Tubeless Tire Sealant Tech, Part 1 – How Often Should It Be Checked & Replaced?

Mountain bike tubeless tire sealant tech - how often should I check and replace sealant

Around the Bikerumor office, there’s always a collection of wheels and tires to be tested. Sometimes, that means re-using tires on new rims, or just switching things around to suit a particular type of ride. And that means we go through a good bit of sealant, sometimes mixing them (against the advice of the brands – fortunately, nothing’s exploded so far).

As such, we’ve seen plenty of semi-solidified sealant in every state of congealment from pouring straight onto the floor to us simply wanting to scrap the tires because it looks like lava rock painted beige. That got us thinking. What causes the sealant to dry up? How often should we be checking it? Replacing it? And, in the event you find zero moisture in your tire, how can you get it out? Or should you?

We spoke to Bob Nunnink, U.S. Domestic Sales & Marketing Manager for Stan’s NoTubes, and John Vargas, President of Orange Seal Cycling, to get some ideas. Oh, and then we spent two hours of our lives that we’ll never get back peeling mixed, dried sealant out of a set of Maxxis Ikons to see just how much weight sealant really adds

How long should a standard application of sealant last?

STAN’S: Two to seven months, depending on heat and humidity. The hotter and drier the conditions, the faster it evaporates.

ORANGE SEAL: Depending on temps and humidity, ride time and geography, you should get one to three months for tubeless set ups, and up to six months in a tube.

Other than heat and dryness, is there anything that can cause it to dry up quicker?

STAN’S: Using CO2 inflators can cause the crystals to congeal and solidify.

ORANGE SEAL: Punctures, especially the ones you don’t know about, and the porosity of the tires. It’s impossible to tell how much is going to be used just to close up the tire’s bead and porosity. If you let it sit for a couple weeks, it’s going to concentrate in the tire and can pool and vulcanize a bit, so we recommend rotating your tires at least once a week or more if you’re not going to be riding. That helps it remain more fluid.

Mountain bike tubeless tire sealant tech - how often should I check and replace sealant

I should really remove all that thick…eh, I give up.

How often should you check the sealant?

STAN’S: With ours, you can shake the tire (off the bike) and if you hear it sloshing around, you’re good to go. If you don’t hear anything, add a couple more ounces.

ORANGE SEAL: We recommend checking it after 30 days, then every 15 days. You can do that by popping the bead, or just listening to it. What we do is just top it off with an ounce through the valve stem every 30 days and don’t worry about it. Yeah, that’s going to add a bit of weight over time, but most of the weight is the liquid that’s evaporating out. It’s really insignificant compared to the benefit, and the rubber wears down on the outside, which should offset it.

Is there an easy way remove old sealant? Should we remove it?

STAN’S: We use liquid soap and water. A lot of the dried sealant inside the tire is sealing up any of the tire’s porosity, and we say leave it in there. Just wipe out any big chunks. As much as people think they’d like it, there’s not a solvent that we recommend.

ORANGE SEAL: With our sealant, you don’t have to remove it. It doesn’t fall out of solution, so you’re topping off solution to solution. But if you’re a real weight weenie, you can just peel it off. I will recommend that if you pop the bead, you should clean the bead of any sealant that sealed the previous imperfections between the bead and the wheel. (Editor’s note: From my experience, Orange Seal is the easiest to peel off when completely dry. But it’s still not fun.)

HOW MUCH WEIGHT DOES SEALANT ADD?

Mountain bike tubeless tire sealant tech - how much weight does tire sealant add to bicycle tires

Two Maxxis Ikon 3C EXO 29×2.2 tires were weighed with a summer’s worth of sealant (a mix of Orange Seal and Cafe Latex, I believe), all of which was allowed a couple months of non-use to dry completely. Weight with dried sealant was 1380g, and weight cleaning was 1330g. So, 50 grams of rotational weight saved for two hours of work that you couldn’t pay me to do again.

Perspective: Weight of the tires when new was 1314g, and a recommended serving of sealant weighs about 56-60g per tire. So, the 1380 weight shows accumulation that could continue to add up after frequent top offs.

Mountain bike tubeless tire sealant tech - how often should I check and replace sealant

The tires were cleaned of most of the sealant before reweighing. I left a bit of the really thin sidewall layers, but only a bit.

My takeaway? Depending on the type of sealant used, I’ll probably wipe it out every two to four months and replace with fresh sealant, leaving the thin layer shown above. Unless the tires wear out first.

Stay tuned for part two in the near future, which dives into more of the science behind the various chemicals used and their interactions with rims and tires.

