The Big Brush Off: How to Glue Tubulars

A lot of people get freaked out by tubulars. They have heard horror stories about rolling tires and the painful $100 flat. They think it's messy and difficult to install tires. And to a degree those stories are true. There is a cost of doing business with tubulars, but oh what a business it is. 

First, the benefits. Blah blah modern clinchers yadda yadda latex tubes lorem ipso e pluribus unum. The road (grass/mud/gravel) feel of tubulars beats the pants off of the best clinchers. I could blind taste test this and bat 1000, easily. Of course I would run into stuff and fall over and possibly cause more school absences so I don't want to do that. 

It's also REALLY hard to pinch flat a tubular. I used clinchers at one of my favorite races (Poolesville) last year because I didn't want to flat a tubular so close before Killington. What happened? I pinch flatted at Poolesville, but while using tubies at Killington I hit 10 things as bad or worse than what did me in at Poolesville with no flats. 

In cross, you can run crazy low pressure with tubulars, which gives you insane traction. This is a good thing. 

That said, I saw a LOT of rolled tubulars at Kinder Kross last weekend. Why?  Tough saying without knowing but I think it's all down to bad prep and technique, so I'll walk you through gluing a new tubular on a new wheel. I'm no one's super genius but the wheels I've glued have stayed put through thick and thin.  Here's how I approach it. Your mileage may vary and you might be all thumbs, so I offer no guarantee other than to tell you I've never had a problem. 

First, the materials list. You need:

  • Acetone
  • Tubular glue (Vittoria or Continental)
  • Flux brushes
  • 120 grit sandpaper 
  • Clean rags
  • Solvent proof gloves 
  • Tire pump
  • Valve extenders

New tires are TIGHT, so before anything else you're going to stretch the tire. Wipe the rim clean with acetone and a rag (wear the gloves, your kidneys will thank you) so you don't get any leftover oil from the wheel build embedded in the tire, install your valve extenders if needed, and stretch the tire onto the rim. Pump it up to 80 psi and leave it overnight. 

When that's done, remove the tire from the rim and clean the rim again. For metal rims, I do a quick pass over the rim bed with the sandpaper to scuff the surface, then clean with acetone.  Paint one thin layer of glue onto the rim. The edges of the rim bed are FAR more important than the middle. Be neat and avoid getting glue on the brake track. Thin coats are better. The edges. The edges. 

Inflate the tire enough to give it shape and grab it in the middle to give it a figure 8 shape. Paint the base tape from edge to edge with glue. Thin coat, and going over the edge of the tape is fine. 

Let both rim and tire sit for 24 hours, then repeat the exact same process. 

Before installing the tire, you're going to deflate the tire and put a third coat on the rim. Then stand the rim on the ground with the valve stem hole at the top. Make sure that your tire's tread is facing the right way!!!  Insert the valve stem through the hole and begin stretching the tire down onto the rim. When you're most of the way on, flip the wheel over and finagle the rest of the tire on.  Then put just enough air into the tire to give it shape and get the tire straight on the rim. Use the base tape as a guide but on a lot of tires the tread sort of wanders in relation to the base tape. You want the base tape in contact with the rim and the tread as straight as possible. 

Most cross tires are a little lumpy, so you want to stretch the lumps out. Just push away from the lump on either side and it will minimize. 

Once you're happy with the tread orientation, pump the tire up to 80 psi and leave it for 24 hours. This will really create a strong glue bond. 

I do not use Belgian tape for either road or cross. Since all of our rims have wider rim beds, I don't think this is necessary and I'm loathe to screw with what works. 

We'd love to be able to offer this as a service, and we meant to. Unfortunately a few stories about shops getting sued by people who rolled tubulars (the decider was the guy who stored a wheel for three years and then used it without getting it reglued - OF COURSE the glue dried out and became useless in three years) put us off of this completely. Even if our insurance covers it, I have no interest in spending days or weeks or hours in court dealing with it.  Even if we're super confident of our technique - enough that I send the would-be mother of my would-be children out every weekend on tires I've glued.  Even though you are not the type of person to sue, someone else definitely is. 

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Has Dave ever NOT flatted in Poolesville?


One thing you kind of left open ended was the sandpaper treatment. You said rough up the rim bed with the sandpaper for metal rims but I'm assuming this is not the case for carbon rims.Also noticed that you removed the "Glue 'em up" option from the tubular section in the shopping cart. However, the description below still states that you provide this service. If you're out of the glueing business, would you still mount the tire and inflate before shipping to protect the rim and prestretch the tire? This could save a day once the wheels arrive. I'm thinking you could attach a card and secure it around the tire and rim with a bight of string saying something in legalese about tires not being glued, must be removed, etc. Just a thought.


We had teammates from a tri background who just used tape on cx tubulars, rolled them the first race…cx tires at their lower pressure need a much stronger bond than tape can provide, plus the lateral forces are much more than you would see on a road wheel. 130 psi can keep a road tubular on the rim almost by itself (not that I would do that), 30 psi not so much…My tires are mounted with glue AND tape, they aren't going anywhere…


The REAL Peter Johns? For TT/tri use, you may be spot on. For road and especially cross – again, your mileage may vary but you couldn't pay me to use tape. I'm sticking (get it?) with what's working perfectly.

Dave Kirkpatrick

While Dave has hit the essence of gluing tubulars (which are of course the best to ride on) a few other pointers might help. I always try to buy several tubulars at the same time and stretch them for several days, that will take away some of the anxiety you may have for this process. Secondly take your glue and thin it with laquer thinner. The glue out of the tube is too thick and difficult to put on, get it to a consistency which is easy to brush on. That will help. My experience has been great with tubulars, have not rolled one yet, but it is a bit messy and convoluted. Finally, do all this process at room temperature or higher.Better still, use the glue tape which has become so popular. It is simple to install, cleans off after every use and does away with all the above gluing problems.

Peter Johns

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