Tubeless Cyclocross

October is here, and so is the rush to dial in some new wheels before the season is in full swing.

Tubeless seems to be gaining some traction, both with new wheel offerings that are tubeless specific, as well as more people out there willing to give it a try.

If you give this a try, you should consider reliability as the #1 goal.  Weight, looks, materials, etc.  are all less important.  If you're going to experiment, do that with a set of wheels you train on.  Keep the race stuff reliable, because you bash stuff a lot harder in races than you do in training.  

Reliability Factor #1: Wheel Choice:

You can get a huge head start in reliability by using the right kind of rim.  A rim is either designed for tubeless use, or it's not.  If it's not, it's not a deal breaker, but it means YOU have to figure out how to convert it into a tubeless friendly setup.  And I hate to say it, but it's never going to work as good as a tubeless specific rim.   Your mileage may vary, but I am pretty sure this generally holds true.

Let's take a look at the two types of rims, side by side:

Regular clincher rim cross section (Velocity Deep V):

Tubless specific design (Stans Arch 29er):

You can see the bead hook design is different.  There's a lot of room in the clincher rim for the tire bead to move around.  In the tubeless rim, the tire bead doesn't really have any room to wiggle around.  Room to wiggle is generally bad, because when that happens, your tire will most likely loose it's seal and "burp" some air.

The rim on the left (clincher rim) can work, but it's not going to be super reliable unless you alter it.  In this case, you could add an additional layer of rim tape (or two).   Every rim design will require a little different tweak formula to be more reliable with a tubeless setup.  Some rims might not work at all. 

You see how this is kind of a gamble?  It is.  Your best bet is to go with a tubeless specific rim.  You can build them yourself, have them built up, or buy a pre-done wheelset from an ever growing list of vendors.  I think the list now includes Stans Notubes, Giant, American Classic, Alex and Industry Nine.  I'm sure there are others.

Reliability Factor #2: Tire Choice

The strength of the tire bead is pretty important.  If the tire bead is weak, or tends to break, your tire could blow off the rim.  I've had it happen before.  Not fun.  Some tires work better than others.  A lot of tires out there that are not marketed as tubeless ready are very good.  I've experimented and found numerous tires that work well:


Tire: Rating (1-5) Comments
Michelin Jet 4 Sidewalls seem a bit less durable
Michelin Mud2 5 Works awesome.  Sidewalls a little weak when the tire gets aged
Kenda Kommando 4.5 Solid tire, perhaps a bit less supple than the others
Schwalbe Racing Ralph 5 Temperamental mounting.  Do it right or you will have problems
Maxxis Raze 3 Trouble sealing/burping, but I'd like to have another try with this brand. 
Continental Twister Pro 1 Not a good tire.  Even worse for tubeless use.

Tires I'd like to try:

  • Specialized Captain
  • Continental Race and Speed
  • Everything Kenda
  • Clement PDX
  • Hutchinson tubeless tires

I'd like to try all of these tires, but my experimental trials are bound by personal budget and time available to tinker.  So when it comes time to buy another pair of tires, I'll get something from this list. 

Reliability Factor #3: Mounting

You really need to mount the tires the right way.  If you don't, you're just setting yourself up for trouble.  Having a tire hold air in your garage is NOT an indication of reliability.  If you skip either of these two steps, you're probably going to be disappointed.   So if you want to give it a legitimate try, do this:

  • Soap suds:  Brush soap suds on both sides of your tire.  This will help the tire bead pop into the right place, all away around, and seal up well.
  • Shake and Bake:  Once you add sealant, you need to shake the tires and lay them on their side for 5 minutes (each side 1-2 times).  

I would show you the videos I tried to make for this post, but they really suck.  Better to just go to notubes and check it out:

Road Tubeless Kit from Stan's NOTUBES on Vimeo.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Good to see you're back. Good luck this season.
# Posted By Brad | 10/8/12 12:23 AM
Vittoria's new TNT Cyclocross tires are dreamy, a PITA to mount, but even on non-tubless rims they are NOT coming off. Let alone burping. I feel like i'm on road 700x23's rather than cyclocross tires. Yet I have better traction than any tire I've used
# Posted By Phil | 10/17/12 10:28 AM
Thanks, I'll add those to my list. Also the new Kenda tubeless specific tires sound super rad.
# Posted By erikv | 10/17/12 12:00 PM
Hi Erik,

I've found your blog trying to go tubeless in my brand new CX bike. I've just bought a pair of DT Swiss R1800 tubeless wheels. I'm searching for some training tires, but it's hard to find tubeless specific ones.
I think I will give Schwalbe Racing Ralph a chance, but I don't know if I have to take the wire or foldable version. What do you think? And in the same way, if I take the Vittoria XG, I don't know which version choose: wire or foldable?
Last question: do you think I will need some Stan's tape using this non tubeless tires?

Thanks for your attention, I'll keep following your blog!
# Posted By Robert | 1/25/13 2:48 AM
If those wheels have a sealed spoke bed (no exposed spoke holes) then you don't really need tape. Aside from sealing up the rim, the tape also aids in getting the tire bead up tight against the rim hook. But if these are tubeless specific rims, that shouldn't really be an issue.

You should be okay with the tires listed above. I've not used any wire bead tires with my Stan's wheels, but I think they'd be fine. Actually, I think they'd be more reliable. But I've not had any trouble with the kevlar beaded tires.

Check out the new Kenda tires that are tubeless specific! I'd say go with those.
# Posted By erikv | 1/25/13 2:55 AM
Thanks Erik for the advices!

I'm still waiting for the pair of wheels to arrive, and I will show you how the rim hook is. I haven't seen any review of these wheels.

And I'm still debating about getting Vittoria's or Kenda's SB8. Difficult decision!
# Posted By Robert | 1/28/13 3:48 AM
Tubeless Cyclocross very reliable and pretty popular. These come in different sizes with almost every vehicle. I watch the video you upload on your website and that help to understand its durability thank you so much for sharing.
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