Comments

Ryan - 02/19/14 - 3:14pm

I still find that quality tires with nice tubes are way more reliable and hassle-free. My peers are always talking up the tubeless angle—as they maintain their needy tires.

Charles - 02/19/14 - 3:16pm

If your sealant dries up before your tires wear out, ride more.

J Richards - 02/19/14 - 3:28pm

Great piece, looking forward to more info.

Are you going to test what various temperatures have on the solution? i.e. very warm conditions to very cold conditions.
Would love to know which sealant deals best with colder temps, as I’ve found quite poor performance in our UK winters.

Cheers guys

Tyler Benedict - 02/19/14 - 3:31pm

Charles – Yep, that’s what a lot of my friends said as I was discussing this post, but we (I, anyway) switch tires out pretty frequently for all the items we’re reviewing here…or just riding many bikes in rotation to put miles on everything, so sometimes things sit longer than they should between runs. Honestly, this first part of the article was simply to satisfy my own curiosity about how much weight dried sealant added…and I regret that curiosity. My hands took several days to recover from peeling, scraping and rubbing all that old sealant out!

AdamM - 02/19/14 - 3:32pm

For a variety of reasons, mostly to do with having very young children, I don’t ride my MTB very often at present. This article demonstrates exactly why I’m sticking with tubes until such time as regular riding becomes part of my life again.

Bryan - 02/19/14 - 3:45pm

@Charles: Not everyone rises Schwalbes.

Bryan - 02/19/14 - 3:54pm

@Tyler: My prior job involved a lot of tire testing, and subsequently frequent tire swaps. I found the best method was to use a stiff brush under warm running water in an industrial sink (no need to remove all of the dried sealant) and a wet rag pulled along the beads (you want to make sure these are relatively free of dried sealant). Takes only a few minutes per tire.

Bob - 02/19/14 - 4:02pm

+1 for Ryan – old school still works quite nicely for me.

MissedThePoint - 02/19/14 - 4:33pm

My 29×2.4 Racing Ralphs creates stan’s boogers that weigh in excess of 50g, after about 6 months and a top-off or two, using UST rims (easton haven) and regular air.

DCR - 02/19/14 - 4:48pm

Old school?? No thanks, I already attended that school. I use to ride with 30psi in my talcum powdered tubes/tires back in the ’90s, early ’00s and I would still get a flat tire at least once a month. Since I went tubeless ready in 2007, I’ve never, EVER! had a flat tire since and I race quite a bit and ride my mountain bike regulary with 20psi. So, tubes? No thanks.

Sardinian rider - 02/19/14 - 5:28pm

+ 1 for Ryan. Trying joe’s tomorrow for the first time after 4 years of useless caffelattex,but seriously considering to go back to tubes.

Joe C - 02/19/14 - 5:29pm

Bring your old school out to the southwest, and a backpack full of tubes every ride.

spike - 02/19/14 - 5:40pm

I tried tubeless a few years ago and quickly gave up. I would consider myself “old school”, and riding with reduced tire pressure doesn’t make sense to me. Sure you gain traction, but it seems like it would have a negative effect on rolling resistance. I rarely got flats with tubes, and especially not pinch flats. I’ve used the same tires for the past 12 years. Fast forward 4 years and I gave it another shot. I’m using american classic mtb race 26 with ritchey tubeless ready z-max tires, and running the recommended tire pressure of 45psi. I was looking more for the weight advantage, but other than that it’s not much different than using a tube, especially since I don’t run lower tire pressures.

Mario r - 02/19/14 - 5:59pm

..tubes with sealant might be a good combination then….
With all that maintenance… Tubulars with sealant seems even easier and better…better performance too…

MaLóL - 02/19/14 - 6:48pm

With schwalbe tires and medium weight tubes, in sunny summer from south Spain, I get a flat a week, if i´m very lucky (300km wekk of mtb). Normaly two of them. Those annoying tiny flats when the tire loose air slowly…

With latex, I do 2000Km in 2 months in summer. Zero flats. Same tires (yes, the schwalbes are dead after 3000km for me, not that bad). I´m not using tubes never ever again. Old school is nice for something, for others it just sucks.

M - 02/19/14 - 7:25pm

No that I would every run a fat bike tubless(not yet at least) but how does the sealant react with the cold?

Mindless - 02/19/14 - 8:33pm

@Ryan: You just do not have thorns where you ride. They will change your perceptions of tubeless benefits.

akbooyah - 02/19/14 - 8:34pm

@M- Up here in Alaska we have had no issues with Stan’s sealant at temperatures down to -40. Also, tubeless on a fatbike is a beautiful thing. The loss of friction between tire and tube at low psi really improves rolling resistance, especially since rubber gets so stiff when its cold.

