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Tubes, Tubeless or Tubular?

“What’s best, tubes or tubeless?” I get asked this at least once a week, every week. I’m not complaining, after all, it is my job and I love talking bikes. But with it being such a hot topic we thought it’d be a good idea to get the facts out there for all to read. Every option has their own pro’s and con’s, but what may be best for one rider may not necessarily be the best for another.

Tubes.

Old faithful, the vast majority of bikes out of the box are kitted out with tubes. Most bikes out and about are running tubes. They are simplistic, cheap, low maintenance and easy to repair. They don’t require a special rim or tire and are available in any establishment that calls themselves a bike shop.

So why fix what isn’t broke? Well for all these positives there are some negatives. If you’ve never had a puncture then you are one of the blessed few. Most of us have though and it’s normally at the most inconvenient time. When the heavens have opened, you’re at the furthest point from home and your hands are so cold you are struggling to get your tire off to replace the tube. This is when you probably pay a visit to me asking if there are any alternatives, which brings us to tubeless setups.

Tubeless.

Tubeless setups have been around for a number of years now. In the early days the sealant and tire choices were limited and often a pain to set up. However, many brands have now jumped on the band wagon which has accelerated the advances in tire, rim, sealant and rim tape technology. “Rim tape” development? I know it sounds ridiculous but having a decent rim tape can be the difference between hours of swearing and liters of wasted sealant and a 5-minute set up without breaking a sweat.

So what’s involved in a tubeless set up? To start with you need:

–              Tubeless ready rims (if you don’t, there are conversion kits, but a tubeless ready rim makes life a lot easier)

–              Tubeless ready rim tape.

–              Sealant.

–              Tubeless ready tires.

–              Tubeless valves.

Many new bikes come with everything apart from the sealant, but this does vary from brand to brand and bike to bike. So double check or contact us if you are not sure.

So, what are the pro’s? Well less punctures are the biggest advantage for most. I say less because it is still possible to puncture, just a lot less likely. The biggest advantage for me is being able to run less pressure in the tires without the risk of getting a pinch puncture. Whether you are on the road or in the mud, less pressure means more grip and more comfort. I would argue that converting my trail bike to tubeless is the best improvement I’ve made to it. Even better than the carbon wheels… It’s really that good in my opinion.

Finally, is the weight saving. Innertubes can be heavy. Especially if you have a bike with plus tires. Remove the tube, remove the weight. what’s not to like? And since it’s rotational weight it’ll also benefit your braking, handling and acceleration dramatically.

So what’s the catch? Well if your bike didn’t come tubeless ready out of the box for most it is the cost. If you need tires, sealant, rim tape and valves you can easily be sitting at the £100.00 mark (It’s worth it though, I promise!).

The set up can be time consuming depending on the tire and rim combination. There is an element of maintenance needed. Most sealants need topping up over a number of months although there are exceptions to this such as Finish Lines offering. As mentioned before, you can still get a puncture. This means either carrying a tubeless tire repair kit or worse, carrying an inner tube.

Tubeless set ups don’t excel in every situation. On road bikes for example, there is so much pressure within the tire it can be difficult for the sealant to do its job quick enough to avoid you having to stop and top up the pressure. And on mountain bikes you can “burp” the tire, this is when you are particularly hard on the tire and it loses pressure between the tire bead and rim although this isn’t a common issue.

Tubular.

There’s a third option? Indeed, there is. Normally reserved for those that compete. Tubular tires have long been the favorite of pro’s and privateers alike. Although a lot of the top mountain bikers have moved away from them, the roadies and cross riders still favor them over anything else.

So, what is a tubular tire? It’s a handmade carcass normally made from cotton, with a latex inner tube sewn in and the tread glued onto the outside. They require a specific tubular rim to be mounted to and are either glue or taped into position.

So why go tubular? They’re lighter than a conventional tube set up, due to the rim not needing to be so tall for the tire to sit in, a considerable amount of weight can be saved over a clincher type rim. Due to being made of cotton, they are more compliant, giving you more comfort and a better ride quality than a clincher set up. They are also more puncture resistant and have a broader pressure range.

Track riders like them because they can run them super hard and cross riders like them because they can run super soft, and road riders run them somewhere in the middle, like Goldilocks.

