Tubeless tire setups are becoming increasingly popular with mountain bike, gravel, and even road cyclists, and for good reason; a tire that seals its own punctures is a pretty magical thing. If you’re going to run tubeless tires, you’ll definitely need the key ingredient that makes that magic happen: sealant. We spoke with Drew Esherick, team mechanic for Pivot Maxxis p/b Stan’s NoTubes cyclocross team, to get the lowdown on how to use tubeless tire sealant and more.
(Haven’t jumped on the tubeless train yet? Here’s everything you need to know about tubeless tires to decide if they’re right for you.)
What is Tubeless Tire Sealant?
Tubeless tire sealant is the liquid that goes inside tubeless tires and automatically plugs punctures as they happen. Most sealant is made from a natural latex base that dries inside a puncture when it’s exposed to air. There are particulates suspended in the latex—different brands use different materials—which is what gives the latex something to stick to in order to clog the hole instead of seeping out.
Race sealant is a version that has more and larger particulates floating in the latex than regular sealant, allowing it to coagulate much faster and fix larger punctures more quickly. But it also requires replacing a lot more frequently, so it’s best for riders who race regularly.
How Much Sealant Do I Need?
It depends on whether you’re setting up your tires for the first time or just topping them off.
“The imperfections in a new tire are going to soak up some of the sealant,” says Esherick. So when you’re doing an initial set up, you use about double the sealant you would when you’re just topping it off.
For a brand-new gravel or mountain bike tire, use about four or five ounces, and use two ounces for a road tire. These are approximate measurements, so don’t worry about getting it exactly right. “There’s no such thing as too much,” says Esherick. But it’s very common to use too little then wonder why your sealant “doesn’t work,” so be generous with it.
How to Use Sealant
The least messy way to get sealant into your tires is through the valve stem. To do this, you’ll need a to remove the valve core and a sealant injector to measure it out of the container and squirt it though the valve, or a pre-measured bottle with an injector tip. If you don’t have either of these, you can separate a section of your tire from the rim and just pour it in.
If you’re pouring it in through an opening in the tire, Esherick suggests pouring the sealant in with the opening at the bottom of the tire, and then turning the wheel slowly to let the sealant run down inside the part of the tire that’s fully installed. This will allow you to finish installing that last bit of bead without making a mess. If you’re using race sealant, the larger coagulative particles are too big to fit through the valve without clogging it, so you’ll always pour it into the tire this way.
After adding the sealant, replace the valve core and inflate the tire to its specified pressure quickly to get the bead to settle in place on the rim. (Do not over-inflate; that can lead to explosions!)
Troubleshooting Tubeless Sealant
If your sealant is leaking out of a larger puncture rather than filling it, you can plug it by hand using a . These are little rubber strips you poke directly into the hole with a needle. The rubber will get stuck in the tire and react with the chemicals in the sealant and expand to plug the hole. And yes, you can put a bunch in your tire if you have multiple holes.
If you get a gash in your tire that’s too big for the sealant to handle or even to plug by hand, you can remove the tubeless valve and install a regular inner tube on the rim to get home. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes sealant takes a bit of time to fix larger holes: You might need to pull off the trail and let it pool around the puncture for a minute or two so it can do it’s thing.
“If your tire gets a puncture that just won’t seal, it’s possible you are riding with too much pressure,” Esherick says. “And if you’re doing that, you’re not getting the benefit of tubeless tires, which is to run a lower pressure that’s more comfortable and has better traction.”
“Bicycle tires are really thin and porous, which makes sealant evaporate over time and dry out,” Esherick says. That’s why it’s necessary to top off your sealant about every two to three months, even if you haven’t gotten a lot of punctures.
According to Esherick, two ounces is the right amount of sealant for topping off gravel tires all the way up to 2.5-inch mountain bike tires. “If you’re up in the 2.5- to 2.6-inch range, you might want three ounces, and 2.7- to 2.8-inch tires require about four ounces,” Esherick says. “As you get a larger volume tire, you’re going to want a little bit more sealant in there.” Two ounces is enough for road tires for the first time, as well as plenty whenever you top them off.
And at least once a year, it’s a good idea to take your tire completely off the rim to scrape out the dried sealant and start fresh.
[WATCH] Next, Learn How to Install a Tubeless Tire
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