When even the pro peloton is starting to come around to the advantages of a tubeless wheel setup you can be sure that, as a technology, it is going to stick around. However, as many of us are starting to realise, there is one aspect to going tubeless that probably has a far more important role to play than even the tyre and wheel themselves: tubeless sealant.
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Tubeless tyres on their own are not a magic bullet for ridding yourself of dreaded punctures. It is actually this magic liquid that tends to be the real hero in preventing a flat tyre from spoiling your ride.
Best tubeless sealants
Tubeless tech is less developed on the road bike side than on mountain bikes, so we’ve not tested quite as many different tubeless sealants as our companion mountain biking site MBR.
With time on their hands, the MBR guys have stuck screwdrivers, scalpels and such like into tyres filled with different tubeless sealants to see which does the best job of keeping them rolling. It’s worth taking a look at their test of nine different sealants, to see how they rated their effectiveness.
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Orange Seal Endurance Sealant
Orange Seal’s sealant is effective at sealing tyre on rim on initial set-up. It also plugged small holes in well. Larger gashes have a tendency to unseal again as soon as you start to ride, though, and it takes a day or so for the plug to set enough to hold full pressure.
Orange Seal sealant tends to dry out quite quickly, so you need to keep it topped up. But there’s an Orange Seal Endurance formulation available that’s a bit more expensive and pushes out the time between fills around fourfold.
Buy now in the UK: Orange Seal tubeless tyre sealant from Wiggle for £11.99
Buy now in the US: Orange Seal tubeless tyre sealant from Wiggle for $12.99
Muc-Off No Puncture Hassle tubeless sealant
Muc Off’s tyre sealant is super-viscous and coats the inside of tyres effectively. Its neat applicator pack fits directly onto presta valves, so there’s little mess or waste. MBR reckoned it was the most effective sealant in its test at sealing even the largest holes quickly and permanently.
It’s one of the more expensive sealants per volume, but with its longevity and performance, MBR reckons it’s worth the extra initial cost. In short, one of the best tubeless sealants out there.
Buy now in the UK: Muc Off No Puncture Hassle tyre sealant 1 litre from Tredz for £20.99
Buy now in the US: Muc Off No Puncture Hassle tyre sealant 1 litre from Amazon for $44.00
Effetto Mariposa Caffelatex tyre sealant
As far as the best tubeless sealants go Effetto sealant is thinner than most, so it coats the inside of a tyre really well. It contains a foaming agent that bubbles up when you get a flat, although MBR found that this wasn’t really effective at sealing holes.
But Effetto Mariposa sells a particulate additive called Vitamina CL, which it claims ups sealing capability. And you can also buy Zot! Nano, an injector that you carry with you to squirt a shot of catalyst into the wound to speed up sealing.
Stans NoTubes tyre sealant
A sealant stalwart, Stans NoTubes’s latex based formulation is quite thin, so it coats the inside of the tyre well. It’s not affected much by either heat or cold, making it an effective all-year option.
MBR found it OK on smaller holes, but not so good once the gash got larger. It reckons that the Stans NoTubes Race sealant formulation is a better bet for larger holes.
Buy now in the UK: Stans NoTubes Race tyre sealant 946ml from Wiggle for £25
Buy now in the US: Stans NoTubes Race tyre sealant 946ml from Competitive Cyclist for $30.32
Vittoria Pit Stop TNT Evo tyre sealant
Vittoria’s sealant worked effectively when MBR used it on its smallest hole, but gave in on the larger ones, due to the lack of larger particulates in the formulation. Its thin formulation was stable at lower temperatures, but skinned over when warmed, so it might lose effectiveness if you’re riding in warmer climes.
Buy now in the UK: Vittoria Pit Stop TNT Evo tyre sealant from Bike Inn for £14.99
Buy now in the US: Vittoria Pit Stop TNT Evo tyre sealant from Amazon for $15.99
Joe’s No Flats Super sealant
Although we’ve not reviewed this sealant on the site, it’s one we’ve used frequently. It seals the tyre to the rim effectively and copes well with smaller holes, despite being quite runny. It stays liquid well, so doesn’t need to be topped up too often. The runniness means that we’re not sure how well it would cope with a larger gash – fortunately we haven’t had to deal with one while running tyres with this sealant.
It’s pretty inexpensive too, making it an economical buy.
Buy now in the UK: Joe’s No Flats Super Sealant from Wiggle for £13.99
Buy now in the US: Joe’s No Flats Super Sealant from Amazon for $14.99
Best tubeless sealant: what to look out for
What is sealant and how does it work?
The best way to think of sealant is as the lifeblood of your tubeless system. Its primary job is to plug puncture-causing holes by coagulating or, keeping the blood reference, by clotting. The best tubeless sealants form a seal that will ensure the tyre remains airtight.
The exact formula for a brand’s sealant is a closely guarded secret (just as with tyre rubber compounds) but effectively they can all be split into three types – those that contain latex rubber, those that utilise a synthetic alternative, and those that make do without. Most sealants also use small particles that gather around punctures allow the sealant to clog and seal larger punctures.
Latex-based sealants are the most common, as natural latex rubber has very effective coagulating properties. Latex itself is an emulsion of extremely small rubber polymer particles in either water or a water-based ammonia solution. Most sealants also have other non-active particulate in the suspension, which act as a nucleus for the rubber to coagulate around (just like rain drops needs a speck of dust to form around), increasing the size of holes the sealant can fill.
