Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ghetto Fatbike Tubeless Solution Saga

Hi again. It's been a while, I know. I blogged myself the hell out (mercifully, for you) and needed a break I guess, because I haven't felt much like writing. But I haven't had much to write about, either. My head's been in a strange place, bike-wise, ever since coming off the trip. The adventure and intensity of every ride on that tour was so powerful and profound that going for a "normal" ride ever since getting back just hasn't had much appeal. But I'm confident that my riding spirit will return, in due time. It's a little bit of a weird feeling, being less than enthused about going for a ride, but it also feels like a really natural response to an over-the-top adventure. As in, "what in the hell can I possibly follow that up with?"

And I have seriously asked that exact question, and I have some ideas banging around in the hopper. I think at this point that I would *really* like to do another fatbike excursion. Now that I know that 400-500 miles in a week over all manner of nasty terrain in remote country is reasonable, there are a bunch of possibilities. It's the soup stock that will be simmering over this coming winter, and to which I'll add the meat and potatoes as they come to me, maybe. A stew like this can be a fine way to warm yourself from the inside out on those cold, slushy, dark days of January.

But what has been more immediately and urgently occupying the portion of my life that's available for bike time and energy is fatbike flats. Or more specifically, resisting them. Why has this become so important? Well, I guess it's that these bigass tires are just bastards when they flat. Everything is so huge, including the amount of air required to pump them back up, and a flat pit-stop can turn into a pretty major chunk of time and PITA interruption to a good ride.

Slimed tubes proved to not be an adequate solution, IMHO. Regular tubes are a known entity. I do believe that the thick, heavy 26 x 4.0 Surly Toobs are a huge flat-resistant improvement over the paper-thin-when-they-are-stretched-out 26 x 2.8 tubes that some people like to run, and well worth the weight penalty.

And then there is tubeless.

Tubeless is all the rage among MTB'ers and for good reason: Tires are more supple and provide more traction without tubes, pinch flats are a thing of the past, and puncture flats are almost non-existent. I could give a krap about the first two things, but that last one, oh hell yeah. Sweet music.

Thing is though, UST, the system that has been developed for using tubeless tires on bikes requires special tires and rims. Nothing UST exists yet for fat tires and so we fat-bike-owning-tubeless-wannabees must join the special ghetto tubeless (aka redneck tubeless) club. Crazy MTB'ers that are too cheap to buy UST and crazy enough to risk their health and well-being developing cheap-ass, home-brew solutions. I reluctantly joined their ranks because, well, I was compelled.  This is the (mainly) photo journal of what I have been through over the last week or so.

First step is to air down . . .

Second step is to remove those unsightly and totally unnecessary tubes . . .

The rims had previously been set up with a layer of orange duct tape turned shiny-side-out, to provide the dazzling color effect through the rim holes, and then a layer of clear packaging tape on top of that to cover up the "sticky", and then a wide-ass Surly rim strip on top of that.  I left all that in place.

I wiped it all down with lacquer thinner, along with the inside of the tire, to remove any oil and give every component of the ghetto system the best chance to adhere.

The I applied two wraps of Gorilla Tape (unanimous choice amongst loonies) to the rim. I wanted the edge of the tape right up to, but not up on the sidewall of the rim. This is the start of the first wrap, and not a good example of where the edge of the tape should be.

This is better.

You can used valve stems hacked out of old tubes, but I opted to use Stan's stems the first time through, just to eliminate as many wild-card variables as possible. Insanely expensive as they are . . . $17 for the pair. Holy hell.

I burned through the gorilla tape with a soldering iron, to provide a clean sealing surface.

And then installed the stems.

As you're reading through the cornucopia of online knowledge compiled by the nutso pioneers of ghetto tubeless technology, it's clear that the biggest hurdle you must clear is seating the tire in the bead after sealing the rim up with tape.  With no tube to force the bead onto the rim, it becomes a matter of getting enough air in the tire quickly enough to force it up and onto the bead shelf.  There are different reported methods, all involving compressed air, and I tried them all.  To no avail.

There is also a minority lunatic fringe that uses small explosions of combustible fluids/gasses (such as carburetor cleaner) to seat beads. I suppose I was secretly hoping all along that the compressed air method would fail me so that I could justify playing with fire.  I didn't have any carb cleaner around, but I did have aerosol cans filled with all kinds of other krap around and I tried several of those fluids, but nothing was potent enough. And then I remembered: I had a tank of acetylene.

Disclaimer: I would strongly discourage you from trying this. It's inherently dangerous and I suggest you use another method to seat your tubeless beads.

With the job of seating the beads complete then, I turned my attention to filling the tires with sealant.

I bought a coupla these presta-to-schrader adapters.

And screwed 'em on.

Stan's is not without it's problems (expensive, quick to dry out), but it's reportedly the closest thing there is to a gold standard in tubeless tire sealant.

