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I don't know what all the Rules are, but this should be one of them. You’re not getting the most out of your frame if you’re not riding high-quality wheels and tires. I recommend tubular tires in almost all situations. Tubular tires provide the highest ride quality, better handling and comfort, and in many situations, superior safety. I’ve ridden tubulars since the 1980’s, and exclusively for the last decade. If you’re riding road, gravel, cyclocross, or cross-country on a hardtail mountain bike (yes, even offroad), you should be riding tubulars. Here’s why.
Ride quality: Switching to tubulars is like getting a whole new bike. Tubulars are amazingly supple, yielding a vastly superior ride quality. Tubular tires literally sing on the road. If you’ve never ridden tubulars, you don’t know what you are missing. Tubulars are an entirely different universe. They are literally that much better than anything you’ve ever ridden.
Weight: Tubulars are always about 200g lighter per wheel. Why? Because there is no hook adding weight to the rim, and no bead adding weight to the tire. Without a hook on the rim, there are no pinch flats, and because tubulars use supple latex tubes and and puncture protection layers, you’ll experience fewer flats all around.
Pressure range: Tubulars allow the widest range of pressure choices, and the round profile provides better handling in corners and better compliance on rough roads. You have more than enough range to set your pressure to the conditions of a specific ride.
Puncture recovery: A relatively small volume of sealant (20ml or so, more on this below), immediately takes care of the sort of puncture that would require you to stop and change a tube. Often the seal is so quick you don’t even have to re-inflate. Once sealed, punctured tubulars can be ridden to the end of their useful life—until the tread is worn off.
Safety: Because you can ride a flat tubular without damage, they are far safer—you can still control the bike after a high-speed puncture. In last-resort situations, the tire can be ridden flat.
With all of these advantages, why doesn’t everyone ride tubulars?
The answer to this question is that tubulars suffer from a reputation based on 20-year-old information, and mis-information spread online by riders who don’t know what they are doing. Compared to tubular technology in the 1980’s, there are three modern innovations that make tubular use desirable, practical and nearly hassle-free:
2) Tubular tape
3) Mobile phones
Sealant: Years ago, if you punctured on tubulars, you were out of luck. If you were racing, you could get a wheel change. If you were out training, you had to have entire spare tire with you, and it could be a huge chore to pry off the punctured tire and mount your spare on the road. Sealant changed all that. Stan’s, Caffelatex, or Orange Seal: you can argue about which is the best to use, but all solve the on-the-road puncture problem. Glass, sharp rock chips, goatheads, random road debris—most punctures seal before enough air is lost to notice. More severe punctures require re-inflation with a cartridge; give the puncture time to seal at low pressure, then gradually bring it up to riding pressure. A puncture so severe that sealant won’t take care of it is usually so bad that no tire would be repairable—tubular, clincher, or tubeless. Here’s a video on how to do add sealant to tubulars [https://youtu.be/4ly-Trlq7HA]. If you’re used to tubeless, you need to use way less sealant. I use a 30ml syringe body to add 15-20ml of sealant to each tire, and I refresh the sealant every month. A sealed tubular is essentially repaired: I am usually able to use a punctured-and-sealed tubular until the tread wears off. No more tossing a new tubular in the bin after a small puncture. Ride on.
Tubular tape: Years ago, there was a magic black art to applying layers of stinky glue to the rim and basetape. First you had to spend days building up layers of glue and waiting for them to dry. Then came one final coat, and you had to wrestle a glue-covered tire onto a glue-covered rim and center the tire before the glue dried. There would always be a wobble. With tape, you mount the tire and center it before removing a protective layer to expose the adhesive. Here are some good videos showing how it is done from Tufo [https://youtu.be/59CxVhL_TUc], Advanced Cycle Science [https://youtu.be/pnffYRddHUw], and Lennard Zinn at VeloNews [https://youtu.be/DAmmGDkyWow].
Mobile phones: Years ago, if you punctured and couldn’t fix it, you were out of luck. Now you can call someone to come bail you out. Whatever embarrassment you might experience, and no matter how much your teammates make fun of you, it certainly beats walking 20 miles in cleats. Just carry your phone with you when you’re out training.
If you haven’t ridden tubulars, and you want maximum performance (and riding pleasure), give them a try. The performance and road “ feel” will be worth it, and will let you get the most of your expensive frame.
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