How to Setup Tubeless Tires for Air Travel

Thinking about converting to tubeless tires but worried about how to make it work for air travel? Fret no more. Here are some tips on how to get your tubeless tires rolling in no time.

I’ve heard many times over that setting up tubeless tires is complicated and messy. That it’s a risk to go on a long bicycle tour without tubes in your tires and that “you’ll never get the tires to inflate again without an air compressor”. Well, I’m here to prove that aversion to tubeless tires for bikepacking or bike touring is nonsense.

I know it sounds a bit anecdotal but I have never had a flat tire on tubeless tires. Yep, none. Even if it was a pain to get the tires to seat (it’s not), it’s worth the extra work to avoid annoying punctures. Modern tubeless ready rims and tires work a lot better than their earlier version. Get yourself a pair of tubeless ready rims and tubeless tires and never look back. I won’t go into details as to how to do a conversion to tubeless from step one. There are many step-by-step videos out there on this topic, just look for one from a reputable source. I’m assuming you have already converted your tires but want to find out what kind of precautions you should take when traveling with your bike.

Tubeless Tire Setup

Wait it Out

The first tip might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it just makes sense to me. Hold off on replenishing the sealant before any trips that involve air travel. This way, there is less risk of sealant leaking inside the bike bag or box. Do make sure to pack some extra sealant to replenish the tires and some more to take with you on the trip. Stan’s Notubes offer their sealant in bikepacking-friendly 2oz bottles. Small bottles are easy to stash away in the lower section of a frame bag.

Not so Flat

Deflate the tires but don’t deflate them all the way. Leave just enough air in them so the rims don’t easily touch the tire. Yes, I am aware that some airlines require you to completely deflate your tires – it’s your call on this one, but believe me, your tires will not explode and the plane will not fall out of the sky. This will ensure that the tires stay seated. One of the biggest challenges of setting up tubeless tires is to make sure the tire beads are seated correctly. It’s a lot easier to use a mini pump if the beads are still in place when you arrive at your starting location.

Getting my Salsa Fargo ready at a hotel room

Getting my Salsa Fargo ready at a hotel room

Fill it Up

Once you get to your destination, check if the beads are still seated in the rim. If everything is looking good, remove all the air from the tires and remove the valve core to pour more sealant in. There’s no need to carry a dedicated valve core remover tool. I do own a valve core remover tool but I can’t remember the last time I’ve used it. I found out that the #3 spoke nipple on my multi-tool works perfectly as a presta valve core remover tool. Pliers work just as fine as well.

Pump it Up

Put the valve core back in and pump the tires up. Since you have been very careful to not break the tire bead seal, you should have no issues using a mini pump at this point. Even if part of the tire bead gets dislodged during travel, it’s still possible to pump the tires up with a small pump. As a safety measure, I usually carry a couple of CO2 cartridges, just in case I need the extra boost I can’t get with a hand pump.

Be Prepared

Chances are, you will not have any issues with a tubeless setup. But you have to be prepared if a problem arises. Here’s a short list of what to include in your repair kit:

Tubes: Doh. If you are having problems pumping up your tires, you can still throw a tube in and get rolling. Tubes are also helpful during trailside repairs. I have not had to break one out yet, but I probably just jinxed it by saying it out loud.

Tubeless Plugs: They are a permanent repair to holes the sealant can’t take care of. Genuine Innovations sells a kit with 5 plugs.

Tire Boot: Always carry tire boots. Helpful to reinforce small tears or protect areas where the rubber has weakened. Park Tool’s TB-2 is a popular choice. Take the time to clean the area on the tire before applying the boot to make sure it will stick.

Sealant: If the tires are slowly deflating, just pour more sealant in. This usually does the trick. I once found a construction staple stuck in my front tire, I poured a little bit more sealant, removed the staple, spun the tire a couple of time and the leak vanished.

Core Remover/Spoke Wrench: Or some other way of removing the valve core. Pliers work fine also. Don’t use your teeth, I hear that sealant doesn’t taste that great.

Most tubeless repairs don’t even require you to take the wheel off your bike. Another added convenience of tubeless setup.

Tubeless Repair Kit

To Recap

  1. Don’t replenish tires with sealant right before leaving on a trip
  2. Leave some air in the tires so beads stay seated
  3. Remove valve core and pour more sealant
  4. Pump tires up like normal
  5. Try using CO2 cartridge on stubborn tires
  6. Carry spare tubes and tubeless repair kit in case something goes awry

Let me know any experience you have with your tubeless setup while traveling. Be it tips on how to fix a sidewall tear on how to prep your wheels for travel.

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2 Responses

  1. Tom H says:

    Check with your particular airline whether they actually require you to let out the air! There really is no (physical) reason to let out the air of the tires. Many airlines have adopted that thinking in their rules. Unfortunately many have not… If asked to let out air, just let out as little as possible until the airline employees are satisfied.

    • André says:

      I rather partially deflate the tires anyway. 1) I find it easier to make a 29er wheel fit in the bike box. 2) I don’t want to deal with any possible hassles at the airport. Specially if there are delays/cancelations and I get changed to a different airline.

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