Cross wheels and tires: tubular and tubeless

cross tech tires tubeless tubulars

Though it seems like cross season starts earlier and earlier each year, the Vuelta starts on Saturday and that means that it's legitimately cross season eve. As such, some of you have been chewing at the bit for several fortnights, while others of you - like me - are mired in a mix of holy cow I really don't like doing Tabatas and 3' intervals, or being cold, or wet, or dirty, or wet and dirty and cold, and washing the bike all the time, and holy cow cross really is fun. Anyhow...

In my annual nod to Colin Reuter's internet pedantry, I will once again say that tubulars still have the edge in ultimate performance over tubeless. Have never disputed that before, not starting now. But as ever, there are ups and downs to either side, either or even BOTH could be the right answer for you, and we're here to help you sort it out. 

The big news on tubulars is that HED has reversed their decision to kill what may be the best purpose-specific rim ever made, the Belgium Black disc tubular rim. As much as you all accuse us of being sweet on whatever rim at whatever time, this is the one that really gets the motor purring. It's lighter than most carbon rims (~395g), strong and stiff, the tire bed is perfect, I defy you to find the joint, and it's available in about a brazilian different build setups in our store. You can even get them with your favorite Challenge tires pre-glued in our tubular-o-rama internet popup store

We also have the excellent Kinlin TB20, about which we're not quite as gaga as the HED, but that's like saying we're not quite as in the tank for Cheryl Ladd as we are for Cheryl Tiegs (and if you get the reference, you are as ready for the retirement home as we are - crocheted swimwear? What?!?!?). 

For tubeless, if you have discs, then Stan's Grails are the #1 choice. If you have rim brakes or just like Easton rims a whole lot (as we do), then the R90SL is the second choice. 

So what are the big differences between tubulars and tubeless? Back to the "ultimate performance advantage," with the state of tubeless being what it's become, you're not worried about burping. You can run a tubeless tire as low as you want without burping. The problem is that the tire sidewalls fold, which gives you a pronounced flop in the turns when you run quite low pressure. Low pressure increases traction and is also your only source of suspension. Your bottom pressure limit on tubeless is less dictated by keeping the tire on, and more dictated by how the tire will work for you on the rim at low pressure. 

What does that mean? If you are a good enough bike driver to get wicked loose in turns and aren't freaked out by riding around on tires that feel like gummy worms if they get you around the course faster, tubulars have the edge. If you wear briefs, go tubeless. If you go commando, definitely tubulars. Boxers? Take your pick. 

Tubeless has and will always have the edge that it's quite easy to switch tires, so you can cover more ground conditions per set of tubeless wheels than you can per set of tubulars. Once your tubulars are glued on correctly, you don't want to take them off unless you absolutely must. 


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