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Tubeless inserts for less than £10 - a cheap way to upgrade your gravel bike

Tubless insert kits are quite expensive, so we made some for less than a tenner

Fitting a set of tubeless inserts to a road, cyclocross or gravel bike is a great way to ensure that your tyre isn’t going to roll off the rim at low pressures, it adds some protection when riding over rocks and roots, and it means that you can continue riding should your sealant be unable to plug a hole. But branded inserts are very expensive, so we made our own.

What you need

  • PU Backer Rod - we’re still not 100% sure what this is actually for in the real world
  • Tubeless valves - Come with most wheels these days
  • Tubeless sealant - We used Stans
  • Tyre levers
  • A pump
  • A can-do attitude - not essential

The PU backer rod comes in 5mm diameter increments and you want the size below the tyre you’re installing. So for our 33mm cyclocross tyres, we got the 30mm size. You can get larger sizes for gravel tyres here, but after 30mm it comes in 10mm increments.

It is a closed-cell design and waterproof, so it shouldn't soak up all of your sealant.

Process

The process is very simple so I won’t bore you with too much detail. First of all you don’t start doing this in the living room. In the bath, outside or anywhere that has a wipeable surface is how you avoid getting into trouble with husband/wife/parents/housemate/partner. You have been warned.

You pop one side of the tyre off and start just to one side of the valve. Tuck the liner all the way around, making sure to roll it onto the rim before cutting so that you finish just short of the valve. That’ll allow air to pass freely.

> Tubeless inserts - the next big advance in road tubeless tech?

Then it’s simply a case of pushing the tyre bead on. This will be tight, so make sure you push it down into the rim well and finish at the valve.

Drop some sealant in and you’re good to go.

Cost

It is worth pointing out that buying a set of tubeless inserts will usually mean that you also get some sealant and tubeless valves. Our budget version doesn’t come with those things, but if you have sealant and valves lying around already, then you shouldn’t need more.

Liners riding-2

10m of the backer rod cost us £7.29, so we’ve got enough to do roughly 5 wheelsets and that, compared to a set of Vittoria Tubeless Air Liners at about £70 for one wheelset, is a rather good bargain.

Even if they need changing more frequently, you’re still going to be making a saving.

Results

Liners riding-1

To test these out we jumped on the cyclocross bike and rolled down to the local park. Conditions were dry, so there was plenty of grip, but we slowly lowered the tyre pressures to those that you’d only ride in the muddiest race. Cornering at a decent speed didn’t cause any burping of air and neither did some poorly executed hopping of a makeshift barrier.

> Review: Vittoria Air Liner Tubeless Inserts

So if you’re looking to reap the benefits of tubeless inserts but the cost has always put you off, give ours a go and let us know how you get on.

Add new comment

20 comments

Avatar
NombreAlAzar | 10 months ago
0 likes

I live in Colorado, USA and have a gravel bike.  My rims are 19mm interior width and I'm still running the stock tires, Vittoria Terreno Zero's 700-38c.  They measure about 41mm wide on the outside so I suspect they probably are 38mm inside.

From your article it sounds like the largest backer rod that would fit my tires is the 30mm, just like you used for your 33mm cyclocross tires, but my tires are 5mm wider.  Do you think it would it still work?

Perhaps more importantly, people over here are stuck on the stupid system when it comes to units of measure and I can't get metric backer rod.  My 38mm tire cavity converts to 1.496 inches.  I don't think 1.5" rod would fit.  1.25" rod is 31.75mm, so that might work, but I can only find it in bulk.  It was around $80 for 100' or $135 for 400'. 

If I'm gonna spend $80 I might as well get Vittoria Air-Liner Gravel inserts to match my tires tho right?

My goal is to hold the tire on the rim (stop blow offs after large sidewall punctures) and get run flat capability for emergency situations in which I can't get home using extra sealant, bacon, CO2 and a frame pump alone.

Also, my tires are both FULL of thorns inside and out so installing a tube isn't an option (I ride on carpets of goathead vines occasionally).  The tube is normally a last resort backup but I don't even carry one so I'm hoping inserts can serve as that backup for me.

I'd appreciate any advice, whether it's about which commercial liner might be the best option or a way to pull of this clever foam backer rod trick here in rural Colorado.  Thanks in advance!

Avatar
Mr Agreeable | 1 year ago
2 likes

I used something similar for the Three Peaks CX one year and in short, backer rod isn't up to the job for preventing pinch punctures, as the foam isn't dense enough. It did let me ride on a flat back tyre for a mile or so. Also it was really handy for plugging gaps when I redid the weather seal around our front door.

Avatar
mike the bike | 1 year ago
6 likes

This video encapsulates perfectly why I have no interest in such a messy, complicated and time-consuming system.  I give thanks for tubes on a daily basis.

Avatar
ktache replied to mike the bike | 1 year ago
3 likes

Messy and complicated, requiring new tools...

But...

The day you ride down a country lane during hedge cutting season, pulling multiple inch long thorns out of the tyre and watching them seal, and then finding many more when you get home.

Or pulling out the sharks tooth flint on the rainy night, it not sealing on its own, but getting to use the anchovy and stabby tool. 

