going tubeless - a journey from luddite to fan

Stan's NoTubes
I’ve long been a Luddite in regard to tubeless technologies on pushbikes, but a rush of flat filled rides made me wonder if it was time to try something different. The ride that ended with a four km walk after getting more flats than I could fix pushed me over the edge. An online purveyor of cycling products promised to send me a Stan’s No Tubes mtb kit for the price of many tubes.

While I waited for the sound of the postie’s bike, I visited the web, and read installation guides and the experiences of others, and watched various personal, shop, and Stan’s official videos. By then, I was confident I knew what to do. Put the tyre on the rim with a tube overnight to shape it properly, soapy water on the bead, clean rim, fast pumping on a good floor pump, or better yet, a compressor. Test inflate without Stan’s goo. Once it’s on, deflate, add goo, and reinflate.

I had a good floor pump, and was confident I could pump it fast enough for the job. Other people could, how hard could it be? As it turned out, hard, very hard indeed. Not using a compressor was my first, and biggest mistake. I couldn’t get enough pressure into the tyre for it to move close enough to the bead to seal, soapy water or not. A friend suggested removing the removable valve core to get better and faster flow. Yep, he was right, I was getting more air into the tyre, but it still wasn’t enough.

At drive to my local servo revealed they’d traded the old fashioned pump for one of those electric models, but at least this one had a button to say you’re starting from flat. I stuck my Presta to Schrader adapt... no I didn’t. Turns out the adapter only fits onto the Presta valve when the valve core is there. Not when the valve core is several kilometres away, sitting in the Pit. I tried attaching the Schrader hose to my core free valve, but it really wasn’t successful. Enough air was going in to suggest it might work with the goo, and the valve core in place.

I went home and foolishly tried again with the floor pump. I just got sore arms and a sweaty back. Fed up, I posted to an email group I belonged to, making up some lies about a Luddite “friend” of mine having trouble with his kit. Everyone plays along, and the friend eventually comes out as nonexistent. Laughs all round. That aside, they had some good tips.

An important tip was the yellow rim tape in my kit. It’s not wide enough, and I should get the proper mtb size. At 12mm wide, it barely covers the spoke holes, and in my opinion, is too narrow to be in the mtb kit. I went to the LBS to buy some wider tape, and they were surprised at what was supplied, saying they always used the wider tape. They only had their shop roll, which looked to be twice as wide as mine. I put in an order.

So I wrapped more of the skinny stuff around – three times in all, overlapped so that they sealed across the rim. Over that I laid the original rim strip for bulk, and topped it off with the rubber rim strip and valve (including core). On with the tyre (noticeably tighter on the rim), load car with soapy goop and a brush, Stan’s goop, instructions and kit, and of course, the valve adapter. Back I go to the servo. This time for sure! I gooped up the bead and inner rim with soapy goop, set the pump to flat tyre and 50 psi, and went for it. Up she went! Alright, not to 50 psi, but still, it did mostly seal. This was my first success.

Now I let the tyre down again, and popped a short length off the rim. I moved this “open mouth” to the bottom of the wheel, effectively making the tyre a small bucket waiting to be filled with Stan’s goop. Follow the instructions to suit your bike, but I used about two ¾ full Stan’s cups. Now I had to get the tyre all the way back on again – without spilling the sacred juice. I failed, and topped up what was in the tyre with a dash more from the bottle. This time I got the tyre back on, applied more soapy goop, set the pump and went for it, and up it went again. Success!! Sure, there was juice bubbling out from a few spots around the rim, but everything I saw had said this was normal. I would have liked a lot more pressure, though. I shook and flipped and bounced the wheel for a bit and chucked it all back in the car.

At home, I grabbed the floor pump, and pumped for all I was worth. The difference this time was that the air was staying in the tyre, which was sealing nicely on the rim. I got it up to 60 psi (err, 20 more that Stan recommends), and the bubbling had stopped. Now I methodically bounced, flipped, and rotated the tyre to be certain the juice had coated every surface. Then I laid the rim flat across a bucket for 15 minutes or so, each side.

