Before You Begin
Before you start the entire process of setting up a Tubeless Wheelset for your Fat Bike, you will need certain supplies and workspace tools available. Here is a list of "nice to haves" :
- Do this procedure indoors, in a heated area, at room temperature.
- Unpack the new tires, open them up, and lay them out on the ground, like on a carpet, or in a window - in the sun, where they can heat up (and not absorb cold like on a cement floor)
- Let the tires sit for about an hour, and work out any "kinks" in them, the best you can, that may have developed while they were rolled up, or in retail packaging.
- This entire procedure ASSUMES you have TUBELESS COMPATIBLE TIRES AND RIMS. Some tires are NOT going to setup tubeless, and some rims are just an all-out fight to get converted to tubeless. Check with the manufacturers ahead of time, to MAKE SURE the tires and rims are TUBELESS COMPATIBLE.
Obtain the following tools
- needle nose pliers
- valve-core removal tool
- spray bottle, half empty, with a quarter filled with water and a quarter filled with dish soap. Shake it up so the remaining half is now filled with bubbles. (where can you get them? Walmart garden center for about $2)
- plastic tire irons - get two, just in case 1 breaks during the tubeless setup.
- high-quality tubeless rim tape - many brands to chose from, we carry Orange Seal and OEM yellow rebranded rim tape, 75-78mm wide (for use on 80-83mm rims).
- If you cannot acquire lightweight rim tape for this job, Scotch Tough guard tape, or black Gorilla tape can also work (but adds some weight).
- pair of quality Tubeless valve stems, 32mm-48mm (covers almost all alloy and carbon rims). We use Orange Seal or Stan's valve stems, with removable valve cores.
- Quality Tubeless tire Sealant, preferably formulated for WINTER use (in cold weather) and extreme heat/endurance use (during summer). Winter sealant should work down to -30c, like the Orange Seal SUBZERO sealant we carry. Summer race sealant will be thicker and should be able to plug up larger sidewall gashes, like Stan's or Orange Seal summer race/endurance sealant. You will need up to 8oz per tire, per application. (Note : some sealant is designed to last all winter (like Orange Seal Subzero), and some sealant requires you adding more every 1-2 months (like Bontrager and some Stan's versions). Don't cheap out on your sealant, or all this work will be for nothing). The drier the conditions, the more often you will need to add sealant, and the larger supply you will need to initially buy.
- Shop rags, lots of paper towels, and maybe a large soup spoon and plastic container to scoop up sealant into
- Bottle of Rubbing Alcohol
- 1 spare inner tube used for fat bike tires, like a 26 x 4.5in, or a 27.5 x 3.75in.
- Padded shop floor, where cleaning up spilled sealant is easy to do, and nothing will be damaged if it gets stained.
Preparing the new Tire and Wheelset
Now that you have all the tools and supplies in place, it's time to start preparing the tires and rims for the conversion.
Prepare the Tires
- As stated above, unpack the new tires, open them up and stretch them out indoors. Work out any kinks, and clean all the beaded edges, so that they have a smooth, clean bead to seal to the rim with.
- Allow the tires to warm up to room temperature.
Prepare the Wheelset
- Wash the wheelset if its dirty. If it's been used already for a tubeless setup, clean the inside of the rim, where the rim tape is, especially around the inner rim wall.
- Use the needle-nose pliers to remove the tubeless valve stem (if it exists).
- Once the wheelsets have been cleaned, especially around the inside of the inner-wall and hooked (or hookless) bead where the tire will set up to, get out the rubbing alcohol, apply it to some paper towels and clean the inside of the inner wall of the rim. Make sure no dirt, sand, Stan's critters, or glue is stuck in this area. The tire will need a smooth bead here, or it may slowly leak air if not able to seal completely.
- If the wheelset has not yet been taped up for Tubeless use, now is the time to do it. Many videos online can walk you through this. Make sure to apply pressure to the centre of the tape first, as you roll it slowly around the rim, and then apply outward pressure towards the edges of the tape nearest the rim walls, so as to push any air bubbles away from the centre of the rim.
