Tag Archives: Converting spoked rims for tubeless tyres

Tubeless: professional spoke rim sealing

Tubeless Conversion Index Page

Updated Summer 2020

These two methods are the only professional spoked wheel options I know of available in the UK. In the US Woody’s Wheel Works have been sealing rims for years, but even they admit it’s a tricky business. All will probably insist your supplied rim has a safety bead.

BARTubeless polymer band

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A new idea I tried in late 2015 on my CB500X was permanent rim sealing by BARTubeless in Italy (left), as suggested by Rally Raid. I was one of the first in the UK to try this. They come with a 4-year guarantee. A polymer is applied and sets hard in the well of the wheel, which has been heated by steam. It gets done in Italy.
The tyre was a Golden Tyre GT 201 tubeless on the back and a similar K60 on the front. More here and here. One thing with Bart and similar thick linings is that they take up a bit of well depth in the rim which reduces the slack needed for easy tyre fitting or removing. I recall RR said the rear GT tyre was hard to fit.

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I thought I had no air loss but tbh I don’t think I checked much, and over a couple of months there was quite a lot of leakage. Could have been the tyre bead, the valve, even the alloy rim might be porous. At an MoT weeks later they noticed the pressures were well down, but the stiff TL tyres disguised this, as they so often do.
Note in the picture top left the label says not to drop below 1.6bar (21psi) because the rims used by RR then did not have safety lips. They probably offer safety-bead rims now; certainly on the Africa Twin Bart rims they now sell. In the UK, wheel specialists Central Wheel Services near Birmingham will BARTubeless two wheels for you for £300.
Balance the cost of either of these proprietary rim sealings with the many hours but modest cost and possible satisfaction of doing it yourself.

CWC Airtight System: Vulcanised band

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Central Wheel Components in the UK do a version of the BARTubeless spoke sealing. They call it Airtight. and again, as far as I know, I was among the first to try it on my Himalayan ride to Western Sahara. It costs £120 a wheel but it’s done in the UK (by ATS, a UK tyre outlet owned by Michelin).

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A hooped band whose size matches the wheel rim is fitted to the rim and heated to vulcanise in two stages over two days. Alternatively, on narrow front wheels liquid rubber is applied in three stages and cures in air but takes four days.  The reason I use this is because the rim section is narrow. If I was to convert your rear wheel.
There’s not much more detail on this brief page. Because the band version is vulcanised – a form of chemically (sulphur) assisted rubber ‘heat welding’ – rather than just glued like tapes or sealants, you’d hope the seal will be more secure and permanent, certainly more than tape which can come away when it gets hot.

I had this system on the rear wheel of my Himalayan on an Excel rim with the safety lip and fitted with a Michelin Anakee Wild 130/80-17 M/C 65R TL plus a splash of Slime.
In Morocco I’d guess it lost a pound or two psi a week judging by the readings off my TPMS – though with elevation and temperature changes it was hard to evaluate accurately. This was with Slime plus a small nail in the back which I chose not to remove.

I think I prefer Airtight over the BARTubeless as the rubber may be lighter, would flex with the wheel and it takes less long.

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Alpina sealed spoke nipples

The Italian Alpina system individually seals each spoke nipple with a rubber o-ring, and is sold for many road bikes and so must be considered road legal.
The benefits of this system is that spoke tension can be adjusted while maintaining the tubeless seal. But how often do you do that on a decent rim? The permanently sealed bonding systems above may not work so well doing this, but as we know we’re usually talking very small turns of the nipple to adjust tension, and should a leak develop it can be re-sealed. Also, there are 36 potential leak points. It seems a way over-complicated way of doing it compared to a single band like Airtight or BARTubeless inside the well.

Kineo wheels

Beautifully forged after-market Italian Kineo tubeless rims, popular with custom builders. They’re the only ones I know of and for a Transalp will be at least €1000 each. You’re welcome.

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Tubliss and similar tubeless cores

Tubeless Conversion Index Page
Updated Summer 2020

Systems like the US-made Tubliss liner are primarily made for dirt bikes running low-psi. They are not recommended for highway use in the US by the manufacturer, most probably due to homologation issues rather than safety. But I know people who’ve run Tubliss for years on the road with no problems. The main limitations: they’ll only seal properly on WM3 rims (2.15”) or narrower, and they only come in 21, 19 and 18-inch sizes. So like they say: most suited to dirt bikes where such rim widths and sizes are the norm.

With nothing better available for a 21-inch wheel, in 2019 I reluctantly ran Tubliss on the front wheel of my Himalayan in Morocco. A few days in I’d noticed Slime coming out round the high-pressure core valve body which suggested it was getting from the tublessed tyre cavity past the Tubliss core seal.
Then, after about two weeks riding at road pressures and having checked the Tubliss at 7.5 bar just two days earlier, the core went flat in the middle of Western Sahara. It would not hold air and so neither would the tyre. But by luck, the body of the collapsed Tubliss core kept the flat tyre on the rim, so I was able to ride slowly 250km to Laayoune on the coast and fit a tube.

