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ADV ProductsADV Bike AccessoriesReady To Ditch The Tubes and Convert to Tubeless?

Ready To Ditch The Tubes and Convert to Tubeless?

 Explore five ways to convert your tires to tubeless and see if it's right for you.

Published on 02.09.2015
Converting to tubeless spoked wheels can help avoid the hassle and time delays of repairing flats on tube-type tires.

We all dread that moment when you realize you just got a flat. If you have tube type tires, you know you’re in for a long delay. Removing the wheel, breaking the bead and getting the old tube out is exhausting work. Getting the inner tube positioned and spooning the tire back onto the rim requires both strength and a delicate touch. And if you pinch the tube with a tire iron, be ready to do it all over again.

If you’re really fast, a punctured tube can be fixed in about 20 minutes. For most of us though, it can take an hour or more. On the other hand, fixing a flat on tubeless tires is much easier. No need to take off the wheel. Just insert a plug, reinflate and you are ready to ride again in minutes.

Yet many adventure and dual-sport bikes still come equipped with tube-type tires. That’s because it’s more difficult to make spoke wheels airtight. There are also some advantages to using tubes for serious off-road use (e.g. dented wheels still holding air), but for many, the convenience of going tubeless far outweighs any advantages of sticking with tubes.


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The good news is even if your bike came with tube-type spoked wheels, there are ways to go tubeless. All of them offer easy flat repair (or prevention) and fewer worries about tubes suddenly deflating when punctured. Some save weight compared to tubes. There are pros and cons to each alternative. If the idea of getting a flat makes you reconsider how and where you ride, consider going tubeless. But think carefully about how you do it.
 

1. Seal Your Wheels

The idea is simple: make the area where the spokes come through the rim airtight. That means removing the tire, tube and rim strip, cleaning the wheel thoroughly to remove dirt, rust and grease, then sealing the “dish” of the rim (part under the rim strip where the spoke nipples come through). Install a tubeless-type air valve and you’re done.

3M Marine Adhesive Sealant 5200 is one product riders use to seal their wheels; Seal-All is another, and it is available at auto parts stores. Both products have the advantage of staying flexible. Some riders use a combination of both, dabbing Seal-All on the spoke nipples and then covering the dish of the rim with a layer of 3M 5200. Another option is plain old clear silicone caulk.

Sealing rims tubeless tires
Sealing the spoke nipples on a tube-type wheel is the cheapest way to go tubeless. (Photo courtesy adventure-motorcycling.com)

Safety tip: Check to see if your tube-type wheel has a safety bead near the lip of the rim. It’s there to keep the tire on the rim in case of a blowout and help seat it properly. Some tube-type rims don’t have them.

Keep in mind that sealing wheels this way is a DIY approach. Some riders report excellent results, while others can’t seem to get their wheels to stop leaking. The classic “your results may vary” applies. For more tips on sealing your own rims, check out this post on the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook website.

If you like the idea of sealing the wheel but don’t want to do it yourself, Woody’s Wheel Works will do it for $99 per wheel. They don’t guarantee the seal, however, and they won’t perform the service on tube-type wheels that don’t have a safety bead.

Pros:

  • Cost. All you need is sealant, a tubeless-type valve, patience, and elbow grease.
  • Easier flat repairs with tire plugs.
  • Reduced rotating mass and less heat build up from friction.
Cons:

  • May not work on all rims.
  • Not all tube-type rims have a safety bead, which can cause safety and sealing issues.
  • Adjusting spoke tension can cause leaks.
  • Tubeless tires are harder to seat against the rim.

2. Buy New Tubeless Wheels

If you’ve got the cash, this is the way to go. Purpose-built tubeless rims are designed for the job, won’t have sealing problems, and will have safety beads.

Alpina tubeless wheels for adventure bikes
Italian manufacturer Alpina builds aftermarket tubeless wheels for adventure bikes. (Photo courtesy JCPakBikes)

The catch is they aren’t available for every dual-sport or adventure bike. For example, Woody’s Wheel Works can convert an Aprilia Caponord tubeless wheel set for use on only certain models for $1,700 using stock hubs, or $2,800 if you want new billet hubs.

Alpina, an Italian wheel manufacturer, makes tubeless aftermarket wheels for KTMs, BMWs, and some Japanese brands, but in the United States it’s difficult to find Alpina wheels for anything other than KTMs and BMWs. JCPakBikes has information on Alpina wheels, but doesn’t list prices. KTMTwins.com sells Alpina wheel kits for KTM 950/990s that include everything except a stock hub for $1,300 a set, or complete wheels for $2,250 a set.

