Can Any Mountain Bike Wheel Be Tubeless?

Punctured Mountain Bike Wheel

You may not have known that tubeless tires have been made for bicycles since 1999 and are the preferred choice for many cyclists, but can you make your mountain bike wheel be tubeless? Depending on the type of wheel you have there are often complete kits available that provide everything you need in order to make the change with ease.

So, can any mountain bike wheel be tubeless? Almost any mountain bike rim can make the change over to tubeless, some easier than others. Most rims that are made particularly for tubeless tires have a higher shoulder in the inner rim that the tire bead can fit securely into. A tubeless-ready rim will also be less likely to have any spoke holes in the rim bed. Some do have spoke holes though, but this is remedied without difficulty by the use of rim tape or a rim strip to seal them closed before the tire is placed.

Whether you have UST, conventional, or tubeless compatible rims, odds are that you can find a tubeless tire that will fit your mountain bike. The most important thing that has to be considered with any bike is getting a good enough seal to prevent “burping” out air which can cause the pressure to drop dangerously low. This is why tubeless compatible rims, though not an absolute necessity, are recommended.

What Is A Tubeless Wheel?

Simply put, a tubeless wheel is a wheel that does not need an inner tube in order to be inflated. However, you cannot take an inner tube tire and then simply remove the tube and try to use that as a tubeless tire on your wheel.

This is because tubeless tires are specifically made to be inflated, having additional ribs molded into the bead of the tire in order to withstand the pressure of the air inside it and to help maintain a seal without leaking any air. In a tubeless wheel the rim itself forms the back of the “tube” that holds the air in.

How Does A Tubeless Wheel Work?

There are two main parts that make up any wheel: the rim and the tire that goes around it. Tubular tires contain an airtight tube inside that is aired up after placing it on the rim. In the case of tubeless wheels, on the other hand, the rim is sealed to the tire itself using a sealant to form an airtight bond.

Liquid sealant is often put inside the tire at some point during the set up in order to instantly seal any small punctures from going over thorns or anything like that during you ride. This restores the seal and allows you to keep going without having to stop for repairs.

The tubeless tire will have a valve that will then be aired up just like any other tire. In the case of tubeless tires, the pressure helps keep it sealed firmly in place as the outward pressure from the air pushes the bead of the tire snuggly up against the rim.

If A Tubeless Wheel Pops How Do You Repair It?

Tubeless repair kits can be easily purchased for use on the go and these often come with instructions. However, there are a couple of main types of kits that are most commonly available and that are specifically for repairing tubeless wheels. No matter how you are repairing your hole, if your tire was punctured you will first want to remove the object that punctured your tire, making sure that you remove all pieces of it.

By far the most popular, plug kits come in a wide range of brands and are fairly easy to find. Basically the kit provides you with a rubberized cord which you pack into the hole with the tools provided after cleaning off the area some. This allows the latex sealant inside the wheel to make a seal around the plug.

To finish this type of repair it is a simple matter of cutting off any excess cord of the plug, giving the tire some air if needed, and then get back on your bike and keep going on your way. This method can last for miles and there is no need to take the tire off, making it fast and especially easy to do.

Sometimes a hole can be too big for a plug kit, and that is if your hole is when patch glue kits come into play. Patch glue kits are literally small patches that glue to the inside of the tire. Unfortunately, in order to do this form of repair it means that you have to actually take the tire off of the rim. Once that is done you need to clean the area you will be applying it to as thoroughly as you can in order to ensure that the patch will stick properly.

After you have stuck the patch on and held pressure on it for the amount of time directed, you can then put the tire back on the rim and go on your way. While a good patch that has been properly applied can sometimes last for up to a year, it is undoubtedly much more time-consuming method than a plug kit fix.

Additional Tips For Repairs On Tubeless Wheels:

Go easy with tire levers. Metal tire levers especially can easily nick or kink the bead as you are trying to get the tire over the rim. On a tubeless wheel this can potentially create a leak in that spot if it prevents the bead from having its airtight seal with the rim.

