Converting your mountain bike to a tubeless tire setup is one of the best upgrades you can make. By ditching inner tubes and using sealant instead, a tubeless system provides major benefits like better traction, fewer flats, and improved ride quality.
However, there are some drawbacks and conversion challenges to consider as well. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover all the key factors to help you decide if going tubeless is right for your mountain bike.
Essential Benefits of Tubeless Mountain Bike Tires
Here are the main advantages of switching to tubeless:
- Improved traction and control – Lower pressures without pinch flats increases grip
- Fewer flats – Sealant plugs punctures automatically
- Smoother ride – Lower pressure absorbs bumps and vibrations
- Reduced rolling resistance – No inner tube friction and lower pressures
- Lighter weight – No inner tubes to carry around
- More suspension sensitivity – Supple low pressures bring tires to life
For most riders, the boost in traction, reduced flats, and better ride quality are the biggest incentives to go tubeless. Let’s take a closer look at the essential benefits of going tubeless:
Better Traction and Control
One of the biggest advantages of tubeless tires is the ability to run much lower tire pressures without the risk of pinch flats. This increases traction, grip, and control substantially, especially in loose or muddy conditions.
By removing the inner tube, you eliminate the risk of the tube pinching between the rim and tire on impacts. This allows you to drop pressures an extra 5-10 PSI lower than you could safely run with inner tubes.
The lower pressure lets the tire conform and mould to the terrain better, increasing the tire’s contact patch and footprint on the ground. The results are vastly improved cornering traction, braking grip, and control when riding over roots, rocks and uneven terrain.
Tubeless tires paired with sealant provide far superior flat protection compared to inner tubes. Small punctures and holes that would normally cause an immediate flat with tubes are quickly sealed by the liquid sealant as it oozes out and plugs the puncture.
Thorns, tiny shards of glass, and other trail debris get sealed up without you ever having to remove the tire or install a tube. The self-sealing ability of tubeless tires gives you much greater flat protection and puncture resistance out on the trail. You’ll experience dramatically fewer flats and almost no slow leaks, either.
Smoother, More Comfortable Ride
By using sealing tape or rim strips to create an airtight seal, tubeless tires can be safely run at much lower pressures than tubed setups. This allows the tire to better absorb trail bumps, vibrations, and impacts for a smoother and more compliant ride quality.
Roots, rocks, curbs, and other obstacles that would normally jolt you harshly are absorbed in a more muted, damped manner. The lower pressures let your tires almost act like mini-suspension and take the edge off high-frequency bumps and trail chatter. This gives a more forgiving and comfortable ride that helps reduce rider fatigue.
Reduced Rolling Resistance
Removing the inner tube eliminates the internal friction it creates inside the tire casing. This vastly reduces rolling resistance, meaning it takes less effort to get your tires spinning and up to speed.
The supple lower pressures also create a larger tire contact patch that helps tires maintain momentum and gives a faster rolling feel. Less energy is wasted flexing the casing and deforming the tire on every revolution.
Eliminating inner tubes removes a substantial amount of weight from each wheel. Most butyl rubber tubes weigh around 200-250 grams each. Go tubeless, and you can remove nearly 1/2 pound of rotating weight from your wheels.
This helps mountain bikes accelerate faster, climb more efficiently, and handle more nimbly. Less weight spinning on your wheels makes it easier to get up to speed out of corners or when jumping hard. Every bit of reduced wheel weight makes a noticeable difference on the trail.
More Suspension Sensitivity
The extremely low pressures used with tubeless tires help bring them to life and makes the casing super supple and sensitive to the terrain. Small bumps and trail features readily deform the tire as it moulds to surfaces and obstacles.
This makes the tires feel almost springy and lively as they react to the trail. It enhances grip and gives you a very connected feel for how the tires are interacting with the ground. Running higher pressures with tubes leads to a harsher and less dynamic feel.
Potential Drawbacks of Tubeless Tires
Of course, tubeless tires aren’t perfect and do come with some downsides to consider:
- Trickier initial setup – Achieving a good seal can take some effort
- More maintenance – Must maintain sealant and watch for leaks
- Messy flat repairs – Sealant gets everywhere if you do puncture badly
- Incompatible rims/tires – Not all tires work well tubeless
- Higher cost – More expensive tubeless-ready tires and parts
While the performance benefits outweigh the downsides for most riders, here’s a realistic look at the potential hassles of going tubeless:
Trickier Initial Setup
One of the biggest hurdles with tubeless is getting the tires set up and sealed properly in the first place. Achieving a perfect airtight seal with no leaks or weeping can take a lot of trial and error.
You may need to experiment with different rim strips or tape options, carefully seat the bead all the way around, add sealant, spin the wheels to distribute it, and add more air pressure or sealant to fill any tiny gaps. It can take a lot of tinkering to get a reliable tubeless setup on some rim and tire combinations.
A tubeless setup does require more regular maintenance and attention than simple inner tubes. The sealant dries out over time and needs to be replenished every few months. You also have to periodically add more air as the sealant weeps through micropores in the casing.
It’s critical to watch for any bigger leaks or loss of air pressure and re-seal the tire before it unseats from the rim. You also should swap sealant for fresh stuff at least 1-2 times per year. So Tubeless does demand more upkeep overall.
Messy Emergency Repairs
While tubeless tires almost eliminate everyday flats, if you do suffer a major gash or puncture out on the trail, it can make for a messy repair job. Removing and reinstalling the tire will spew sticky sealant everywhere, and you’ll need to reinflate and reseat the bead with fresh sealant to get rolling again.
