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Ghetto Tubeless: Say Goodbye to Pinchflats
A couple summers ago, I seemed to be plagued by flat tires. The worst weekend was in Moab and produced four pinch flats the first day and another on the next day’s ride. I figured my nine-inch downhill bike offered enough travel to eliminate pinched tubes, but Moab tends to be a very unforgiving place. It seemed that every time I clipped a rock or didn’t land a tranny in the sweet spot, our group was doomed to another 20 minutes of sitting in the sun, and three friends had to loan me tubes.

By the end of the weekend, I owed just about everyone at least one tube and a six-pack. The solution was obvious – switch to tubeless tires. You can’t pinch a tube if there’s no tube to pinch. Switching to tubeless isn’t exactly cheap though. You need to buy UST rims, re-build your wheels so you can keep using your favorite hubs, and buy new tires. Luckily, a friend showed me the light: Ghetto Tubeless.

The Ghetto Tubeless conversion lets you run your standard 26-inch mountain bike rims and tires without tubes. It gives you nearly all the advantages of a UST setup, costs next to nothing, and shaves weight from your bike.

What you need:

  • Pair of 20-inch BMX tubes with Schrader valves
  • Scissors (don’t run with these – they’re dangerous)
  • Stan’s Sealant
  • Air compressor
How you do it:
  1. Cut each BMX tube all the way around the outside along the seam opposite the stem.
  2. Put the stem through your rim’s hole and stretch the tube around the rim. Rims drilled for Presta valves will work if you drill the stem hole larger (as I did). Make sure to remove all burs with a file.
  3. Seat the tire into the tube-wrapped rim. This can be a real pain since having the tube in there makes for an extra-tight fit. Set the tire in the sun for a half hour first to make the rubber more pliable, and make sure to start at the stem and work your way toward the opposite side of the wheel. (Steel tire levers help too, but make sure to place the levers under the tube and against the rim so you don’t tear the tube.)
  4. Remove the stem’s center with a stem tool (costs about $1 at most bike shops). Pour about two ounces of Stan’s Sealant through the stem. Replace the stem’s center.

  5. Grab the air compressor and fill the tire until it is drum tight (to 60psi or even more). The tire will spew Stan’s and make all kinds of noises for the first few seconds, but as the Stan’s works its way into the cracks, the flow of air will slow and eventually stop.
  6. Now you want to spin your tires, roll them around, and do whatever it takes to ensure the sealant gets to every part of the tire. Do this a few times in the next day or two to make sure you don’t miss a spot.
  7. Trim the excess tube with a razor or pair of scissors. You can trim it to the point where you barely see the edge, or leave a little extra for easier maintenance later. Do what seems right to you.
As your tires may leak a tiny bit for the first couple rides after switching over to Ghetto Tubeless, don’t forget a pump or spare tube when you go out. (If you do manage to flat, just pull out the cut tube and add a regular tube like you would with a standard setup.) Every month or so, take out the stem and add some Stan’s to keep the glue fresh, and remember to switch to a new tire before the old one gets completely worn.

Since switching to Ghetto Tubeless nearly a year ago, I’ve yet to have a single flat despite running as low as 23psi on occasion. I actually hit one rock so hard that I heard the CLANG! of the rim and stopped to find my tire at about 3psi. One minute with a hand pump brought it back up to normal, and I rode that tire for the rest of the summer without a problem. I have, however, given half a dozen tubes to friends who have yet to see the light.

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Author
Adam Riser lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he tries hopelessly to balance his passions for rock, ice, and alpine climbing, backcountry skiing, and downhill mountain biking. He tries to get out of the country on an alpine trip every summer, makes his yearly pilgrimage to Whistler for biking, and can live on Mac-N-Cheese for months on end.
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Add a comment

Cred: 9
Comment by jakespain
2009-04-13
How long does your average ghetto tubeless setup last?

Cred: 3877
Comment by dogonfr
2009-04-13
It will last as long as any tubeless setup. The fluid is what creates the seal fortunatly the fluid thickens sealing off most air gaps. If you ride your bike once a year you may have to add some air before riding.

Cred: 96
Comment by withersk
2009-04-20
IF you are a real weight weenie check out notubes.com.

They have a valve stem with tape where you can cut down your tire weights to super low levels.

This methods will add about 150 grams per wheel due to the tube installed.

This system will work with most tires!
Comment by
2010-09-13
Thank you a bunch!
I have a rim-brake hard-tail and totally needed something that would allow me to increase my speed, and not having to worry about pinch flats did just that.
I did a couple of modifications:
1- baught Quick Tubes removable core Presta 20" tubes.
2- used a UST tire on the rear, regular tube tire on front.
3- used FAR less then 2 oz of Stans in the rear and ~ 1.5 oz of Stans in the front.
This is what I gained:
- I dropped my bike's wieght by ~ 1/2 pound ... 1/4 pound of spinning wieght per wheel!
- gained a far more responsive bike in acceleration, braking, and cornering.
- the freedom from wanting a full suspendy bike --- I can save my money for better components!

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