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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  • Shannon on

    Having spent my own time and money experimenting with CX tubeless, I really appreciate you taking the time to test these out. I've had really good luck with WTB tires, and Kenda SCT. The WTB Cross Wolf for wet conditions and Cross Boss for all around have worked great. Have yet to burp either with pressures in the low 20 psi range and weight about 140lbs. I only got my hands on the Cross Boss at the end of last year's MABRA season, but my impression is that they rolled better in dry conditions than the Kenda Happy Medium SCT, and could handle a wet but not too muddy course.

  • Dave on

    Hi An,It all depends on ground conditions. For an all conditions, jack of all trades master of none tire the Hutchinson Toro or Maxxis Mud Wrestler (which our tester Mike W has affectionately re-christened the "Damp Slapfighter") would be good. For a dry Ed Sander or Charm City you'd want something like a Hutchinson Piranha or Specialized Tracer 2Bliss. We haven't yet found the true super mud tire. Treads are very very condition and rider dependent. My personal tire wardrobe this year will likely be Toros, Piranhas, and a mud tire TBD.

  • An on

    Hi Dave,Of the tires you tested that were successful, which models/tread pattern would you recommend for the MABRA/MAC area?Thanks!

  • Dave on

    Hi Mike -The brake tracks on the new SL23s are a bit shorter, yes. With careful orientation you can use standard pads easily. There are a bunch of rims that have similar brake tracks. Dave

  • Jeff M on

    I just mounted up a set of the Vittoria Cross XG Pro Tubeless on the stock Bontrager wheels that came on my Crockett. I consider myself fairly proficient at mounting tires (tubular, tubeless (mtb), and std clinchers) but these were a bitch. Maybe it was the tires, maybe the wheels, maybe the Bontrager tubeless rim strips, or a little of each but it took levers just to get the first bead over the rim. I have two races planned this weekend (Cooper River and Caffeinated Cross) and I'll be riding my Nimbus Ti CLD tubulars and the tubeless set will be in the pit. I expect I'll get my first test of tubeless CX sometime next week during a practice session. I'm hoping to say goodbye to pinch flats when running soft tires.



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