So, if the pros are using them, there can’t be con’s, right? Most of the issues using a tubular set up is to do with the cost. You can expect to pay around £80.00 upwards for a tub. Then you need a tubular specific wheel, which isn’t any more expensive than a clincher but if you don’t have one, you’ll need one or two… You’ll also need to attach the tire to the rim with glue or tape. Although this is something you can do at home. Many people prefer to leave it to the professionals as the consequences of getting it wrong can be pretty serious. The final issue is the lifespan of the tires. Ever wonder what happens to a pro’s wheel when they get a puncture? Their mechanic pulls the tire off and bins it. And then starts again. A puncture could happen after 2500 miles or 25 miles. So, if the puncture gods aren’t on your side, it can become an expensive habit. This is mostly why tubulars are normally used by those competing wanting every marginal gain they can get their hands on. However, if you are lucky enough to own a bike that only gets used on dreamy summer days tubs could also be for you.

So, what’s best for you? Hopefully, I’ve provided enough information to give you a good idea as to what would work best for you. But if you’re still sat scratching your head then just give us a call or pop in store for any more information you require. For some great deals on tyres, up to 27% off Dugast cyclocross tyres and all the tubes, sealant and other kit you need to go tubeless check out our website.

“Jack Explains”

Jack works in our Chichester store, is a fully qualified Retul Bike Fitter and whilst he rides all disciplines, it’s safe to say his heart belongs to mountain biking.

Take a look at Jack’s Instagram for more inspiration to get out on your bike

Categories
Buying Guide Cyclocross Featured News Tyres

What Tyres For Cyclocross?

Ah yes the age old question: “Which tyres should I use for Cyclocross”. It’s probably the most frequently asked question we get on the topic of Cyclocross here at Hargroves Cycles.

Having raced cyclocross for the last 10 years in pretty much all conditions from sand to mud to ice, Matt Macdonald has firsthand experience of what works and what doesn’t. In this post, Matt shares his wealth of knowledge and experience in the tyre-buying department for the benefit of any newcomers to the sport or those looking to upgrade to a better performing tyre.

Tyres Make a Difference

Cyclocross, like a lot of things, does come down to budget and not everyone can afford 3 cyclocross bikes and endless pairs of wheels to suit every condition. Some people have 2 bikes and those that don’t, get by with a spare pair of wheels. Unfortunately to be competitive in typical winter conditions you would benefit from having 2 bikes.

Tyres are relatively inexpensive compared to other bike parts, but contribute a huge amount to the bikes overall performance. If you’ve ever heard Formula 1 teams go on about their tyres so much it’s because, like cyclocross, they are that important.

Clinchers or Tubulars?

Tyre decision in cyclocross comes down to one important question, clinchers or tubulars? If you’re just starting out or are on a budget then you will probably opt for a clincher. This type of tyre uses an inner tube & the tyre itself sits on the bead of the rim. Some higher-end clincher tyres are also referred to as open tubulars. It’s easy to get confused about the terminology, but these are still clinchers.

Tubulars are used by those who have a slightly higher budget or who really want to maximize the performance of their tyres in all conditions. From my experience, the only time where a clincher could potentially be a better choice than a tubular is when the course is completely bone dry & pan flat with no off-camber sections. When conditions are dry and fast, cornering speeds are often much higher which can put a lot of strain on a tubular tyre. This can sometimes cause a tubular tyre to roll off the rim (which isn’t ideal). It’s also worth pointing out that a clincher can have a slightly more predictable ride as the tyre itself isn’t ‘moving’ around on the rim.

Matt’s Favourite Clincher (Open Tubular) Tyres

My favourite tyre for dry to intermediate conditions is the Challenge Grifo 33 Open Tubular. It’s unparalleled in rolling speed & suppleness and feels quite close to that of a tubular tyre. Closely followed by the Challenge Fango Open Tubular which is geared slightly more to intermediate conditions as it has a more aggressive tread pattern.

For muddy days the hands-down winner is the Challenge Limus Open Clincher which has a very aggressive tread pattern but still a low rolling resistance & superior suppleness to allow for lower tyre pressures.

You may be wondering why every tyre choice here is a Challenge, but these tyres are “unchallenged” in terms of quality & performance every time.

For those on more of a budget a good, all round choice is the classic Schwalbe CX Pro which has decent enough tread to cope with all conditions & performs surprisingly well for its price. The Clement MXP Clincher Tyre also offers good one-tread-fits-all performance & handles most conditions pretty well, except for the mud where most clinchers do falter. Challenge also makes a budget version of the Grifo called the Challenge Grifo Pro, which for its price is still a very good performing tyre.