Avatar
pablo replied to mike the bike | 1 year ago
1 like

I get what your saying but a point. You are far less likely to have a puncture and when you do you are unlikely to need to stop. Think I had 2 punctures last season and stopped zero times normal notice was a bike that needed a clean . On group rides of 8 people we would average 1 puncture every 2-3 rides wasting my time especially the fun double punctures. When you crack the setup it's really easy. I always do them outside and always have a hose ready to wash the gunk away. It's just different!

Avatar
NombreAlAzar replied to mike the bike | 10 months ago
1 like

People online say they'll never go tubeless a lot, and it's fine, but I think you should realize that you're also saying there are places where you'll never bike.  The agricultural access roads in NE Colorado make some great rides but you'd be crazy to try them with tubes.

Avatar
IanGlasgow | 1 year ago
3 likes

PU Backer Rod is used for packing expansion gaps before sealing it with adhesive/silicone.
It's made by - amongst others - Soudal. Perfect for that Ridley you bought with your winnings from the Belgian Lottery.

Avatar
Ohjack | 1 year ago
0 likes

Thanks - looks worth a go. How much tolerance can one have e.g. on a 38mm tyre is 30mm insert too loose? Equally is a 30mm insert too right on a 30mm tyre (I guess the latter depends more on true inflated width if tyre?)

Avatar
Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
0 likes

Is any good for road tyres?
Currently running tubed Marathon Plus on the commute and we all know what pig these can be.
As close to indestructible as they seem to be, something will eventually get through them and I'd rather not be in the middle of Shettleston High Street when something does.

Avatar
quiff replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
4 likes

Something will eventually get through them. In my case, it was a nail that went in through one side of the tyre and out the other. Even then, the things are so stiff I managed to finish my commute before I noticed.

Avatar
Secret_squirrel replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
0 likes

All the pictures are done with aero road wheel sets so I would think it's fine.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
0 likes

Oldfatgit wrote:

Is any good for road tyres? Currently running tubed Marathon Plus on the commute and we all know what pig these can be. As close to indestructible as they seem to be, something will eventually get through them and I'd rather not be in the middle of Shettleston High Street when something does.

These are for tubeless wheels/tyres, so no good for tubed tyres.

Avatar
Oldfatgit replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
0 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

These are for tubeless wheels/tyres, so no good for tubed tyres.

Don't suppose you know of any tubless equivallents to the MPs?

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
1 like

Oldfatgit wrote:

Don't suppose you know of any tubless equivallents to the MPs?

Not really equivalents as the MPs have extra tough/stiff casing to prevent punctures and tubeless tyres rely on the sealant inside to seal small punctures, so they're thin and flexible. I like the GP5000TLs but they're not cheap and they won't last as long as Marathon Plus.

Avatar
wtjs replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
1 like

MPs have extra tough/stiff casing to prevent punctures

Well, they don't prevent punctures, but they do markedly reduce the frequency. I recently had a front puncture, which was the first for over a year since I put on the MPs for the Pennine Bridleway. It was, of course, a hawthorn which had made its way through the off-centre 'valley' in the tread on the sidewall

Avatar
ChasP replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
0 likes

I'm using the Pirelli cinturato currently, more of a tubeless gatorskin hardshell than marathon plus but so far so good.

Avatar
NombreAlAzar replied to Oldfatgit | 10 months ago
2 likes

It's hard to believe but you don't need reinforced tires once you go tubeless.

My gravel bike came with tires softer than butter.  In the first 210 miles I had 22 punctures using tubes, mostly on pavement.  I went tubeless after that and unless I'm literally riding on goathead vines for more than a few hundred feet or get a large puncture that doesn't seal I don't even have to stop to add air.

My old ten speed has gatorskins and tire liners protecting the tubes.  That's finally stopped almost all flats but during goathead season there's always a thorn or two that gets thru the sidewall and misses the liner.

So I'd say it's either tons of armor around a tube, or tubless, you don't need both.

Avatar
TheBillder replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

Oldfatgit wrote:

Is any good for road tyres? Currently running tubed Marathon Plus on the commute and we all know what pig these can be. As close to indestructible as they seem to be, something will eventually get through them and I'd rather not be in the middle of Shettleston High Street when something does.

These are for tubeless wheels/tyres, so no good for tubed tyres.

I wondered if something similar could coexist with a tube - the pu backer rod looks as if it's made from the same stuff as pipe lagging. Might a narrow tube surrounded by pipe lagging cut in half lengthways do a job within a wide tyre?

If I got many punctures on my wide (38 mm) clincher-tyred bike I might try it - but I've had only 2 in 10,000 odd km so not much need really.

Avatar
NOtotheEU replied to TheBillder | 1 year ago
0 likes

I think you need Youtube!

There are videos of almost every possible inner tube replacement being tested including multiple goes at the one you suggest.

Avatar
TheBillder replied to Oldfatgit | 1 year ago
3 likes
Oldfatgit wrote:

I'd rather not be in the middle of Shettleston High Street

A useful maxim to live by (says man from Edinburgh, tongue in cheek).

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