Pros:

  • Purpose built wheels won’t leak and will have a safety bead.
  • Easier flat repairs with tire plugs.
  • Reduced rotating mass and less heat build up from friction.
Cons:

  • High cost.
  • Limited availability.

Tubeless For Off-Road Use


Tubeless spoked wheels (hand sealed or factory made) may not be the best choice for serious off-road use. Tubeless tires can come off the bead on large impacts when running lower tire pressures, and trying to get them re-sealed can be a real challenge without a powerful air compressor. If you put a large enough dent in your wheel, re-sealing the bead can become next to impossible.

If you have tubeless spoked wheels, you can always install a tube in a bent rim to get you going again, but many hardcore off-road riders want to avoid flats altogether. There are several options for going tubeless that offer more durability than tubeless spoked wheels. Keep in mind that none of the these options are DOT approved for street use.

3. TUbliss

This system uses a small diameter, high-pressure bladder that holds the tire against the rim like a 360-degree rim lock, providing a good seal even on tube-type rims without a safety bead. TUbliss comes as a complete kit with mounting tools and instructions. Just remember to keep the high-pressure bladder fully inflated and be careful with tire changes, and the TUbliss will outlast your tires.

TUbliss tubeless tires cutaway
The TUbliss system uses a high-pressure bladder that acts like a 360-degree rim lock that seals the rim.
Pros:

  • Easy flat repair with plug kit.
  • Allows for lower air pressures and better traction without tires coming off the rim. Tires can even be run flat.
  • High-pressure bladder acts like a bumper to protect the rim from damage.
  • At about $100 a wheel, it’s one of the cheaper options.
Cons:

  • Requires a high-pressure air pump to maintain 100-110 psi in the bladder.
  • Requires a different method of changing tires. The high-pressure bladder can be damaged if you don’t follow instructions.
  • Not available for 17″ wheels.

4. Tire Balls

These are individual, inflatable “cells” that replace your tube. Typically it takes about 35 Tire Balls to fill up the front tire and 25 to fill up the rear. You set the desired tire pressure in each individual cell before installing.

Tire Balls Tubeless Tires Kit
If one or two Tire Balls go flat you probably won’t even notice.
Pros:

  • Virtually flat proof. If one cell goes flat, others take up the space.
  • Improves suspension performance by slowing air transfer away from the tire’s contact patch.
  • Allows for lower air pressure and improved traction.
  • Maintains tire stability at low pressures. The tire won’t “roll over” in corners.
  • Urethane material is more puncture resistant than typical Heavy Duty tubes
Cons:

  • Requires special tools and techniques to install.
  • Expensive. Kits for full-size motorcycles cost about $200 per wheel.
  • Runs hotter than tubes; hot enough to disintegrate at sustained speeds above 80mph.

5. Bib Mousse

These are foam inserts that replace the tube. Because they are “solid,” they are immune to punctures. The density of the foam determines the simulated tire pressure, generally 8 to 13 psi. The Bib Mousse inserts are more commonly used for off-road racing applications when getting a flat is not an option.

Michelin Bib Mousse tubeless tires
No more flats with the bib mousse but they’re difficult to install and can melt at sustained high speeds.
Pros:

  • As flat proof as you can get.
  • Simulates lower air pressure for better traction.
Cons:

  • Runs hotter than tubes; hot enough to melt at sustained high speeds above 80mph.
  • Installation is difficult and requires special tools and techniques.
  • Some riders complain that mousse bibs make the bike feel less responsive.
  • Expensive. About $180 per wheel.
  • Designed to be used only with Michelin off-road tires.

Author: Bob Whitby

Bob has been riding motorcycles since age 19 and working as a journalist since he was 24, which was a long time ago, let’s put it that way. He quit for the better part of a decade to raise a family, then rediscovered adventure, dual sport and enduro riding in the early 2000s. He lives in Arkansas, America’s best-kept secret when it comes to riding destinations, and travels far and wide in search of dirt roads and trails.

Author: Bob Whitby
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17 thoughts on “Ready To Ditch The Tubes and Convert to Tubeless?

  1. Some of these techniques I have never heard of. Thank you for posting this information. I wish I could talk the wife into letting me have two sets of wheels, one for canyon carving and one for offroad.

    • Phil, do you know a silicone that isn’t corrosive? All kind that I tested (red, black, grey, blue, white, transparent, interior, exterior, etc) smell like pickles when is fresh.

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  3. Another one I’m about to try on my CB500X (with Rally Raid wheel conversion) is the Italian BARTubeless system. It’s similar to my DIY 3M 5200 job pictured above, but is some sort of polymer and done properly. More on the AMH link above.

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  10. And yet bikes like suzuki dl650 are coming right from the factory with tubless tires on spoked rims …why is this not more common? Why did Honda reject that on their Africa Twin?? Patent issues??