Have a piece of chalk or a marker with you. When you get a hole that requires you to take off your tire, clearly mark the area first. By marking the spot before you pull the tire off of the rim it will be much easier to find the hole again without having to search the whole tire.

Gorilla tape applied on top of a patch will often help it stay longer and is good to keep on hand. Aqua seal, a tube of sealant used for repairing wet suits, has also been used effectively to help seal holes in bike tires.

An air compressor can be a big help. Sometimes it can be a challenge to get the bead of a tubeless tire to stay right where it needs to be while it is being inflated. Having an air compressor will help by doing this rapidly and, while a C02  cartridge may also be used instead, it is a cheaper option if you ride a lot or will be doing more than a few tires.

What Are The Top 5 Tubeless Wheels On The Market For Mountain Biking?

While there are only a few tubeless options compared to the multitudes of inner tube wheels out there, there are still enough options to make the task of picking the right wheel still be a daunting task. To help you choose which on is right for your bike, here are a few of the absolute best tubeless wheels that are out there.

Race Face Turbine 30 – Alloy – 27.5” Wheel Size – 30mm Internal Rim Width

Black in color, this tubeless wheel comes with a few perks besides its overall durability. The first of these perks is that it comes already installed with tubeless tape and a valve, making attaching your tubeless tire much quicker. This wheel also includes end cap seals that help make it more waterproof for riding in all weathers.

The particularly wide internal rim width that this tubeless wheel has allows you to use wide tires and maximizes the benefits of going tubeless by giving your wheel a larger surface area with which to grip the terrain. All of this comes together to make this tubeless wheel one that is suited to any terrain and rider.

Easton Haven – Carbon – 29” Wheel Size – 21mm Internal Rim Width

This large, yet slim, tubeless wheel is a perfect fit for bigger bikes, allowing you to get rid of bulkier and heavier “wagon wheels.” The carbon frame is stiffer than alloy frames, giving you more precision when cornering, though this also means that it absorbs less shock from bumps. Built with ballistic-level carbon and resins, it is fully capable of handling a pounding from a rough ride over rocky terrain.

These tubeless wheels are long-lasting and the conventional spokes are tensioned perfectly, making for a bike that will need very little care and making repairs simple. All in all, this is a great choice for a twenty-niner mountain bike.

Mavic XA Pro – Carbon – 27.5” Wheel Size – 26mm Internal Rim Width

While not the first one on the list, this tubeless wheel is certainly worth looking at. The fully carbon rim has an enhanced fiber layup in order to give the maximum amount of vertical compliance. These wheels also have tubeless tape already installed to make it easy to setup.

Not too stiff, it still allows good terrain reading and is an average weight wheel, with some other wheels weighing less and some others more. One person with the username of westoxified left a review of: “These wheels are phenomenal…” While another person with the username of Tito Tomasi said: “I have been using those for a while, in different conditions and on different kinds of terrain and I love it…”

Shimano XTR Trail – Carbon/Alloy – 27.5” Wheel Size – 24mm Internal Rim Width

This tubeless wheel is made up of a durable carbon laminated alloy rim that is built onto an anodized alloy hub shell. This blend gives the wheel the strengths of both carbon and alloy, providing you with some of the shock absorbing qualities of the one and the precision of the stiffer rim that the other is known for.

In addition, this tubeless wheel also has the relatively new lightweight bearing and axle system, shaving off even more weight and making it one of the most lightweight wheel options. Twenty-eight spokes on each tire also help to give the wheel plenty of strength.

Fortus 35w – Pro 4 – Various – 27.5” or 29” – 35mm Internal Rim Width

This is the widest tubeless wheel on our list today, making it a go-to option if you want wide tires for the ultimate traction on your rides. This enduro wheel has thirty-two stainless steel spokes attacked to an aluminum rim and featuring brass nipples. The hub caps are stainless steel as well and can come in a variety of colors, making it easy to customize the look of your wheels.

