorns. He was bored, I was bored and our patch supply ran dangerously low.

‘I’m definitely going tubeless when we go home,’ he said after buying the last 22 patches that a repair shop had on its shelf and before we set off across 160 km of the Sahara.

I hadn’t really looked into it and put the idea of tubeless down to ‘the latest gimmick’. Little did I know how long they’ve been around. Then, after suffering a few punctures on our February BAM and having to swap over an inner tube one evening on his way home from work and getting home when it was nigh on bedtime, I began to think that tubeless might be the solution. So, the next time Dan mentioned the word tubeless, I said: ‘For God sake, will you order whatever it is you need, and get on with it.’

A few days later, a bottle of Stan’s Sealant arrived in the post.

‘Don’t we need a conversion kit or something?’ I asked.

Apparently not.

You see, there are two types of people who go tubeless: The first type are those who buy all the latest kit, i.e. tubeless ready rims and tubeless ready tyres and special valves and fancy rim tape and make life easy for themselves.

And then there are people like us, who like to spend hours figuring out ways to avoid spending money and making use of what they’ve got and getting great satisfaction in bodging things together.

So here’s how we went tubeless on the cheap and what a ghetto tubeless conversion entails.

Setup we started with

Up front – One tubeless ready 29” rim and tubeless ready Maxxis Ikon tyre.

On the rear – One 29” rim on which the Rohloff hub is built (not tubeless ready) and a tubeless ready Maxxis Ikon.

Seven old and patched 26” inner tubes, two of which had removable valve cores.

Five 29” inner tubes, two of which had removable valve cores. Don’t ask how we accumulated so many inner tubes, but it was probably because they ‘might come in useful someday.’ And of course they did.

Duct tape

Electrical tape

Stanley knife

Scissors

What we bought

Stan’s No Tubes Tire Sealant £13.49 for 473 ml from Chain Reaction

We bought this brand because it’s the one everyone raves about, however there are a few DIY recipes out there in cyberworld if you care to look.

How long does it take to do a ghetto tubeless conversion?

It took us four evenings.

I know. Sounds like a very long time. As you can see from the chart below, most of this was spent watching YouTube videos after our initial attempts failed. And if you’ve ever fallen down the YouTube rabbit hole, you’ll know that it’s difficult to escape. You know what I mean. You type in ‘How to do a ghetto tubeless conversion’. Next thing you know, you’ve seen three and decide there might be a better one, or a person whose voice you’d rather listen to. Then you can’t find the ‘good’ one. Or if you’re me, you get side tracked by a link to off grid living – how to stock a pantry and another hour slips by.

 

To save you time and protect you from the pitfalls I’ve mentioned, I’ve added videos that are particularly useful.

Some people swear by Stan’s tape or Gorilla tape. We used a full roll of Stan’s tape and couldn’t get it to stick or seal. We haven’t tried Gorilla tape. We found the combination of electrical tape and duct tape worked best for us and believe me, we had many failures before finally succeeding.

Use 20” inner tubes with 26” wheels  26” inner tubes with 29” rims to get a snug fit.

How to do a ghetto tubeless conversion for NON tubeless-ready rim and tubeless ready tyre 

  1. Remove tyre from wheel. You can keep the rim tape that’s already there.
  2. Thoroughly clean the rim with warm soapy water.
  3. Using scissors, split an inner tube length ways then fit it to rim so that the surplus rubber flops out over the edge.
    How to go tubeless on the cheap ghetto fix for inner tube
  4. Screw on the lock ring to fit snugly.
  5. Wash off the chalky residue from the inside of the tube using soapy water.
  6. Wipe the bead of the tyre with a soapy cloth.
    Soaping the tyre for ghetto tubeless conversion
  7. Replace the tyre on top of the inner tube ensuring it’s facing the correct direction leaving a little gap to add sealant.
  8. Add the amount sealant as recommended on the bottle and a bit more for unexpected loss during inflation.
  9. Inflate tyre using a compressor (see DIY version below) or large volume pump. Keep pumping until the tyre seats properly and holds air. This may take a few goes. The sweat was flying off Dan’s forehead while this was going on but I kept cheering him on – faster, faster, faster.
  10. Once the tyre has seated and is holding air, shake the wheel and swirl the sealant inside the tyre.
  11. Look and listen for air loss and move sealant to the area in question to help seal any leaks.
  12. Trim off excess inner tube with the Stanley knife.
  13. Now you’re good to go.This is the video I’d recommend for the method above.

 

How to do a ghetto tubeless conversion for tubeless-ready rim and tubeless ready tyre

  1. Remove tyre from wheel
  2. Remove rim tape
  3. Clean rim with methylated spirits
  4. Apply a layer of electrical tape to the rim bed as evenly and as snugly as you can.
  5. Add a layer of duct tape over the electrical tape.
  6. Cut valve with from old inner tube (removable core) as shown in picture below. Err on the side of too big – you can always trim it later.
    How to go tubeless on the cheap cutting the valve
  7. Cut a tiny nick in the tape where the valve hole is and insert the valve.
    How to go tubeless on the cheap Cut a hole in tape to push valve through
  8. Screw on the lock ring snugly.
  9. Replace the tyre, checking direction first. (Excitement can make you forget) and leave a small opening to pour in the sealant.
  10. Add the amount sealant as recommended on the bottle and a bit more for unexpected loss during inflation.
  11. Fit tyre fully taking care not to spill the sealant.
  12. Inflate tyre using a compressor (see DIY version and instructions below) or large volume pump. Keep pumping until the tyre seats properly. You should hear a satisfying bang bang. At this point I cheered.
  13. Shake the wheel and swirl the sealant inside the tyre.
  14. Look and listen for air loss and move sealant to the area in question to help seal.
  15. Now you’re ready to roll.

How to make a DIY tubeless inflator

You’ll need one of these if you haven’t got a compressor. We used a tonic water bottle because we live in Hamble (Of Howard’s Way fame), where there is a sort of rule that states: ‘One must have a G&T, Dahling’, therefore one must also have a bottle of tonic water.

This was fun to make and lasted long enough to make a dozen mistakes and inflated 5 tubeless tyres. Now we have a bigger bottle.

After Dan had run tubeless for a few months, I was the only one having punctures so I took the plunge. Tim, a bikepacking friend, gave me a new-to-me tubeless ready rim and hope hub, which I had built into a complete wheel and there was an old tubeless ready wheel in the shed which was resurrected and added to my bike. I already had the Maxxis Ikons which thankfully were tubeless ready and I too was setup as tubeless.

We set off on our annual December bikepacking trip to Morocco where there are thorns the length and thickness of your finger. We only had one real blow. It was a bit of a gusher but we fixed it with a fat turd. And you only get to say that when you ride tubeless.

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a 'modest explorer'. Nothing modest about me.

4 Comments:

  1. Going tubeless AND spending a bit…but without all the palaver you went through….occurred to me when I decided to buy a Brompton bicycle. When I ordered it the cycle shop feller showed me Tannus Tyres. They are solid rubber one’s. I had one for the rear wheel. My rear tyre is bright red! On cycle forums you get the usual ‘nay sayers’ concerning ‘drag’ and the like but the tyre feels normal to me….and no punctures…guaranteed!!

    • Meraid Griffin

      Good to hear what others are up to Bill. I remember my first bike having solid rubber tyres. Do you have a picture to share?

  2. I managed to get that pair of On One BSCs you sold me tubeless eventually. It took a bit as the side walls were fairly porous but they stay up!

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