Going Tubeless: What You Need To Know: How To

After getting to know why you would want to go tubeless, we now will delve into the “how” of going tubeless with your “wagon wheels”. There are a couple of standardized systems out which I will cover first. Then I will touch briefly on the typical ways folks are turning components meant to be used with tubes into their own tubeless systems.

But before that, we need to understand a couple of key things that must be done by any company or individual that attempts to attain a state of perfect “tubelessness”. Without making sure these things are secured, disaster, possible injury, and even death may result. Really!

First, a way to seal the rim well must be found, and usually this means sealing off a bunch of spoke holes drilled into the rim. Of course, if you can find a way around drilling all those holes, it makes this job a lot easier, and in fact, that is why a UST standard rim is so appealing. Unfortunately, only pre-built wheel sets are available with this sort of rim, so unless you buy into a complete system, the UST rim isn’t an option. Other ways to seal a traditionally drilled rim have been done, and usually in conjunction with a specific rim extrusion.

BontragerTRSwheel 007Bontrager TLR rim strip, tubeless valve stems, and bonus skewer image!

Stan’s NoTube system consists of a specially extruded rim that features a “bead socket” for the tire and a rim well designed to assist in making a tubeless tire air up without much effort. The spoke holes are covered with a specially developed rim tape, thus sealing off the holes in an effective manner. Bontrager does something similar with its Tubeless Ready System, but instead of a tape, they developed a rim well and plastic strip that mate together. The rim can be built on any hub, then the plastic rim strip is snapped into place, sealing off the spoke drilling. In fact, a tubeless tire set up on this system actually seals against the strip, and not the rim.

Now you’re almost there. You will need a special tubeless valve stem to finish off the job. Bontrager, Stan’s, Mavic, and others make these, and home made ones will also work. The valve- usually a Presta, but not always- is made to have an inner seal of some sort. Either an “o” ring seal or a rubber type collar around the valve on the inside is employed with a nut that threads on to the outside which pulls the inner seal against the rim strip, sealing off the valve hole in the rim.

Crossmax29er 010Mavic’s Cr29ssmaxx were the first UST rims available for 29″ers.

Okay, now the final piece of the puzzle is the tire. A typical folding bead tire isn’t made to keep air inside its carcass- that is the job of the inner tube. So tire manufacturers either do one of two things- they make a true, air tight casing and bead, or they make an airtight bead with a casing that requires sealant to become air tight. A standard developed by Mavic and other tire manufacturers called “UST” is one way this can be done, but most manufacturers have eschewed this avenue for their own systems which all are of the “tubeless ready” type requiring sealant to become air tight. The common denominator of all of these though is a tighter rim bead diameter standard and special bead construction. Without holding the rim bead dimensions to tight tolerances and reinforcing this critical area of the tire, blow offs and other failures would result and cause possibly catastrophic results for riders.

bontragerxr2008 007Special beads are part of a tubeless ready tire and make them safe to use tubeless.

Sealant is the last bit needed before most systems will operate safely and effectively. Usually some sort of latex based sealant is introduced into the tire carcass which seals off the carcasses porous inner walls making it air tight without using an extra layer of rubber as UST tires do. This results in a lighter, more supple casing, and a heightened level of performance in most cases. Sealants come in many forms, some being glycol based, and even home brews are popular with many riders.

fargotest08 078Most sealants are latex based such as this Geax product.

DIY Tubeless Set Ups: Note: Twenty Nine Inches does not endorse any of the following. It may be dangerous and cause a crash leading to personal injury and even death. Taking any of these measures to set your bike tires and wheels up tubeless is done at your own risk:

Many riders have been doing their own conversions of standard tubed wheels and tires using home made sealants and rim strips for years. Most of these systems use some sort of combination of reinforced packing tape, a foam backed tape of some sort to fill in deeper rim wells, and home made valve stems. Some folks use split open tubes as rim strips as well. Sealants based on mixtures of commercially available sealants, or mold building latex mixed with an ammonia based substance like windshield washer solvents are common. The tires used are typical tubed tires resulting in various levels of success ranging from bulletproof reliability to hit and miss successes resulting in occasional failures, crashes, and injuries.

