What is Ghetto Tubeless?
It’s a way of converting ‘ordinary’ rims and tyres into a tubeless system. Our American cousins coined the phrase ‘Ghetto Tubeless’ as it denotes the budget nature and slightly subversive way it overcomes the problems associated with existing tubeless systems such as ‘UST’.
If you do any degree of mountain biking you will get punctures. Faster you go and the bigger the stuff you go over, the more frequent these punctures are likely to be. Punctures are a pain for three main reasons: 1. You have to stop riding to repair the puncture 2. They are potentially dangerous if you get an instant pinch flat as your descending 3. You have to carry plenty of spare tubes on longer rides which take up backpack space (better used for sandwiches and flapjacks) and weight you down. Running tubeless tyres overcomes all this for very little trade off. I’ve been running a ‘Ghetto Tubeless’ on my bike now for over a year now and wouldn’t anticipate running anything else.
Before we detail how to go ‘Ghetto Tubeless’, let’s examine why we might want to go down that route…There are existing, ‘proper’ tubeless systems for mountain bikes, such as ‘UST’ but they are costly. You need specific UST tyres (heavy) and UST rims – not really a viable option if you have a perfectly good wheelset already. Furthermore, UST setups can be prone to ‘burping’, whereby the tyre comes away from the rim briefly allowing air (and also sealant if you have added it) to escape – not ideal. ‘Ghetto Tubeless’ avoids these issues. Not only is it far cheaper, it also uses your existing wheels and if you are lucky your existing tyres and doesn’t suffer any burping. But be warned, not all tyres are suitable and there is more work to set-up initially…
You will need:
– An air compressor or a track pump and a MASSIVE set of arms.
– 2 x 20″ BMX inner tubes (you need 2 of these for each bike you are converting to tubeless. Note, I know your wheels will be 26″ but you need 20″ BMX tubes – just trust me, OK?)
– Electrical tape (we will be using this instead of ‘proper’ rim strips)
– 1 pint of No Tubes tyre sealant (get it here:)
– Valve core remover (used to take the valve out of the 20″ tubes – get it here)
– Sealant injector or a Clear tube that fits the inner tube valve snugly (this is the best bet if you don’t mind the expense)
– Contact adhesive (just the normal stuff you can pick up in a local hardware shop or B&Q/Focus etc)
– Pair of sharp scissors
– Stanley knife blade
– Compatible tyres: Nokian, Continental, Kenda, Specialized, Bontrager, Geax and Schwalbe. DO NOT USE: Michelin, Intense, IRC, Hutchinson or Panaracer. There will be some exceptions to these rules but I strongly suggest sticking to the makes that are known to work. The other makes tend to have thinner sidewalls, creating the possibility of your tyre ‘rolling off’ the rim when cornering (that’s a bad thing obviously). More info on compatible tyres here: http://www.notubes.com/support_tire.php
– Bowl of fairy liquid and water mix (if you’re too sissy to get the tyres onto the rims)
– Plastic tyre levers (DON’T use metal ones as they are likely to rip the inner tube – unless you are the soft and gentle sort)
– Someone to help you (this does make it all a LOT easier)
We will assume at this point you have removed your wheels and removed your tyres from the rims (and discarded the old inner tubes).
1. Take the BMX tubes, find the seam on the outside (opposite the valve) and cut all the way around that seam with the scissors. Open the tube out and wash away all the chalk/talc. Now hang them somewhere to dry (they don’t have to be totally clean, so long as the majority of the chalk is gone).
2. Take the electrical tape and tape around the rims, covering where the spokes go through the rim. A couple of layers should suffice. You will need to make a hole for the inner tube valve when done.
3. Take the BMX tubes, stick the valve through the rim and stretch them over the rims. You want the excess of the tubes to be hanging over either side of the rim.
4. Now the fun part: You need to put the tyres back onto the rims (ensure you have the tyre rotation the right way on the wheel as you won’t want to do this twice!). This can be tricky, especially if you have new tyres but use the fairy liquid/water mix if need be. However, be aware that if you do use the water/fairy liquid mix that you will have to dry the tube and tyre afterward which can take just as long as wrestling with the tyre and tube in the first place. My advice is stop whinging and put your back into it…
5. With the tyres on the rims and everything dry, take the contact adhesive and run a generous layer around the bead of the tyre. Do this both sides and then quickly get the tyre on the compressor (or pump like a mad man if using a track pump) and inflate. If the God’s are smiling on you it will inflate straight away. If not, keep the air going in put try squashing the tyre down around the valve to try and get the air in. When you get a seal it inflates straight away. If it’s proving difficult, try more adhesive. If you’re using a track pump I strongly suggest getting your hands on a compressor!
6. The tyre will start to loose air but keep inflating it for about 10 minutes. You will still have the tubes dangling out of the sides at this point but don’t worry about that yet.
7. After 10 minutes, deflate the tyres and remove the valve core with the valve core remover (don’t discard the core – you will need it again in a moment).
8. Tip the sealant into the wheel – the recommended amount for each tyre is given on the sealant.
9. Re-insert the valve core and inflate the wheel (35-40psi). Now mount the wheel back on the bike and keep spinning it for a good half hour. The wheel will deflate but keep topping it up with air and spinning it. This ensures that the sealant works its way into the tyre and seals any little holes.
10. Let’s tidy up those wheels. After 30 mins of spinning and re-inflating where necessary, take the Stanley knife blade and VERY carefully score around the dangling tube against the rim. Obviously the closer you get this to the rim, the tidier the wheels will ultimately look but be careful not to nick the tyre in the pursuit of perfection. If you hold the blade with one hand and slowly turn the wheel with the other you should get a good cut. Then pull on the tube to separate it from the score line. Do this both sides on both wheels.
11. Now go ride. For the first few weeks you may find the wheels keep going down every 48-72 hours. This is normal, just pump them back up and ride. Eventually all the little holes will seal and they will stay up. Regardless, you may wish to take a single tube with you on your travels, just in case. I’ve not needed to use mine since going ‘Ghetto’ but you just never know…