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Whats the downside of tubular tires?(24 posts)

Whats the downside of tubular tires?timwat
Dec 30, 2003 8:08 AM
From what I've read, tubular tires ride better and the wheels for them are lighter. So why does everyone ride clinchers? Which do the pros use?
Downside: They're PITA. nmOldEdScott
Dec 30, 2003 8:16 AM
sticky stinky effing PITAContinental
Dec 30, 2003 9:08 AM
That glue sticks to human skin better than it does to tires and rims. It smells terrible and you'll get high sniffing it with the minor side effect of a dissolved brain. If you don't get them glued on straight, the tire doesn't roll true and round. If the rim isn't clean before glueing, or if the glue dries out too much, the tire can roll off the rim and make you intimate with the pavement. Performance difference between equally priced tubular and clincher is close to zero
A tubular (sew up) primerKerry Irons
Dec 30, 2003 4:55 PM
Tubulars (AKA sew-ups) have the "bead" of the tire sewn around the tube. The sewing is covered by a glued on chafing strip, and the tire is glued to the rim. The rim is not the same as a "standard" clincher rim, and so is incompatible. Riding tubulars is a different infrastructure than riding clinchers. As a tubular user for nearly 30 years (even toured on them and had them on tandems) who switched to clinchers at the beginning of 1998, my comments follow (many of you have seen this before).

When I started riding "good" bikes, there was no comparison. You could easily do a tubular tire/rim combination for 600 gm, and a clincher rim alone was 600 gm (nobody ever talked about clincher tire weight back then because nobody considered them a high quality option at all). Even when the first light weight clinchers came out in the early '80s, you were still about 200 gm per wheel ahead to go with sew-ups. I converted many a clincher rider over to the nirvana of tubulars: fast tire changes, better ride, lighter weight, stronger wheels. Each winter I would patch tires - three per hour while watching TV. I always kept a year ahead on my tires, too. 20 years ago, tubulars were significantly lighter, tubular rims were significantly lighter, tubulars were widely available across the price range, and almost all tubulars rode significantly better than the best clinchers. The hassles of gluing them on and repairing them were about the same as they are now. For the same total weight of tire/tube/rim/rim strip, tubulars were probably also more durable, since a lighter rim allows a heavier tire.

Fast forward to 2003 and the weight difference has gone from 200+ gm per wheel to about 50 unless you go to something really exotic, the ride differences are much less. Some would argue that only a top of the line tubular rides better than a top of the line clincher, and realistically (US mail order catalogs or pro shops) the selection of tubulars is small. Also, you have to carry a spare TIRE (250 gm) compared to a spare TUBE (70 gm), so the weigh savings is canceled, though the weight is in different places. The savings in rotating weight are only possible if you use the very lightest tubular rims, and that weight savings only has meaning if you are racing crits where you are braking and accelerating at every corner. If you're that close to winning those crits and looking for just a little bit more to push you over the top, tubulars offer an advantage. Even then, it may be more productive to work on your sprint, but that's another story.

Some still swear by tubulars. Most have switched to clinchers or never used tubulars in the first place. You won't go "wrong" with either, but IMHO you will not get much of a performance improvement with sew ups at significant hassle (if you repair your own) or cost increases. In 1997 (my last on sew ups), I had probably 10 flats in 7K miles, and completely wore through at least 7 tires. In 1998, my first on clinchers, I had 5 flats and wore out two tires (8K miles). The time spent at the side of the road with flats was about the same - half as many flats with clinchers and they take twice as long to change. Tubulars still may have a slight performance advantage at the top end, but plenty of pro races are being won on clinchers (25-30% of TdF riders were on clinchers), so they must be good enough. Call me insensitive, but I can't tell the difference in ride, and I have NEVER given my decision to switch to clinchers a second thought. Note: Erik Zabel says he can't tell the difference either!
re: Whats the downside of tubular tires?biknben
Dec 30, 2003 8:35 AM
b Price...
I decent tubular tire will cost $30-60 or more. You'll want to have at least one in reserve, for when you need it and one cheapo one as a spare during a ride.

b Selection...
There are fewer tubular tires and in many cases you have to use mail order to find them. My LBS has Conti Sprinters, 700c and 650c, that's it. That's better than most LBSs in my area.

The same goes for rims. Mavic only makes one tubular rim (Reflex). Velocity makes two I think.

b Hassle...
Depending on your gluing method, the process of mounting a tuby can take days. The approach I used at first consisted of a day for stretching the tire, one day for first coat of glue to dry, then more glue and mount on the 3rd day. Let it sit for 24 hours before riding. After a while I streamlined the process down to two days. Then I used glue tape and it wasn't too bad.

I did tubies for 3 years. I liked them but I'm not missing them either.
2-3 Days to Mount?!?chbarr
Dec 30, 2003 8:40 AM
Forgive my ignorance--I've never used tubulars. If it takes 2-3 days to mount them, what do you do if you have a flat on the road? You alluded to having a spare for the road, so it is do-able. How does it work?

