Remember when the only way to make a rim tubeless was to cut a tube and overlay the spoke holes, pinched beneath the tire? Or, you could wrap the rim in one to three layers of duct tape or Gorilla tape until the tire became tight enough to seat. Thankfully, we no longer have to fudge things. Rims and tires are designed with tubeless systems in mind, sealants work really well for most punctures, and there is dedicated tubeless tape that can seal a rim for its lifetime — barring major incidents.
I’m a sucker for a good humility moment, and I recently experienced one while chatting with Drew Esherick from Stans NoTubes. Ya see, I’ve always thought that Gorilla tape was great for tubeless setups, and while it does work, Esherick let me know how and why a dedicated tubeless tape is a better option. He mentioned that sealant slowly evaporates through the thick black tape just like it does through the weeping sidewalls of tires because Gorilla tape is porous — where a proper tubeless tape isn’t. That evaporated sealant then enters the inside of your rim, which isn’t anodized and speeds the corrosion of the rim and aluminum nipples. He also said that because Gorilla tape is super thick it can make the tire too tight and increase the chances of it ejecting from the rim. That thickness can also cause the tire to catch on the tape when it’s removed, pulling the edges of the tape up until it needs to be replaced. Finally, Gorilla tape is wicked sticky and flexible, which is why folks like it, but it leaves a large amount of goo on the rim that’s difficult and messy to clean up. Esherick mentioned that Stans tubeless tape isn’t the only one that works well, and the important element is that you find a true tubeless tape that will seal all those spoke holes.
To start, a proper tubeless tape job begins with a completely clean rim, wiped down with something like isopropyl alcohol to ensure there are no oils lingering that will prevent the tape from bonding. Esherick says that if there are any small sticky spots on the rim from past tapes that can be okay, but anything slick like oils or sealant needs to be removed.
Next, you’ll need tape that’s wide enough to reach across the entire inner width of the rim after being pressed down into the rim bed. It’s recommended to start the taping lap opposite the valve since the small overlap of the tape will add a tiny amount of variation at that point and it’s better to keep that overlap away from the already-complex valve. On an alloy rim, you can simply start at the seam. Some people find it helpful to mount the wheel in a truing stand, while others put it on a towel against the floor and sit on the rim for leverage. It’s a good idea to tape rims in a warm room to help the tape stick better. If you have to do it in the cold you can heat the rim a little with a blowdryer to aid adhesion.
Esherick says that with symmetrical rims you want to pull the tape with one hand as if stretching it while anchoring it with the other hand. As the tape is seated against the rim with that pulling force you want to stop roughly every three inches and firmly smooth it against the rim by pressing it into all of the groves and channels with a towel. With asymmetrical rims, he’s found that it works better to keep the tape centered and focus on smoothing it with the towel more than pulling on it as you round the rim.
Once the tape has rounded the rim and is fully smoothed and stuck with no bubbles between it and the aluminum or carbon rim bed you’ll want to overlap it by roughly three inches before cutting the end. Try not to touch the sticky side of the tape when cutting and finishing the wrap, as hand oils can prevent it from sticking. Now that the tape is fully installed, go around the rim another few passes, pressing hard with the towel to double-check that it’s as sealed as can be. If you really want the world’s smoothest tape layer, mount the tire with a tube in it and inflate it to max pressure to let the tube fully compress the tape.
Now it’s time to poke a valve hole. You’ll want to use a pokey object, like an awl, a sharpened spoke, or a dentist pick. Line the pokey object up in the center of the rim’s valve hole, stab it through, and install your valve securely. Esherick says you don’t want to use a knife or cutting device because the cut can continue to spread after the valve is installed, causing a leak. Some people like to heat their poking device so that it melts the tape and ensures a solid hole perimeter. However you make the valve hole, make sure it’s no larger than the valve stem, centered in the hole opening, and doesn’t create cracks or cuts that can spread.
So that’s fairly simple, eh? Esherick had a few other tips for tubeless tire installation that might be helpful. First up, when installing a tire you’ll want to start mounting the bead right next to the valve and make sure the bead drops as far into the rim channel as possible all the way around. Getting the bead deep into the channel, without the interference of the valve stem, will allow for maximum slack in the bead when it’s time to pop that final few inches over the rim wall. Once you arrive at that last bit of tire it can be tempting to grab a tire lever to finish the job, but Esherick recommends doing everything you can to avoid that. Since tire levers use the rim bed as leverage, they will often damage the tape, potentially leaving you will a fully mounted tubeless system that needs to be fully redone. If you have to use one, be as careful as possible not to touch the rim tape with the lever tip.
What tubeless taping tips can you add in the comments below?