How To Set Up A Tubeless MTB Tyre

Let me guess. You’ve heard the whispers, listened to some frothing mountain bike chat, scoured through some google info and now you’re completely set on going tubeless.

And hey, who could blame you? More traction, more reliability, fewer punctures. It’s the freakin’ mountain bike upgrade of the century.

But how the heck do you set up a Tubeless MTB Tyre?

The actual process can cause some headaches, and maybe tubeless tyres aren’t the only option for shredders. So make damn sure this is the path you want to take before getting arms deep in sticky sealant and rim tape.

But without further ado, let’s get stuck into it!

Mountain biking through a hectic rock garden while riding some of Canberras best mtb trails in Tuggeranon Pines

How To Set Up A Tubeless MTB Tyre

If you’ve got this far, chances are you’re aware that installing a tubeless tyre takes a little more effort than a tube set up. And let me tell you right now, it can get bloody messy!

But there is some good news, almost all the mad dogs manufacturing mountain bikes these days provide us with tubeless ready wheels, accompanied by a tubeless ready tyre.


So if you’ve purchased a bike in the last few years you can grab your tyre sealant and a tubeless valve, sit back and skim past these first few points.

However, if you are one of the unlucky kids planning on converting a non-tubeless ready wheel, there is a couple more steps and a few things to check first…

Is Your Rim Tubeless Compatible? – Make sure your rim is tubeless-compatible or you’ll never succeed. Tubeless compatible rims are designed with a hook-like lip to seal against the bead of the tyre.

Is Your Tyre Tubeless Compatible? – Like the rim, the tyre should also be tubeless compatible in order to make the perfect seal. Non-tubeless tyres can work, but the bead is not designed with a prominent lip and supports a weaker build. This means the chances of your tyre leaking or rolling off are far greater.

Buy Some Rim Tape – There are some cheap alternatives to rim tape but they can cause a bit of headache. Investing in the real deal will assist you in finding and maintaining a perfect seal over the spoke holes (a good example is Stan’s Yellow Tape). Just measure the width of your rim and buy the tape that is the same width or slightly wider.

Buy A Tubeless Valve – Tubeless valves are fitted with a rubber base designed to tighten up against the rim and create a seal with the rim tape. Most tubeless valves will come with a Presta Valve Core so you’ll need a pump that supports Presta.

Buy Tyre Sealant Most sealants are all the same so you can’t really go wrong with any brand you choose. Just make sure to buy a big enough bottle – accommodating for the amount you will surely spill all over the floor!

Get Ready For A Bit Of A Struggle – If it’s your first time, prepare for a bit of a struggle, especially if you don’t have an air compressor or airshot tool…

Once you’ve got everything together, time to get your hands dirty…

pumping up a tubeless tyre with an air compressor, the final stage of how to setup a tubeless tyre

How To Apply Tubeless Rim Tape

The actual process of applying the tape is quite simple, though it requires a little patience and accuracy.

Here is the gear you’ll need:

  • Rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl Alcohol)
  • The correct size rim tape
  • A tubeless valve
  • A sharp knife
  • A cloth or a rag

If you have access to a wheel trueing stand this process becomes a whole lot easier. But if not, just use your legs to balance the wheel.

Cleaning a tubeless rim before showing how to setup a tubeless tyre

First you’ll need to prepare your rim.

Remove the tyre and any old tape found, you want the surface to be as smooth as possible for the installation of the new tape. Thoroughly clean the surface with rubbing alcohol or similar to ensure the tape sets well.

When your rim is sparkling clean, identify the opposite side to the valve hole and let’s get taping!

You need to be firm and press down hard to avoid the rim tape slipping. And as you move around the circumference of the rim, it’s important to keep the tape taught to avoid any air bubbles creeping in.

Keep taping until you’ve overlapped the start point by about a 30cm, then cut the tape back to about a 10cm overlap.

There’s no need to run the tape around the wheel 55 times… One solid rounding is more than enough.

Once you’re happy, grab your rag and run it around the tape once again, pressing down hard to make sure the tape is seated nicely against the rim.

And that’s it.

As I said, this process is easy. The most important part is making sure your rim is spotless before attempting to stick the tape!

Time to get that valve in…

How To Install A Tubeless Valve

If you’ve just taped your rim and succeeded like a boss, I’m sure you’ll probably figure out exactly how to install the valve.

But there is a good way to do it…

People sometimes think that the hole for the valve needs to be cleared completely, cutting around the circumference of the hole entirely.

Don’t do that!

All you’ll accomplish is tearing the tape or introducing air bubbles. Might I remind you that this is bad when trying to create a seal.

To install the valve, take a sharp tool – a knife with a point works well – and place an X in the centre of the hole.

That’s all!

Once the X cut is there, push the valve through the hole and tighten it down with the lock nut. You’ll want to be quite firm as the rubber must seal against the rim tape.

And voila, it’s that simple.

Installing a valve should take you all of about 30 seconds.

how to install a tubeless valve onto a tubeless ready rim while going through the process of how to setup a tubeless tyre

How To Install A Tubeless Tyre

Here’s where some muscle comes into play and the painful part of installing tubeless tyres begins.

Many people opt straight for tyre levers, though I’m a little different.

I like to leave tyre levers as a last resort and use grip strength to massage the tyre on. This helps save the rim from unnecessary damage and sometimes it’s just so much easier.

If needing your bike to look on point is just as important as riding the damn thing, pay attention to where the tyre decals match up with the rim in order to accomplish an even placement.

But if you’re like me and don’t give a shit… Let’s begin.

flying down a run at Ourimbah mtb park showing how to brake on a mountain bike and how it makes you faster

First of all, make sure the bloody tyre is the correct way! There is nothing worse than finishing the install to realise the tyre is on backwards.