Mindless - 02/19/14 - 8:40pm

As far as cleaning tires the best solution I found is applying a lot of elbow grease.

Cliveds - 02/19/14 - 8:51pm

Although sealant adds to the inconvenience of tubeless installation and maintenance let’s not forget you can go witout it and still enjoy the benefit of tubeless but for the extra flat resistance brought on by the sealant.

Tubeless also holds air better than tubes do so a well seated tire much like a car tire does not have to be constantly re-inflated to maintain riding pressure.

Would not think about a road or mtb setup that was not tubeless.

Loved by those who ride it. Misunderstood by those who have not.

padrote - 02/19/14 - 9:00pm

Tubes are awful. I can never go back. I have too many irritating memories of double flat days having to borrow or patch tubes.

If you’re having tubeless problems, you are using poorly setup or cheap equipment.

It’s not unreasonable for a mountain tire to last an entire year of riding for me, which is around 2000 miles. That is more than long enough for the sealant to evaporate or turn into a bouncy ball of latex.

Reggie Gold - 02/19/14 - 9:14pm

It’s amazing there are still tubeless naysayers in 2014. Tubular (for deep carbon) and tubeless are the only ways to go. Tubes are for weekend warriors and triathletes.

roller - 02/19/14 - 9:14pm

@spike: it may seem counterintuitive, but on any but the smoothest surfaces, lower tire pressure actually reduces rolling resistance. There’s a number of scientific papers written about this, some of them referenced here: http://forums.mtbr.com/wheels-tires/reduction-tire-pressure-wider-tires-reduce-rolling-resistance-604387.html

The theory is that with higher pressures,

roller - 02/19/14 - 9:18pm

@spike: it may seem counterintuitive, but on any but the smoothest surfaces, lower tire pressure actually reduces rolling resistance. There’s a number of scientific papers written about this, some references here: http://forums.mtbr.com/wheels-tires/reduction-tire-pressure-wider-tires-reduce-rolling-resistance-604387.html

The theory is that with higher pressures, the tire cannot deform over small obstacles in the trail surface and instead has to lift the entire bike and rider over them – this requires more energy. With lower pressure, the center of gravity of the bike moves more in a straight line except moving up and down. The effect gets more pronounced the rougher the surface is.

greg - 02/19/14 - 9:31pm

spike,
unless your terrain is buffed smooth, youre actually increasing rolling resistance with extra air pressure. tires are your most reactive suspension, with the least unsprung weight (just the weight of the part of the tire deforming over the bump), and practically no damping.
i believe schwalbe did a good rolling resistance test that’s on their website. itll show you what’s up.
higher pressures also give you the impression of more speed because of all the extra feedback youre getting. you see this on racecars all the time. a driver will insist a stiffer suspension setup is faster around the track, only to find out the stopwatch says otherwise.

edge - 02/19/14 - 9:53pm

I have several bikes, thus some of the tires do sit with sealant for extended periods of time.

Willis24 - 02/19/14 - 10:56pm

I turn the tire inside out and blast the dried up sealer off with a pressure washer in the driveway. It usually takes longer to get the equipment out than it does to remove the old sealer. Just make sure to sweep up everything that comes off so kids and dogs don’t try to eat it.

Psi Squared - 02/19/14 - 11:01pm

I think I’m going to wait until there are more tubeless wheel and tire options before I dip my toes in that stream. Until then, inner tubes aren’t a hassle.

ron ch - 02/19/14 - 11:41pm

In my case, exposure to air dried up my sealant and it did not take much exposure. I had a rear tire that slowly leaked air, but would ride just fine with a pump up. When it sat and finally went flat(beads stayed sealed), I pumped it up and heard a “rubbing sound” coming from the tire. Nothing was rubbing on the outside, until I opened it to find a canoe shaped big solid piece of latex polishing the tire carcass from the inside as I rode. The front tire was still liquid, though.

BTW, not all 50g of sealant should be counted rotating weight, since the liquid portion is not “attached” to the tire and being rotated by your body’s output.

Ryan - 02/19/14 - 11:46pm

@ Psi Sq. You do realize you can make dang near any wheel and tire setup tubeless with a kit? There are tons of tubeless tires and wheel options already. None of my bikes wheels are tubeless ready. I just chose to make them that way. My 26HT, 29HT, and 700c CX bike all sport tubeless setups now.

Tubeless is where it’s at. I never get flats anymore.

Nate - 02/20/14 - 1:39am

Tubeless for at least 3 years now and the only flats I’ve had are the catastrophic type where sharp rocks go through the tire creating very large holes. Never going back to tubes. Front tire lasts long enough to dry out but never the rear.

