While there is a lot to love about the Honda Africa adventure motorcycle, I am not a fan of the tube type wheels that it comes with. Dealing with punctured tubes in the field is a huge pain – having to take off the wheel, take off the tire, patch or replace the tube, then do all of that in reverse to get back on the road again. And yes, there are advantages to inner tubes like… no, actually I can’t think of any. But switching to a tubeless motorcycle wheelset is pretty expensive – Sprocket Center can hook you up with some nice Italian made Alpina tubeless ready wheels for around $2,000 (at the time of writing). Unless, of course, you DIY convert your factory original (OEM) wheels to tubeless. Which is exactly what I did.
Modifying factory equipment is dangerous (as is motorcycling). This blog and associated content is not a recommendation or endorsement for converting your motorcycle wheels to tubeless, just my experience doing this for myself.
Proceed at your own risk.
Additional Note: The OEM Front Rim of the Africa Twin is not configured to accept a tubeless tire. It lacks a critical safety bead. My depiction of converting the front wheel of the Africa Twin is for demonstration purposes only and should not be used in operation.
In the video below, I go through the steps I took to convert the factory original (OEM) wheels for my 2017 Honda Africa Twin motorcycle from tubed to tubeless. I converted both the front and rear wheels, but due to the lack of safety bead on the front rim, that conversion is for demonstration purposes only.
The basic procedure I used was:
- Remove the wheels from the bike and the tires from the wheels
- Clean the wheels thoroughly, first with soapy water and a scrub brush, then with wire brushes, then with acetone.
- Apply 3M Marine Adhesive Sealant Fast Cure 5200 to the spoke holes
- Prepare the wheels for taping using isopropyl alcohol (50/50 mix)
- Tape wheels with 3M Extreme Sealing Tape 4411N
- Install Drag Specialties valve stems ( #0360-0010)
- Re-assemble wheels, tires, and put back on the motorcycle.
- Mild Cleaner/Degreaser
- 3M Marine Adhesive Sealant Fast Cure 5200
- Isopropyl Alcohol
- 3M Extreme Sealing Tape 4411N
- 8mm / 0.3″ Valve Stem (NAPA – has been out of stock for months – or Drag Specialties 0360-0010 for 0.30″ Rim Hole)
- Cleaning Rags & Paper towels
Tools and Equipment Used:
- Gloves & Glasses
- Center stand (or bike lift)
- Various wrenches for removing the wheels
- Tire changing equipment (tire levers, bead breaker, bead lubricant, bead buddy, Baja No Pinch tool, etc.)
- Wheel Stand (I DIY’d this out of some random chunks of 1″ tubular stock metal I had sitting around and some C clamps, but a balancing stand would be nicer)
- Heat Gun
- Roller Sealer / patch roller (I made my own, with some washers – but you can also purchase one)
- Hobby Knife / Blades
- Nylon and Wire Brushes
While the overall procedure is barely more than a half-dozen steps, the actually doing is quite labor intensive. I am not sure what I had in mind when I got started, but I didn’t realize it was going to be this commiting of a project – this isn’t the type of project that you finish in an afternoon. It takes several days, including proper preparation and proper cure time. As well as quite a bit of sweat input. But overall the procedure I used worked quite well and provides a robust tubeless wheel conversion with multiple layers of sealing technology. Sure, some folks have had good luck just doing the marine adhesive or just doing the extreme sealing tape. But I like belt and suspenders approaches to things – especially when my safety is on the line (note again: this is dangerous).
In any case, here are the 7 steps I took to convert my wheels.
1. Remove the wheels from the bike and the tires from the wheels.
This is a fairly straightforward process. Put the bike up on the center stand, wheel stand, or jack it up some other way. I used the center stand and a motorcycle scissor lift type bike stand under my skid plate to allow me to take both the front and rear wheels off simultaneously.
Taking the rear wheel off requires a 27mm wrench or hex socket. Front wheel requires a 22mm wrench or socket and 12mm for the pinch bolts.
Special Tip: It is a huge pain to get the front wheel off – most people recommend removing one or both of the brake calipers, but I figured out that if you lift front of the bike up high enough you can slip the front wheel out (and back in again) without removing a brake caliper.
Taking the tires of the wheels was a bit of a wrestling match, but I managed to do it without too much cursing.
