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Are tubulars the next big thing?

An amazing thing has happened, in that acceptance of the idea (actually, the fact) that using one wheel versus another isn't going to affect your speed by 1mph or whatever, has seemed to spread really fast and with little resistance. This statement is created by too many data points to list each, but I will give this thread as the proxy. Until recently, threads like that seemed to go directly to wheels and then get deeper into it from there. And it's not that there are no differences, there are small gradations along the way and some deep wheels do offer aerodynamic benefit, but the days of anyone credibly claiming that switching from X wheel to Y wheel caused an immediate speed increase of Z mph sure seemed to end quickly. 

So what next? I know that in my own thinking, tires and tubes or not tubes got even bigger than they were, and they had been a big deal already. Rolling resistance, comfort, cornering and grip - neglecting any of these is leaving performance on the table. But as we discussed recently, your personal calculus is going to be specific to your situation. A recent customer wanted to try tubeless and likes to go fast, but also commutes on his tires. As such, I recommended Padrones rather than Vittorias or Pro Ones. Not as outright fast as the "track day" type of tires that Vittorias or Pro Ones are, but plenty fast and more durable and (anecdotally, at least) more flat resistant. Since I've got a big race next month and am fat, old, weak, and slow, my particular X is that I'd sell my soul for some extra speed. I'm willing to risk the faster tire - and let no one ever think that I'm immune from these mind games we play with ourselves. I'm a head case with the best of them.

One area that always gets a lot of focus is weight. The physics show it as being not that big a deal at all in performance outcomes, at least to the level that cyclists like to think about it (a guy spit the dummy on a forum yesterday because some rim he'd gotten was 5g over stated weight), but it's so deeply lodged in our collective psyches that it's not coming out any time soon. Maybe because everyone has a scale, and can lift up a bike, and determine "that is, or that feels, light" and approve, yet wind tunnel results were never as primal or tangible and so people were always a little skeptical?

Anyhow, there are lots of rims out there that are vying for the light weight crown. Some claimants to the crown have been shown to be more ambitious than qualified but there are others out there that are really pressing the issue. For reasons which are beyond the scope of this post but which I promise to go into sometime, I'm ultra skeptical of how well these will work out. But in any case we're talking about 1300 to 1400g wheels. And that's light, but it's not that light.

On the other hand, it's easy to build a set of tubulars that are under 1200g and you can do it for pretty short money (under $1k). Again, reasons outside of this post but that will be addressed, I have misgivings there, but all the parts are basic and readily available and have been in use for a time. 

It's human nature to look for something, and I don't hold myself out of the fray on that one at all. Soon we will do a new post on Mike's new wheels which I'm borrowing for the rest of the spring, and you can see all about that. But it would shock me none if people all of a sudden got the collective realization that really light wheels are an easy trick to play if you are willing to go tubular.

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Reader Comments (11)

As a hobbyist cycler and definitely not a pro, I’ll keep with my tubes and tires. If for no other reason than the ability to fix a flat on the side of the road when alone and 20 miles from civilization. But let me ask a question: How much of an issue is the glue used with tubulars? My understanding is that the current tubular glues (rubber cement, basically) emit toxic organics, take days to cure properly, and, perhaps most significantly, they fail when things get hot by ambient temperature or friction from braking. Are the current adhesives much of a problem or are these only fringe issues? The reason than I’m asking is that it happens, for my day job, I develop new adhesives. And I’m starting to wonder if there is a significant need and market for any innovation here.

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJon W

Hi Jon - My secret personal answer to this question is that I think tubulars are too much of a pain in the butt to become a big thing. People will forego attributes or take risks on things (people will forego having great braking and some level of safety as well as pay more in order to ride carbon clinchers, while I've stated plainly that I'm planning to forego flat resistance in trade for hopefully gaining a bit of a boost in tire selection) but the ownership sign-on to tubulars is a pain in the behind. Fixing flats with tubulars isn't as impossible as it seems you think - some can be fixed by a squirt of magic goo, and you can replace a tire on the road. But the gluing is a hassle, most people don't trust themselves to do it. it's messy, it's a lengthy multi-step process, blah blah blah. Maybe some of the new tape-based glues (Effetto Mariposa makes one that supposedly works for road and doesn't quite for cross) will change that, but it's still a huge expense whenever you have a flat, and I don't think people will perceive the juice as being worth the squeeze.

As far as the commerce of tubular glue goes, a medium sized office building construction project probably uses as much glue just on the VCT flooring as the bike industry uses in a year. If you could profoundly change things to make tubulars more attractive, maybe. But it's no one's get rich quick scheme.