Mixed Systems: Some riders will try “mixing and matching” systems or components with each other, and may even do this while introducing their own “home brew” solutions as sealants. Generally I have found that some things work, and some things don’t. Here is a short list of my personal findings in messing around with tubeless systems. Your results may vary.

-Bontrager TLR tires: Works with decent reliability on Stan’s rims and I have heard enough about failures with Mavic/UST rims that I will not use TLR tires on those types of rims.

-Bontrager TLR Rim Strips/Wheels: Works really well with Specialized’s “2Blis” tires. Geax tires are waaay too tight and will not work at all with the plastic strip installed. A Stan’s strip in a TLR rim will work with a Geax tire, however. Continental tires work well on TLR rim strips. TLR rim strips have also been used by myself in Velocity Blunt rims with Rampage tires with good results.

-Stans ZTR Rims and Strips: Works great with Specialized, Bontrager, Continental, and some non-tubeless tires. GEAX tires are just too tight to be field serviceable. I won’t use a Geax tire on a Stan’s rim for that reason. Stan’s strips: I have used these only on ZTR rims with the exception of some DT Swiss TK 7.1 disc rims and that works flawlessly.

contiking09 037CaffeLatex valve stems for tubeless tires and the injector for their sealant. This is the best sealant and system available on the market.

Sealants: I have used Bontrager’s Super Juice which seals a tire casing really well but is very poor at sealing punctures. Slime Tubeless Sealant works very well, staying wet for well beyond six months. Stan’s sealant works well initially, but dries out in a span of three to four months, still keeping the carcass air tight, but the puncture protection falls off dramatically, as you can imagine. Hutchinson Fast Air- Seals up casings really well, but does not stay liquid very long at all and does not provide very good long term puncture protection. Geax Pit Stop works almost exactly as the Hutchinson product. (Note: To be fair, the Hutchinson and Geax products are for inflation/quick repairs. Both companies have a product that claims long term puncture protection.) CaffeLatex: This has been the best available solution I have used so far. It is easily introduced through valve stems and seals punctures very well. It claims the sealant foams up while riding to provide better sidewall protection. While I can not vouch for that yet, it does foam out of my valve stem when I open it. In my still ongoing tests, the CaffeLatex product remains wet going on month five now. Homebrew- I have a home brew that I will not divulge here, but has outperformed everything else on the market I have tried so far with the possible exception of this new CaffeLatex solution.

Next time I will get into the day to day care and feeding of your tubeless tire set ups. Stay tuned!


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No Responses to “Going Tubeless: What You Need To Know: How To”

  1. Lee T Says:

    Tried my first Caffelatex tubeless set-up last week with a Bonty 29-3 on an RXL TLR wheel. Awesome experience – almost easy. Holding air beautifully, delivering a great ride at 28 psi.Thanks for the tip!

  2. Yourdaguy Says:

    When do we get your homebrew recipe?

  3. Oderus Says:

    I have to disagree when you say that Geax tires are too tight and will not work at all with the plastic strips installled” on Bontrager TLR wheels. I run Rhythm Elites 26 and 29 with the Bontrager strips. Geax Saguaros fit and work just fine on the 29er. I just installed Geax Barros on the 26″ set and they also went on without issue and are working just fine with the Caffelatex sealant. Not sure what issues you had but I have 2 wheelsets that I can say hands down work with Bontrager strips and Geax tires. If you want to see if Caffelatex actually foams, get a Panaracer Greenlight tube. They are polyurethane and are translucent when inflated. You can install the sealent, inflate and rotate the tube with your hands. Voila, visual confirmation.

  4. UnitedWeRide Says:

    +1 on the Geax tire on the Stans Rim!!! I tried mounting the TNT Saguaro on my Flow rim and man I just couldnt get it, and in the process messed up my Stans tape and some tire levers! So I am running MK’s 2.4 F/2.2 R, and the front with Cafe Latex sealed flawlessly on the FLOW!