- Watch the online videos, to show you how to cut and trim back existing rim tape, if it's going to be in the way of the layers of tubeless rim tape that will be applied over it. The tubeless rim tapes needs to grab at least half an inch of rim surface on each side of the rim, in order for it to adhere properly.
- Start the TUBELESS TAPING process by cutting and running a 1 foot strip of tubeless rim tape, so that 6 inches lays down BEFORE the valve stem hole, and 6 inches lays down AFTER the valve stem hole. Apply outwards pressure with your fingers and seal off the spoke hole areas.
- Now, you are ready to tape the entire rim. Start this layer of tubeless tape about 8 inches BEFORE the valve stem hole, and slowly work your way all around the rim, and end about 8 inches AFTER the valve stem hole. This will give you three layers of tape over the valve stem hole area, and one layer over the rest of the rim.
- Make sure the tubeless rim tape has sealed off a barrier between the spoke holes and rim strip underneath it, so that an airtight seal can be formed between the tire itself, and the rim, with the only airlock being the valve stem itself.
- Once you are confident this is all done properly, move on to the next step of installing the tire.
Installing the Tires onto the Wheelset
Now this is the "fun" part. It will either be an easy process, or one that takes hours, and has you looking for a few beers, the updates on the football and hockey scores and wishing you never decided to go "tubeless"... but don't give up !! (yet!!) ; ) There is a chance you can get it done !! (and not give in and fork over $50 labour per tire to the LBS). Sometimes, it's easiest just to pay the $50/tire....as good Sealant is not cheap, and this can take a long time, and it can also stain or mark up your clothes, or basement, garage, or kitchen floor.
- Once the wheelset has been cleaned up, and taped for tubeless, and the tires have heated up to room temperature and been stretched out for a bit..... grab an inner tube and go ahead and install them together, as if you were going to just run tubes.
- Hold the tire and wheelset so that the rotor is on the left side, look down at the tire and make sure the FORWARD tread pattern is facing the "12 o-clock" position, straight ahead.
- Align the valve stem with the center of the tire logo, seat the tires to the rim, and pump the inner tube up a bit. Once the inner tube is starting to take shape (and there is STILL A GAP between the tire edgs and the rim), get that spray bottle, shake it up, and spray the soapy water around the edge of the rim, where the tire will seat to it... use your fingers to make sure the inside edge of both the rim and the tires is wet and slippery. do this for both sides of the wheelset.
- Now start pumping up the tire. You should start hearing pops and bangs, as the tire beads seat to the rim. Pump up to about 20-25 PSI to get both sides of the tire to fully seat to the rim.
- Now stop pumping and spin the tire. Is it fully seated, and spins aligned and smooth all the way around? Are there humps or wobbles? If so, check the sidewall marker to see if there is a low spot in the bead seating area... and spray a bit more soapy water there and pump up to around 30 PSI. There should be a loud bang and that low spot should now have evened out. If not, let the air out and repeat steps 2-4.
- Once you complete Step 5, spin out the valve core to let the air quickly out of the tire.
- Now that the tire has seated on both sides, flip up the side with the rotor, lay it face up on the ground (or workbench), and pop the bead on ONE SIDE ONLY. Be very careful not to pop both beads. You may need to use a bit of force to do this, like stepping on the tires a bit and apply pressure with your foot to unseat the bead, then once it pops, you can use your hand to unseat the rest of the tire bead on the one side ONLY.
- Once this is completed, REMOVE the inner tube, re-install the valve core to the stem, and roll it all back up for use at a later date.
- Per manufacturer's instructions, install the TUBELESS valve stem into the rim. Pay special attention to where any rubber spacers/washers go during this process. Fasten the knurled spinner down to the suggested NM of force, but take care not to overtighten, as that can damage the rim (especially if its carbon), or squash and split any rubber washer under it. When the valve stem is securely in place and doesn't move around, give it a half more turn, and usually that is be sufficient. (if you find air leaking from this spot later, tighten the knurled spinner a bit more).
