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Why I Ride Tubular Tires Exclusively

2011-04-07 updated 2011-09-10 • SEND FEEDBACK
Related: gear, Road Bikes, tubular, Veloflex
Veloflex Record 22mm tubular tire

I ride tubular (“sew up”) tires exclusively.

A tubular tire has a built-in latex (not butyl) inner tube. They are expensive ($100 on up per tire for the ones I ride), must be glued on, and require tubular wheels. The alternatives are tubeless tires (relatively new on the market), and clinchers (what 99% of riders use).

I carry a pre-glued spare Veloflex Record under the seat; in the field tire swaps can be done, then ride home carefully until the replacement can be glued on properly. Carry a spare pre-glued tire and tire sealant.

I ride tubular tires for multiple and compelling reasons:

  • Outstanding ride quality, handling, comfort.
  • Low weight where it counts: the outer part of the wheel, both for the wheel rim and the tire. The difference can be as much as half a pound (!) per wheel, which makes an enormous difference in feel and acceleration.
  • Safety— immune from extremely dangerous rim-blowouts that can pop clincher tires off the rim (personal unpleasant experience, and I’m not alone). While tubulars can blow out suddenly, this requires a nasty foreign object to slice through the tire. And of course, a tubular must be glued on competently or it could roll off the rim. I have mine done by the experts at Palo Alto Bicycles. It’s no easy task to get one off the rim, they are solid.
  • More safety— Even if a tubular were to flat suddenly, the tire is glued on, and tends to flatten over the rim edge, giving the rider a fighting chance to avoid a crash. No such deal with a conventional clincher. And in 6 years of riding tubulars, I’ve had only one sudden rupture, caused by an unknown metal object bursting right through the tire and out the other side. Still, no problem coming to a halt safely.
  • Flat resistance — about 80% of the time, a cut or puncture results in a tubular tire retaining enough pressure to get me home at 40+ psi, because the latex inner tube is resistant to leaking air beyond a certain pressure. By comparison, clinchers with butyl tubes just go completely flat
  • Flats— even when a tire goes completely flat, 9 times out of 10 I can add 1/2 bottle of Stan’s No Tubes sealant (about 20 grams of fluid, use tires with removable valve and carry the tiny valve-removal tool in a little plastic baggie). After adding the Stans No Tubes, reinflate then then ride the tire for months more (assuming it’s not a significant cut). Seriously, the stuff works great for pinhole leaks and the tire then holds air better than ever. Worst case, I can peel off the tire, install the pre-glued spare, inflate, and ride home.

I will never return to conventional clinchers— pavement hurts when your body undergoes friction on the pavement (!) from a sudden blowout, and it’s a deadly risk when riding a steep downhill. The safety issues, the low weight and the ride quality are compelling for tubulars.

I haven’t tried tubeless road bike tires, but they are not risk free, and I’ve had tubeless mountain bike tires blow off the rim— no thanks.

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