I really need to get a video made of tubeless tire mounting because I write an instructional email almost weekly. I finally decided to take a moment and flip my latest email into a blog post....Hopefully this is helpful!
I mount a lot of tires and I can almost always do it by hand. I get a lot of calls from people saying "your rims are so tight they don't work". They are not tight. All rims from all companies are pretty much the same for fitment, with very minor differences, and they are all TIGHT. I can't think of any wheels that are known as "loose", you would not want that. There are only "tight" or "tighter".
Tires do have pretty significant differences from brand to brand, though, due to both sizing and construction and materials of construction. Everyone has heard of the Challenge Paris Roubaix early production tires being impossible to mount. Similarly the first tubeless Continental GP5000 tires were so tight as to not mount at all, and I have even heard some wheel companies decertified that tire for their wheels. The new Contis seem much better and are quite popular. I use Schwalbe and Vittoria and Challenge quite a lot due to preference and team sponsorship alliances, and I can say they all work quite well, with a nod to Schwalbe as a consistently easy and well sealed tubeless set up, which is why I chose to sell them on the site.
Within reason, though, all tires can be mounted by hand if you know what you are doing and have reasonable hand strength. I would say I get tires on without tools 98% of the time, and that is the preferred method cause the only thing a tool can bring to an expensive tire or a carbon rim is sadness - broken beads on tires or damage to rims.
Mounting tires requires very specific technique, and it has nothing to do with mounting non-tubeless tires on non-tubeless rims that you may have done yourself for 20 years. Tubeless tires need to have non-stretch beads, and tubeless rims need to have a bead shelf that locks the base of the bead in place (different than a rim hook). I will not even engage in discussions of "conversions" for road tubeless on non-tubeless specific rims. Get over it. Run a tube.
So, all that said, let's talk technique. Here is my secret sauce!
...Wait, one more thing first... Listen, the jokes, they write themselves. I see it, you see it... I apologize, I tried to edit out all the words that scream TWSS! and highschool humor at you, but ... yah... Let's just take a minute here to let it all out so that we can proceed. This is SERIOUS BUSINESS!
Ok here we go -
- Orientation: Valve stem hole is 12 o'clock from this point forward. Install your stem, but do not tighten the nut. Push the sealing head of the stem up a centimeter or so by backing off the valve lock nut. And remember, that exterior locknut DOES NOT SEAL THE RIM so do NOT over tighten it!!! The seal is on the interior of the rim where the air is in the tire, duh...
- Get one full side of the tire bead into the rim. This should be easy peasy.
- Not for nothing, get the tire label at 12 o'clock cause I still believe in rules. Also double check tire rotation direction now. Now check again. It will still be wrong but at least I warned you.
- Get the second side of the tire in the rim from 3 to 9 o'clock. Again, this should be trivial to do as nothing is tight yet.
- Now it gets real....Get BOTH beads right in the center of the rim channel at 6 o'clock on the rim. I mean all the way in, every little bit counts.
- Keep one hand (left or right, I don't judge) at 6 o'clcok, pinching the tire beads together TIGHTLY to keep the bead all the way in that channel and as skinny as possible.
- Using your other hand, at 12 o'clock, hold the tire and firmly PULL UP on the tire, pushing against the rim with your fingers to stretch that sucker up. NOTE - If you have the valve stem at 6 o'clock, you will struggle to mount this tire later!
- Work the bead on as far as it will go, basically 10 to 2 o'clock.
- While maintaining a firm upward pressures the whole time, lubricate that top area of the rim/tire from 10 to 2 with a spray of tire lubricant (I sell it in a spritzer), soapy water, liquid dish soap, or wet your hand and wipe a bar of soap on your fingers to get a nice thick soapy film, and then and wipe the bead interior and rim exterior from 10 to 2. THIS WILL HELP ENORMOUSLY.
- If you can't do the lube while holding the tire, you will have to pre-lube everything, but I find that messy and it dries or wipes off.
- Here we go!! Place a RAG laid over the top of the tire at 10 to 2 (may I suggest the ubiquitous Gatorade towel). This is the HOT TIP of this whole blog post. The towel does two things - first, it keeps you from having slippery fingers on slippery tire/rim and gives you a much better grip. Second, it elliminates almost all of the post tire mounting soreness and blistering on the sides of your thumbs.
- Hit it! Use your thumbs (having never EVER lost upward pressure on the tire to keep the beads pinched and tight in the rim center channel at 6 o'clock) to push the tire beads up and in from both sides at once towards the valve stem until you can't anymore. You should have that that last 6 inches you can't get on.
- Using the rag still, now switch to just one side of the last 6 inches, keeping your hand firmly over the other side, while still directing both thumbs to one side or the other for maximum POWAH. That one side should start to roll in a little at a time until you get down to the last two inches at the valve stem.
- Push UP on the valve stem to ensure the sealing head is up in the tire, not down at the rim. You need that space to get the bead snapped in.
- Maybe squirt fresh lube up under the tire to rim gap in case you took a couple shots to get there and the towel wiped away the slippery goodness.
- PUUUUUSH! Channel your inner obstetrician! Of course you have an inner obstetrician! Pop that last 2 inch section on. It should really roll in from one side or the other. Often times this is the easiest part of the hard bit, if that makes sense.
- Success! Or not. If not, get a thin, flat style tire lever (Schwalbe is one I like a lot for this reason). Think slim jim for jacking cars, or credit card for jimmying a lock. Not the old chunky reinforce thicker style ones. You will not get those in the gap. Get that slid in and pop the bead on.
- Tighten up that valve stem nut just snug finger tight. DO NOT crank that thing down, you will only damage it or the rim finish.
- Now, you either preloaded your sealant or you can squirt it in via the valve stem. Either way, do that now.
- Spray a lubricant (soapy water, my glycerin solution, etc.) so that it travels down the wheel in the little crevice between the tire and the rim on both sides, all the way around (rotate the wheel to let it run all the way around).
- Inflate, often a floor pump is all you need. Pump up until the tire snaps into the rim with a BANG! Ok, set let's talk about that for a second.... you probably want to be outside. If your neighbor is on the porch sipping a G&T, maybe warn them... the tire is going to sound like a small caliber gunshot probably 2 or 3 times. I mean, LOUD. Also, there is a small risk of tubeless explosion with sealant spraying everywhere like a Stan's grenade. I don't like using an air compressor because you need to get probably up to 80-100 PSI on a road tire to fully seat, even though you will (hopefully) ride at a much lower pressure than that. If you are not careful you can over inflate with a compressor if your regulator is set too high.
- If the tire does not hold air right away after seating, please PLEASE read my blog on tire leaks - it is very likely your base tape got messed up when you wrestled the tire on. Air will be coming out from the valve stem nut. DO NOT tighten this! That turns your rim into a balloon. Your tire is a balloon. Your rim is NOT and you can blow it up, delaminate it, destroy it completely, etc. Air just comes out at the valve stem because the nipple-rim interface (snicker... sorry sorry...) is air tight. The leak is somewhere else through the tape into your rim cavity which is now pressurized.... not good.
Phew, you made it to the end of another TL:DR Jerry Talk. Hopefully this one was worth the effort! And as always, read this and then just email me.