  5. Guitar Ted Says:

    Oderus: If you are using Geax folders, yes- they might fit fine. However; I can not even get the first bead of a TNT or UST Geax tire on a TLR rim with the plastic TLR rim strip installed. I am not the only one that has experienced this. I was at a shop that had the same issues, and I have been contacted by a few folks via e-mail reporting similar results. For this reason, I can not recommend any TNT or UST Geax tire be used with a Bontrager rim with the TLR rim strip installed. (Well, you can’t do it! At least as far as my information/observation/experience is concerned)

    Yourdaguy: Actually, I will not publish it here, but if you really want to know, I will e-mail it to you. The link is up in the right column on this page.

  6. captain bob Says:

    Oderus.. Are your Geax tires the TNT version? If not, that would be the difference. It took me all the muscle I could find to get the Barro Race TNT mounted to a Alex TD17 rim but my older Saguaro NON TNT tires fall off the same rims when not inflated. Huge difference between the two.

    Just curious.

  7. plesurnpain Says:

    I’ve been running caffe latex on flows with a rampage front and captain 2blisss rear for about 2 montns with good results. I had a large puncure that I couldn’t believe sealed. The sealant held, but the casing of the tire tore after a few rides. I replaced the tire and all has been well. This sealant is very easy to set up. Just set the bead, inject sealant and give a quick shake or spin. With the foaming there’s no need to flip the wheel on the bucket over and over.
    I just helped a friend mount his rampage/fire combo on flows using caffe latex tape and sealant. The tape is easier to work with than yellow tape. It’s much more flexibe and therefore easier to get on the rim. Be sure to pull it very tight. I also think it’s a good idea at this point to install a tube for a few minutes to mold the tape to the rim. Everything sealed up well even though these tires have been ridden with tubes for 2 month and were not the tightest fit.
    This sealant also works well in tubes. My friend had it in his tubes for 2 months without a single flat-which is a big deal for him riding a rigid ss. The installation is easy using the caffe latex injector. It works in presta or schraeder with no need to remove the valve cores.
    If you want to see how the foaming works, just shake the bottle. If this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity you can pop the bead after giving the wheel a spin. You will also hear a change when you shake the wheel. At first you hear the liquid, then it’s gone in a couple seconds.
    Next up is a speed disc conversion. If this goes well there’s nothing stopping this product.

  8. Mickey Says:

    Thank you very much for “Going Tubless” articles, very helpfull!

    You wrote:
    “Stans ZTR Rims and Strips: Works great with Specialized, Bontrager, Continental, and some non-tubeless tires”
    I’m completing wheels on Stan’s Arch rims and plan to set up tubeless with CaffeLatex. Do you have a list of non-tubeless tires that will work with it? I have Bontrager Jones and Kenda Karma which I run with tubes.

    Do you plan to show how to mount a rim tape?

  9. yourdaguy Says:

    Mickey Most non-tubeless tires will work with Stans Rims. Some seal up easier than others, but all of them that I have tried worked. Known to work very well by me are Ignitor, Crossmark. Known to work well are Stout and Prowler. i have heard good reports on the Mountain Kings, Ardents. I actually don’t remember ever reading about a tire that would not work at all with Stan’s rims, but I am sure there must be some.

