There is more to tire selection than just clinchers and tubulars

By Kaye Lopez | Photo by Eric Crawford

The other day, a new student looking to maximize her bike equipment asked if she should purchase a tubular or clincher wheelset as her next set of go-faster goodies. “I train on clinchers and race on tubulars,” I replied, but let’s take a closer look at the different types of tires.

Photo from betterbybicycle.com

Clincher Tires

Most of the bikes on the road run on clincher tires. They’re called clinchers because the open channel of the rim clinches the equivalent open tire and holds it in place when the inner tube is inflated properly. The construction of the tire makes it easy to install and equally easy to remove when you get a flat. It isn’t the tire itself that goes flat, it’s the inner tube inside that deflates and needs to be replaced.

If the flat occurs during training or racing, you will need a spare tube, a hand pump or CO2 inflator, and tire levers to get going again. The procedure is quick when you know what you’re doing, but it takes lots of practice. There is time for that on a training ride, but it’s harder at an actual race.

Takeaways: most popular, readily available, easy to mount and dismount

If the flat occurs during training or racing, you will need a spare tube, a hand pump or CO2 inflator, and tire levers to get going again

Tubular Tires

Tubular tires, also called singles or tubbies, get their name from their one-piece construction. Unlike a clincher tire, a tubular has no open ends–it is, as the name implies, a tube with rubber on one side for traction on the road and a liner on the other that grips the inside of your tubular-specific rims.

Adhesives, whether glue or tape, hold the tubular to your rim. There are still debates on which is best to use. I don’t participate in it because an expert mounts my tubulars, but I know enough to say with confidence that you should always use Vittoria Mastik’ One glue as it’ss made especially for the task. You should avoid using tubular tape or rugby to glue your tubulars to the rim and you should always work in a well-ventilated location when mounting your tires.

Unlike a clincher tire, a tubular has no open ends–it is, as the name implies, a tube with rubber on one side for traction on the road and a liner on the other that grips the inside of your tubular-specific rims

If you get a puncture while training or racing, peel your deflated tubular from the rim, align the valve and install the spare tubular strapped to your frame, inflate to the right tire pressure, and get back on track. It’s quicker when you have a canister of Vittoria Pitstop, but the handy sealant/CO2 combo doesn’t work with a tear.

Takeaways: what the pros like to use on race day for their ride quality and light package, best reserved for race day, pricey, specific installation method

Tubeless Tires

Tubular tires have a one-piece construction and are glued to your rim while tubeless tires look like clinchers but don’t need an inner tube to work. It isn’t that complicated when you learn that tubeless compatible rims have a special shape that uses ribs or channels to hold the tire in place. That means you can do away with inner tubes and don’t need messy glues to get your tires rolling.

The tire and rim must be made for tubeless tires so you won’t need an inner tube to hold it in place. This will only work with genuine tubeless tires because they have a rib that mates to the channels on the rim. You can run a regular clincher tire on tubeless rims that are made for it, but you cannot make a tubeless tire work on a normal rim without an inner tube.

Running tubeless may mean you will be less prone to small punctures as the sealant in the tire will allow you to continue unless the hole is big or the tire is torn.  If it is big, take out your spare inner tube and treat it like a clincher tire

Don’t mix and match when you run tubeless. Have an experienced mechanic install it for you because you need a special tire valve, may need some sealant, will need a lot of strength to wrestle the tire into the rim, and will want a stronger pump. Tubeless is very popular with the MTB community because they are early adopters of the technology. Those in the road bike or triathlon circles who don’t understand how it works are quick to shoot it down, but it’s worth investigating further and may actually have a future in our sport, too.

Takeaways: makes sense if you’re already using it for your MTB, not popular in the Philippines, tricky installation method, best compromise if you log tons of solo training miles, harder to get back if you flat during a race