- Some people take different routes here, depending on the WIDTH of the rim and tire, the amount of sealant being used, the tire and rim manufacturers being used, and their overall patience. I am going to describe a few extra steps, and assuming using shop tools at home.
- At this point, re-seat the tire into the rim, once the valve stem is attached. Remove the valve core. (Removing the valve core allows the most air in at once when using floor pumps or compressors).
- Inflate the tire to seat both beads again ... without any sealant being added to this point.
- Once tire has been inflated, and beads fully seated, this is the "DRY" tubeless setup - and you have just proven this tire and rim have at least a "close to" airtight seal. Now it's time to add sealant.
- Deflate the tire by removing the air pump.
- Pop open the bead on ONE SIDE ONLY and just enough to have enough space to add sealant directly into the opening between the tire and rims walls. (this assumes you are not injecting the sealant directly into the valve core on Step 14). You should not need to pop open more than about 20% of the bead on one side. Add the required amount of sealant, be it 4-6-8 Oz.
- Shake up the spray bottle and spray the rim and tire areas that now need to be sealed back up. Use your fingers to make sure both surfaces are wet and slippery.
- Set the tire and rim on the ground so the that sealed side is facing down. this ensures sealant will NOT be leaking out of the tire, onto the ground.
- Pump up the compressor and give the tire another good shot of air. That last 1/4 bead should seat up easily. If not.... tap the tire around the exposed area, trying to assist it in closing the bead. The soapy water and bubbles will point to the spot where the air is releasing.
- Once the tires have been sealed and pumped up, it's time to shake the sealant all around the sidewalls. Hold the tire up in front of you with both hands, so the hub is in the center, and you are gripping the tire with each hand. Shake the tire front to back, so the selant slushes back and forth over the sidewalls of the tire walls. Slowly rotate the tire and keep shushing the sealant all around the walls of the tire 360 degrees. Some people decide to bunch the tire a few times at this point to make sure everything is seated.
- Now it's time to assemble the wheelset back on the bike and take it for a ride.
- The air may come out of the tires a bit over the next few days. This is normal... just keep an eye on it and keep topping off the tire pressure. If the tires do not seal up and hold their pressure within 3-4 days, you may need to locate the leak and redo these instructions to seal it up tight. Always check the valve stem first for possible air leak. you can test this by filling up the tub with water and submerge the tire/wheelset. If any bubbles form, rub them away with your fingers and see if they reform... if they do, mark that spot on the tire with tape or a marker and go to work fixing it ; )
- With a bit of technique in all these steps, you should be able to do at least 1 tire per hour, sometimes up to 4 per hour, if everything lines up, and using nice quality stuff, and you keep your cool at it !
I hope this write-up was informative.
If you DO need shop service in TUBELESS TIRE SETUP, give us a shout and we would be glad to arrange a time do it for you. Cheers!!
Remember, some tire and rim combinations, especially older rims with high sidewalls and slightly smaller rim OD's, may not be fully COMPATIBLE for this process. You will pull out your hair trying to convert them to tubeless. From time to time I run into these, especially on rims made before 2014, or from low-end "stock" bikes.
Some older tires on existing rims could have stretched out to the point it's best to replace them, to attempt a tubeless setup.
NOTE : Some tires will seem to be so tight, they will break your tire irons. If you are running into this situation, look to see if the rim has a centerline depression, that is about 1/4in deep... try to put the tire beads in this centerline when trying to set the first side of the rim in place. this gap in the rim is intentional, and aids in both installing tires and also to help stop tire blow-offs. It can give you just that little bit of extra length needed to set the tire bead in the rim.
NOTE : When working on a hard surface, set the bead, on the rim side with rotor, LAST. This side is usually the toughest to do, and needs the most force applied to seat the tire. Some people inadvertently apply so much force on the rim, that they fail to see they started to deflect and warp the rotor. So try to remember to do rotor side last, so it's facing UP, on the hardest side to seat.