2. Clean the wheels thoroughly, first with soapy water and a scrub brush, then with wire brushes, then with acetone.
I did a lot of prep work on my wheels. Lots of scrubbing first with degreaser, then with Bar Keepers Friend, then with regular soap and water. I used a regular nylon scrub brush and a tub of water. I focused most of my attention on the surface of the rims where I was going to be placing the sealant, but since I was at it, I scrubbed the wheels all over pretty well. After cleaning with the nylong scrub brush, I switched to wire brushes and did a deep scrub of the rim surface.
While I was at it, I also checked all my spokes for any looseness, as truing the spokes was going to be a bit problematic after placing the sealant over them.
Once the rims were cleaned with standard cleaning chemicals, I switched to Acetone to prep the surface. I again used wire brushes to work the acetone cleaning agent into the nooks of the wheels and spoke holes. Acetone is specifically indicated for surface prep on the 3M Marine Adhesive and it also specifically says to not use isopropyl alcohol as that may interfere with the curing process. Once the cleaning was done I let everything dry overnight.
3. Apply 3M Marine Adhesive Sealant Fast Cure 5200 to the spoke holes
Before resuming rim sealing operations for the day I did a quick pass with acetone to make sure everything was cleaned of dust.
I used a regular caulking gun to apply the 3M Marine Adhesive. The adhesive came with the end already pre-cut, but I found that the factory cut opening was too small and I cut it a bit wider to make application easier. This helped a lot, but sealant still went just about everywhere. I tried to make roughly quarter sized adhesive patches over each spoke hole, but some got kinda out of hand.
I went through both wheels fairly thoroughly with the sealant, let it cure overnight. Then I touched up each sealed area using a utility knife and cut away the access and removed and runs or strings of sealant. This was pretty tedious work but I got through it. Again I tried to keep all my sealant areas to about quarter sized (USA quarters). As I was doing this I inspected my work and noted anywhere there were sealant deficiencies. I marked the deficient areas with a marker. I found that in the areas that I tried to skimp on sealant and go really light (maybe nickel sized, instead of quarter) I didn’t have enough sealant and had to add more. Re-prep’d the surface with acetone and went at it again with the sealant in the marked deficient area. Lesson Learned: Don’t skimp, a little may go a long way, but to little is not enough. 🙂
I brought my wheels inside for the night so they could cure in a warmer temperature. I believe the instructions indicated curing temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees fahrenheit. What was supposed to be a one day cure turned into several due to work schedules and other things. oh well.
4. Prepare the wheels for taping using isopropyl alcohol (50/50 mix)
Getting back to the project I re-inspected my sealant job. Everything looked good so it was time to prep for taping. Unlike the sealant , the tape specifically says to use a 40/50 mix of isopropyl alcohol. I used 50% alcohol and called it good (i did not water it down). I just used a rag soaked in rubbing alcohol to run over the wheels. I good test to see if I had really prep’d well was to make sure that none of my little marker marks, indicating previous sealant deficiencies were gone.
The tape I purchased was 1.5″ wide. The width of the rim in the area I was to be taping was wider than this on the rear rim, and narrower than this on the front rim. For the front, I would have to cut the tape down to make it narrower. Rather than cut the tape in advance I ran a band of electrical tape along the shoulder of the front rim. This gave me a temporary surface to place the tape on the front rim, that was later easier to cut off and remove.
5. Tape wheels with 3M Extreme Sealing Tape 4411N
Once the surface was prep’d for taping it was time to commit to it. As I mentioned previously, I purchased 1.5″x 5 Yds 3M Extreme Sealing Tape 4411M. The 5 yards was the exact perfect amount of tape needed for this job. However, because the tape was too narrow to completely cover the spokes on the rear rim, I had to double layer it. In hindsight it would probably have been better just to purchase 2.5″ wide tape for the rear wheel and a separate roll of 1″ wide tape for the front. But then I would have had extra tape. As it was I had just the right amount.
I slowly went around each wheel with the tape. On the rear wheel, I went over it twice with about 1/2″ overlapping in the middle, to get full coverage of the spokes and flat part of the rim. I was careful to press the tape into the rim and around sealed spoke hole so as to avoid bubbles. On the front wheel I used the trick with the electrical tape to run the extreme sealing tape in a single 1.5″ wide layer around the wheel, then I used a utility blade to cut it along the electrical tape. This worked extremely well and allowed easy removal of the sealing tape, along with the electrical tape, along the utility cut seam.
