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How to Swap to Tubeless Tires

Vector Tires for Bicycle Motorcycle Car and Truck isolated on white background

by Kevin O’Shaughnessy

Never having had a flat on my 2001 F650GS, I still carry a 16-ounce bottle of Kevlar liquid tire sealant. Is it possible to swap the spoked rims for side-laced wheels or put cast wheels on my bike to allow tubeless tires to be used?

—Humberto C. Martinez

It depends on what liquid sealant you are using. Thinner fluids found in tube-less bicycle tires, such as Stans, are near water consistency and work best for tiny punctures from thorns, which are common on bicycles. They also harden into a rubber. Thicker sealants should be used with motorcycle applications, because the ruptures are typically larger from screws or nails. Some harden into a rubber, but some don’t. There are pros and cons to each.

Some motorcycle tubeless tire sealants contain small chunks of debris, that create a wedge in larger holes. They claim to seal over quarter-inch holes, but I haven’t seen a hole that large seal well without a plug. Nail and screw size holes seal temporarily, but most will rupture again from flexing and pressure. Most sealants don’t work well on tube type tires, likely because the tube wall thickness is too thin to hold.

A patch is the ideal way to temporarily fix a tube, and a plug is the best way to repair a tubeless tire. Check the tire for internal damage and debris that could puncture a tube before patching. Technically, any repaired tire should be replaced as soon as possible with a new tire or tube. Never repair past the center third of tire, where the sidewall starts, as damage in this area tends to delaminate the ply or belt. Swapping spoked rims for side laced or a mag is a great solution for a tubeless setup, if you can find a size and spoke pattern that fits. Look for wheel sizes that are the same diameter as what is being replaced, which maintains handling characteristics and prevents instability. Most side laced rears are single sided, so selection may be limited for certain rear fork designs. You may be able to find an aftermarket hoop (rim) source and replace the wheels, ideally main-
taining compatibility with the stock hub, so there are no spacing issues. Follow offset procedures if available in the service manual, or measure the difference between the rim edge and sprocket edge on one side and rim/brake rotor on the other. They aren’t always centered. Lacing is a dying art, so if you aren’t familiar with the process, find someone proficient that can do it for you. Swapping hubs tends to come with all kinds of fitment issues and machining costs, such as axle size, width, spacer sizes, rotor and sprocket alignment, etc.

Similarly, too wide a rim or too large in diameter can hit the chassis. These conditions may only occur when the suspension is compressed, so be mindful of every possibility before committing.

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