A regular reader of this blog recently asked me if I would write a piece comparing tubular tires to clinchers.
My first reaction was that I am not qualified to do so because since I started riding seriously and racing in 1952 to this day, I have ridden tubulars exclusively.
How can I comment on the ride quality of a modern clincher tire when I have never ridden on them? I contacted a good friend Steve Farner, who lives in Southern California, for a second opinion. Steve has ridden and raced in the 1970s through the 1980s. In an email he wrote:
"I've noticed pro teams in the Tour that are using tubulars, even if they are sponsored by clincher tire companies, discreetly glued to tubular rims with other makers' names affixed. Seems many pros will use tubulars (even not admitting they do); I think they prefer the feel and ride compared to clinchers, in spite of manufacturers' claims they are the same now. I also use tubulars and will never ride clinchers; they don't compare. It is easier to manufacture clinchers and that is a big reason for the push to race clinchers, not at all because they are better. Thus the deception racing on tubulars instead of clinchers."
Steve makes a valid point about the cost of manufacture. I ride on Vittoria Evo Corsa CX tires; they cost me $47. (See top picture.) This is a top of the line tubular and they can go for twice that amount. I shop around.
From the same source, I could buy a Vittoria Diamante Pro clincher tire for $31.57. (Left.) Add the cost of the inner tube, (Included in the tubular price.) and the price is close. The big difference is the tubular tire is hand made, and the clincher I’m sure is manufactured by an automated process. There is bound to be more profit in the clincher tire.
Manufactures will tell you the ride quality and performance of the latest clinchers are the same as a tubular; they push the product that turns the most profit. Many tire companies don’t even make tubulars, so obviously they are not going to say their tire is inferior to another manufacturer’s product.
If pros and top amateurs still race on tubulars it is because the ride quality and the more important, the performance is superior. That is the way I see it, because pro riders will normally ride whatever they are paid to ride; all other things being equal.
If you are not racing, and not looking for a competitive edge, does it really matter? Of course not; a person rides clinchers for convenience; it is easier to fix a flat. (Puncture.)
Having said that, if I get a flat, I do like the convenience of being able to slip a spare tubular on the rim, without the use of tools, inflate it, and be on my way. A spare tubular folds up and fits neatly under my saddle, along with a CO2 inflator. In an absolute emergency, I can ride home on a tubular tire while it is flat, without damaging the rim.
They are lightweight, some can be inflated up to 130 psi so there is very little rolling resistance. At the same time because they are a complete tube, they absorb the shocks of riding over very rough road surfaces. They are extremely responsive and this is why they are preferred for racing, you make a sudden effort and the wheels and tires respond immediately.
The biggest factor in deciding whether to use tubulars is the cost. Not that they cost a lot more initially, but you have to consider the possibility of buying a new tire every time you get a flat. Some people don’t know how to repair a tubular tire, others can’t be bothered.
In my case, I ride purely for pleasure these days, so I ride tubulars because they give me pleasure in the way they ride. To me the cost is justified.
However, in researching for this piece, I discovered I can buy a lower price Vittoria Nuovo Pro TT tubular, still considered a racing tire for $22.78. (Left.) Alternatively, I can buy a Vittoria Rally training tubular for $15.77. (Bottom left.)
It is somewhat extravagant for me to be using one of the best tubulars available, when I am no longer racing.
At these prices, it is less important to spend time repairing them.
I should buy a few spare, because if a person can afford to do this, and they are stored in a cool dark place, like a closet; the rubber matures and becomes tougher with age; they wear longer and resist punctures.
If you have never ridden tubulars and are considering this, you will not be disappointed.
However, look on it as a possible high maintenance relationship. In such relationships you are let down flat a few times, and you wonder if it is worth it. Stick with it for the long term and you will find it is.
Footnote: Tubular tires are often refered to as "Sew-ups" or "Tubies" in the US, and as "Tubs" in the UK.
Pictures from Pro Bike Kit.
In part 2 I talk about repairing tubulars, and part 3, gluing the tire to the rim.
Fri, July 27, 2007