Although it seemed I’d been successful, I wasn’t confident, so I let the tyre stay up overnight. Next day I reduced the pressure, scoring a fine money shot in the process. Be sure to have your valve up high when fiddling with it...

When the wider rim tape came in, it was time to do the rear tyre. To add to my pain, I had to replace a broken spoke first, but I had a spare and it didn’t take too long.

This time I followed the same process I’d followed the first time, but with less mistakes. This time I only needed one layer of the wider tape, and once that was on, headed for the servo armed with everything I could possibly need. Up she went, easy peasy.

Fixing another broken spoke a couple of weeks later was incredibly annoying, but surprisingly easy. The only real difference from tubes was that I had to cut the rim tape (not the strip, I just took that off) to get the old nipple out. This of course broke the airtight seal, and I had to clean the area again, and apply overlapping sections of new rim tape. I also had to be careful not spill the juice.

Tyre refitted and juice unspilt, it was time to either unleash my top secret “arms of fury” that I was sure were still in there somewhere, or drive back up to the servo. I manfully grabbed the pump and psyched myself up.

One..two..three..GO! Veins popped, lungs burst, biceps burned, triceps tore, but it was working. I had 12 psi. Then 20. Juice was bubbling vigorously most of the way around both sides of the rim, but it was going up, and getting harder. Once again I stopped at 60 psi, the bead was seated, and the bubbling had stopped. Back off the pressure and done. Easy. Other than the arms of fury.

My initial thoughts? Less rolling resistance, but this could have been the different tyre. I didn’t like the way it felt in road corners, but this turned out to be the big change in tyre pressure – I’d gone from 40 (with tubes) to 30 psi. Lately I’ve settled on 35, despite others telling me they run as low as 20! All the other differences that I could feel *could* have been as a result of using a different tyre. All in all, I couldn’t feel much difference between tubeless and tubed. But I guess that’s part of the point – your tyres will work normally with tubes or with goop. The promised benefit and key selling point to me is no more pinchflats. I’ve had way too many this year. On the mtb, I don’t get many actual punctures, but Mr Stan promises that the goop will fix them. We’ll see <makes sacrifice to puncture gods>.

Is it worth it?
Way too early to say, but I could have had a shed full of tubes for the price of the kit (oh alright, maybe 10, if I got them on special – at least eight). I could have bought 16 puncture kits! There was a hell of a lot of faffing around to get the first wheel sorted, but the second wheel, with wider yellow rim tape, was much easier. The kit includes enough juice for a few top-ups, something I’ll need to do every so often.

The convenience of not having to fix a pinchflat on the side of the trail has to be worth a lot, though

Longer term update
Eight months later I’ve nearly worn out the rear tyre, and other than removing it for the broken spoke, haven’t done anything to the system other than occasionally add air. I haven’t even topped up the goo (oops).

Zero flats.

If history is any guide, I have no doubt I would have had a few pinchflats by now, even with the thick heavy tubes I used to run.
I’m running consistently lower pressures than I did with tubes, but still can’t cope with the low pressures others tell me they use. On the surfaces I ride, the bike just feels too much like I’m riding with a puncture.

I think we can officially say I’m a convert. I’ll probably curse and faff again when I fit the next tyres, but they’re as reliable as this set has proved to be, it will be worth it.

Even longer term update
A year after first converting, and it’s still zero flats, but the spokes, they kept breaking! After too many repairs, the tyre wouldn’t seal without starting from scratch. Not wanting to do that, I shelled out for a wheel specifically designed for tubeless – a Stan’s ZTR Flow EX with a Hope hub. Now this is how tubeless should be! Add yellow tape and a tubeless valve, and the tyre went up without goo, or soap to lube the bead, using the floor pump (and no arms of fury)! After adding goo and lube, I easily pumped the tyre up with the floor pump, pumping evenly and steadily. Like I say, just how it should be.

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