7 Tips for installing tubeless bicycle tires

Tubeless bicycle tires are in wider use than ever before. Installing them (especially at home instead of in a professional bike shop) can be a hassle - difficult, time consuming, and sometimes impossible. With these tips, you can tame your tubeless tires, making installation faster and easier.

The right tools and the proper technique make all the difference. Here we go:

1. Warm up the tire

Tires which have been stored folded and kept in a cold basement will be tough to seat and inflate tubeless. With tubeless, we don't have the advantage of the inner tube forcing the tire beads into the right spot as the tube inflates. You can run into a similar challenge when you're on-site at a Winter cyclocross race - tubeless cyclocross tires will be much easier to mount and seal when they're warmed up first.

For more tubeless success, warm the tires up first, outside in the sun, or even with a hairdryer. If the tire has been folded, open it up into the hula-hoop shape and allow it to take the form of a tire again before you try to mount it up - preferably the day before.

2. Use an air compressor and inflator designed specifically for bicycles

Bike shops and pro mechanics don't struggle with floor pumps - they use air compressors and proper inflator tools designed specifically for bicycles. An air compressor is like the "easy button" for working with tubeless tires.

If you're interested in adding an air compressor to your arsenal, check out this article with complete step-by-step instructions: How to setup a home air compressor for use with tubeless bicycle tires. In addition to the compressor, you'll need an inflator tool that matches the tubeless valves on your bikes (presta or schrader.)

3. Remove the valve core

Regardless of whether you're using an air compressor or a floor pump, the core of your valve can actually get in the way, because it limits the total air volume that can pass through. We need a big blast of high-pressure air to seat tubeless tire beads. If needed, you can remove the valve core, then try again to seat the bead. Sometimes with the valve core out of the way, a little bit more air volume can get through - and sometimes that little extra pressure is what you need. 

All the air will immediately escape through the valve as soon as you remove the pump or inflator head, of course - you'll need to re-install the valve core (after the beads are seated) to make it airtight once again.

4. Use a good quality tire sealant

Once you've got the tire beads seated, let's not mess with it again! Using a good quality tire sealant means more time will pass before we have to repeat the process, since the sealant dries out through evaporation over time. The gold standard is Stan's NoTubes sealant. You might also want to add a bit more sealant than you think you need - check the sealant manufacturer instructions for guidelines on how much.

5. Add sealant through the valve, not by breaking the tire bead

Once your tubeless tire is mounted, avoiding un-mounting it if possible at all costs. That includes when adding sealant. To reduce time in the shop, always top-off the sealant by injecting it through the valve if possible, instead of breaking the tire bead again. Inexpensive sealant injectors make this easy - remove the valve core, inject the sealant, and replace the valve core.

6. Lubricate the tire bead

For a tubeless tire to seat properly and become airtight, we need the tire bead to slide into place - moving from the deep center channel of the rim, to the outer edge, where the tire bead can mate up against the hook of rim. You'll know it happened when you hear the bead pop into place with a satisfying "snap" noise.

Sometimes the rubber of the tire bead sticks on the rim strip, preventing it from popping into place. If this happens, try lubricating the tire bead with a little bit of soap suds - just mix up some dish soap in a little bit of warm water. We really don't need the water, just the suds. Apply some bubbles with a sponge to ease the process of seating the bead. 

7. If all else fails, use an inner tube (to start)

Sometimes you get a tire/rim combo that just won't work, no matter your tools or technique. In this circumstance, remove the tubeless valve, install an inner tube, and inflate the tire normally. 

After riding it around for a couple days, remove the inner tube (taking care to only dismount one side of the tire), re-install the tubeless valve, install your sealant, then mount the remaining side of the tire. With one side of the tire bead already in place, you'll typically find the one remaining side much easier to get working tubeless.

This trick works because the air pressure inside the tube forces the tire bead outward to where it belongs. Once it's in place, it tends to stay there, even after the tube is removed.

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