Tubeless Wire Wheels - Welcome to The Digital Workshop



Tubeless Wire Wheels - Welcome to The Digital Workshop
Tubeless Wire Wheels
for the Suzuki Intruder VS1400
Original method and instructions by: Gene Berrier
From an article at:
Used by permission
with Dark Side Rear Tire Conversion
Yup. A car tire on a motorcycle. Go figure.
Photos, editing, and additional commentary by: Uncle Wulf
Tubeless Wire Wheels
Hiya! I'm Uncle Wulf, and I ride a 1999 Suzuki Intruder VS1400. It's a
great bike, smooth, powerful, and fast enough to suit me. Until you
get a flat tire… I picked up a small nail in my rear tire a few years
back, while I was out on a ride 200 miles from home. At 5:00 PM. On
Saturday. On Memorial Day weekend. And I had to be back at work
before the local shops opened again on Tuesday morning. Without a
center stand or the right tools available, I was forced to leave the bike
there to have the flat repaired, and return to pick it up the following
The ensuing hassle and expense of that episode set me looking for a
better solution. I first encountered the idea of converting my wheels to
run without tubes back in 2005. Somebody pointed me to Gene's
excellent write-up on the subject. After thinking on it for a bit, I added
tubeless conversion to my winter project list for that year.
I did my own wheels in the spring of 2006, and the process worked
great. Since then, I've done my spare back rim, and helped a couple of
local riders do their wheels. Every time, the results were exactly as
advertised. After nine wheels, I can safely say that Gene was on to
The pictures here were taken in early 2009, as I was converting my
spare rear wheel in preparation for installing a Dark Side (car) tire.
I've made a couple of minor changes in Gene's original procedure,
largely to suit the materials I had on hand or to save time and effort.
Gene's original article forms the basis for this write-up, that's the blue
text. I've added my own commentary (in black) and pictures. Stick to
the procedure, and you'll be riding tubeless in about four days. There
are two things I want to emphasize here:
When in doubt, err on the side of caution and common sense.
Cleanliness really is a virtue. I wore disposable plastic gloves
when working on the wheels, to keep oil, dirt, and fingerprints
off the surfaces.
As Gene says, there is potential for mishap in doing these conversions.
Neither he nor I are responsible if you mangle your motorcycle or your
{Gadget Note: As of September 2005 Gene has put more than 40,000
miles on his 'tubeless' wire wheels with absolutely no additional
maintenance. Just follow his instructions below to the letter and you
too will be able to enjoy the looks of wire with the cooler running and
other benefits of riding without tubes}
Ok riders, lets begin with the safety (keep everyone out of court)
disclaimer/lecture shall we? You are going to be doing something with
your spoked wheels that they aren't really designed to do...hold air.
You will (especially at first) have to check air pressure literally every
single time you take the bike around the block just to be certain there
are no leaks. You might even want to check occasionally while gassing
the bike up and even carry a portable compressor with you just in
case. Failure to do this could leave you stranded or worse so, be
careful out there and understand once again, you are modifying your
wheels at your own risk.
Also note, this method will make spoke adjustment in the future nearly
impossible (without going through the entire process again) so get the
adjustment right in the beginning.
After you have a few weeks of riding time on the wheels (just sitting
around in the garage doesn't count, you have to be flexing them) and
are confident they're holding air then you can probably back off a little.
What You'll Need
These are per wheel. A pair of VS1400 wheels will require two valve
stems (obviously) and about 1½ tubes of silicone. Much of that will
wind up as waste. Get two tubes, they're cheap enough.
1-Tube Silicone II Aluminum and Metal formulation
Where to get it: Hardware, home or lumber stores. I tried Home Depot
in my town, only to be told they'd stopped carrying it. I found some at
a mom-and-pop lumber yard.
Caution: Apparently, this stuff carries an expiration date. Check it and
see. I've found some information online indicating that if the expiration
date is past, the stuff will not cure. It would be worth your time to
squeeze a dab onto a scrap of wood or something and leave it
overnight, to make certain it cures properly.
1-Tubeless tire valve
Where to get it: Any bike shop can get these, but they may have to
special-order them.
Caution: Don't get the ones made for car wheels.. The base is too
wide, and they may not seal properly to the rim without a lot of
Several manufacturers offer these. The one above is from Tucker
Rocky (Biker's Choice). One's about as good as another. I recommend
going with an angled stem. Makes life much easier if you're trying to
use one of those stiff, steel-braided gas station air hoses.
Make Your Wire Wheels Tubeless
1. Check wheel run out, correct if necessary.
2. Tighten all spokes to specified torque.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? Check the
wheel before you invest your time in doing the conversion. This would
also be a good time to check your wheel bearings…
3. Thoroughly clean and degrease inside of wheel. Even a small spot of
dirt or grease could keep the Silicone from adhering properly and you'll
have a leak.
The picture above shows my rim after removing the rubber tube liner.
Departing from Gene's write-up, I went ahead and drilled the required
oversize valve stem hole at this point. No point in allowing oil from the
drill bit onto clean metal.
I used a degreasing cleaner from the local auto parts emporium to get
the crap off of the metal. I had to wash it twice to get all the crap off.
Dried them off with paper towels, and let them sit overnight so any
remaining moisture could evaporate.