  10. Oderus Says:

    Gted and Cpt Bob, yes I am using the TNT tires. I have been for over one year now with no issue. We sell a lot of Trek and Fisher bikes here and we do tubeless conversions all the time. The Geax tires that I stock are all TNTs. I have yet to have an issue mounting any of their tires tubeless. If you would like a photo as proof, let me know.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    gotta chime in on two issues. Geax tires and Caffelatex.
    First, the secret recipe.
    the Geax saguaro tires sealed first try on a Stans 29er flow with caffelatex. I’d definitely say caffelatex makes for easy inflation. But second ride got a pin hole it couldn’t seal even though I used more sealant than recommended. Similar issue on front tire later that same week. Maybe due to thin folding Geax tire, but don’t see how that effects sealant strength. Now I’m running a cocktail that’s been rockstar even in some nasty goat-head sections on my local training loop. 50cc Caffelatex, 50cc Stans, tblspn of glitter. That’s right BEDAZZLE your tires. Its an old school trick for cx tires and its working like a champ.
    Second, Geax tires sealed like a UST for me.
    I mounted a Geax Saguaro on a crappy wtb speed disc rim with the stans rubber strip using just caffelatex. This was my backup wheel and I needed given the above story. Was JRA on a smooth, clean rolley section when the wheel spontaneously combusted and tossed me into a slide on high grass. When I stopped 150 feet from my bike, all I could think was s#!t it must’ve been the sealant. But when I got back to my bike the rim had failed. It was near complete taco, but the tire hadn’t even burped any air pressure. Score one for the Geax.

  12. UnitedWeRide Says:


    I would love to know any tricks to mounting the TNT Sagauro on the FLOW!!!

  13. Oderus Says:

    Get the right tools to start. IMO, I think the pedros tire levers are perfect as they have a wide mouth and are quite strong. Assuming you are running the Flow with yellow tape and valve core, start by leaving the valve core out. Put one bead of the tire into the rim and drop it into the center chanel. Now put the valve core in and snug it down finger tight. Go ahead and work the other bead on as far as you can without the tire levers. I go as far as I can with my thumbs. The last 8 inches or so will require the tire lever. stand the wheel upright on a bench or stool and squeeze it in your armpit. Hold the far end of the bead tightly with your hand (armpit side). Take your freehand with the tire lever and pry the end closest to your body up onto the rim. Move down about 2 inches and do the same thing. By now you should be able to push on the final section with your thumbs. Add sealant and inflate as normal.

  14. Davidcopperfield Says:

    What about a cocktail? Does a mixture of Caffelatex, Stan’s and Slime work?

  15. yourdaguy Says:

    Oderus, getting it on is one thing, but what happens if you get a gash in the woods?

  16. Oderus Says:

    Yourdaguy, pop it off with the Pedro’s tire levers. It’s pretty simple really. Push the tire into the center channel of the rim and pry it back off with the tire lever like you would a normal flat. Either I live and work in a bubble or some folks out there have some weak hands and forearms.

  17. cg Says:

    Hello reading through all your posts I am starting to wonder about the very different expereinces you all are having with tubeless ready rims and GEAX TNT tires.

    I have mounted many, many tires on ZTRs (no TLRs I must admit) and have to admit that often it has been a struggle to mount but I never had to admit defeat.
    Another helpful hint in addition to Oderous´ tips I would also recommend using soapy water on the rims and beads to lower friction and force needed to push the tire over the edge. I have never succeded pushing the final part in by my fingers but maybe I am just too weak. A string tire lever was always needed. Once mounted the inflate without any hassle.

    The folding tires regardless of brand are much easier to mount but for most you will need a compressor to inflate (not good, when needed on the trail). Plus the folding beads stretch considerably over time making the tire fit even more loosely – after 3 major blow offs of folding tires on ZTRs I have been cured of this and am only using tubeless ready tires when running tubeless. This safety aspect has helped my confidence uch when attacking the rough.

    To me the advantages of TNTs more than compansate the extra mounting effort.

    Ride on….

  18. Oderus Says:

    One thing that I do find amusing that I am sure that very few people know……….Bontrager TLR (and other high end tires for that matter) all come out of Vittorias manufacturing plant in Thailand…….Lion Tyres. Simply put, Bontrager TLR tires are made by Vittoria (Geax)!

  19. Fort James Says:

    The Bontrager TRL tires are a pleasure to install. Just juice them up and inflate with a floor pump. This is both on Bontrager TLR wheels and Stans ZTR 355 rims.

  20. cg Says:

    oderus: … so are many other brand name tires we would consider to be independent products … ( I leave it to the individual to decide what brands that are)

  21. captain bob Says:

    oderus. Thanks for the clarification on the type of Geax. I will be anxious to try mounting my TNT’s to my new Duster rims when I get them. I was a bit bummed about them not working for me and so many others but you have given me a glimmer of hope. Crossing my fingers now.

