Happy Weekend! I’m riding the SWIGG Ride (Southwest Iowa Gravel Grinder) in two weeks. SWIGG is a free to enter, you are responsible for you 105-miler through the wilds of (wait for it…) southwest Iowa. In spite of what you may have heard about Iowa, this part of the state is very hilly. Check out the elevation profile. It’s nasty…almost 7,000 feet of climbing in total.
All of which is to say SWIGG is my kind of bicycle race. When I was first planning for it earlier this year, I was actually toying with the idea of riding my Salsa Fargo because it has these oversized knobby MTB tires (29 x 2.25″) that feel really good on gravel, but all those hills make it a less than ideal choice. The Fargo is designed to tour under load. It isn’t a go-fast climber.
So I decided to ride my Raleigh Tamland instead. The Tamland is a gravel bike. This is what it was designed to do. The problem, if you can call it that, is that the Tamland came with skinnier (700c x 32mm) tires and I’ve never felt nearly as comfortable on gravel with it as I do the Fargo. I eventually figured out that the obvious solution was to upsize the tires and if I was going to go through the hassle of doing that, I might as well set it up tubeless.
So that’s what I did. I bought a set of Panaracer Gravel King SKs in 700c x 38mm and I did a tubeless setup for the very first time earlier this week. It was about as easy as could be because (a) I took my time and (b) when the back tire failed to stay inflated I worked my way back through the steps until I isolated the problem. When I put it all back together, it worked like a charm.
I’ve ridden the tubeless setup four times now over one hundred miles and I am all in. I absolutely love it on gravel. The beauty of tubeless is that you can run your tires at much lower pressure than you might otherwise without worrying about getting pinch flats. It might not sound like a big deal, but when you are responsible for you and you are sixty miles from the van in the Iowa Outback, flat tires are a very big deal. I can fix them, but it’s better to not have to worry about them to begin with. Lower pressure also translates into a better ride and more grip on the loose stuff. The difference isn’t really noticeable to me on pavement, but get out on the rocks and it is night and day better.
If you think you might want to give tubeless a try, consider the following. Your rims and tires have to be tubeless ready. They’ll be labeled as such if they are. If either the rims or the tires are not tubeless ready, it simply will not work. You’ll also need special valves and sealant. Multiple companies offer this stuff, so check with your LBS and see what they recommend. For what it’s worth, I used Stan’s No Tubes. If you already have tubeless ready rims and tires, the sealant and valves will set you back less than $50.
On the tool front, you’ll need a valve stem removal tool like the Park Tool VC-1. You can do the original setup without one, but you’ll have to remove the stem from time to time to add more sealant. Get the tool upfront and it won’t be a hassle when you have to do it. I also recommend getting a syringe specifically designed for tire sealant. It will have the right size hose to fit a Presta valve and you won’t end up making a mess.
Last, but not least, you may need a little help seating the tire bead. Some people can do it with a good floor pump, but most of us require an assist. You can use an air compressor if you have one. If you don’t, I recommend getting an Airshot. It has all the right attachments. Simply hook your floor pump up to it, pump it up to 120 psi, attach it to the Presta value (with the stem removed), open the valve on the bottle and the bead seats beautifully every time.
That’s really all there is to it. If you decide that you want to tackle this, I highly recommend checking out the videos on Stan’s YouTube channel before giving it a go on your own. They saved me a ton of time, particularly with regard to how to assure that the sealant coats the entire inside of the tire. I’ll follow up with additional thoughts after SWIGG. In the meantime, have a GREAT weekend and enjoy the ride!