Tubeless 101: Tubes are for Surfers

Tubeless 101: Tubes are for Surfers

Some years ago now, before my first go at bikepacking, I decided I had better learn a bit about what this whole tubeless tyres thing was all about. I figured it was something that’s best understood at home rather than having to figure it out the hard way in the middle of a gravel adventure. Lucky for me, a friend of mine took the time to show me how it all works and explained why ditching the tubes and using the sealant instead was an absolute no brainer for all manner of off-road riding and bikepacking. 

What’s this tubeless thing all about?

Leaving tubes for surfers makes so much sense across all cycling disciplines but when it comes to off-road riding the benefits are exponential: 

  • You can run tyres at a lower pressure without the worry that you’ll pinch the tube. Lower pressure means more grip and more comfort too. 
  • All the fun things (thorns, rocks, sticks and other tyre piercing stuff) happen off road. 

The sealant fixing the holes whilst you keep riding, is more fun than changing tubes!

  • In the unlikely event of a flat when you’re set up tubeless, you have more options available to fix it; filling the hole with little rubbery strips called ‘plugs’, adding more sealant and worst case scenario, using a tube. If you’re out for a long adventure, having more options to solve a problem can be the difference between getting to a pub before the kitchen closes or having a very, very long walk!

The things you need to make going tubeless as fuss free as possible: 

A tubeless compatible rim: Rims that are ‘tubeless ready’ have some design features in their profile that make achieving an airtight seal and maintaining that seal much easier.

Rim tape: This tape stops the sealant from coming out of the spoke holes in the rim. 

Tubeless valve: These valves have a rubber seal that sits in the rim and a removable core to allow for additional sealant to be added without having to remove the tyre. 

Sealant: This is the goo that swishes around inside the tyre, gets sticky and fills small punctures whilst you’re riding. 

Tubeless ready tyres: Tubeless tyres have different beads and casings than traditional tyres. These features help to prevent the tyre from blowing off of the rim under pressure and prevent air loss.

Repair things to carry to fix a tubeless flat:

A plug kit: There are lots of options when it comes to plug kits. A basic kit should include some plugs that look like little ‘bacon strips’ and a tiny fork-like tool used to shove the plugs into holes that are too big for sealant to fill. 

Sealant: If you’ve had a puncture so big that a lot of sealant was lost or maybe you just forgot to top the sealant up before your big adventure; it’s handy having a little bottle of sealant to put into the tyre via the valve. Anything is better than the dreaded alternative; using a tube!

The other tyre repair things you should carry are the same things you’d carry to fix a flat if you’re not running tubeless; a spare tube, a tyre boot, a pump and CO2. 

 The proof is in the puncture

So that’s a wrap on the why and how but they say a picture is worth 1000 (or in my case 543) words. This little snapshot is my amazing Vittoria Mezcal vs all the thorns on one little section of the Mawson Trail in SA. Spoiler alert, tubeless for the win, the surfers can keep the tubes! 

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    Hi Adrian. If my valve core is getting gummed up, I just replace it. I don’t find this to be an issue that occurs often; perhaps the type of sealant you’re using is a factor. I have heard that few drops of Tri-Flow on the little seals on the valve core before you install it, will help to prevent the cores from getting sticky; worth an experiment!

    April from Curve

    Any hints on how you stop the sealant from glueing valves up so that they need pliers to open them every time the tyre goes down? Spouse has tubeless and every time we try to touch them the valve has glued shut


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