As any experienced mountain biker knows, having the right equipment is essential to a successful ride. One often-overlooked component that can make a big difference in your bike’s performance is rim tape.

Rim tape installed on a bike wheel
Rim tape installed on a bike wheel

Rim tape is a small but crucial part of your bike’s wheel assembly, providing a protective layer between your inner tube and the sharp edges of the rim. Without rim tape, your inner tube can easily puncture or wear out, leading to flat tires and frustration on the trail.

In this article, I’ll explore why rim tape is essential for mountain bikers who use inner tubes. We’ll discuss the differences between tube and tubeless tires and which rim tape is appropriate for each. So let’s dive into the world of rim tape and discover how this small but critical component can make a big difference in your ride.

What is Rim Tape?

As mentioned above, rim tape is installed over the rim to protect the inner tube. Rim tape comes in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at rim tape in greater detail.

When you buy a bike at a store like Walmart or another big box store, even if you buy a cheap mountain bike off Amazon, usually the rim tape installed is not tape at all.

It’s usually more similar to an elastic band, like the kind you’ll find holding your green onions or asparagus bundles at the grocery store. Manufacturers use a band like an elastic, stretching over the spoke nipples and rim.

Rim tape only covers the center area of the rim where the spoke nipples exist. Rim tape does not cover the edges of the rim, nor should it ever appear visibly squishing out between the rim and tire.

Rim tape purchased from a bike shop is usually like thick rubberized electrician’s tape. It’s stretchy but thick and strong enough to protect against the aggressive pressures of the inflated inner tube and tire.

Sharp edges on bike rims can cause flats
Sharp edges on bike rims can cause flats

Do I Need Rim Tape? Spoke Nipples Vs. Inner Tubes

Rim tape is essential for all mountain bikes using spoked wheels and inner-tubed tires. Simply put, if your bike has spokes and the tires have inner tubes, you need rim tape.

Do wheels have spokes? Yes. Are there inner tubes in the tires? Yes. It would be best if you had rim tape.

Let’s look at how most mountain bike tires and wheels work. First, you’ve got your wheel hub in the center. Attached to the hub are 24, 28, or 32 spokes per wheel (depending on the make/model/size). Those spokes attach at a right angle to the hub with a little hook-like device bent and forming into each rigid spoke’s end. The other end of the spokes is finely threaded.

The fine thread on the end of each spoke threads into a long nut called the spoke nipple. The spoke nipple is a long cylindrical nut with a flanged end. The wheel rims have holes drilled that fit the shaft portion of the spoke nipple but not the flanged end.

The spoke nipples insert through the holes in the wheel rim from the outside, and the spokes thread into them. This way, the spokes are adjustable, allowing mechanics to ‘true’ a wheel when minor warping occurs.

It seems like I’m either: buying, replacing or airing up bike tubes

πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ Can I put a tube in a tubeless tire? I explain with video πŸ‘‰ Can I Put a Tube in a Tubeless Bike Tire?

πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ Presta vs Schrader which tube is better. Find out πŸ‘‰ Presta vs Schrader Valves (Is One Better)

πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ I kept getting flats, are some inner tube brands better? Check out what I think πŸ‘‰ Does the Brand of Inner Tube Matter?

πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ Are you getting a bunch of flats? Read πŸ‘‰ Don’t Get Caught with a Flat: Why Rim Tape is a MUST

πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ Is there a right way? πŸ‘‰ How to Let Air Out of a Bike Tire

πŸš΄β€β™€οΈ Presta Valves it’s a mystery πŸ‘‰ How to Inflate an MTB Tire with a Presta Valve

On the flanged side of each spoke nipple is a slot cut into the nut so that a slot-style screwdriver can tighten the spoke nipple from the outside. Although most bike mechanics never use this feature, they use a spoke nipple wrench as the cylindrical section of the spoke nipple is formed to accept a tiny wrench. The standard sizes for these small wrenches are 3.23, 3.3, and 3.45 millimeters. Sorry folks, they come in metric usually.

Considering how your inner tube will distort around the edge of the wheel rim and inner side of the tire, you’ll understand that having slotted spoke nipples exposed to the inner tube will result in a punctured inner tube in no time flat. No pun intended.