I even bought the Stan's syringe for injecting it.

Once you've injected the appropriate amount of Stan's (approx 6 oz, according to the lunatic fringe ghetto tubeless pioneers), you jiggle/wiggle/slosh the mess around inside your tires, so that every internal surface is well coated with sealant. It's very similar to the unnatural gyrations you go through when trying to coat the inside of a frame with frame saver and if you haven't already closed you garage door, you wanna close it before engaging in this wild dance, lest your neighbors call the cops to report the meth-head behavior next door.  Of course if you had it open during the explosive sealing of the beads, it's already too late . . . the cops and probably the fire department are on the way, so you may as well leave the door open and save everyone a lot of trouble.

Once the sealant has been injected and adequately sloshed, it's time to air up and watch this magical substance magically seal every avenue by which air could possible escape from your tire/rim combination. Of which I had dozens, thanks to flatstravaganza. In theory, a little is supposed to come out and then form a skin that then seals up the leak.

What actually happened though, is that I couldn't get the stuff to seal. This puncture may look big, but that's just the magnification talking. It's a common thorn puncture and just *exactly* the kind of thing that Stan's is supposed to seal.

I tried everything that the lunatics suggested . . . I put the wheels in a stand so that I could better control the rate of spin. I played with all kinds of different pressures. But the bastards wouldn't seal. I'd conquered the supposed hard part (seating the beads) with relative ease, but the part that should have been so easy was taking me down. The frustration was at its peak and so I turned off the lights, closed the garage door, and walked away, lest I should destroy something to appease my anger. New light would bring new perspective and a more patient attitude, hopefully.

The perspective that the new light brought was even more disturbing, it that's possible . . . the acceptance, no the full-on embrace, of the wildly messed up mental processes of a very small group of weirdos lurking in the dark, shadowy corners of the interwebs that are mixing their own sealant. Of which I am now a member.

Upon first impression, the homebrew sealant was delightfully sticky and "cloggy", compared to Stan's. I even had to modify my injection method because it kept plugging up the valve stem.  Trouble was, there were a coupla holes in each tire that still wouldn't seal up above 10 psi, and I need to be able to run about 25 psi in these tires for trips like the JWPT tour. As soon as I would get above 10 psi, they would spew sealant out of the puncture and then seal up again as the pressure dropped back down to 10. Not good enough. Shit.

They've been sitting for a couple days, in hopes that maybe time would help. One was completely flat tonight and the other had lost most of its air, but still had some.  I was able to pump them both up to 20 psi, which is not quite the ideal pressure for riding on pavement, but worked pretty well for our local construction playground.

Bottom line is that the verdict is still out. If I can get these mothers to hold air, that would be a sweet first step. But the fact that I can't just count on them to automatically seal up is not really on the comforting side. And what a bunch of mess and hassle to go through. Plus, you still have to carry tubes so that if you *do* have a flat, you have a way to fix yourself up and get back to town. I'm not sure the advantage is there at this point. One thing I do believe though, is that tubeless is here to stay and that the sealants that are available are just in the infancy stage as far as performance goes.  I suspect that I'll be going back to tubes for the time being, but that there's some tubeless fat in my future.  Whatever the case, I'll keep you posted.


Hank Greer said...


If I understand this correctly, the sealant leaks until it plugs the hole(s). Do you just keep riding or do you stop for a bit to let the sealant settle in when you notice some leaking? Or do you just wait for them to get noticeably flatter? For a long trip would you have to bring more sealant along with the necessary tools? How much weight can that add? As thorough as you are I'm sure you've thought of these things, but you got me curious.

"It's the soup stock that will be simmering over this coming winter, and to which I'll add the meat and potatoes as they come to me, maybe. A stew like this can be a fine way to warm yourself from the inside out on those cold, slushy, dark days of January." - Your wordsmithing rivals your bikesmithing.

mechBgon said...

I've heard of adding glitter to the brew as well. If you haven't tried this already, you can seat your tire on the rim with a tube, then break just one bead and remove the tube, and see if your air compressor's flow can reseat the tire now that it only has one bead to deal with.

My own tubeless adventures had some glitches. I burped tires a couple times, and pinch-flatted a *tire casing* with a rim strike against a rock. Several of us got 100% of the USRDA of Stan's sealant in the process of trying to get it to seal, but the casing was toast.

Pat S said...

Hank, ideally, if you are riding and something punctures your tire, you just keep riding and it seals up and in most cases, you never even know anything happened. If you are trying to get a difficult puncture to seal, as I have been doing, you have to rotate the puncture to the bottom, where there's a pool of sealant, until it seals the hole. Then you can rotate the hole back up out of the pool to see if it holds.

