Ghetto Tubeless Conversions

Having been a convert to road tubeless for well over a year now, I frustratingly look at the road and cyclocross tyre market for the next big thing to happen. IRC make lovely tyres which are impossible to find in Europe, Hutchinson’s tyres are too expensive for anyone who is not a City banker and Schwalbe is slowly bringing more products to the market, but these also have a premium price tag. Typically you can expect to pay the same for a Schwalbe ONE tubeless or a Continental tyre…. for your car! Annoyingly the latter outpaces the former by a factor of 20 when it comes to mileage.

So, what can you do, if you have more brain than money?

Drop your pressure! Yes, the all problem with having to run specific tubeless tyres is down to pressure. Tubeless tyres are manufactured with stronger beads to resist the high pressure and have some air tight rubber in the mix. That pretty much sums up the difference between a 50 quid tubeless tyre and a 20 quid clincher. You can make a tyre airtight, that’s easy, but you cannot make the beads stronger.. so drop the pressure, or in other words, size up! Forget about those 23 and 25 mm and go for a 30 or more, if you have the clearance. If you don’t, then get a bike with more clearance. Narrow clearance to help aerodynamics is a medieval concept, that leaves you with no options than to run horrible microscopic tyres.

Over the past 18 months, I have done a lot of experiments with tyres and latex emulsions, to avoid having to rely on expensive tubeless tyres. What I have learnt is that if you work in a range of pressure between 30 and 60 PSI, very few things can go wrong. At lower pressure, the tyre might burp and you do need the tightness and strength of a tubeless bead to avoid that and at higher pressure the weak and undersized bead can blow off the rim. 60 PSI is by no means the absolute limit, but it is a safe number that has always worked fine for me, including on the infamous Pave’ of northern France. You might get away with 70 or even 80 PSI, but I have no experience there.

Here is a number of handy tips to convert a cheap and cheerful pair of clinchers to run tubeless, bearing in mind the pressure limitations above.

  1. Use tubeless rims, with the ramps, or at least a clincher rim with very low profiled hooks, like Archetype.
  2. Build up the rim bed with 2 to 4 layers of tubeless tape, as needed to get a tight fit, which helps the inflation.
  3. Avoid tyres with a tan sidewall, the lack of rubber makes it impossible to seal them.
  4. Mounting the tyre: tubeless tyres are that tiny bit tighter, which makes them easier to pump up, until they reach the pressure necessary to pop onto the rim ramps. If your clincher is too loose fit, even with several layers of tape, try pumping it up with a small inner tube. Then deflate and carefully remove the inner tube by keeping one side of the tyre on the ramp and the other in the channel of the rim. It will be much easier to pump it up without the inner tube. This method only works with ramped tubeless rims.
  5. Sealing: clinchers are not air tight, therefore you need to seal them, by using 30-60 ml of latex emulsion. You can insert it via the valve, inflate and then spin the tyre for as long as possible. The latex will distribute on the tyre surface and impregnate, rendering it air tight. The process takes several hours, during which the tyre needs to be kept at pressure. As soon as it feels OK, ride it, this will accelerate the sealing process.

Using these techniques, I have managed to successfully convert Vittoria cyclocross (XN and XG) and touring tyres (Randonneur PRO and Voyager Hyper) with no drawbacks over using tyres which were sold as “tubeless”.

Prices will come down and eventually all this faff will become obsolete, but in the meantime you can experience what I think is a giant leap in bicycle technology without spending too much.

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