  22. Oderus Says:

    Capt, I just got a set of Duster’s to replace my trashed WTB rims. Good choice. I will definitly set mine up tubeless and run the Saguaros again.

  23. brad Says:

    I didn’t have much trouble with my Geax Saguaro. Didn’t use a compressor either. Just pumped up with tube the first time then pulled it off and reaired tubless using home pump. As far as levers I bet pedros are good. I can’t name my levers, but they look super beefy like pedros. I got them in shwag bag during the tour of flanders amateur ride and nothing seems to hurt these levers. Honestly, I didn’t need them the second time around. I agree on the soap and water method. That’s worked ttoo with a crazy-tight pair of ritchey tires on my old 26er. I’m running the basic saguaro, but might consider TNT version for your Duster’s.

  24. Guitar Ted Says:

    Oderus: While I do not call your experiences into question, I will say that for the record I tried twice to mount a Geax Saguaro TNT and a UST tire to a Bontrager Race X Lite and a Rhythm wheel using the TLR rim strips. There was absolutely no way- no way that it was going on there. Not even the first bead would go over without damaging the tire or the wheel, or in all likelyhood me and the components!

    My tires were some of the first production to hit the U.S. shores. I did complain to Bike Mine, Geax’s distributor, and this may only be an anomaly with the tires I recieved. However; just about a month ago, I walked into a shop to visit a friend and the mechanics there were tearing their hair out over …….you guessed it! A Rhythm/Saguaro TNT mounting. They could not get the tire on, and had been trying for over a half an hour with DH steel tire levers. After I told them my experience, they took the TLR rim strips out, installed Stan’s yellow tape, and had the tires mounted in five minutes.

    As I also stated, I have recieved e-mails describing similar situations from folks from different parts of the U.S.

    Again, I am not calling your experiences false, but I have been a mechanic for over ten years in shops and have mounted thousands of tires. I know those Geax tires were not going on, no way, no how.

    And as for the Flow/Geax combination, I did get mine mounted, but the fit was so tight, I wouldn’t want to have to imagine the time and effort it would take to pull one of those set ups apart in the field where you don’t have benches, clean areas, or the energy to deal with that. Not to mention, you’d get killed by insects where I live if you sit somewhere longer than ten minutes, which would be easily spent just trying to pry off a Geax tire from a Flow rim.

    Finally, there are just too many other choices that work well with far less effort and equal or better performance for me to recommend a Geax tire on either a Flow, Arch, 355, or Bontrager rim with a TLR strip. Why work that hard for something that is duplicated in an easier to use package, ya know? 🙂

  25. Guitar Ted Says:

    And also for the record……….

    I really like Geax tires, so please do not take this as a commentary on the tires performance. I just don’t think they work with certain tubeless set ups very well.

  26. Davidcopperfield Says:

    GT would you please elaborate more on tubeless mixtures like Stan’s, Caffelatex and Slime or more mingled together? What proportions? For instance Slime 30% and 70% stan’s worked for me great for the start, which is sealing the micro pinholes in folding bead tyre.

  27. Guitar Ted Says:

    Davidcopperfield: I’ll elaborate in a future post. Stay tuned……..

  28. UnitedWeRide Says:


    Man I am glad you did this tubeless series. I was going crazy trying to figure out how to mount the TNT to my FLOW, my local shop also gave it a whirl with the same results. I am sure the Geax is an awesome tire, just not for the FLOW. I will run my MK’s tubeless with the Cafe Latex since they seem to get just as high marks as the Geax and others.

  29. Vincent Says:

    Same result for me with brand new gato tnt tires on a arch rim : impossible.
    mounted fine on an xt rim

  30. cg Says:

    with all these comments I see that I seem to have been lucky with all my ZTR / TNT combinations; sometimes having a hard time but never defeated.
    Anyhow the fairly uniform experiences show how different the rims are designed (possibly even varying within one model?) when compared to a tire system with very low variations in dimension (That´s what a TNT or UST system is after all).

