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.
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.