Not that I'm going to switch to tubulars...

(BTW: What does "PITA" stand for in the other reply?)
2-3 Days to Mount?!?biknben
Dec 30, 2003 8:51 AM
When on the road you bring along a pre-glued spare tire. The residual glue on the rim and the glue on the spare will be enough to "get you home". When you get home, you remove the spare and put on a new tire.

The process doesn't have to take days, but it can. I couldn't afford to stockpile tubular tires. When I flatted (happened 2 or 3 times) I had to order a tire or settle for what the LBS had. It was a Pain in the A$$, PITA!
pain in the a$$ = pitaC-40
Dec 30, 2003 8:54 AM
Tubulars will be a huge hassle if you ride where there's much road debris to cause flats. You must carry a spare, pre-glued and properly folded spare. Takes up a bunch of room. Much easier to have a couple of tubes in your jersey pocket. If you flat, then the spare must be mounted, but it will only be glued adequately to get you home. When you get home, the spare is removed and more glue applied to insure an adequate bond. If you have a second flat, then you walk.

Try repairing a punctured tubular sometime. Real fun.
Oh, BROTHER!!!Dave_Stohler
Dec 31, 2003 8:42 PM
Another anal-retentive tubular mounting technique! Really, where DO you guys get these ideas??

All you need to do is put a thin coat of glue on the rim. Let it sit for a few minutes, then mount the tire. Let it sit overnight. That's all!

Maybe your method will add 2% to the ultimate tensile strength of the glue, but not more than that. FWIW, even the pros don't get as anal about their gluing as that. Also, if you don't have the time to wait, you can always use FasTak-it dries in a matter of minutes.
re: Whats the downside of tubular tires?xxl
Dec 30, 2003 8:56 AM
What others said is true; tubies are a hassle. The pros use 'em because they don't change their own tires, so what do they care whether it's a pain? And there are a number of pro teams that do ride clinchers.
Why are they called 'tubulars' anyway?Sao
Dec 30, 2003 8:57 AM
They have no tubes. Shouldn't they be called "tubeless" or does that just make too much logical sense?

They do have tubes (except Tufo) (nm)TJeanloz
Dec 30, 2003 9:01 AM
And integrated tubes at that.
Old timers call 'em sew ups.OldEdScott
Dec 30, 2003 11:23 AM
And I'm glad they've gone the way of clips and straps. Modern clinchers are just as good, for all practical purposes in the real world, and 10,000 times less of a headache.
time and expense nmgtx
Dec 30, 2003 9:08 AM
Lots of down and up sides of tubularsaOldMan
Dec 30, 2003 9:20 AM
I have been riding on tubulars and clinchers since '73. They are both good to ride on. I prefer the ride of tubulars and use them most days on my road bike. But I do have a set of clinchers as well. They do not get used very much, but I still keep them.

First, one is not better than the other. They are both good and both have their +/-. For most cyclists, clinchers are the way to go. They are easier to install, there are more choices of tires and every bike store carries them.

Tubulars offer a different ride. The feel of the road is different. I ride strictly for fitness and pleasure. So for this type of riding, I appreciate the feel that a tubular tire gives me. Some people appreciate the difference, other people could not care less.

When I started using tubulars, there was not much of a choice in tires. If you wanted high performance racing tires, the only choice you had were tubulars. Clichers were not reliable over 70psi; as they would blow off the rim if inflated more than that.

Now, modern clincher tires are every bit as good as tubulars. In many ways, they are better than tubulars. There are so many choices of sizes, colors, durability, can pick exactly what meets your needs.

As clichers have gotten better, less and less roadies have had the need to use tubulars. This has resulted in less demand, which has resulted in less supply, which has further reduced demand.... The result is that there is not a very big market for tubular tires or wheels.

I like tubular tires for the following reasons.
1) They offer a different ride that I prefer.
2) If I do flat, I can replace the tire faster and easier than fixing a clincher flat.
3) It is my perception that I flat less on tubulars than clichers.

There are downsides of tubular tires. The biggest one is the ritual of gluing the tire to the rim. As cycling is my hobby, I do not find this to be a problem. But if you are impatient, stay away. The second is cost; tubulars are an expensive tire choice. If you have financial constraints, stay away. Third is availabiity, you cannot find good tubulars in many LBS's. You need to plan ahead and order them 3 or 4 at a time. FWIW, buy your tubular tires from the UK or biketiresdirect(direct importers). They are less than half the price of the LBS.

For 99.9+% of cyclists, tubulars are not worth the trouble. But for some of us, tubulars are still the only way to fly down the road. I do not recommend them to friends or family. But I will be riding them until they stop making them.