You should be able to tell via the tread pattern, but if you’re unsure google will be your best friend.

I like to start at the valve to make sure I get the tyre over it with damaging the seal, but this isn’t mandatory.

Begin by rolling the bead from one side of the tyre onto the rim and work your way around till the entire bead pops on. Make sure the tyre is on the correct side of the valve.

Then it’s time to start with the second side.

Following the exact same method as before, pick a point (I use the valve) and begin to roll the bead over the hook edge of the rim.

This will start to become harder the further you go and eventually get to a point where it feels impossible.

Perfect, time for a rest I reckon.

Grab the tyre sealant and squirt it into the tyre, roughly 125ml is recommended for a new tyre, and in my experience, this is more than enough.

How to add sealant to a tubeless tyre before attempting to pump up while setting up a tubeless tyre

For the final push, roll the remaining tyre bead over the edge of the rim. If you manage to get it without levers, great! But if you’re struggling, now is the time to whip them out.

Using two levers, you can slide them between the rim and the tyre to lever the tyre up and into position. This may still be quite difficult, but keep at it, you’ll eventually get there.

If it just won’t go, not even after swearing uncontrollably at it, there’s a couple of things to try…

Squeezing and massaging may be all it needs. It may sound silly, but this can ever so slightly shift the tyre and free up a bit of tension.

If that doesn’t work, try suspending the tyre. Hanging the tyre up via the rim can sometimes aid in the last pinch as it removes all other force from the tyre.

If you’re still stuck, I don’t know what to tell you…

Maybe go the the gym!?

The difficulty of installing a tyre onto a tubeless rim will vary and basically depends on which tyre you purchase. Welterweight tyres and tyres with thin sidewalls will pop on a hell of a lot easier than a tyre with a downhill casing. Just remember lightweight tyres are more prone to puncture.

pushing a tubeless tyre onto a tubeless rim by hand

How To Pump Up A Tubeless Tyre?

Finally all the hard yards are done and all that’s left to do is inflate the tyre…

Ha! Nothing in life is ever easy… sorry kids.

Inflating a tubeless tyre for the first time can be just as painful as installing it. But with the correct tools and methods, it can be done with ease.

The issue is building up enough pressure inside the wheel to crack the bead onto the rim, sealing it perfectly.

Pre warning, when I said crack I mean it. When the pressure is great enough it will instantly snap the tyre to the rim creating an almighty bang.

Tubeless Tyre cracking onto a rim after pumping up in the process of how to install a tubeless tyre

Now I know not everyone has access to the correct tools and changing to a tubeless tyre set up doesn’t quite justify purchasing a compressor.

So I’m going to run you through everything you can do at home before resorting to pricey gear…

Start With A Floor Pump – Sometimes a floor pump is all you need. Just whack a standard floor pump onto the valve and get pumping. If you’re lucky the bead will crack onto the rim and seal easily.

If you’re not so lucky, you’ll just blow air out the side of the tyre.

Remove The Valve Core – Removing the valve core allows more airflow from the pump to be blown into the valve. Remember, the idea is to build pressure quickly.

Just keep the valve core close because if you manage to succeed, you’ll need to work quickly to re-install it before all the air dispenses from the tyre.

How to remove a tubeless valve core to pump up a tubeless tyre easily

Suspend The Wheel – Again, removing unnecessary force from the tyre can result in ease of movement and so suspending the tyre may provide the respite you need.

By this point, if you still have no luck, it’s time to move onto something bigger and better.

Invest In An Airshot – An Airshot is a pneumatic cylinder designed to be pumped up to high pressure and then dispense that pressure rapidly. This rapid air flow works most times as it quickly forces a ton of air into the tyre.

They are not cheap – coming in at roughly $100 – but if you plan on doing this often an Airshot may be a good investment, plus they are small and portable.

Airshot’s work best when the valve is removed, allowing maximum air flow. Just remember to re-install the valve quickly.

Airshot canister tool, used to inflate tubeless tyres

Get A Damn Compressor Onto Her – Finally, if all else fails, an air compressor is your saving grace. Providing a constant high-pressure airflow, these bad boys work every time.

So if you have an air compressor… start with that!

Once you have the wheel inflated, it’s good practice to roll the tyre around and make sure the sealant gets into every nook and cranny of the wheel.

And that’s it guys, you’re ready to rock and roll.

Just make sure there are no leaks or you’ll be in for a nasty surprise on your first outing.

Mat falling into the bushes trying to show how to corner a mountain bike

Ongoing Maintenance Of A Tubeless Tyre

Really? There’s more?

Don’t stress, running tubeless tyres in your mountain bike requires little to no ongoing maintenance. But there are a couple of things you should check on the regular.

Tyre Pressure – If you’re running tubeless tyres, it should become second nature to check your tyre pressure before every single ride. Relying on a pressurised seal is not perfect and tiny amounts of air can disperse over time.

Top Up Sealant – Unfortunately your sealant will require a top-up. Don’t stress, it’s not a common task and only needs to be completed once every 6 months. The reason being, you may not have noticed small blemishes you’ve picked up along the way and the sealant has done its job at keeping you puncture free. Also, the sealant has a life span and does dry up over that 6 month period.

Valve Cores Can Clog Up – Over a long period of time and due to the pumping process, small amounts of sealant can find its way into the valve and eventually gunk up. This will eventually make it impossible to pump air into the tyre, and in that case, a new valve core will be required.

And that’s it. You should now have all the tools and knowledge you need to upgrade to tubeless MTB tyres.

All that’s left to do now is get out there and ride your damn bike!

Sending the bridge gap on the Blue Flow Trail at Dungog MTB Park