Packing a spare tube as a backup allows you to quickly swap it in and get riding again after a major flat. Repairing a bad tubeless flat out on the trail is slower and much messier than with traditional tubes.
Some Rims and Tires Don’t Play Nice
Certain rim and tire combinations simply don’t mate well for tubeless setups. The fit, sealing beads and sidewalls can make it impossible to achieve an airtight tubeless setup on some wheels and tires.
You may have to experiment with alternatives or conversion kits for a hassle-free tubeless experience. Not every mountain bike rim or tire model works flawlessly for tubeless out of the box. Checking manufacturer compatibility guidelines is important.
Upgrading to a tubeless setup does come with increased costs for parts like tubeless tires, sealant, valve stems, rim tape or strips. You may need to purchase mounting fluids or other accessories to reliably seat and inflate the tires during initial installation.
The ongoing costs for fresh sealant every few months also adds up. So while long-term it can save money on tubes and reduced flats, the startup costs are higher than just swapping standard inner tubes.
Is My Mountain Bike Compatible With Tubeless Tires?
The key requirements for safely running tubeless mountain bike tires are:
- Tubeless ready or UST rims and tires
- Airtight rim bed with no spoke holes
- Tire beads that seal tightly to the rim
- Enough clearance in the frame and fork
Many modern mountain bike wheels and tires are designed tubeless ready for easy conversion. However, here are some factors determining compatibility:
Tubeless Compatible Rims
Your rims need an airtight rim bed, either using a complete UST profile or sealed off spoke holes and nipple access. Many newer aluminum and carbon fiber rims have tubeless ready profiles. Some older rims may need aftermarket rim strips or tape to seal off spoke holes.
UST or tubeless ready rims have tight tolerances for the tire bead to seal securely and aired up reliably. Wide mountain bike rims 30-40mm internally also help create a better seal.
Tubeless Compatible Tires
Using a tubeless-specific or UST tire with an optimized bead and materials formulated for an airtight seal is key. But many tires not explicitly labeled tubeless ready still work fine. Look for a supple tubeless casing and sidewalls without porous materials.
Tread patterns with tightly packed center knobs also help minimize air loss. Wider tires in the 2.5-2.8” range allow you to run very low pressures safely.
Frame and Fork Clearance
Make sure your mountain bike frame and fork have enough tire clearance for running wider tires at very low pressures without rubbing. Most modern mountain bikes have clearance for tires 2.5” and up.
Plus, bikes and many newer trail/enduro models accommodate up to 2.8-3.0” tires, ideal for tubeless setups.
Step-By-Step Guide to Setting Up Tubeless MTB Tires
Once you’ve confirmed tubeless compatibility, here is the basic process for converting your mountain bike from inner tubes to a tubeless setup:
Choose a Tubeless Rim Strip or Tape
- Rubber rim strips like Stan’s NoTubes or Orange Seal are convenient but pricier
- Vinyl tape like Gorilla Tape works but isn’t a long-term solution
- Tubeless rim tape is best for a secure and durable seal
Measure tire bead width and buy rim tape to suit. Apply two layers around the rim bed, sealing all spoke holes completely.
Mount Tubeless Ready Tires
- Use tire levers to mount one bead over the rim edge
- Pour 2-4 oz sealant inside tire
- Mount the second bead onto the rim
- Spin the wheel to distribute the sealant evenly inside.
Inflate and Seal Tire
- Use a high-volume pump capable of at least 60 PSI
- Pump vigorously to seat bead and create an airtight seal on the rim
- Add more sealant through the valve if needed
- Inflate to 25-30 PSI and check for leaks
- Repeat the bead seating process until fully sealed
Re-Inflate and Enjoy!
- Check sealant plugged all leaks by rotating the wheel
- Top off pressure to desired PSI for your weight and conditions
- Go for a test ride and enjoy the benefits!
- Re-check the seal after a few days of riding
Be patient during the setup process, and don’t be afraid to add more sealant or re-seat the beads multiple times. The initial setup process is the trickiest part, but once sealed up, tubeless tires require minimal long-term maintenance.
For most mountain bikers today, converting to tubeless tires offers compelling advantages that easily outweigh the small downsides. The massive improvements in traction, ride quality, and puncture resistance make it one of the best upgrades you can make.
Just be sure your rims, tires, and bike frame are compatible first. With the right components, a tubeless setup is achievable for nearly any mountain bike. Take your time with the initial installation and learn the ins and outs of properly seating the beads with sealant.
Once you experience the benefits of lower pressures, fewer flats, and better handling, it’s hard to go back to old-school inner tubes. So if you’re still wondering, “should I go tubeless on my mountain bike?”, the answer is a definitive yes for most riders!
How often should you add sealant to tubeless mountain bike tires?
- Every 2-4 months in dry climates
- As often as monthly in wet/dusty conditions
- Whenever you get a flat or see sealant drying out
What is the best tire pressure for tubeless mountain bike tires?
- Front: 20-25 PSI
- Rear: 22-28 PSI
- Adjust based on your weight, tire width, rim width and riding conditions
Do tubeless tires make a difference on mountain bikes?
Yes, tubeless tires make a huge difference by allowing much lower pressures, increased traction and control, fewer flats, smoother ride quality, and lighter weight by ditching inner tubes. Most riders feel tubeless provides a major performance enhancement.
Mahin Abrar is a passionate writer and outdoor enthusiast. As a regular contributor to Bikepics.net, Mahin shares his knowledge and experiences in the fields of biking, cycling, hiking, and camping. With a deep understanding of these activities and a keen eye for detail, he offers valuable insights and practical advice to help readers get the most out of their adventures. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, Mahin's writing is sure to inspire you and guide you on your journey.