CX tubeless - our final word (for now)

cross tires tubeless Uncategorized

My cross season has begun to circle the drain. I've had far more fun than ever racing this year, and am fully mourning the season being nearly over, but my joints can't take the cold and damp, and all the stupid Rule 5 in the world won't change that. When stepping off the bike for the barriers feels like that scene from Misery, your season is done.

Despite our protestations that we aren't tubeless evangelists, that may have become inaccurate. Despite know-it-all bloviators claiming that tubeless has "no place" in cross, it absolutely does. It works a hundredfold better than tubed clinchers do, and is stunningly less of a pain in the ass than tubulars are. There's an enormous middle ground where it's an incredibly effective option. So there is no misrepresentation, I'll clearly make the following point:

The top of the sport is going to continue to race and win on tubulars for the foreseeable future. Helen Wyman and her 16 sets of tubular wheels and ace mechanic husband (I know he's an ace mechanic, but I have no firsthand knowledge of his husband skills. Judging from her omnipresent beaming smile, they can't be that bad) have no interest in or need for tubeless. Many people at levels far below Helen's will continue to prefer tubulars. We recognize that. We continue to search for improved tubular products. If tubulars are your preference, we support that wholeheartedly. 

I am just a poor boy, though my story's seldom told, but let me give you a brief synopsis of me and tires since June. My cross bike has seen neither inner tube nor tubular in 2015 - it's been 100% tubeless whether with tires for road or cross. In cross use, no tire has ever been used above 28psi. No front tire has ever been used above 24psi. I weigh 160 pounds. Those are barely higher than what I used with tubulars. I am a competent cross racer, whose skills are weighted more heavily towards "watts" and less toward "ninja bike driving ability." I've spent enough time on the cross bike this year that my bike driving ability has distanced what it ever was before - even when I was using tubulars exclusively - but that's simply because time on the bike works. Most people don't have the ability to ride tubulars at super low psi. It feels VERY weird and takes a lot of practice to be able to take advantage of it. 

Keira says you're an idiot if you think tubeless doesn't work. But she says it VERY nicely. I love Keira

The cumulative burping of my tires this year, through 14 races and probably 30 practice sessions, is zero psi. Ze. Ro. The number of places I lost in races because I used tubeless versus tubulars is also zero. The number of people who I passed while they were carrying either flatted or rolled tubulars to the pits, however, is very strongly higher than zero. 

If you say that tubeless doesn't work in cross, or that it has no place in cross, you are wrong. It's that simple. There are examples of very high level successes with tubeless (see also Mical Dyck, Dan Timmerman, Adam Craig, Carl Decker, Jake Wells, et al) but that's more of a proof of concept than evidence that the tip of the spear will adopt tubeless. Quite obviously, it works. It's also easy to manage and convenient. 

BUT, and it's a big but, you have to use the right combos. Many people out there are trying to set up whatever combo they want using whatever tires and rims they choose, and they don't have success and they damn the entire category because of their failures. That's like saying that chocolate chip cookies "don't work" because the ones I made with cream cheese, tortilla chips, sriracha sauce and liver paste tasted like shit. 


Older Post Newer Post


  • Dave on

    Jeff -

    You rims are at fault. Not every combo works, and many rims just plain don’t work. Sounds like you’ve got the latter, because X-Ones are very secure on the rims we’ve used them with. Your experience is a huge part of why we went through our whole testing exercise. One bad experience with a rim that isn’t up for the task shouldn’t indict the whole concept. Done well, it works brilliantly.

  • Jeff on

    I have a friend who has been riding tubeless on road and MTB for years. After years of hearing that they are basically flat-proof, can be run to very low pressure, and offer performance close to tubular at much lower cost and hassle, I finally succumbed and converted my ‘cross bike to tubeless. We both figured ’cross would be a sweet spot for performance and reliability between road and MTB. In fact, tubeless ’cross proved to be the worst of both worlds: at good racing pressures the tires were susceptible to burping, but didn’t have enough air to reseal before ending the race.

    My setup was Felt tubeless-ready wheels (Alexrims 622×17, 6061H) with Schwalbe X-One tubeless tires. I used Stans rim tape and sealant. I didn’t build up the rim tape to make it hard to seat the tires, but opinions seem to vary whether that is important. In any case, the tires seated well, felt very sturdy and supple, and rode beautifully in challenging practice sessions on grass before the first race.

    In their inaugural race I used 28 psi front, 32 rear, which was what I used successfully with regular clinchers with tubes on that course (130 lb rider). The first root I hit, the rear tire burped, goo came shooting out, and the tire emptied itself without resealing. Race over.

    After cleaning, adding a good bit more sealant, and resealing the tire, both tires held up for 5 practices and 4 more races. I upped the nominal pressure to 30 front, 35 rear. The tires still felt more supple at higher pressures than with tubes at lower pressures. Though I did notice something no one ever mentions: the wheels don’t spin well due to all the goop sloshing around inside.

    In any case, in the 5th race, the front tire burped on a chicane, goop sprayed out while dirt got between the bead the the hook, and the tire finally resealed—at 5 PSI. Race over.

    So my experience has been the opposite of yours: tubeless is not reliable at the pressures one would like to run in cyclocross. I could run higher pressures, but that would make for awful traction, a bumpy ride, and negate the benefits of tubeless over tubes. Moreover, I think it is a legitimate question as to whether added rolling resistance of sealant sloshing around cancels out the added rolling resistance due to friction between tube and tire.

    I suspect the difference between a good experience with tubeless and a wretched one (2 out of 6 races ended prematurely) is experimentation and luck. It is certainly not as simple as following a prescribed procedure for putting a tubeless tire on a tubeless rim. And if you have a bad outcome, cycling through wheels/rims and tires to happen upon the right combination for reliability and performance quickly approaches the cost and hassle of tubulars. Whereas for clinchers, putting almost any tube inside a decent tire and then making sure the bead is seated results in a functional wheel. Preride the course, put in enough pressure that you don’t bottom out, and you don’t have to worry about pinch flats.

  • David on

    Well, I would love to be tubeless exclusive on my race wheels. I have tubes/clinchers now but the wheels are H+ Archetypes and can be easily converted and the right tires can be used.The problem? The lowest I'm ever gonna weigh is 250lbs. Tubeless + weight like that seems like a really bad combo. Ill keep running clinchers at 45psi I guess. :(

  • Jeremy on

    Not to derail, but are you doing tubeless on Rails on the road or are you doing tubeless with an Alloy Nimbus build? And what are you tires of choice there

  • Ben on

    Tubeless is great. I was an early convert on the road, when hutchinson was just coming out with road tires for tubeless. I love them for commuting as I essentially never get flats. For cross, they have felt like a compromise until this year. As a privateer masters cross racer, my current set up is 2 sets of alloy tubulars with schwalbe racing ralphs on one and challenge limus on the other and then one set of nimubs ti cld/grails with vittoria XL or XG tubeless tires. I weigh around 170 and usually run the tubulars at 25/28 and close to the same in tubeless. I'm 2 years in with about 20 races in the PNW with no flats on the tubulars and no burping on the tubeless. It's almost a maintenance free setup once tires are glued other than changing from XG's to XL's once it gets muddy. The casings on the tubeless Vittoria's cannot match the suppleness of tubulars but the versatility more than makes up for it.



Leave a comment