It also has a number of different conversions available for both the front and rear tire along with boost options. These options not only make these wheels readily fit the bike you already have, but they also give you plenty of options for your ride. With all of the options for you to choose from, this wheel begs to be customized to reflect its rider.

How Do Tubeless Wheels Stack Up Against Inner Tube Wheels?

While each type of wheel has its advantages and disadvantages, getting a tubeless wheel is something that is well worth considering. How do they stack up? Let’s take a look at the top four advantages of each and find out!

Advantages of Tubeless Wheels:

Fewer Flats – The lack of an inner tube means that you will never again get those “pinch flats”, also sometimes called “snake bites”, by hitting a rock too hard. Occasionally this might cause the tire to “burp” out a little air, but adding a little air is a whole lot easier than changing a whole tire.
Harder To Puncture – With the various latex sealants used inside a tubeless wheel, small punctures from cactus spines or thorns seal themselves up as the tire pushes the sealant out of the hole often without you even having to stop at all. The tubeless tire itself is also thicker than its tubed counterpart.
Shock Absorbing – Tubeless wheels do not have the opposing forces of an inner tube pushing outward against the inside of the tire. This makes for less vibration, especially over bumpy terrain like gravel or small rocks.
You Can Still Add A Tube – If you do get a flat due to a severe tear while out on the trail, you can still use an inner tube as an emergency fix until you get back from the middle of nowhere and to where you can make repairs.

Advantages of Inner Tube Wheels:

No Sealant Needed – Inner tube wheels do not need to be sealed since the inner tube is its own entity. This saves the trouble of dealing with sealant, which can often be a messy job when changing a tubeless tire or patching one up.
Easier to Change Flats – While inner tube tires might get a flat easier, they are also easier to change. This is because tubeless tires are designed to fit extremely tightly in order to get that airtight seal and are therefore that much harder to get on and off. There is also less concern about puncturing the outer part of the inner tube tire with the lever when changing tires.
More Available – Inner tube wheels are more commonly available, and also have a wider variety. Because of this fact, this often means that inner tube wheels are somewhat cheaper than their tubeless counterparts.
Less Maintenance – Dry conditions can make sealants used for tubeless wheels quickly dry up, requiring regular care and attention that inner tube wheels do not need. You also need to check the air pressure less often for inner tube wheels.

All in all, if you are consistently bothered by “pinch flats” and don’t mind the idea of giving your tires a little extra time, then you should definitely consider going tubeless. Many people who have gone tubeless agree that it is worth a little extra tender loving care, especially if you love long rides over rough and rocky terrain.

Related Questions

Are PSI Levels Effected When You Go Tubeless?

Yes! The PSI levels for a tubeless wheel can be as much as 13 PSI lower than that of an inner tube wheel of the same size. Having less PSI is a definite advantage as it means that your mountain bike wheel will have more traction for turns and braking thanks to the increased contact with the ground that the lower pressure provides.

This also helps make for an overall smoother ride as the tubeless wheel will be able to absorb more of the shocks that come with riding over rough terrain. A smoother ride will add to your comfort on long rides and the lower PSI also aids in maintaining your momentum, enabling you to get the most enjoyment out of your long trips and maybe even be ready for more.

Can You Get Any Mountain Bike Wheel Size Tubeless?

Yes. There are three wheel sizes for mountain bikes: 26”, 27.5”, and the 29” wheels. Occasionally you might also find a children’s bike which will have a 24” sized wheel. While the 27.5” and the 29” are by far the most common and therefore the easiest to find, it is entirely possible to find mountain bike wheels of all the above sizes in tubeless varieties.

You might not find as many options for tubeless wheels as you would for inner tube wheels, but who really needs the hassle that sorting through far too many choices can be? There are plenty of options to choose from if you are looking to get a tubeless wheel, and as these wheels are becoming increasingly popular more options will become available.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me...

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