How to fix a tubeless tire (when sealant alone won’t )

Tires are – like most other bike parts – in short supply this year. Even in normal times, a fresh set of treads can be pricey. Which makes getting a hole in one on your first ride a particularly painful experience.

But, wait! You can fix your tire! That tiny pinch flat at the bead doesn’t have to be the end of your tire. And you’re not condemned to running tubes. There’s several ways to successfully fix the peskiest holes in your tubeless tire.

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Tubeless tire technologies – and tubeless sealant – have come a long way. You can now expect that small punctures will be solved by sealant alone, even in lightweight xc or gravel tires. Still, sometimes a hole won’t stop leaking with tire goo alone. But that doesn’t mean your tire is garbage, or relegated to running tubes.

Sometimes all the sealant in the world won’t solve your problems

How to Fix a Tubeless Tire

We’re dividing this into two parts. Tricks you can try to save your ride, or get home safe. And more involved strategies to repair a tire once you’re back in the garage.

On the ride

There’s so many ways to carry a tube on a ride. Wildwood’s “Flat Deck” makes sure you never leave the house unprepared
1) Be prepared

Always carry a tube and some sort of valve removal tool on rides. Murphy’s Law may not be scientifically proven, but I always seem to get flats when I’m least prepared to deal with them. After years of superstition, it is to the point where I bring a spare tube as much a good luck charm, warding off bad trail vibes, as a functional piece of kit. It’s also this. If you do get a hole that won’t seal, a tube will always get you home.

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SlugPlug
Tire plugs and tool
2) Tire plugs (a.k.a. “Trail Bacon”)

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Tire plugs are borrowed from automotive tires, just downsized for mountain bikes. Both work the same way. A sticky plug wedges into the hole in your tire and, in concert with whatever brand of sealant you’re using, reseals your tire. This is usually all you need. Bacon strips can last for a long time in your tire, or they will tear out every other ride. It can be a bit of luck of the draw. But they’re usually good to get you home.

3) Fabric “plugs”

Like trail bacon, a small square of loose fabric can seal holes too big for sealant alone. The fabric can be pushed into the hole. Trim excess and you are good to go. Sometimes this takes a bit longer than plugs, so it might not be the best option mid-XC race. But, when it does seal, it tends to last longer. The fabric absorbs sealant inside the tire and, when that hardens, seems to function like a patch and can last for a long time. Plus, unlike trail bacon, it’s easy to size fabric to match the size of a puncture hole. Like bacon, there’s limits to how big of a puncture this will seal. Also, you don’t have to buy these, you can make fabric patches out of any leftover rags.

At Home Fixes

1) Glue tire patches

Just like repairing a tube, glue tire patches can work wonders on punctures to tubeless tires. This takes a bit more time, though as, depending where the puncture is, you may have to remove the tire. It obviously won’t work to slap a patch in the middle of your tire tread. You can still patch the same puncture from the inside. Just be sure to clean off any sealant and dry the surface around the puncture before applying the patch.

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The old-fashioned glue patches are the best. Not the glueless patches that come in some tire kits.

2) Shoe Goo and fabric tape

Any skateboarders – or ex-skateboarders reading this will already have a supply of Shoe Goo, and know that it can fix just about anything. For fixing a persistent puncture, paring Shoe Goo with a big of fabric tape makes a solid patch. Sort of like a combination of the trail bacon and fabric plugs, above, but in one super patch. Again, be sure the area you’re patching is clean and dry.

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I’ve heard of other glues being used successfully, but don’t have personal experience. If you’re experimenting, be sure you’re using a strong glue and one that will stick to rubber. All glues are not created equal.

An ounce (or couple hundred grams) of prevention…

Not all of these fixes will work every time. Sometimes a hole is perfectly placed to ruin your tire. If you slice too many threads in the tire casing, it will loose too much sidewall support and feel weird.

Most flats can be repaired. But if you’re regularly sacrificing tires to the trail, there’s a few things you can try to prevent punctures in the first place.

Rocky Mountain Instinct C50 review 2021
Maxxis offers its popular Minion tires in a wide range of options from lighter EXO and EXO+ to DoubleDown and full DH casings
1) Heavier tire casings

Light tires feel fast, which is fun. But a heavier casing can prevent sidewall cuts or pinch flats. Most brands have several different levels of tire casing, using more layers and/or more durable materials. Some brands even include additional layers for the sidewall. These add weight, but a heavy tire is faster than a flat tire, no?

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2) Tire inserts

After some trial and error to start off with, there are several reliable options for tire inserts. These inserts are available for gravel, downhill, XC, and fat bikes. Most help prevent flats – in part by adding a layer between the tire casing and the rim to help prevent pinch flats. Many have performance advantages, such as the ability to use lower pressures for better traction. Most are also much easier to use now than in the early days. So, if you’ve let horror stories of trying to get inserts off rims scare you away, now could be the chance to try.

RELATED: Tannus Armour makes its tire insert tubeless

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