Tubeless CX - ready for prime time

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Today's title has been written as a question in many outlets on many occasions, I've just removed the question mark. 

Tubeless cross tires have been a bit of a black art so far. Incantations, incense, chicken bones - they've all been used in the name of getting and keeping a secure tire/rim interface, preventing the dreaded and catastrophic burp. Having used tubeless mountain bike tires for half a decade without so much as a hint of a burp, with all manner of different tires tubeless ready and not (more often not), I'm tempted to say that people maybe thought cx tubeless would follow that arc and be easy. Not so. The interwebs overflow with sad tales of "it was working so well and then..."

If you've been following along for a while, you know that this is my personal white whale, to some degree. To be blunt, I hate gluing tires, I think owning and dealing with an armful of wheel sets in order to have a range of treads sucks, I still see a ton of rolled tires every weekend, and tubulars are expensive as f. Tubed clinchers require too high of a tire pressure to ride right. Properly functioning tubeless offers the best potential to the racer who has to deal with his/her own stuff, full stop. 

So what gives me such confidence to remove the question mark? Multiple things, most of which fall under the blanket of conjecture since we don't know and can't isolate which elements make the difference. One or more of them is doing the trick, though.

The primary suspect is better beads. Stronger, lower stretch, often carbon-cored, and with better shapes. Burps happen at the bead, and a more secure bead means better burp resistance. There are small but noticeable differences between clincher and tubeless versions of tires, as well as small weight differences. The more secure bead is worth its weight, and then some, and the differences are usually fairly small in any case. Among the tubeless ready tires we've tried, all have inflated with just a floor pump, all have competently held air without sealant (but you definitely want to use it), and none have yet burped.  

A second suspect is wider bead seat width. I can't find the link just now, but last year I read this thing that very convincingly showed how a wider bead seat width reduced the leverage that the tire was able to exert over the bead. Combined with tubeless ready tires, Grails, SL25s, and SL23s are all kicking ass, and all are 20+mm wide.

I don't think the rims tape or strip has much to do with it once the tire's inflated. In fact, I think that a lot of tape buildup could give you a good inflation and a false sense of security. We use Tesa tape, which is available cheaply at U-Line and is similar to/the same as what other people sell as tubeless tape. It applies easily and works perfectly. 

If this tread works where you race, this setup is a big win

Here are some of the tires and brands that we've found to be solid so far, and we can recommend them without reservation. This is NOT an evaluation of their treads - that is an entirely other kettle of fish.

1. Kenda tires with SCT designation 

2. Maxxis Mud Wrestler (their other tires are not tubeless ready)

3. Hutchinson tubeless ready models (I'll be using these this year)

4. Specialized tubeless ready models

These are the tires that we've found not to work well:

1. Clement. No one can wait until they launch their tubeless, which they've announced they will. Until then, we don't recommend them. Neither do they.

2. Kenda models without SCT designation

3. Michelin. I know, the Mud2 was a popular tubeless choice. Was. Things got better.

4. Anything with a tan sidewall.

Zoinks, Scoob, it's a mystery!!

This is a tire that mystifies me by how well it's working:

1. Challenge Grifo clincher (not open tubular - clincher). It's worked really well for a ton of hot laps so far. Nothing about this tire should work as well as it has so far. 


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  • Ben Copsey on

    I've had good results with the Vittoria Cross XG Pro Tubeless Ready Cyclocross Tyre (700 × 31c) on SL23s

  • Mike T on

    I read that the Pacenti SL23 V2 has a smaller width braking track and the Kool stop Dura 2 pads are recommended for rim brakes. Is that true? I'm using TRP CX 8.4 mini-v on my cross bike and used the Kool Stop pads last year. The pads didn't last very long so went back to using the TRP alloy pads which last longer and seem more dense.

  • Shep S. on

    I will second the Vittoria Cross XG Pro. I raced those last winter plus rode them to death and they were outstanding. Not great in muddier conditions, I am looking forward to trying the Vittoria XL Pro's once/if the rains come and if I can actually get my hands on a set of them. They were hard to come by last season.

  • Mark W. on

    For a 40mm option I am having good luck with the WTB Nano 40C Races (not the TCS version) on Grail rims.

  • Dave K on

    Thanks, Ben. We're interested to try those, they are just outside of our normal distributor lineup so we haven't gotten to them yet. This is on the version 1 rim, I assume?In the next few days we'll post a public doc for people to crowdsource as many good data points as we can.



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