    This makes a discussion like this even more valuable because one person can never test out all the combiantions out there ( not even GT alone) and with all of us giving their experiences we might just find out some very positive combinations. Could and sgould become a win-win-situation for all interested in going tubeless or enhancing the fun in doing so.

    Keep the posts coing and thanks for this series GT.

    So the message I am getting from this is the need for more stringent control (and or publication) of rims and tires alike.

  31. Pablo Says:

    So, did Bontrager come out with new rims or simply rebadge the originals and make rim strips to fit.

    I’ve not beheld a bontrager TLR rim/wheel with my own eyes and I’m wondering if the TLR Mustang rim is actually any different than the non TLR predecessor.

    My old style Mustangs work very well converted to tubeless but I like the idea of a made to fit rim strip and valve.

  32. Guitar Ted Says:

    Pablo: I have not seen a Mustang TLR rim, so I can not make any comment other than that a rim strip for a Race X Lite may very well work in the Mustang.

  33. swampfox Says:

    It took me 45 minutes to successfully mount the Saguaro TNT on my front Bonty RXL TLR. One month later, while trying to mount another Saguaro TNT on the rear, I gave up after 10 minutes and 3 broken tire levers. Yes, I used soapy water and simple green. Finally, I took the rear wheel to my lbs. It took two experienced mechanics ten full minutes to squeeze the tire on the rim.

    I’ve mounted many different tires on these rims over the past two years and I’ve never had any difficulty before. Since then, I’ve destroyed my RXL rims and replaced them with Rhythm Elites. I wasn’t there when the lbs put the 3 month old Saguaro TNTs on the new rims, but the wrench said it wasn’t as dramatic as when the tire was brand new, probably due to stretching.

    I love the way these tires ride and I appreciate their toughness. However, I’m scared shatless that I’ll be stuck out in the puckerbrush with a torn sidewall and I won’t be able to get the tire off or back on again. When I wear these tires out, I’m going to get a new pair and see if they mount up “new” better on the Rhythm Elites. Maybe early production issues, (if that was the issue) will have been solved by then.

    By the way, I have 2 perfectly good RXL rim strips doing absolutely nothing in my garage. . Don’t know if they’ll work on the Duster, (Why don’t you email bontrager.com and ask them?) but I’ll be happy to send them free to the first person who asks.

  34. diesel29 Says:

    GT I sent you a post a few days ago regarding my issue with tubeless set ups, currently I have the Arch 29 with Bonty 2.2 acx front and Bonty dry x 2.1 rear running just the yellow rim strip. Im 215 lbs and found out pretty fast I couldnt run less than 35psi without folding the tires off the rim/burping/. so I upped the pressure 35/37 front rear and this worked for a while but I think the beads have streched a little and now Im getting blow offs under power/cornering, I really wanted to get a set of Saguaro TNT but to concerned with the mounting issues/field repairs. Do you think the black rim strip could solve my problem with my current tires. Is there another tire you could recomend tubless with my arch rims for somebody my weight , the TNT sounds like my tire solution but I really dont want to sell my wheels if I dont have to. In the end if you dont feel there is a reliable tire for my current set up what rims would you recomend for the TNT?

  35. AGuy Says:

    For all the mavins out there, how do you compare Joe’s Super sealant to CaffeLatex? I had good results with Joe’s.

  36. Guitar Ted Says:

    diesel29: I would think that some of your decision would be specific to what you want from a tire regardless of the tubeless factor, such things like traction and cornering being important, perhaps. In that regard, I would think similar tires to your current set up would be desirable for you. (??) Taking that into consideration, tires like Ignitors, Hutchinson Toros, Continental Mountain Kings, and the like might be a good front tire choice. Tires in the rear might be chosen from Continental race Kings, WTB Nanoraptors, or similar treaded tires.

    If you switch wheels to use Geax tires specifically, the UST rims on Mavic, Fulcrum, and Shimano wheels will work best, although there are more choices coming.

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