Tubular Tyres Explained

On to Tubulars for where the real performance gains can be found, but a quick description as to why they are better for certain conditions. The carcass of a tubular tyre is completely sewn together with the inner tube inside and is glued to the rim. Often the sidewalls of tubulars are made of cotton which makes them extremely supple and able to mold to the terrain much better. This, of course, means more grip & better traction on loose terrain. The nature of tubulars allow for you to run them at much lower pressures, which assists in their superior traction.

Terrain, where tubular performance is highlighted the most, is on any kind of off-camber, any type of mud (from slightly wet to very muddy) & rocky/rooty terrain.

Tubulars are excellent through off-camber sections due to their ability to mold to the terrain. At the right pressure, the tread & carcass will follow the angle of terrain as much as possible whereas a clincher will stay rigid. They can be run at much lower pressures too (sometimes under 20 psi) which gives increased traction and tracking around corners especially in muddy conditions. They also work extremely well on rocks and roots due to their resistance to pinch flats. They’re not puncture-proof, but you’ll be worrying less about getting a puncture mid race.

Tubular Tyre Recommendations

As for the products, the greatest mud tubular of all is the famed Dugast Rhino, which has become synonymous with Cyclocross in the mud & has won many a World Cup & World Championship over the last 5-6 years.

Challenge also make a rival for this called the Challenge Limus, which is very close to the Dugast and some would argue better, mainly because its a bit more robust.

For dry to intermediate conditions there are 2 options from Dugast, the Typhoon or the brand new Small Bird. Both are very good tyres, but personally, I think the Small Bird pips the Typhoon to the post as it has slightly better versatility for dry courses for those who don’t want to go for file treads.

Challenge make a slightly cheaper rival for these in the Grifo & Fango patterns both very well suited to dry & intermediate conditions.

On the more budget end of the scale, if you can call tubulars that, the Specialized Terra & Tracer tubulars are good for dry to intermediate conditions.

If you opt for a Dugast or Challenge tubular I would highly recommend using Aquasure to protect the sidewalls from mud staining, impact damage and persistent jet washing abuse. Aquasure, by trade, is a wetsuit repair substance but is used in the ‘Cross community as sidewall protection. It is a transparent rubber material that is applied wet and dries onto the sidewall and acts as a protective layer to increase longevity and durability against constant jet washing and mud staining that can eat away at the sidewall and rim glue. The only trade off is that you add a tiny bit of weight (maybe 20g for both tyres) and it takes away a little bit of the suppleness, but in my opinion, its worth it if you want your tubulars to stay looking new and last for more than one season.

What About Tyre Pressures?

One large area to consider after making your tyre decision is how to set up the pressures on the day, which is another area for great discussion, especially in the car park before and after a race. Buying a fancy Dugast is pointless if you’re running it a 40 psi in the mud.

Some riders are very loyal to PSI readings & digital pressure gauges but I personally prefer the trial & error method of going by feel, as each course has a unique set of demands.

Depending on your weight (I’m 78kg) I start at ~30 psi, ride the course once and make note of particularly tricky corners or bumpy sections that are hard to ride. Let air out until you feel the tyres ‘give’ enough to soak up some of the bumps and still maintain ride-ability through the corners.

In wet and muddy conditions tyre pressures take on a near art form level of precision. When letting air out there will be a point where the tyres will start to “bite” rather than slide and this is where you’re trying to get to, but treat the course as a whole rather than focusing on one bad corner. It’s much better to not be able to ride one corner than to have tyres that run too flat for 95% of the course.

Take note that the role of the front and rear tyres are quite different and would need attention individually. The front tyre you want grip and the rear you want traction, so in the mud you would tend to put more body weight onto the rear tyre through corners so that you can maintain forward momentum while pedalling, and keeping the front end ‘light’ so that you don’t wash out.

Also, take into account any sections of tarmac or awkward off cambers & obstacles that may pull the tubulars off or cause pinch flats.

Sometimes your pressures might be so low that the tyres bottom out onto the rim, but as long as the ground is soft, this shouldn’t matter. If someone is able to ride a corner/section you can’t, chances are they have different pressures or they’re just a better bike handler.

Hopefully, that helps you narrow down your Cyclocross tyre choices!