1gr8sailor - 02/20/14 - 1:52am

I can’t imagine running tubes at this point– Those who espouse tube benefits have not had enough experience.

ChrisW - 02/20/14 - 2:59am

I’m an old school guy myself. With properly inflated, durable tyres I get one or two flats per year while riding 10-12,000 km on a mix of road, cross, and MTB all over the place. Why would I want the hassle of tubeless setups when I have no problem with inner tubes?

I’m a mechanic in a bike shop and strongly discourage all of the customers from using tubeless because it’s an unnecessary waste of time for most of them. Wheel and tire manufacturers may want to sell them the latest new thing, but if you’re not riding in a thorny region then why bother? Proper inflation and durable tires will do the same job with far less hassle.

ginsu - 02/20/14 - 4:01am

Guys you can get the BEST of BOTH worlds….Just buy tubes with REMOVABLE valve-cores…they can be found even at LBS and you just inject a small bottle of Stan’s and it works flawlessly, especially in desert conditions. You can run super lightweight tires and lightweight thinwall tubes without issues, which for me comes out to weigh something like: 430g(tire)+140g(tube)+60g(stan’s)=630g! I honestly see no reason to run tubeless now except for the possible low pressure traction advantages, but you don’t really need that unless you’re a racer. BTW, I haven’t had a SINGLE FLAT with this setup this year!

Naton - 02/20/14 - 4:35am

@ChrisW To specifically address your statement, “Proper inflation and durable tires will do the same job with far less hassle.” I think you are mistaken in your assumption that the “job” of going tubeless is to reduce the incidence of punctures. Everyone rides different trails, so everyone will have slightly different priorities. But going tubeless is not solely about punctures.

Here is my opinion. The primary reason I love tubeless is the improved trail feel. The best MTBing experience is to be had with supple tyres, grippy rubber, and minimal punctures. This means low pressures, lighter casings, softer (and unfortunately less durable) rubber, and a sealant to stop them pesky flats.

The idea of putting a “durable tyre” (which equates to hard rubber, stiffer casings, and thicker tread) on my mtb at “proper inflation” (by which I assume you mean high enough not to pinch flat) makes me want to become a full time roadie. Ewww.

Jake - 02/20/14 - 4:53am

ChrisW, tubeless isn’t exactly the new and latest thing. It’s been around for years.

I still run tubes on my road bike and probably always will. I also have a set of CX clinchers with tubes, but I would definitely try tubeless for CX (except for racing, tubulars are for CX). For MTB, though, all my bikes but my singlespeed are tubeless and will stay that way. If I had the cash for new wheels, I would even make my SS tubeless. Nothing beats the ability to run 19 – 22 psi in your tires. I’ve found my tubeless tires pretty maintenance free, and what little maintenance I have to do sure as heck beats having to run 30 or so psi and changing tubes frequently. A few squirts of stuff through the valve stem every month or so and you’re good.

ian hastings - 02/20/14 - 7:28am

I rode tubeless in Saudi Arabia for over 2 years without “topping up” – riding in temperatures of 50 degrees did not seem to make the sealant evaporate through the side walls (of my non tubeless specific tyres) – perhaps its all down to luck!

Psi Squared - 02/20/14 - 8:45am

@Ryan: Yes, I realize that it’s claimed you can make any wheel tubeless. What you accept and what I accept are different. Again, I’ll wait until there are more tubeless wheel and tire options. Did you note the part where I said tubes aren’t a hassle for me right now?

Ryan - 02/20/14 - 12:20pm

I ride a rigid steel SS because I prefer simplicity. I have a hassle free, low maintenance, very reliable ride. I run Nobby Nics around 15psi with tubes—never had a flat. I will get a very slow leak (less than a 1lb a day) a couple times a year. I enjoy not having mess with my bike. The time I spend with it—I’m riding it. I ride single track that’s approximately 12″ wide, varying dirt/rock, 45+ miles of it. Unless I go trailblazing, goat heads and other vegetation are of no concern to me or my tires. In my situation, tubes are perfect for me. If I got punctures frequently, then maybe the hassle and mess of tubeless would be worth it. But I don’t get punctures or pinch flats, so I have zero desire to go messy and needy.