For a long trip, you might bring some extra sealant in case you end up having a lot of punctures and expel enough that you need to "refresh". But you also have to bring tubes because if you have to break the bead for any reason, you'd never get it to seat again with a hand pump. Or, if you get a puncture too large to seal, same story - install a tube.

Tom, I actually bought glitter (three sizes/colors, no less), but ended up not adding it, as I read some accounts from people who said it wasn't doing much to help. I've read of people adding all kinds of crazy stuff as "stoppers" for the sealant to congeal around. Including pepper, cornmeal, mica, pencil eraser shavings, etc.

I tried the method of seating both beads with a tube and then breaking one and removing the tube, but I still couldn't get enough compressed air in quickly enough to seat the other bead. I think using presta valves is big restriction to getting air in quickly - schraders might allow a person to get more air in more quickly.

Amazing that you pinch-flatted a casing. That had to be a heck of an impact. I love your comment about the USRDA of Stan's - I definitely got 100% of mine on one or two days.

Anonymous said...

complete stranger here...i've had great luck just adding stans sealant into tubes (through the valve, or by syringe then patched). the slime brand crap is clearly too thick to flow to the puncture. i think the wounds created by thorns and such in tires are often larger and less sealable than those in the more flexible rubber tube. I also think the stans plug of the tube is aided by the presence of the tire which can kind of hold some of the escaping latex in place long enough for it to seal. my 2 cents....Eric

Anonymous said...

Until now, I was a chemtrails skeptic!

bikewrider said...

Thanks for trying. I've been tempted to tinker with ghetto tubeless, but I think I'll wait a bit longer.

Joseph said...

Pat, give them a little time. I'm new to tubeless, but my first set took a month or longer to hold decent pressure for longer than a day.

Pat S said...

Eric, thanks for checking in, good thoughts.

Joseph, I think you're right on. I'm now holding 30 psi. Good things take time, apparently.

Verdict is still out, but I'm quite a bit more optimistic than I was when I put this post up.

Anonymous said...

I had great luck on my kid's bikes adding Stan's into the existing tubes. This may not be possible with presta. It eliminates the beading issue and if you need to give up completely it makes the swap to fresh tube much easier.

I will tell you I almost gave up when I converted my mountain bike. There is a definite learning curve. However, after 3 years I am a loyal tubeless convert. Stick to it, you will succeed.


Jim G said...

"Is it a floor wax, or a dessert topping?!?!"

Jim G said...

Maybe you need these?


Bethany said...

Happened to get your link via MTBR as I got another flat while riding my Mukluk when I nearly crashed into a thorn bush. I thought my ankle got most of the thorns, but one got the tire. Uggg. Still not sure I'm up to going tubeless as it looks like quite a learning curve and Stan's stuff seems awfully expensive.

At the same time, stupid inner tubes cost a fortune and are hard to get in my area unless they are willing to ship them out to me. I tried patching the front tire a few weeks ago when I found a couple of thorns, but after 3 times, I still couldn't get the patch to seal right and got the inner tube.

Enjoyed your post.

Pat S said...

Hey Bethany,

Yeah, flats on a regular bike are perfectly acceptable, but flats on a fat are just a bitch, IMO.

No matter what anyone says, going tubeless on a fat is a pretty big hassle. I think that maybe the sweet spot in terms of flat prevention effort-reward in thorny areas is keeping the tube and putting slime in it. It's not a light solution by any means, but I think it has the best chance of keeping you rolling.

Wishing you many flat-free and tailwind-assisted miles.

dpowell357 said...

I went tubeless on my new Mukluk about a week ago. This was literally all I had to do:
1. Pop one side of bead off
2. Remove tube (Leaving Surly rim tape undisturbed.)
3. Cut a valve out of an old tube, leaving about a one inch square of rubber remaining on it.
4. Dump Stan's directly into tire before trying to set bead. (I used 4 scoops of Stan's, or approximately one third of a quart.)
5. Screw on a schrader adapter and hit with a compressor until bead was seated.
6. Do crazy dance shaking solution all over inside of tire.
7. That's it!! No taping (may come in future just as a precaution), no crazy fire bombs to inflate tires.

NOTE: The only problem I had with getting the Stan's to seal was from the spoke holes under load. After some investigation, "loose" spokes were to blame. If not snugged relatively stiff, the spoke nipples will move the rim tape just enough to constantly undo the Stan's "clot". I fixed the problem simply by evenly tightening up all my spokes.

DOUBLE NOTE: Have had zero problems. No loss of pressure over night, and run them on single track and sand at approximately 7-9 psi.

Project was done on a Salsa Mukluk 3 running Surly Holy Rolling Darryls and Surly Nate tires. I am also a 250lb. rider, so I provide sufficient "stress testing".

Pat S said...

dp, that's awesome! Thanks for the detail on how/what you did. Glad it went so smoothly for you. I've not given up and plan to take a second run at a fat tubeless setup soon.

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