The reason for this effectiveness as a sealant is that coagulation of the latex is activated by air. So when a tyre is punctured, the dramatic release of air causes the liquid part of the sealant to evaporate, leaving behind the latex rubber particles to knit together and clog the hole.
Non-latex based sealants approach the prevention of punctures from a different direction. As they contain no ingredients that coagulate in the same way as latex they have to rely on a much thicker viscosity to plug any punctures. So just pour it in and off you go?
Unfortunately due to the slightly unstable nature of all sealants, it is not a fit and forget solution. Over time sealant will dry out and, in the case of latex based sealants, will coagulate into a solid lump reducing effectiveness to almost zero.
Every time you adjust tyre pressure you introduce air into the tyre, accelerating the drying process. Outside air temperature will also have a dramatic impact on life expectancy. Effective operating times are reduced as temperature goes up and for many sealants if the temperature drops below zero.
For many sealants, this means that the life expectancy is shorter than you might realise. It’s the one aspect of a tubeless setup that can catch many riders out.
How long will a sealant last?
How long different sealants keep working effectively varies considerably.
Amongst the best tubeless sealants, Effeto Mariposa’s synthetic Caffélatex will last between one and four months, Stan’s No Tubes two to seven months, Muc-Off’s No Puncture Hassle lasts more than six months and Orange Seal between one and three months. Most other sealants will provide similar lifespans.
One other rule of thumb is that the more effective a sealant is at plugging punctures, the shorter its lifespan will most probably be. So in order to ensure effective puncture prevention using tubeless sealant you really need to check sealant levels every couple of months.
How do I use tubeless sealant effectively?
Cycling Weekly sat down with founder and president of tubeless sealant maker Orange Seal, John Vargus, to find out his top tips for maximising the efficiency of your sealant.
- Before you start it’s important that you shake the bottle of sealant enough to distribute the particulate evenly and ensure there is enough of it in the solution you will put in the tyre.
- Don’t just guess the amount of sealant to put in. Start by putting in the amount of sealant the manufacturer recommends. For Orange Seal it would be 2oz (57ml) of sealant for a typical 700x25c tyre. It should be enough to coat the inside surface of the tyre but not too much to add excess weight.
- Inflate the tyre to below your normal tyre pressure, around 70-80psi, and ride the bike for a few minutes. This allows the pores in the rubber construction of the tyre to open effectively and enables the sealant to really coat the inside effectively.
- Then pump to your riding pressure. A tubeless setup should normally be 10-15% lower than the tyre pressure you use if running inner tubes.
- In the event of a puncture, locate the source and rotate the wheel until it is at the lowest point to enable the sealant to begin the process of plugging the hole. Then rotate the wheel until the puncture is at the top. This will allow the air to get to the sealant and enable the sealant to begin coagulating and plugging the hole. If it still leaks air, repeat the process until it works.
- Sealant does dry out so it’s important to check your levels every couple of weeks and top up as necessary. If you do leave your bike unridden for any length of time, it’s a good idea to unseat one side of the tyre and check for any solid patches of sealant. Remove and refill.
- Finally, if you do get a puncture sealant alone cannot fix and you need to fit a tube you will probably get covered in sealant. A quick squirt with a waterbottle will help dilute it and prevent it from ruining your kit, thanks to the water-based nature of most sealants.
Price per tyre
MBR tested nine different tyre sealants in its group test. With the larger air volume of mountain bike tyres, it sploshed 100ml of sealant into each tyre and found the price per tyre varied between a couple of quid and £8-plus. That’s going to be more than the price of sealing a road or gravel bike tyre, where you’ll probably want to use significantly less.
Different makes recommend different volumes of sealant, so if you follow their guidelines that too may affect the price per tyre.
Large hole performance
Most tubeless sealants will deal with small holes, like those from thorns and road debris effectively. Whereas riding with tubes those might stop you in your tracks, you might not even notice that you’ve got a hole in your tubeless tyre and ride on with little or no loss of tyre pressure.
It’s in their ability to seal larger holes like sidewall slashes that there’s a difference in performance between different sealants. If you’re into poking screwdrivers into your tyres, you can test this yourself. It’s something that MBR has done already though, saving you the hassle and expense.
You can up your sealant’s ability to deal with these large holes by using a tyre plug. It’s a lump of fibrous material that you push into the hole with a sharp pointed tool. The plug helps the sealant to clot and fill the hole. They’re small and easier to carry and use than a tube, although you may still need a pump to get the tyre back up to rideable pressure.
Another option is Effetto Mariposa’s Zot! Nano. It’s a compact injector that you carry with you. Squirt it through the hole and it catalyses the faster clotting of the sealant and should help it deal with larger holes.
Even the best tubeless sealants will dry out over time. Pop the bead on your tyre after a couple of months’ use and you’re likely to find a layer of gooey latex on the inside of your tyre, but no liquid. So you’ll need to top up your sealant level from time to time.
How often depends on the conditions you’re riding in: hot weather is likely to cause it to dry out faster. There are also differences in how quickly tubeless sealant from different makes dries out. Since you should be checking how much liquid sealant there is in your tyre at regular intervals, it’s something that you can find out by trial and error. But it’s also worth checking out reviews to see if it’s something that bike websites have noted.