So, suppose you have an inner tube in your tire. In that case, you need rim tape to ensure the spoke nipples are sufficiently covered, protecting the inflated inner tube.

Tube Vs. Tubeless Tires and Rim Tape

Since Frank Herzegh invented the first successful tubeless tire, cars worldwide, have enjoyed the luxury of an impeccable design. Today’s mountain bikes have been a bit slower to catch on. That is, slower to catch on to the standard-fare bikes you’ll find at big box stores. I’m talking about bikes under $1000, generally speaking.

These inexpensive mountain bikes and other bike types are great for most riders. However, you’ll find many tubeless tires when you get into the higher-end equipment.

Learning about Mountain Bike Tires could take years. Let me help you just a bit quicker with some articles.

Do Tubeless Tires Need Rim Tape?

Tubeless tires use rim tape as an extra layer of sealing the spoke nipples and the rim. Tubeless tires use a gel that goes into the uninflated tire, and as it inflates, it squishes into cracks, sealing the tire and rim just like a car’s tire seals on the rim. Some specialty rim tapes that act as a sealant are available. Still, most of the time, it’s a canister with a sealant that you squeeze into your valve via an adapter. Sometimes this process requires the removal of the core of the valve. In my other article, you can read about the valve types, where I explore the differences between Schrader and Presta valves.

DIY rim tape solutions
DIY rim tape solutions

What To Do If You Don’t Have Rim Tape

Suppose you don’t have professional-grade rubberized rim tape. In that case, other options involve using different types of tape instead. Similarly, I have another trick if you have an older, smaller inner tube kicking around. Here are my three top tricks for rim tape alternatives to keep your inner tube from exploding on the trail.

1.     Hockey Tape

Hockey tape is adhesive tape people commonly use in ice hockey and other sports. It consists of a durable, cloth-like material coated with an adhesive substance. People use hockey tape to wrap the blade of a hockey stick to provide a better grip and to protect the blade from wear and tear. You can also use it to wrap other equipment parts, such as the handle or the blade’s heel.

Hockey tape comes in various colors and styles, including traditional black, white, and clear, as well as team colors and patterns. In addition to its use in hockey, it is also used in other sports, such as lacrosse, field hockey, and baseball.

I’ve even used hockey tape to replace or fix damaged handlebar grips. It’s handy, but it gets sticky/gunky reasonably quickly; I mean, like six months of use on your handlebars, and you’ll need to replace it. But using it to protect your inner tube works fine. You’ll need to put 3-4 layers over the spoke nipples, so don’t be shy going around and around a few times.

DIY MTB Pro Tip: If you’ve got the time, I recommend getting the “really stuff”. Rim tape has the valve hole reinforced which usually lasts a lot longer. (Protects your tire and tube) Checkout the selection on Amazon with this shortcut link πŸ‘‰ Rim Tape on Amazon

2.  Electrical Tape

If I don’t have hockey tape, my next choice is electrical tape. However, there are two types of electrical tape I’ve found. One type is shiny and almost plastic-like. Don’t use that type. The other type has a matte finish and is much more rubberized. You’ll notice right away when you stretch it that the shiny plastic–like tape rips easier, and the rubbery tape stretches more. It also works better to protect your inner tube. With good quality electrical tape, you only need 2-3 layers to replace good rim tape. However, rubberized electrical tape will deteriorate over time like any rubber product. However, you’ll probably get a flat from riding over something sharp before that happens.

Cut off valve and use an old tube
Cut off valve and use an old tube

3.   Old Inner Tube

One of my favorite types of rim tape is one I used to make when I was a bike mechanic full-time. I had all kinds of bad inner tubes lying around, so I tried cutting one into a continuous strip like an elastic and used it as a rim-tape alternative. To be honest, it worked really well, although I prefer good-quality electrical tape because it sticks in place a little better. However, using a 26″ inner tube for a 27.5″ wheel works well because it fits well and is snug.

Wrapping It Up

Rim tape is a must have. You’ll get more miles out of the tubes, get better traction and extend the life of your tires.

Want to Learn Even More About Tires, Valves and Inflation?


David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or making YouTube videos at πŸ‘‰ DIY Mountain Bike Read more about David HERE.