Rim tape protects your bicycle’s inner tubes and prevents punctures or abrasions that would compromise the tube or tire as it expands. Various rim tape brands are made of rubber, vinyl, fabric, and cloth. Although you may not think much about rim tape, you have to consider its presence when changing tires.
You may wonder if there are suitable substitutes that you can use in place of rim tape. Yes, there are alternatives to bicycle rim tape—including some that will save you money—though they may not always perform equally well in all settings and circumstances.
Advantages of Using Rim Tape
You may choose to ride your bike without using rim tape. However, without some cover or adhesive to prevent the rubber tubes from growing into the spoke holes, there is an increased chance that friction or contact with metal edges may puncture or damage the inner tubes.
Rim tape offers certain benefits over other adhesives:
- Designed to protect tubes and prevent flat tires.
- Easy to add and remove when changing tires.
- Firm rather than elastic to prevent tubes from being compromised.
- Usable more than once due to its design.
When considering whether to use rim tape or another option, you must remember that not all rims are made the same. Here are some important questions to answer before simply grabbing the first roll of tape that you see:
- Does your bike have single-wall rims (usually found on older and traditional models) or a double-walled design?
- Have you considered the use of rim strips as an alternative? Tapes and strips work differently depending on the size of the rim, the type of bike (mountain bikes have different performance expectations than those used recreationally), and the required air pressure for proper tube inflation.
- Have you correctly measured the rim width and diameter? Improper measurements may lead to you using an adhesive that fails to cover the spoke holes in a way that prevents punctures from occurring.
- Do you know if your wheels are tubed or tubeless? Some rim tape alternatives work better for one type of rim than another.
Best Options for Tubed Wheels
If your bicycle has tubed wheels, you need to prevent the tube on high-pressure tires from popping through the hole openings or having any friction or contact that may damage or puncture the tube. Two alternatives to rim strips or tape that may work are electrical tape and hockey tape.
Unlike rim tape or strips that are usually found at fewer outlets and bike shops, electrical tape is widely available for purchase in nearly all hardware and convenience stores. Electrical tape has a good reputation when used in the wilderness or in temporary situations, is easy to keep on hand, and applies without much effort.
Created to insulate connections and electrical wires, some electrical tape products work better than others. Cheaper electrical tape brands have a tendency to wrinkle more easily if they are stretched and do not have great adhesion. For narrow rims, electrical tape of higher quality should work without much difficulty, though you may have to double-wrap it.
For mountain bikes and tires with lower pressure, you might find that two or three layers have adequate adhesion to do the work in a similar fashion to rim tape.
While electrical tape works as a good substitute, it may involve some trial and error in its application. Since it has less durability than rim tape, you may have to experiment with the amount of tape and apply it in a few different ways around the rim.
When using electrical tape, remember to apply it cleanly without any wrinkles whatsoever, or else you may have difficulty as you try to seat the tire on the rim.
Despite the practical benefits of electrical tape, this stretchy, soft alternative has its limitations. Electrical tape does not work well if you have high pressure or high PSI (pounds per square inch) inflated tubes. On high PSI tires, the tube within may push the overly-flexible electrical tape and cause contact with a sharp edge or the spoke’s threaded end after pushing itself into the spoke eyelet.
The adhesive on electrical tape can weaken or fail in excessive heat or moisture. Friction in areas where the brake shoes make contact with the rim—especially during rides at warm times of the day—may melt or weaken the tape’s adhesive and cause the tape to lose stability as it changes its shape.
Electrical tape may work for a longer period of time on lower PSI tires, but consider it only a temporary fix for those designed to accommodate higher air pressure.
Remember that electrical tape has the tendency to shift positions and is generally less resilient than rim tape.
This type of tape does not work well on tubeless wheels, either, because the tape does not have sufficient adhesive, and air may leak through the tape.
Sometimes known as stick tape, the tape used by hockey players on the handles and blades of their sticks can serve as tape on tubed wheels. Players benefit from the friction this cloth or polyethylene tape offers. Widely available, the cloth-based hockey tape has characteristics that resemble rim tape, though it leaves a sticky residue when you try to remove it.
Best Options for Tubeless Wheels
With tubeless systems, you will need to rely on rim tapes or strips a bit more to prevent air leaks from occurring. When working with tubeless wheels, remember that the quality of the tape or covering and its proper installation are two very important factors.
Two alternatives commonly used with tubeless wheels are black strapping tape and older tubes that are repurposed.
Strapping tape has threaded fibers running through it. Some tapes have fiberglass strands, while others are reinforced with different types of filaments and rubber adhesives. The physical composition of many brands of strapping tape resembles the properties of tubeless rim tape, and industrial strapping tape tends to have a lower price.
Remember that you may need to use several layers of this tape to get the proper seal and bonding effect.
If you’re concerned about placing additional weight on the rim, you can try variations of applying this tape. For example, you can use it in the areas around the spoke holes but avoid placing it along areas of the rim that are solid.
Removing strapping tape can be cumbersome. Depending on the brand and how long the tape was affixed to the rim, the remnants of the strapping tape may break into little pieces. But this tape usually does not leave behind any significant sticky residue when removed.
Using an Older Tube Rather Than Tape
A second option commonly used for tubeless wheels is inserting parts of an old tube rather than rim tape. One option involves cutting a single tube along the valve so you can craft it into two strips, trimming each so that they have the proper width to fit the rim.
If you try this option, we suggest an older tube that has a slightly smaller size than the original rim, such as a 26-inch tube on a 27.5-inch rim.
An old tube properly trimmed to size should maintain the original structure of the tube’s loop.
Other Tape Options
Duct tape is another inexpensive household alternative. Some bikers use duct tape because it has better adhesion and greater thickness than electrical tape, and it does not stretch as much.
Duct tape offers a temporary option that sometimes becomes a long-term solution. Some will fold the duct tape over or use multiple (three or four) layers of duct tape as a way to protect the tube until they get around to purchasing actual rim tape, but then they find that the duct tape works well enough for the type of riding they do.
If you have a roll of duct tape around the house, you can try putting this tape in the rims as a temporary solution, but it may not serve as the best alternative for a longer period of time. It depends on your riding habits, the terrain, and the pressure you need to inflate your tires.
Some cyclists with tubeless rims or mountain bikes have successfully used Gorilla Tape, which is like an extra-thick duct tape. Gorilla Tape easily sticks to the surface and usually does not allow for any leaking. You have to trim the tape if it is too wide for a standard rim.
Although Gorilla Tape is a popular alternative with some riders, it has its problems. If the Gorilla Tape is too thick for your rim, using it may make it difficult to get a good seal or even to install the tire. When removed, Gorilla Tape leaves a very pronounced sticky residue that takes some effort to remove.