Long-awaited wheel swap

Bicycle on balcony in evening light

Tubeless faff

I recently saw a video in which a cycling blogger (with far more viewers than I have) described tubeless tires as “a bit of a faff,” and then went on to say how many thorns he’d had in his tires over the past year, and how it wasn’t an issue because he was riding tubeless and they’d sealed up the holes without any fuss.

So how’s that working out for you?

Since going tubeless (against the recommendation of the shop where I bought Kuroko), I’ve had a months-long fight with weeping sidewalls, culminating in an under-pressure tire rolling off the rim in a low-speed turn, and another failure where a broken spoke poked through the rim tape, creating a hole in a location that was nearly impossible for the sealant to deal with. But no flats as such.

That run came to an end on Saturday’s ride, where my rear tire had a pinhole (literally too small to see with any certainty) that the sealant wouldn’t reliably seal up. I’d gone over some broken glass on the previous ride, and counted myself lucky when nothing happened. It turns out I was counting chickens, and amusingly, the front tire (which had an innertube at the time) came through with shining colors.

Quittin’ time?

Given the expense and effort I’ve put into converting to tubeless, and the demonstrated results, I was considering giving up on the idea — much as I enjoy the masochistic thrill of repeated expense and wrenching to elevate myself among the Velominati. And then I recalled that I have a pair of wheels, tubeless tires ready-mounted, awaiting me in the Workshop in the Sky. I could simply swap out the current wheels and then fix up the tubeless issues at my leisure.

Sunday was sunny and warm, and hence perfect weather for bicycle maintenance following a day of riding through puddles and rain (particularly when one’s partner has misinterpreted one’s stated wishes and made plans for the day with good weather rather than the day with rain in the forecast). I’d already brought Kuroko to the Workshop in the Sky in anticipation following Saturday’s ride.

Well, that didn’t go as expected

My first step after removing the leaky rear tire was to do what I’d balked at Saturday on the pedestrian walk of Rokugo Bridge: put a dart into the hole. I suspected that part of the reason the sealant wasn’t fixing the pinhole was there wasn’t enough sealant left in the tire. So I removed the valve core to top up the sealant, reinserted the core, and pumped up the tire. As soon as I rotated the tire so the hole was pointing downwards, the sealant came streaming out — from a hole so small I couldn’t reliably locate it on the tread. And the stream didn’t stop until the sealant was spent and the air had run out of the tire.

Although I still had no idea why the sealant wouldn’t close up such a small hole (I couldn’t see any glass shard in the puncture), I decided to proceed with the dart. This is a braided strand coated with sticky stuff. I have what amounts to a glorified ice pick to drive into the hole in the tire and twist, leaving the strand in place when I remove the pick.

From the moment I started this I had second thoughts. The diameter of the dart was much larger than the pinhole in the tire. By putting this plug in the tire I’d just be making things worse, right? I took a deep breath and pushed the dart into the tire. And pushed. And hammered with the flat of my hand. At last the dart went in, creating (as predicted) a much larger hole than the one I was trying to fix. I gave the dart a twist or two before withdrawing it, leaving the plug in place.

Once again, I removed the valve core to top up the sealant in the tire, then replaced the core and pumped up the tire. I could hear the air hissing out through the hole I’d made. I quickly rotated the tire so the plug would be down, and the sealant would cover the newly enlarged hole.

That fixed the problem straight away, right?

Detail of bicycle tire with plug leaking sealant into drain
You be the judge

About those spare wheels …

Thinking that my operation was a total failure, I turned my attention to the spare wheelset sitting in the Workshop, with new tires already mounted tubeless and holding air like nobody’s business. The rear wheel of this set is one I’d rebuilt with a DT Swiss hub and have yet to try. Following the rebuild I’d managed to extract the loose nipple (great line for a bar on a Friday evening), and since then the wheel has just been awaiting my convenience.

To complete the spare wheelset, I needed to transfer the cogs (or buy a new set), and add disc brake rotors (ditto). I spent some time scrubbing up the cogs to get them all nice and shiny, and then mounted them on the new DT Swiss hub. I’d bought some spangly new rotors a while ago, and they’ve just been sitting on the floor by my desk since then.

Shimano disc brake rotors in the package
Really going upscale on this build

The rotors popped on without issue and the new wheelset was ready. Before putting them on, I gave Kuroko a thorough washing down, removing all the mud from the puddles I’d splashed through on Saturday. Finally, I took the tube from the front wheel (the one I was now removing from Kuroko) and remounted the tire as tubeless. I got it on the first go this time. (I’d put in the tube after returning from Shimanami Kaido, when I’d let the air out of the tires to fit them in the carry bag.)

Spin test

So now that I’ve finally got that slick DT Swiss hub on the bike, how does it sound?

Cleaning up for the day

Before calling the day a wrap, I spent a little time cleaning up the Workshop in the Sky, rinsing away the spilled (or jetted) latex sealant, and folding up some of the previously used tires that have been sitting around loose on the floor. I was pleased with the results.

Folded gumwall bicycle tires lined up on an air conditioner compressor
Getting ones tires in a row
Bicycle in stand on balcony, with spare wheelset in background
A bit more space in the Workshop

Finally, I checked the newly spare wheelset to see how the plug (rear) and tubeless conversion (front) were taking. To my surprise, the rear tire was still fully pressurized (at least as far as the thumb test could determine), while the front had lost about half its pressure. I reinflated the front and did the sealant dance with it, and soon found it had been leaking around the valve hole in the rim. I gave it some addition swirls, wiped away the leaked sealant, and checked if it was still losing air. It seemed to be OK. I set both wheels aside to let the sealant set for a couple of days before topping them up again.

I call that a success

It was a challenging day of bike maintenance, but I think I was well rewarded for my efforts. There’s a lot of rain in the forecast for next weekend, so I’m not sure how soon I’ll be testing out Kuroko’s new wheelset.

Bicycle on balcony in evening light
Sunset Kuroko with new wheels

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