And yes, more pros ride on tubulars than clinchers. This, despite the fact that there is more sponsorship dollars/Euros from clincher tire companies than from tubular tire companies.
re: Whats the downside of tubular tires?zipptrek
Dec 30, 2003 12:22 PM
I'd like to add a few things that the others didn't cover. As far as gluing goes I highly recommend tufo gluing tape. It makes the job alot easier and with no mess. Plus you can take one on the road to use on a spair tire. Thus eliminating the need to re-glue tire when you get home. The manufacturer claims that the glue is pressure sensitive and is ready to ride as soon as you roll your weight on the tire. The bond that you get I believe is better than that of the liquid glue. As I've learned from trying to remove the tire after. You can also get the tires repaired at at $15 per tire when you send more than one.
The other thing that I like about the tubulars is that most are rated at a very high psi. Conti sprinters are 170 psi. Which you can buy at for about $35 each, or buy ten at time and get them around $29 each.

Getting flats can get expensive at $15 each if the tire is still worth repairing, even more if its not.

Good luck!!
I fix them myselfaOldMan
Dec 30, 2003 12:32 PM
It only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to fix a tubular tire. I carry a patch kit with me on all rides. It is not that much more difficult than fixing a clincher flat. I think a needle and thread scare many people, but it is really very easy to do.

I have not tried the tape yet. I might give it a try in the future.
How do you know where to unstitch them? (nm)B2
Dec 30, 2003 2:11 PM
pump them up, stick 'em in water, watch for bubbles(nm)climbo
Dec 30, 2003 2:19 PM
Not hard to find the problem areaaOldMan
Dec 30, 2003 4:57 PM
If you are at home, water is the easiest way. just look for bubbles. On the road, pump up the tire and listen for the leak. Normally the puncture is pretty obvious.
Downside of gluing tapes:Dave_Stohler
Dec 31, 2003 8:48 PM
Other than Tufo tapes, the rest of them don't stick worth a $hit. Tufo tape does, but it sticks so well you'll never get it off your basetape!! This might not be a problem with "unrepairable" Tufos, but don't use them on any tubbie that you'll ever even consider repairing!
re: Whats the downside of tubular tires?Helix
Dec 30, 2003 6:40 PM
Given the generally negative attitude towards tubulars on this site, I feel obligated to give my 2 cents. I've ridden tubulars since my first Campy-equipped Frejus back in college in 1968, including several 2000 mile + solo tours. I love the feel and have never found the "drawbacks" a major issue.

Part of this is my somewhat minimalist approach to tubular maintenance. Because I primarily ride in an urban area with good mass transit, I rarely ride with a spare. Rather, when I flat, I limp over to the nearest transit stop. (If it's a slow leak, I may ride the short distance on the deflating tyre, as a flat tubular will nicely cover the bare edges of your rim. ) A tyre last me about 800 miles. The end usually comes when I notice a slow leak or severe damage to the casing, rather than my being caught out on the road with a blow-out. Consequently, I have to abort a ride only 1-2 times/season. Given that blow-outs are rare and I don't face a long walk home when they happen, I usually don't carry a spare.

As to repairs, I used to fix them myself back in the old days, when my time was more plentiful than money. It's not difficult, the only extra step is cutting and resewing the outside casing. Tyres aren't cheap, but I've gone the UK mail-order route and order Conti Sprinters in bulk for around US$ 30.

I learned a long time ago that you can cut corners when glueing and rarely get caught (Only once have I had a tyre come off the rim while cornering). I don't use rim tape or multiple layers of cement carefully laid down over a period of hours or days, just a generous amount of rim cement over the residual glue left on the rim. Overnight is fine for setting the glue, but 15-20 minutes is frequently enough to ride on if you're stuck out in the middle of nowhere and have miles to go before you sleep. Just avoid lots of torque on the rear wheel until the glue sets and be prepared to reglue the tyre that evening.

All of this is not to imply that tubulars currently enjoy the major advantages that they had years ago when I started cycling. The current advantages for racing appear to be slight, tubulars are expensive and many people don't want to learn a different (but not that difficult) set of maintenance skills. However, for me and many other recreational cyclists, it is a defensible matter of preference for the familar feel and ritual of tubulars.

Try them with an open mind and make a choice that you are comfortable with.
re: Whats the downside of tubular tires?mackgoo
Dec 31, 2003 9:43 AM
There are none. But don't tell the dopes that.
Another advantage to tubiesmapei boy
Dec 31, 2003 11:02 AM
When you have a blowout, the bicycle is much more stable than it is when you're riding a clincher. Because the tire is glued to the rim, it doesn't wobble and shimmy off the rim when it loses its air. With a clincher, a flat tire at speed is a white-knuckle experience. With a tubular, you just feel a softness in the tire that blows, and then you start to ride fer-klunka fer-klunka, as the valve stem meets the pavement each revolution. You are still in control. If you're careful, you can usually even ride a good ten miles or so on the flatted tire - without damaging anything other than the tire itself.