We hate tubes. They’re ride ruiners. Flow killers. A constant pain in the butt, robbing you of confidence to ride your favourite trails hard. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that only a decade or so ago, most mountain bikers assumed that a flat tyre or two each ride was just part of the sport! But then along came Stan Koziatek, with an idea that would revolutionise mountain biking: ditch the tubes.
His ‘No Tubes’ system took off and inspired countless other brands to offer their own tubeless solutions and now just about every bike out there now is either tubeless ready or can be converted to tubeless without much fuss. Thanks to Stan, our bikes are now smoother, faster, have more traction, weigh less and are far more reliable than ever before. We caught up with this quirky inventor to learn a bit more about the development of tubeless technology.
Given that thousands of riders already refer to you on a first name basis, it’d be good to learn a little bit more about you; can you describe yourself in one sentence? What are your top three passions?
Sure, I seem to see things differently to other people. And passions? I love designing new products, golfing and bow hunting (Flow: he’s serious about the hunting – punch Stan Koziatek in Google Image Search and you’ll see).
Are you glad you called the product Stan’s or do you sometimes wish you were anonymous?
I never actually planed on using my name for the product. But after a few months of sales, customers are the ones that started calling my products Stan’s, so we had to stick with it.
Where did your inspiration for No Tubes come from?
It’s a long story over many years. It all started with me finding a way to convert my standard rims to tubeless. Once I found a way to convert the rim I then needed a tire. At that time their were only two tubeless tires and the tread patterns were not good for my area, so I then started working on a sealant that would seal a non-tubeless tire.
Once I had a sealant started I started thinking: ‘If I can seal hundreds of holes within minutes, we can most likely seal punctures as they are made’. Then the rim companies started sending me their rims asking if I could make their rims tubeless. After working with many different shaped rims, I realised some rims would inflate tyres easier than others etc.
I then contacted two of the largest rim companies in the US and offered to design a rim for them, at no charge. They basically told me they have the best rim designers and did not need my help. After a few months I could no longer wait. I found extrusion companies in the US and a small rim roller and welder in California. I then designed my first rim and was not happy with that crappy design. I never sold one and started designing another rim.
My second rim was very good and won a bronze medal at the Olympics, but I still was not completely happy with this design. It still needed a rubber rim strip to make it tubeless. My third design was much better and worked great. Then with each rim design I improved the air taping, tire inflation and most importantly tire performance. I try to make all of my designs user friendly – I want my rims to mount tires with your hands and inflate either with a floor pump or with a small air compressor.
Tell us about developing the sealant – where did you look to as a starting point? Were there other industries/applications that you could draw from?
I designed my sealant from scratch, trying thousands of additives and related products until I found something that worked. I still test different products trying to make my sealant better and last longer.
We spend so much time looking at suspension technologies but comparatively little focusing on tyres, when arguably the tyre as the point of contact is where we stand to make the most improvements.
Definitely. Now that we can run tire pressures so low, and with my rim designs making the tire stable under high speed corning, we can change the tire designs and get more traction with much smaller knobs. Large knobs create lots of wind resistance and drag, and we can gain a few miles per hour with the same physical effort by smaller tyre knobs and dual rubber compound construction.
You had a foray into tyre development with the Raven. Will we ever see more tyres from Stan’s? Is it correct to say that the Raven a bit of a showcase of what’s possible when combining tubeless tyres at low pressure with gummy compounds?
The only reason I designed my Crow and Raven tyres was because none of the tyre companies were willing to make a sealant-ready, lightweight tyre. I told them all years ago we were running sealant in their tubeless tires and soon most tires would require sealant to make them tubeless. As you see they are all making sealant ready tires. Tires that require sealant to run tubeless.
We saw some pretty interesting drawings of a rim you’d designed on Pinkbike a while back – http://www.pinkbike.com/news/stans-notubes-re-invents-the-clincher-mountain-bike-rim.html – can you tell me more?
The 52mm Hugo is designed so you can mount a fat 4.7″ tire with your hands and inflate it with a floor pump. I also extended the tire side of the rim upwards to help customers still running tubes have less pinch flats.
What ARE those little coral shaped clumps that sometimes develop inside a tubeless tyre?
We call them buggers. They form like a pearl, when a small part of dirt or dried sealant starts rolling around in your tyre, these clumps develop. They will get larger and larger and should be removed. Part of this is caused by the additives in my sealant. My sealant is force-activated and will harden underwater if enough force is applied! I must keep the percentage of this additive really precise, or my sealant would not work as well. If I add too much to a mix it will all harden in the drum!
Traditional tubeless systems haven’t been so successful in downhill. What are challenges here?
Rim designs are to blame for tyres burping when used for DH. Most rims are not designed well enough to trap air under the forces of DH, but my rims have no problem running DH tubeless. My Flow and Flow EX rims have won many World Cups on the pro circuit – in fact, the Flow EX just won the World Championships a few weeks ago in the men’s division and got second in the woman’s.
What are your thoughts on the Schwalbe Procore system?
For top riders I feel it will be too heavy. Most DH races are won or lost by thousandths of a second. You need the tyre and wheel to be as light as possible to win on the pro circuit.
Will road tubeless ever be widely adopted?
No question, it will take over for racing and for riders who ride several times a week. All the riders in my area have been running road tubeless for years and they would not go back. We sponsor two road teams: my racers tell me they have always raced on deep dish carbon tubulars. Now they are racing on my aluminum rims with tubeless tires and they are winning many races. They tell me they would never go back to tubulars.
What is it about Stan’s sealant that you feel makes it still an industry leader?
The additives that prevent it from freezing, even at -28 C, and which allow it to last longer that 24 hours in an open air test are expensive. There are companies out there making a lot of money with these sealants that freeze and don’t last a long time. I could make a less expensive sealant, but it would not be as good.