After applying the tape and pressing it into the rim and the adhesive sealant by hand, I then used a improvised roller sealer / patch roller (that I made using a few washers) to really work the tape into the rim and the adhesive sealant. I have also seen folks use a box end wrench for this, but the roller worked well for me. This again was pretty arduous work, but I went slowly and methodically and worked out all the bubbles and made sure the tape was quite well sealed to the rim.
I let now sealed and taped rims sit overnight before starting the next part of the project and was surprised to see that the tape also did some form of curing overnight. It changed colors from a whiter semi-opaque shade to a more translucent clear shade overnight. Interesting, but presumably good?
6. Install Drag Specialties valve stems ( #0360-0010)
The internet seems certain that the right valve stems for the job are the NAPA NTH90426 Valve Stems for Motorcycles. But here is the deal: I put of this project for months waiting for this part to come into stock – it never did. I went to my local NAPA store to see if they could locate it – no luck either. So … no NAPA. I went looking for alternatives and found these Drag Specialties 0360-0010 Valve Stems for 0.30″ Rim Hole. These worked perfectly and also looked quite stylish. The key with whatever valve stem you choose is it has to be 8mm or 0.3″ size. The standard for vehicle tubeless wheels (or already tubeless motorcycle wheels) is apparently something like 0.453″ or 0.625″ rim holes. This is too big and wont fit in the existing holes on the OEM Africa Twin wheels. Yes, others have had success drilling out larger valve stem holes on their rims, but I did not want to do that. If this didn’t work, I wanted to be able to put an inner tube back in and forget about the whole thing. 🙂
So the Drag Specialties 0360-0010 Valve Stems for 0.30″ Rim Hole is the right, in-stock equipment for the job. I used a little bit more 3M Marine Sealant around the seating circumference of the valve stem to make an extra solid seal with the rim (and tape). Then screwed it all together and tightened them down.
7. Re-assemble wheels, tires, and put back on the motorcycle.
Once the valve stems were in, it was time to test the goods. Wrangling the tires back onto the wheels was quite the adventure. Little known to me, but the tubes do one good thing after all, they make it a lot easier to seat the bead on the rim.
Mounting the tire on the front rim was easy due to its lack of safety bead. Turns out, that thing that makes the front rim unsafe to actually run tubeless, makes it a lot easier to mount tubeless tires. Without the safety bead the tire easily got onto the shoulder of the rim and inflated right up with my air compressor. I was stoked with the results – pressure held steady.
The rear tire mounting was a different story – I had to wrestle that thing for nearly an hour to get the bead of the tire up over the safety bead and onto the shoulder of the tire. What finally worked was a trick the internet taught me where you use a cam strap threaded through a length of tubular webbing, strung around the circumference of the partially assembled tire and wheel. The webbing acts like a sleeve to keep the cam strap from binding in one spot on the tire due to friction and the action of tightening the cam strap around the circumference of the tire presses the shoulders of the tire out and over the safety bead. Apparently, you can buy something that does this, but its also pretty easy to DIY. Woof – this was quite the ordeal, but when it finally worked I cheered. Bonus that inflating the tire also went without a hitch and the sealing job was complete.
To more closely monitor the tire pressure in my newly tubeless wheelset, I also purchased the FOBO Bluetooth tire pressure monitoring valve caps. I’ll save the review for another blog post, but suffice to say these worked great and gave me a lot of peace of mind. Plus it provides these nice graphs showing tire pressure over time and confirming that YES – this sealing process works!
I put the wheels back on the bike and took it for a ride. Rear axle nut torque is 100 Nm. Front axle nut torque is 60 Nm. Pinch bolts on the front axle are 22 Nm. You can use the same method I mentioned at the beginning of lifting the front fork way up to get the front wheel off with out taking of a brake caliper.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
The most important conclusion for this project is that of success. YES. Sealing the rims with 3M Marine Sealant and 3M Extreme Sealing tape works, holds pressure over time, and allows conversion of the Africa Twin’s OEM wheels from tubes only to tubeless.
However, I did discover that it is not an easy task. It is quite labor intensive, took several days, and required more than a few dozen curse words. That said, it is also doable with a few tools and pretty limited technical know-how (I don’t claim to have much, myself).
And while I did demonstrate that it works on the front wheel, it should still be noted that this is unsafe and not recommended due to the lack of a safety bid.