The next day, I followed that by wiping the surface with this stuff:
Works great for removing the fingerprints my kids left while I was at
Here's the clean rim, ready to proceed:
4. Break the glaze on the chrome inside the wheel with sanding cloth.
Sanding cloth??? Not I. I'm too lazy for that approach. And besides, I
have power tools. I picked this abrasive wheel up from Wal-Mart for
about five bucks. It made short work of scuffing up the chrome.
I worked around the rim twice, once in each direction, starting at the
valve stem hole. Be sure you get a good scuff on the entire surface of
the channel, right up to the bead seating area.
5. Install the tubeless valve stem correctly and with care. You may
have to drill a larger hole. Place a small piece of tape over the inside
opening to protect the opening from the silicone.
Give some thought to where the valve stem points, relative to the
other final drive, pulley, brake rotor, and such. Think about whether
you'll be able to get one of those stiff gas station hoses in there.
Valve stem installed, inside view.
6. Fill all spoke socket holes completely with "Silicone II Aluminum and
Metal formulation"
I used the caulking gun to force silicone down into each of the spoke
7. Fill around spoke sockets completely.
Then I went back and smoothed the goop out, using a piece cut from
an old Cool-Whip tub.
8. Allow to cure for 24 hours. This is critical.
I don't know how critical this step is, but I take Gene at his word.
Besides, it worked out well for me. I pulled the wheel and dismounted
the old tire on Sunday evening. Do one part of the job after dinner
every evening, then it's ready to ride by the weekend. Don't skimp on
the curing time, OK?
9. Apply a coating of silicone to the entire spoke socket area at least
1/8" thick. Make several passes with a putty knife in both directions
for an even and thorough fill.
So… Squirt some silicone on there, and float it so it's level. Seems
simple, until you try it. The stuff tends to gob up on whatever you're
using to level it. Do the best you can, and stop before the surface gets
dry enough that it's pulling.
The silicone in these pictures is smoother than it appears. The camera
accentuates every imperfection in the surface.
10. Allow to cure for 24 hours. This is critical.
11. Clean your old tube liner with paint thinner and allow to dry.
Oops! I didn't have any paint thinner. So I used the Final Kleen and
called it good. The object is to remove any loose crap, dust, and
grease that might interfere with the silicone.
12. Apply a thin coat of the silicone on top of the previously applied
and cured silicone.
13. Install the tube liner and press in place.
I smoothed out the silicone that oozed out from under the rim strip.
Just enough to knock down any lumps before they had a chance to
cure. At this point, life intervened, so I left it until the next day.
14. Apply additional silicone along the edges of the tube liner and seal
the edges.
I used just enough to fill the gap remaining at the edge of the rim
strip. Smear some of the excess around the joint where the valve stem
comes through the rim strip.
15. Allow to cure for 24 hours. This is critical.
I think he means it…
16. Remove the tape from the inside of the valve stem.
17. Mount the tire, inflate to maximum pressure as stated on tire.
I'm going to the Dark Side with this tire change. The 170/80-15
Metzeler ME880 I'm replacing was a good tire. For $135.00, it needed
to be. But after 11,000 miles, it was pretty much shot. I could have
gotten another couple thousand out of it, at the expense of having to
replace it on a road trip. Not worth the hassle, in my opinion.
The tire in the picture above is a Kumho PowerStar 758, 165/80R15.
Same size as fits the old-style VW Beetles. It was $45.00 plus shipping
from Tire Rack. Not a directional tread, but it works just fine, thanks.
Traction, handling, and braking are all better than the Metz was.
I took the rim and tire to my local independent bike wrench to get the
tire mounted. It took about 80 PSI to seat the beads on this tire, using
lots of tire lube. He left it with 41 PSI in it after mounting.
Initial ride results indicated that 41 PSI was too much air, so I reduced
the cold pressure in 2 PSI increments. Ride a couple of days at each
pressure, then adjust as needed. 35 PSI seemed to be about right, so
that's where I left it. This was in early April.
18. Thoroughly check for leaks with soap bubbles. Leaks will likely be
where the spoke comes out of the spoke socket. They will be very
slow and difficult to find.
This has to be done, but it's about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Especially when there aren't any bubbles to see. So I cheated. Put the
wheel in a water trough deep enough to cover part of the rim, and tied
it so it couldn't move. Then I set my sharp-eyed 7- and 8-year-olds to
watch for bubbles for ten minutes, with a promise of a quarter to the
kid that spotted the first bubble. Turn the wheel and repeat. They
never did find any bubbles, so I called it good. And gave them each a
crisp two dollar bill for helping. Cheap at twice the price.
19. If you have followed the directions and allowed the specified cure
time, you will not have any leaks and none will develop later.
I rode with the tire at 35 PSI for two months. I checked pressure a
couple of times per day for the first week, and daily for several weeks
after that. I never did have to add any.
20. Adjust pressure to specified level.
As of June 6th, it still hadn't lost any air. Good enough. Dark Side (car)
tires used on bikes will run best at lower pressures that the bike tire
you replaced. I eventually settled on 32-33 PSI for this tire, bumping
that to 35 PSI when loaded. The Metz ran best at 40 PSI.
21. Balance the wheel.
Well, duh…
22. Install wheel on bike and ride.
And ride, and ride, and… I expect to get at least 20,000 miles out of
this $45.00 tire. That's a lot of extra money that I can spend on gas.
Ride safe, y'all Uncle Wulf