Adam - 02/20/14 - 12:38pm

I used to ride tubeless and then got sick of the hassle and went back to tubes. Im not incompetent about the mechanics and installation; I was a top mechanic in a top tier shop for almost 7 years. Im a light guy (132 lbs) so im not too worried with tubes (and I own TONS). I will say I have seen TONS of “burps” with tubeless systems, even with sealant, over the past 3 CX seasons. I know CX is not MTB, but for arguments sake, this has kept me away from round 3 of trying tubeless on my mtb.

kurti_sc - 02/20/14 - 12:46pm

+1 for Ryan. Really, with a singlespeed, the lower pressure you can run with tubeless is the biggest and best improvement in tires since any of us were riding. Go back to your dart / smoke combo with latex tubes if you want…;-)

Tath - 02/20/14 - 2:41pm

I’m not sure why people are complaining about it being so messy and needy. It generally takes me about 10-20 minutes for first tubeless setup on tires, then I have to pop out the valve stem and add more sealant every 2 months, which takes about 5 minutes. In return, I don’t get flats from the numerous cactus that line our trails, and I can run 23-25 psi without worrying about pinch flats on the numerous rocks we have around here.

Ryan - 02/20/14 - 4:57pm

Question for the tubeless riders: How do you fix a burp on the trail? Don’t you have to pop in a tube anyway because you need substantial pressure to get the tubeless initially set?

dadana - 02/20/14 - 10:08pm

I live in New Mexico and put 2K+ miles a year on my MB. For the last 6 years I have run Schwalbe Racing Ralphs and/or Hans Damf with Stans wheels and sealant. I run them about 12 PSI front and 20 PSI rear. We have so many goathead stickers here that I need to maintain the sealant monthly. The only downside is that the Stans does eat up the tires from the inside. When I start seeing wet spots on TOP of the tire after it sits overnight, I know its time for new tires. All that being said I would never go back to tubes. Its worth it to run that tire pressure and never have flats.

Brad - 02/20/14 - 10:55pm

I don’t get everyone complaining about the hassle of tubeless. I put two new tires on the other day and it wouldn’t have taken 10 minutes for both of them. And what maintenance? The only time I’ll have to touch the tires is checking sealant levels before a race or putting a new tire on.

You couldn’t pay me to go back to tubes on my MTB

Barry - 02/21/14 - 8:35am

Ryan says, “I still find that quality tires with nice tubes are way more reliable and hassle-free. My peers are always talking up the tubeless angle—as they maintain their needy tires.”
When people state something like this, it makes me ask have they ever even tried tubeless? Locally, with this year’s massive crop of goat heads, a setup with “nice tubes” [even with sealant] pales in comparison to a tubeless/sealant setup. To all the people that get to ride in Shangri La conditions, sans cactus, thorns, angry plantlife, good for you and your “quality tires with nice tubes.”

Colin - 02/21/14 - 9:06am

Check out our solution for replacing tubeless sealant.

https://www.facebook.com/injectalever

Steve Froth - 02/21/14 - 9:44am

Tyler, why not pour 60 grams of sealant into a jar, weigh it, then let it sit on the counter until the moisture evaporates out of it, weigh it again? That will tell you how much dried sealant weighs … Seems to me the best practice would be to spend about a minute removing the big chunks and boogers of dried sealant and wiping the bead clean before a big ride/race or when swapping tires for some reason. Scrubbing all the sealant off seems like a waste of time, and maybe even counterproductive since some of the sealant is sealing tiny holes. All that said, I’m still something of a tubeless newbie, but we have thorns here on the Colorado front range, so I appreciate the flat protection. I do find that Stan’s evaporates in less than two months in the dry air here, and my friends in NM say it dries up even faster there.

pluzall - 02/21/14 - 3:04pm

+1 ryan

i really wanted to like tubeless – i really did – had a fully tricked out mojo with mavic UST, nevegals
and tried couple of other tires – it really wasnt worth the hassle – maybe things are better now –
but between having to repump a lot, burping under heavy cornering etc – high prices of tubeless tyres…

im back on tubes and never looked back

pluzall - 02/21/14 - 3:13pm

i really wanted to like tubeless – i really did – had a ricked out mojo with mavic UST, nevegals
and tried couple of other tires – maybe things are better now –
but between having to repump a lot, burping under heavy cornering etc – high prices of tubeless tyres… weird overly stiff sidewalls that made cornering unpredictable – it sucked

im back on tubes and never looked back

MulletRacer - 02/21/14 - 11:13pm

I love tubes. They are superior technology. That is why cars and street bikes continue to use them today.

CXRacer - 02/22/14 - 9:50am

What the hell are tubes anyway? If you are having problems with tubeless, chances are you are using a rim that is not designed for it. If you shy away from a pedal wrench, then get a UST rim or a Stan’s rim and run tubeless or tubeless ready tires.

Road, Cross, and Mtn – zero tubes and love it.

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