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Bicycle rim tape explained

Updated: 09/09/2020.

This post shortly explains important things concerning bicycle rim tape. Many cyclists already know all this, but many don’t – author of the text has often had bicycles brought into his bicycle repair shop with tubes punctured, or damaged from the rim, or the spokes – because of rim tape problems.

1. What does the bicycle wheel rim tape do?

Rim tape is put directly onto the rim. It’s function is to cover all the sharp and rough edges, therefore protecting the tube from being punctured by the rim. A very simple device. It’s supposed to stick firmly to the rim, preventing tube from being punctured by spoke nipples, or by spoke nipple holes in case of rims with recessed spoke holes.

2. Rim tape dimensions

There are two standard widths (most common, but there are other widths as well). Narrow 15 mm ones, and wide 19 mm.

When it comes to length, they also come in two variants: in self adhesive rolls (like duct tape), that can be cut to the desired rim circumference; or pre cut and glued to a certain rim size standard, with a pre-drilled valve hole.

Adhesive rim tape. It comes with, or without pre-drilled valve holes.
Adhesive rim tape. It comes with, or without pre-drilled valve holes.
Pre-cut rim tape. Cut to a (standard) rim dimension with a valve hole.
Pre-cut rim tape. Cut to a (standard) rim dimension with a pre drilled valve hole.

For example: a MTB wheel will use a rim tape for 559 mm diameter rims (MTB standard) and 19 mm wide; while a road bike with narrow rims and tyres will use a rim tape cut for rims of 622 mm circumference, 15 mm wide (bicycle wheel and tyre sizing standards).

3. Rim tape types

There are rubber ones, made of material similar to the one used for tubes. They are quite easy to stretch, which makes them easy to slide onto even bigger rims than the one they are made for – in case of emergency.

Rubber rim tape, pre cut to a size.
Rubber rim tape, pre cut to a size.

The more expensive and of higher quality are tapes made of strong fabric (or hard rubber/plastic). They usually have “high pressure” printed on them.

High quality high pressure rim tape.
High quality high pressure rim tape.

4. Bicycle wheel rim types

There are simple single wall rims, where spoke nipples are screwed onto the rim interior, so that rim tape goes directly over the spoke nipples:

Single wall rim. Rim tape lies directly over the spoke nipples.
Single wall rim.
Rim tape lies directly over the spoke nipples.

For this type of rim, cheap rubber rim tape can be used, or a tailored old tube, or even a duct tape.

Modern rims are usually double walled (and made of aluminium).


With these rims, tyre pressure presses tube against the sharp holes. That’s why a high quality, high pressure rim tape needs to be used. Rubber rim tape, old tubes, duct tape etc. will not do with these rims.

BikeGremlin TIP
BikeGremlin TIP

When mounting rim tape, attention should be paid it is not too narrow (so it doesn’t slide off nipple holes), or too wide, so it interferes with tyre mounting.

Since it can slide during mounting, a valve can be put through valve opening on the rim tape and the rim, to hold everything in place.

Valve that can be placed (and screwed in place), to hold the rim tape while it is being mounted.
Valve that can be placed (and screwed in place), to hold the rim tape while it is being mounted.

Author’s recommended rim tape. Clicking on an image below opens Amazon.com on-line shopping search (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases):

Schwalbe high pressure rim tape at Amazon.com. Choose the size for your wheels (rims).
Schwalbe high pressure rim tape at Amazon.com.
Choose the size for your wheels (rims).
Schwalbe tubeless rim tape - at Amazon.com
Schwalbe tubeless rim tape – at Amazon.com

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10 thoughts on “Bicycle rim tape explained”

    • Thanks for the note.

      The original idea was to provide a link for people to conveniently buy decent quality at low price, without need for looking loads of adds, comparing prices. Recommending something I know works well.

      However, Amazon offers seem to change, so links work for quite short amount of time often. Can’t manage to update them all, so I’m removing them.

  1. the rim tape should be wide enough and thick enough as to ensure that the tire bead presses on the rim seat with some force – depending on the torque generated by braking or pedaling etc. the tire will be pressing on the side walls of the rim but with not so high force as to ensure there is no movement and there’s also tire flex allowing the tire beads to move up and down and not be precisely true to the rim.

    the rim’s channel is deeper for rims that are designed for tubeless to make tire mounting easier and also ensure that the tire bead presses on the rim seat. if the rim channel is not deep enough then you either have to work harder when mounting the tire or you can have a compressible rim tape like butyl. i have had good results with laying an additional layer of butyl – cut tube – over a more harder layer that covers the holes.

    so, even for a tubed wheel this is advisable. in some cases, not all. there are plenty of tires that are easy to mount but will not stay at fixed positions and there are symptoms, one of them is that the spoke tension remains exactly the same after mounting the tire, inflating them a bit and then lowering (tire) pressure to zero. the spoke tension should be a bit lower. that’s how you know that the tire bead is pressing on the rim seat to some degree. you either want a higher force or are comfortable with a lower one.

    the rim can have have it’s diameter shortened as high as 1mm if the builder managed to achieve a high spoke tension that is appropriate with plain gauge spokes and high spoke count. the wheel will be heavier but more durable. high average tension makes the additional tension at dynamic loads to be raised with less delta tension. but it is not advised getting to higher than recommended tension for the rim unless spoke tension variance is low, like +/-5% (having radial runout at +/-0.05mm). if non drive side spokes are not butted but are the same thick spokes as for the DS then the additional tension that occurs at 4:30 and 7:30 positions for the DS will not be as high as for using butted spokes on the NDS (non drive side) which would participate less in holding the wheel together radially (the lever effect).

    thinner spokes should be used for being lighter, not so large loads on the rims. at lower average tension that is appropriate for thinner spokes there will be less compression on the rim.

    • Nice points and nicely explained. 🙂

      As far as I know, tyre is held on by the side-walls, not on the part where the rim tape is. All that rim tape needs “to do” in those terms is not interfere with proper tyre seating when it is being mounted and inflated.
      Super low pressure tubeless tyres are also similar in those terms, though I have limited experience with them.

      For the total aggregate spoke tension, I’d advise to leave some 20 – 30 % “room” – not go with the rim’s max. tension capacity.

      I’d agree with the rest.

    • adi pe: I read your amazing lecture post and I’m so depressed, I thought I was reasonably intelligent and knew a bit about bike mechanics but now I realise I am just pond life!!
      I just hope you are the Jedi master of wheel building and this level of knowledge is not normal.
      Anyway, as Lance said, it’s not about the bike – I’ll stick some rim tape in and pedal on…

    • I made a series of videos on bicycle wheel building (in Tarzan English 🙂 ) – with recommended wheel building books in the video description. Think that is good enough to make reasonably durable and reliable wheels:

      Wheel Building

  2. My bike tire says 32-622 (28x 1 1/4 x 1 3/4). So what does the 622 stand for? Several websites say 622 mm but that converts to 24 inches, but the diameter really is 28 inches. I don’t get it.


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