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Removing the Tubliss (left), it was hard to tell what was wrong as five hours riding at 30mph had probably pulled the valve out of the tube and anyway, I wasn’t planning on refitting it and bought an inner tube instead.
I never was that keen on Tubliss for travelling as opposed to recreational dirt biking. Even though mates have used it on the road without problems, I’d not risk it again. Next time I’ll seal a rim.

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Tubliss and similar work by fitting an inner tube-like ‘core’  (‘HPC’) which inflates up to 110 psi to expand and seal the bead of the tyre firmly against the rim and so sealing off the tyre’s air chamber from the spoke nipples where leakage occurs – the key to converting wire wheels to tubeless. The core is a thick, plastic highly pressurised non-elastic red casing, but it’s kept away from the tyre sidewall or tread where punctures come through.

303

Years ago I fitted a pair to a GS500R project bike running custom 19″ spoked rims. Click the link. Short version: lube the possibly hard-to-fit core with 303 Protectant (right: £15 a pint; same as Armor All in the US). It’s much slippier and longer-lasting than soapy water which is good for the HPC inside. Then run Slime, Stans or similar to ensure sealing (about the same price as 303 but you can MYO). Me, I wasn’t convinced they’re suited to long-range overlanding compared to other simpler systems because of the need to maintain the very high 110-psi pressures in the red HPC with humble mini-compressors. You also need to drill another hole in the rim for the HPC valve/rim lock; no one likes doing that.
Long Tubliss thread on advrider; mostly dual-sporters. Some get on with it, some don’t. In 2019 I rather reluctantly fitted a Tubliss to the stock front steel rim of my Enfield Himalayan. But I’m on the lookout for a 21-inch alloy rim with the safety lips to seal myself with adhesive and tape.

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tlokk
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The Swedish T-Lock system is very similar as far as I can tell: the same non-elastic core (blue, left) presses the tyre bead against the rim with very high pressure to seal the tyre’s pressured chamber from the leak-prone spoke nipples.
The kit includes a separate rim band (green) and, if I understand correctly, the blue tube utilises the rim’s valve hole. This means that unlike Tubliss with its two valves, the tyre must be filled with Slime-like sealant before final mounting and then pressurised by spiking the tyre carcass with a needle and then letting the sealant plug that hole. This seems to imply that you set the tyre pressures once. To reduce pressure you’d have to puncture the tyre briefly, and to increase you’d have to spike-and seal again. Even more than the Tubliss, T-Locks are intended only for motocross use, as the website’s imagery implies. Clearly then not at all suited to overlanding.

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Tubeless: OEM Spoked Tubeless Wheels

Tubeless Conversion Index Page
Updated Summer 2020

Thinking of using these OE TL rims for your conversion?
Be aware that on these rims spoke nipples are in the hub, not the rim.
You’ll need to convert the whole wheel to fit your forks / discs / spacers and so on.
Suddenly it’s all a bit complicated.

Triumph-Tiger-Explorer-XC-wheel
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Many flagship travel bikes run ‘adventure-look’ spoked wheels, but OEM spoked + tubeless is only slowly catching on. Usually, they’re non-Japanese premium brands like BMW, Triumph or KTM. I update a list here.

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The original one-litre Africa Twin and Yamaha’s XT700 were two bikes where youd have expected tubeless. The 2020 1100cc AT now features tubeless (right). Front 21-inch wheels seem to be a problem, but it must well be a cost thing too. Spoked tubeless fronts in 19″ are much more common, even on Jap travel bikes.
These days manufacturers use spoked wheels on adv bikes as a signifier of ‘off-road adventure’, as well as the perception of being repairable, lighter, stronger, more shock absorbent and cool. Meanwhile tubeless is just plain safer and infinitely easier to repair flats. On a CRF450R motocrosser running rim locks at 10psi, a tube is probably a better idea and the van’s nearby. On a quarter-ton Adv battleship halfway down Ruta 40, getting a flat is a pain.

OEM spoked tubeless wheels

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Making a spoked tubeless wheel rim is expensive but it”s been done for years, right back to the mid-1980s Honda XL600M (left), and almost certainly before that.

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Recent bikes that come with them stock include the BMW 1200GSA, the original Aprilia Caponord (below), Suzuki V-Stroms, Yamaha XT1200Z, KTM V-twins, some Triumph Tigers and Explorers (top of the page) and now 1200 Scramblers. Even Honda’s oddball X-ADV scooter (right) has small spoked TL wheels. 

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The picture below of a 2005 Caponord shows the main ways of designing a spoked tubeless rim. On the rear: spokes hook to ‘outboard’ flanges on the rim. The front uses a less well triangulated single ‘inboard flange’; V-Stroms (left) have paired inboard flanges up front. Note that the nipples (spokes tension adjustment) are at the hub, behind the rotors.

