When it comes to tire types, you have a few choices: clincher, tubular and tubeless. Each has advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we take a look at your options so you can pick what will work best for you ahead of your next bike or wheel upgrade.
Clincher tires are the most popular type and tend to be the default setup for most bikes. A clincher tire is constructed with a bead that hooks onto a wheel with a clincher type rim. Inside each tire is an inner tube that you fill with air. When you get a flat tire, you remove your inner tube and repair it or replace it with a new one.
Because clincher tires and tubes are ubiquitous, they are a good choice for many riders. It’s easy to source new tires and tubes, and maintenance and repair are straightforward. Plus they tend to be cheaper than the other tire types.
A tubular tire – also called a sew-up, tubie or tub – is exactly what it sounds like: a combination, one-piece tire/tube. You have to mount a tubeless tire to a special tubular rim – typically this is done by gluing the tire to the rim or using a special adhesive rim tape. When you get a flat tire, you then have to remove the tubular tire from the rim and repair or replace it.
The primary advantage to a tubular setup is that tubular wheels and tires are typically lighter than an equivalent clincher setup due to the lack of rim bead so they feel easier to accelerate and better during climbing. You can run a wider range of tire pressures with less risk of pinch flatting, and the ride quality generally feels smoother than it does for clinchers. That’s why racers like them.
The major disadvantage is the process of setting up tubular tires and repairing them if you do flat. Frankly, gluing on a tire can be a mess, and it takes time for the glue to dry, but using the newer adhesive rim tape is somewhat easier.
Racers are more likely to use tubulars than recreational riders because if they do get a flat, they can simply swap out the entire wheel via their follow car or neutral support. But even many racers will opt for clinchers for their training wheels and save their tubulars for racing.
Tubeless setups are the newest tire option and are rapidly increasing in popularity for road and cyclocross use although they’ve been the top choice for a majority of mountain bikers for nearly two decades. A tubeless setup uses only a rim and tire – no tube. The setup is airtight. Most cyclists will also use a tire sealant inside which allows small punctures to automatically fix themselves as they occur.
When they first came out, setting up tubeless rims and tires was more of a challenge, but rim, tire and sealant design have evolved to the point that road and cyclocross tubeless tire setup is straightforward just as it is for mountain bikes.
The major advantages to the tubeless setup are 1) that you rarely get flats and 2) that you can run lower pressures (without pinch flatting) for better traction and ride quality than clinchers. If you do get a flat, you can simply add more sealant and/or use a tire plug to fix it. Or you can always put an inner tube in it to finish off you ride.
In summary, tubeless setups offer many of the ride quality advantages of a tubular with simpler maintenance and lower costs more like clinchers – which is why many road racing teams are making the switch to them. Team managers love that they can buy just one set of wheels for training and racing for each rider vs. a set of clinchers for training and tubulars for racing for each rider.
Why does it matter?
Before you buy your next wheelset or bike, decide what type of tires you want to ride. The default rims sold on bikes are generally clincher rims, so if you want to run tubular or tubeless tires, you’ll need to buy wheels with rims that are designed for those options.
The good news is that many new clincher wheelsets are now constructed in such a way as to also be compatible with running tubeless, so you can swap between those two setups as it suits you.