Ask a Mechanic | Tubulars VS Clinchers

Question: Some say that tubular tires are only for racing, due to how difficult they are to remove and install on the side of the road. But, others say they are fine to ride all the time. What do you think? From: Nalom

Answer: That’s an old debate for sure. Clincher tires keep getting better and better, so the performance gap between tubular tires and clinchers is narrowing considerably. In addition to the obvious ease of use offered by clinchers, ride quality of the top of the line clinchers when compared to a tubular is nearly imperceptible, especially when paired with a latex inner tube. Weight differences between racing clinchers with a latex inner tube installed, and road tubulars is fairly close once you factor in the weight of the tubular glue. For a pair of tires that difference ends up at about 50-75 grams.

Where tubulars really have clinchers beat is in the wheel department. Tubular wheels are far lighter than than their clincher counterparts. Dropping 150-200 grams of rim weight makes a big difference in the way a bike handles, accelerates, and climbs. Add the 50-75 grams you save with tires and you are saving a big chunk of rotating weight. The downside is that most tubular tires are fragile, especially the light ones. There are tougher tubulars out there but they are heavier and don’t ride as nice as the light ones, so you have to sacrifice much of the benefit of tubulars in order to make them more practical.

Screen shot 2014-11-20 at 6.10.12 PMYou also need to factor in the weight of a spare tubular. For the weight of a spare tubular, you can carry three spare inner tubes for a clincher wheelset. Keep in mind that spare clincher inner tubes are easier to carry, plus if you get a double flat you don’t end up on the phone trying to bum a ride. Then there is the hassle of changing the tubular on the side of the road. If you glue your tires securely, this will be a real headache. Plus you need to ride gingerly on the replacement tubular because it won’t be as secure as a tire that was properly glued.

Liquid sealant can work to seal a tubular, but really only works well on Clement or Tufo tubulars. Both of these brands do not use a separate latex inner tube inside the tubular. With their tubular tires the casing is what is holding the air. With this type of construction the sealant can more easily get to where it needs to go and then seal properly as it is more exposed to outside air.

Bottom line, for me tubulars just aren’t worth it for situations other than racing, even when using a Clement or Tufo style tubular. I like the peace of mind knowing that if I do get a flat, it’s easy to fix and I have some backup tubes if Murphy’s Law holds true and my ride gets even worse.

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