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

Hi Dave - Thanks for the frank (and secret!) thoughts. Yeah, tubulars look to me to be a pain. Although maybe flats are not as big of a deal as I thought. Regardless, these decisions are seldom rational. Think of any non pro spending $$ to shave a few seconds off a weekend ride. Where did I put that mirror to peer into as I contemplate my recent November purchase? :-)

No illusions of getting rich off tubular glue. I had no idea of the scale and it sounds like a very small market. Was also wondering if significant advances would be desired by the bike world. And if it might be worth any effort to create a fun combination of work + hobby. With adhesives the first criterion for entry into bulk applications like construction, which you mentioned, is price. A difficult thing to hit with anything using new technology. But there are some areas where price is less of a concern, like biomedical- replace sutures and screws). Given how irrational people (like me) are with bike gear purchases, perhaps a new glue might sell if some significant improvement is provided. Or not. Thanks for the thoughts.

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJon W

This solves the gluing issues. It woks, even for CX, although not as well as the Belgium tape. You glue a tubbie in 20 min.

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

That's the name! I couldn't remember it before when I wrote the first comment. I've heard Carogna is great for road and not adequate for cross. But if you're using tubulars for cross you need to get familiar with glue anyhow.

Jon I'd think the price elasticity of a better gluing mousetrap for tubulars is pretty good. I'd bet people would pay $20 for an easy solution to glue two wheels. Heck that Carogna tape probably costs that much - maybe more (probably more)- EDIT: $20/wheel for Carogna tape. Yowch.

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

I know that we are starting to stray a bit, however-I have used Carogna tape for two years of 'cross racing with excellent results. These are Colorado conditions with limited wet, which I understand to be the achilles heel of the tape. When the proposed sidewall sealant is available, I will bite.

April 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEmil

Emil - Thread drift is absolutely welcome here, stray on. Have heard that Carogna is great in dry and is fallible in wet and particular in mud. For road, it could be the answer. I don't have any idea what it does to rolling resistance, though, and the Crr differences between a good glue job and a bad one can be significant - enough to turn a "fast" tire slow with a bad glue job.

April 21, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

I'm glad to see you creaking this door open, but the counter arguments for tubulars are still dated. As everyone is jumping on the tubeless bandwagon, they don't realize they're obtaining a little substance that can make tubular riding much simpler - sealant! I'm a young feller and I've run tubulars for daily riding (off and on) for a few years. A little bit of preemptive sealant goes a long way and tire choices for tubulars are still WAY above what's available tubeless. Not to mention flats; I've flatted on carbon tubulars and clinchers... I'll take the tubular for that ride any day!

Then the matter of gluing. I've used tufo extreme tape on at least 5 sets of wheels so far and absolutely no reason for concern. I was changing tires the other day and commenting to my wife that anyone who thinks tape isn't sufficient probably has never tried to remove a tire that's been taped on!

Anywho, I'd love to see this build steam. There seem to be several companies popping up now (looking at you, Germany) doing some really interesting things with carbon but focused almost exclusively on clinchers.

Keep up the good work! Your additions to the internets are definitely appreciated!

April 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIsaac

Hey Isaac - Yeah, I mean it falls into this whole greater discussion that you can't really make carbon clinchers much lighter without really inviting risk to the dance, yet you can make carbon tubulars plenty light and it's not an issue. Conversely, aluminum tubulars don't really get any lighter than aluminum clinchers. It's funny and unfortunate that carbon got zoomed into use on rim brake carbon clinchers with a bead hook for high psi tire use, when that's really the use case where carbon has the fewest benefits and most liabilities. Definitely don't hold your breath for any proprietary rims from us in that arena, but if we find a great product that meets all of our parameters and falls within the conditions where we can use it, we'd very likely do it.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

I'm still a little turn't, wanting tubulars, wondering if there is an advantage to riding touch, technical stuff that even the pros half-way struggle with:
hardest feature of this course was here:

I never made it up that second feature, pretty sad about it. If a tubular could offer superior grip to a low-pressure tubeless tire, I'm sure it would be worth the $1200 price tag and all that time spent gluing by my paid mechanic team to get into the tubular game. Your thoughts?

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHussein

I don't know if tubulars help in that or not, but in the first video, the guy in second place in the "let's watch the single speed men come through here" but is on a HOT BUNS, which makes that video worth watching over and over and over again.

In serious answer to your question there, Hussein, tubulars will be more help in off cambers like in the first video than they are in straight steep stuff like in the second video. The second video thing is a function of approaching at pace, being in the right gear, and maintaining leg speed. Every time Krughof does it and you see it from his POV, you see his gives the little forward push thing near the top, and that sort of ooches (sailing word) the bike forward just when it wants to completely stop. That helps his pedal stroke get through the dead spot, and gets him over the top. That's just straight up good technique, and while tubulars can be ancillary help there, good technique defines making the move.

April 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

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