Archive for October, 2015

Tubular, Tubeless or Tubed

| October 28, 2015 3:34 pm
Tubular, Tubeless or Tubed

For the the past 10 years I have used the more typical configuration of a regular clincher tire with a tube inside.  Recently I have put some carbon tubular wheels on my bike.  I have also used tubeless tires on this bike.  This post is to share some of my experience that the reader can use in deciding what type of tire to use.

When we moved to a new area my old approach of the regular clincher tire with a tube (and no sealant) didn’t seem to work very well.  My lightweight tires (Michelin Pro Race 4 Service Course) were getting flats frequently from goat heads that seemed to be everywhere.  Sometimes I would even get two flats on one ride.

One approach was a thicker, heavier and more flat resistant tire.  However on my wife’s bike I had installed Continental Gatorskin tires, known for puncture resistance.   Although not experiencing as many flats as I was experiencing, she was still getting too many flats.  I needed to do something.

Tubeless

Our new bike came with tubeless ready wheels so I bought some tubeless rim strips from Trek that custom fit into the wheel, along with tubeless valves.  For tires, I selected Hutchinson Fusion 3 and Hutchinson Intensive tubeless tires.  It seemed like a great solution since I have been using tubeless tires on my mountain bike for some time with great sucess.  My experience has not been very favorable, even after going through 5 tubeless tires on two different bikes.

Advantages

  • Almost eliminate flats when using sealant
  • When there was a leak that does not seal, the leakage is usually slow and you can usually make it home.  Some punctures will seal as the pressure goes down and you can still ride the tire with low pressure.
  • No pinch flats so you can run at a lower pressure, making for a more comfortable ride.

Disadvantages

  • Requires tubeless ready tires
  • Likely more weight since the tires tend to be heavier plus the weight of the sealant.
  • Difficult to get the tire on the wheel.  Tubeless tires are made so there is no stretch in the clincher bead.  The Hutchinson brand tires were almost impossible to install and to get inflated.  The Schwalbe One was harder than a regular clincher tire but doable.
  • If you have an issue on the road with a cut that does not seal, installing a tube would prove to be almost impossible with the Hutchinson (and other brands that my friends have tried).  However with the Schwalbe One I think it would be possible since they are easier to get on and inflate.
  • Getting the tire to seat was difficult with the Hutchinson.  Even using soapy water on the bead, it is hard to get air in fast enough to seat the tire.  Using a compressor did not always work.  One tire required I used a CO2 cartridge, even went through three CO2 cartridges to get it to seat.  I had to put a strap around the tire and cinch it down to help.  I had a very different experience with two different Schwalbe One tires, which inflated right away, even with the valve core installed (using a compressor).
  • Tire are expensive and the selection is very limited.

My Take

After going through the hassles of Hutchinson tubeless tires, I had given up on but after using the Schawlbe One tubeless tire, I am giving them a second chance.

Tubed Clincher

The next approach I have taken is to return to using regular clincher tires and put a sealant inside the tube (you need a tube with a removable core).

Advantages

  • Wide selection of tires and reasonable prices.  A high quality racing tire is half of what a tubeless tire costs
  • The sealant usually deals with the flats.  When it does not, it is easy enough to put in a new tube
  • The most reliable setup for riding far from home.  A spare tube and a tire boot will almost always get you home.

Disadvantage

  • The sealant tends to coagulate inside the tube, depending the sealant used.  I started out using Stans sealant and found it render the tube nearly worthless after just a couple weeks.  I switched to using Bontrager TLR sealant and it seems to be working better and went I removed the tube after 40 days, the sealant had not coagulated like the Stans.  Click here for a test of sealant in tubes.  I have pulled out many goat heads and the sealant sealed the tube in all cases using the Bontrager TLR.
  • You still get pinch flats so you need to run at a higher tire pressure than in the case of tubeless or tubular.

My Take

For most people this is probably the best approach.  Whether you want to put a sealant inside the tube is really a function of the area where you bike and how frequently you get a flat.  For amateur racing where you don’t get some follow car with a mechanic to do a wheel swap, it can make a big difference.  On a recent time trial race, a friend was hopping for first place, but flatted.  If he had sealant in the tube, it might have sealed and allow him to finish with a great time.  Many triathletes use the sealant in tube approach for racing.

Tubular

Tubular tires have been around long before clincher tires. Today all pro cyclists use tubular.  The modern tubular tires are not like before where it required sewing up a tire around a tube, making a repair complicated.  Today’s tubular tires resemble more like a garden hose.  In the past the ritual of gluing the tubular tire to the rim, was enough to make most people want to avoid tubulars.  Now many people have found using a special double sided mountain tape installing a tubular tire almost as easy as a clincher tire and much easier than a tubeless tire.

Advantages

  • Almost eliminate flats when using sealant.
  • When there was a leak that did not seal, the leakage is usually so slow you can make it home
  • No pinch flats so you can run at a lower pressure, making for a more comfortable ride and potentially lower rolling resistance.
  • Much easier to install than a tubeless tire
  • Far wider selection of tires compared with a tubeless tire but not as wide of selection as clincher tires
  • You can get a far lighter wheel-set using using a tubular tire since the wheel does not need to hold the clincher at high pressure. The wheels in the above photo are only 1210 grams, even though they have a depth of 45 mm.
  • The lightest tubular tires are lighter than a lightweight clincher tire plus a lightweight tube.
  • Many prefer the ride quality of tubular tires.

Disadvantages

  • Requires tubular wheels
  • If a leak does not seal and the tire goes flat before you get home, you are pretty much dead in the water unless you brought a spare tubular tire with you.  On the road you can install a new tubular tire and if you pump it up to a high enough pressure and are careful on turns, you should be able to make it home even without using new tape or glue.  There are lightweight tublar tires that weigh only 215 grams, so carrying one as a spare is not out of the question.
  • Tires are more expensive than clinchers
  • You need to use tubular wheels to use tubular tires.  However Tufo has introduced a new tubular tire to use with a clincher rim, but I have not tested that and can not recommend it at this point.

My Take

If one wants the lightest tire setup for either racing or training with near flat protection, a tubular tire should be considered.  Since most individuals will not be able to put a tubeless tire on the road, my thought is you might as well use a tubular tire and gain several advantages over a tubeless tire or go with a regular tubed clincher.