Caponord

BMWs, including the 850GS twin  (below), run 40 straight-pull spokes directly into the protruding rim edge – there is no flange. I’ve noticed this relatively exposed edge can get scuffed about from stony terrain, although it would take a lot to damage the spoke mounts.

Such wheels can be heavier than same-sized cast wheels. Weight is saved by not using inner tubes, but the additional unsprung weight on any wheel is the last place you want it. It takes more force to get that mass turning, more braking to slow it and better suspension to control it.

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Trials Tubeless

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You could try and track down tubeless trials bike rims, but they’re usually 32 spoke. They do it two ways: one is the usual inboard flange with hub-end nipples, as below left. The other is a flat well with a groove to either side (below right) which lets a thick, tight rubber rim band slot into place and help and seal off the spokes – a sort of much simplified Tubliss system.

tl-akront21ktm1090Sband

You do wonder if this trials rim band plus some sort of added adhesive might work on a regular rim (with lips but without the side grooves). It sure would be a simple way of doing it but clearly, a flat well is best. I think Morad does rims like this in 36 x 18.
A 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure (left) has a similar system: a regular 21-inch Akront rim but with a band rather crudely vulcanised or otherwise glued into the well.

Most road bikes run 36 spokes or more. DID 36-hole TL rims do or did exist, but so far only in pictures or cruddy, corroded used ones on ebay. When changing the spoked rim you’re constrained by the number of spoke holes in the stock hub because changing a hub is a much bigger faff. Fitting a new rim is dead easy. Missing out a few spokes to make a standard 36-spoke hub use a 32-spoke trials rim is a bodge too far, even for me.

risunrims

Branded or otherwise, it’s hard to find less expensive spoked TL rims off the shelf. The only ones I’ve seen are in China: Risun (Risen?) outboard tubeless rims in 17 or 18 inches only (left) and just $60 a shot. Problem is, you have to order a minimum of 200 units. And there is still the hub-nipple problem.
Especially with 21-inchers, finding an OEM TL rim is difficult or expensive. With 21s you may be better off buying a safety lipped rim (also rare) and sealing it by hand or using the processes described here.

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Golden Tyre FTS tubeless tyres

Tubeless Conversion Index Page

2018: Golden Tyre have withdrawn this product

gt-fts

I’ve been experimenting and following various tubeless tyre solutions over the years because tubeless is the way to go on the long road. Why? because punctures – your most likely breakdown – can be easily and reliably fixed in a jiffy (read this for the long version).

In 2017 Italian tyre maker Golden Tyre came up with a new idea to the old problem of running tubeless on a spoked rim. Their Flite Tubeless System (FTS) had a thick inner tube permanently bonded to the carcass of a hard-wearing GT723 Rally Adv tyre creating a new thing: a tubeless tubetyre.

This means that unlike a foam mousse, you can meddle with the pressures, but also, unlike a mousse when the tyre is punctured it will go flat. But! – like a tubeless tyre, you just do the spike-ram-plug thing and jog on if you’re not running Slime or a similar sealant.

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Because the tube is bonded to the tyre there’s less heat from tube-to-tyre friction at low, flexy pressures and mounting should be a little easier – certainly easier than mousses, they say. The FTS is lighter than a mousse too. And of course, they’ll fit and work on any rim, whether it has the all-important tubeless tyre lip (left) or not.
That was the problem I had on my WR recently: all set to fit an Outex tubeless system (right, not my wheel) to the back wheel until I noticed it had no tyre-bead retaining lips. Without them slow leakage is likely.

wrrockriders

The drawback (apart from them being withdrawn) was they only came in 140/80 18″ and 21″ and cost from £150 each from Adventure Spec, but if you factor in the possible cost of needing to convert to tubeless rims (as I could have done with the WR), maybe it works out. A regular GT723 is only some £30 cheaper – still pretty expensive when my similar Mitas Rockriders (right) cost about half that. And for travelling, when your FTS GT723 wears out, where will you get a new one? (Nowhere). That’s always been the problem on the road – and is why long-wearing do-it-all tyres like the Heidenau K60 or Mitas E07 are worthwhile.

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Adv Spec rider Lyndon Poskitt (left) got 10,000km from his tubed GT723 on his 690, including a rally in Mongolia. So you’d imagine a less racey traveller might get half as much again from an FTS

Seemingly no longer available despite a good review on Adv Spec, the bodger in me wonders if I could bond a regular inner tube to the inside of a tyre and achieve the same effect? Thing is, I bet GT did more than just glue a tube into the tyre – I suspect it was vulcanised. Otherwise, it would have to be a brilliant DIY glue job to avoid any air pockets as any heat might see it all delaminate.

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Converting spoke wheels to tubeless

TUBELESS INDEX PAGE MOVED

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