If you’ve gone for a while without attending to your rims, you’ll sometimes notice that your rim tape is worn, uneven, or otherwise unfit for continued use. This means you’ll want to fix your rim tape before you get back on the bike to keep the air in your tires and avoid damaging your inner tubes or rim components. What makes rim tape so special? Can you just use any duct tape you have lying around?
Duct tape may be used as rim tape for wheels with inner tubes quite well. It’s more difficult to apply well in a tubeless setup. Low-quality duct tapes may not adhere as well to the rim as good ones. Gopher tape usually works good. Rim specific tape it is always best since is designed to give a perfect seal.
Can I Use Duct Tape As Rim Tape?
You’ll almost never hear an experienced cyclist advocate for the use of generic duct tape.
The reason for this is not because duct tape makes for bad rim tape — necessarily. The problem with duct tape is that it’s not a name for a specific type of tape.
Instead, it’s a moniker used to describe a category of superficially similar tapes, ranging from “general purpose” duct tape, which has a low fabric count, a very thin film, and cruddy adhesive that won’t last, to “true” duct tape, which is rated to withstand the high temperatures and air pressure of an HVAC duct for decades.
Duct tape can be thick or thin, it can be easy to tear by hand or difficult to cut without scissors, and the amount and type of adhesive used can vary wildly.
Duct tape can be quite thick, which makes controlling the amount of tape on your rims difficult. Your rim tape needs to be thick enough to protect your tubes (or seal your rims) while being thin enough to avoid interfering with the way your tires seat on your rims.
If your rim tape is too thick, the bead on the tire won’t fit in the gap. If the tape is too thin, you risk damaging your tubes.
This means that you usually want to use thin tape as rim tape. Thin tape can be wrapped once, twice, three times, or even more, giving you lots of control over how thick your final layer of tape is.
A big disadvantage of cheap duct tape is the adhesive. Low-quality duct tape uses a sticky goo-like adhesive that has a habit of globbing up and remaining on surfaces long after it’s welcome.
Not only will this make getting a thin, even layer of tape a bit of a challenge, but it’ll also present problems if you ever need to replace the duct tape you’re using as rim tape. You’ll probably need to use a lot of rubbing alcohol for a while to get the gummy residue out of your rims so you can apply a fresh set of rim tape and fix your problems.
This is not to say that duct tape never works as rim tape. In fact, gaffer-style duct tape that’s on the thin end can be a fantastic rim tape, especially for setups with inner tubes. The point here is that it’s tough to recommend duct tape as a concept due to how varied different styles of duct tape are from each other.
Reinforced nylon filament strapping tape can be easily purchased from your local office supply store, shipping center, or moving supply store and is a much more reliable recommendation.
Your best bet, however, is usually to pick up a roll of cheap rim tape from your local bike shop that’s sized for your rims, saving you the hassle of cutting your tape down to size.
The Role Of Rim Tape
Traditionally, rim tape served a very important function. Old school bicycle wheels were “single-walled,” meaning that spokes were inserted directly into the rim. Without thick rubber rim tape, the nipples at the ends of these spokes would press directly on the inner tube, causing sharp pressure and damaging the surface of the tube.
The tape served as a physical barrier that evened out the inner surface of the rim and protected the tube, keeping your tires inflated for longer.
These days, rims are almost always double-walled. This means that spokes are stuck in a little recess. While there’s far less protrusion from the spoke nipples, you do have some sharp edges and complex geometry that can rupture or pinch your inner tube. The role of rim tape is less to barricade the nipples from the tube and more to smooth out the surface. It’s still necessary, but it can be a lot thinner.
Finally, in a tubeless setup, tape serves an additional role as an insulator against air escaping through the spoke holes. A good sealant can help ensure that the tape itself is functionally airtight, but the tape must be evenly applied and free of holes or tears in order to do its job. As a result, it’s especially important to be careful when applying rim tape in a tubeless setup.
What Kinds Of Tape Work As Rim Tape?
The biggest advantage of buying specialty bike rim tape is that you know what you’re buying every time. Bike rim tape is specifically designed to work with modern rims and serve as a barrier between sharp metal bits and your soft rubber inner tubes. You can also buy it in just about any width you like, which helps a lot when applying the tape.
Sure, you can always use a knife to cut the roll down to a few mm wider than your rims, but it’s very easy to screw up this process and waste a lot of your tape. As a result, dedicated rim tape that’s the right size for your rims will always be easier to work with than a DIY solution.
That said, rim tape isn’t magical. It’s just a roll of tape that has specific properties that work well for its purpose. Many cyclists swear by a specific type of regular household tape and use that for their rim tape needs, even when their budget allows for a much fancier dedicated rim tape.
You’ll see cyclists tout the advantages of reinforced nylon filament strapping tape (which is used for shipping and can be purchased at any office supply store), Scotch 8898, and other styles.
Applying Rim Tape
Once you’ve figured out the tape you want to use. The first step to applying rim tape is to remove your old tape. If you’ve got a tubeless setup, start by removing your valve stem, then gently peel back all of the old tape. Next, clean out the inside of your rims with a bit of rubbing alcohol to remove any sticky residue.
Once your rims are nice and clean, you’ll need to cut your tape down to the right width. If you’re not using tape that’s specifically sized for your rims, measure the interior width of your rims, then add a few millimeters onto that width.
Mark that width on your roll of tape, then use a knife to gently press into that mark while spinning the roll. With a bit of practice, you should be able to accurately cut plenty of tape to the right width.
After your tape is cut to size, you’ll want to begin applying it to your rims. Peel back about a foot of tape. Use one hand to apply steady pressure to the roll while you use the other hand to firmly press one end of the tape into your rim.
Keep some tension along the tape and use the hand that’s not holding the roll to press more and more tape into the rim, spinning the rim and allowing more tape to spin out from the roll as you go.
Start with two full wraps with most tape. If your tape is especially thick, you might want to start with one and see how things feel. If your tape is especially thin, you might consider starting with 3. It’s not a big deal to add more tape later, so you can always finish applying your first layer and inspect the result before making your final decision.
Once the tape is wrapped, take your hands and firmly press down on the tape as you spin the rim, ensuring to apply pressure everywhere along your tape. Your goal is to remove any air bubbles and get the tape stuck down as firmly as it will go. If you notice any issues with your tape at this stage, you can correct them and repeat this step until your tape is applied smoothly and solidly to the inside of your rim.
If you have a tubeless setup, use a pointy object to make a small hole where your valve stem will go, then put your valve stem through the hole.
Be sure to tighten your valve stem by hand, not with tools, as you might want to remove it later while you’re on the trail. You don’t want to need pliers to get your valve stem out when you’re putting in an emergency inner tube later down the line.
Finally, reassemble your tire and make sure everything seats. If you’re having trouble getting your tire to seat correctly, consider how thick your tape is. If your tape is very thin, you might want a few more wraps to help the tire seat, especially with a tubeless setup.
If your tape is thick, however, you’ll want to examine the bead of the tire and see if you’ve left enough space for it to interface with the rim. If you haven’t, you’ll need to redo your tape and use a thinner wrap.
If you’re setting up a tubeless system, be sure to use lots of air when you first inflate your tire. Consider removing your valve core if you can use an air compressor or a big floor pump to maximize airflow, and put a bit of soapy water along the edge of your tire to help it slide correctly into place.
Setting up tubeless tires can take some practice, so don’t beat yourself up if it takes a few tries to get right. As mentioned above, consider adding an extra wrap of tape if the tires refuse to seat. While using too much tape can definitely keep your tires from seating right, using too little can also make it more difficult to get your tires to pop into place.