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Should I Ride Tubular Or Clincher Tires For Road Cycling

Updated on October 25, 2012
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

The big debate: Tubular vs Clincher Tires

One of the biggest debates within road cycling is whether you should ride tubular or clincher tires. Both have their champions and below is a detailed guide to the practicalities and effectiveness of riding both clincher or tubular tires.

Generally when you buy a bike it will come with a set of clincher tires. Is a set of tubular wheels and tires an upgrade for your riding and what can you expect from tubular tires for your cycling performance.

Whether you're looking for general purpose race wheels or the right tire choice for an Ironman Triathlon event this guide should help you make an educated decision.

Tubular or Clincher- Which is best?

It's a difficult decision but whether you ridetubular or clincher tires can make a difference to your cycling
It's a difficult decision but whether you ridetubular or clincher tires can make a difference to your cycling | Source

Visual Representation Of A Typical Clincher Tire

Diagram of how a clincher tire works with an inner tube inside
Diagram of how a clincher tire works with an inner tube inside

What Are Clincher Tires?

99% of road bikes when sold are fitted with a clincher wheelset which requires a regular clincher bicycle tire and an inner tube inside which fits inside the tire.

A clincher tire features a set of rails which nestle underneath the hooked sections of a clincher bicycle rim. The tire is then kept in place through an internal inner tube which effectively acts as a rubber bladder. When air is put into the inner tube it forces the tire rails to hook into place against the rim. This holds the tire in place.

What Are Tubular Tires?

Tubular bicycle tires are effectively a tubular section which has a tread fixed onto it. The opposite end of the tread is then glued (or fixed using a heavy duty adhesive tape) to specialist rims.

Tubular tires cannot be fixed or glued onto clincher 'hooked' style rims therefore before making any wheel purchase a cyclist must make a decision of one style of wheel, or the other based on their needs.

Clincher tires feature narrow pressure ranges

Clicher tires feature narrow psi rwnages like this Vittoria Zafiro with a recommended 100-145 psi
Clicher tires feature narrow psi rwnages like this Vittoria Zafiro with a recommended 100-145 psi | Source

Potential Tire Pressures For Clincher And Tubular Tires

When riding a clincher tire the pressure you put into the tire is limited by the seal that is produced between the tire bead and the hooked section of the rim. Too little pressure in your inner tube will not create a strong connection between the two and too much pressure will potentially force the tire bead to back over the hooked section of the rim.

When mounting a clincher tire it's always advisable to inflate it to the manufacturers specified pressure range. (As shown right on a Vittoria Zafiro Tire)

Tubular tires are glued solidly to the rim which allows an exception range of tire pressures to be used where required. These tubular tire pressures are only limited by the strength of the tire casing to withstand such high pressures and the ability of the wheel rim to withstand the pressures. For instance some fully carbon fibre rims recommend maximal pressures of 120 psi depending on the rim.

How much for a good quality Tubular Tire or Clincher?

Vittoria Corsa Evo CX Tubular Tire
Vittoria Corsa Evo CX Tubular Tire
Amazon is a great place to pick up the excellent Vittoria EVO CX Racing Tubular Tires and at prices very close to their clincher versions if you shop around

Which is a more expensive option?

When comparing clincher and tubular tires based on cost it's best to consider matching tire models. Veloflex make some exceptionally good tubular tires and clincher versions of the same tire. Vittoria also make some great tubular tire models which span both formats (featured right with their EVO CX model)

Generally expect to pay around 50 dollars more for a tubular tire which means that you're looking at around 100 dollars for a good quality tubular tire. This means cycling can potentially become a very expensive hobby if you have a run of punctures on your tubular wheels.

Puncture Resistance Of Clincher Vs Tubular Tires

When it comes to the specifications of many tubular and clincher tires they are feature puncture resistance belts to help guard against flats. Clincher tires have traditionally lead the way in puncture resistance technology with their relevant products often filtering their way down to tubular tires.

There is a lower likelihood of suffering a pinch puncture while riding a tubular tire due to the tires ability to handle higher air pressures as the tire simply sits glued into place on the rim. Many people cite this as being a reason why riders tend to suffer fewer punctures whilst riding tubular tires.

Changing a tire/ tube. Which is quicker and easier

Changing an inner tube on a clincher tire

If you get a puncture when you're riding clincher tires its relatively straightforward to hook the tire, remove inner tube check for obstacles and remove, replace inner tube, hook tire over rim and inflate. A replacement inner tube is going to cost around a few dollars.

Changing a tubular tire in case of puncture while riding

If you puncture a tubular tire you have the situation where you need to replace the whole tire- assuming you're carrying a new tire on you. Many riders who use tubular tires ensure they have a relatively cheap tire like a Vittoria Rally that they can carry around and simply roll onto the rim in case of a puncture.

The only real negative to replacing a tubular tire by the roadside is in cases where the tub glue used to seal the tire to the rim has set let concrete. If that's happened it could take a significant amount of time to prize the tire away from the rim. This is less likely to happen when using tub tape to install your tires as the tape tends to have a lower level of adhesion.

Tubular or Clincher- Which tire is more aerodynamic?

Which tire is more aerodynamic? Tubular tires or clincher tires?
Which tire is more aerodynamic? Tubular tires or clincher tires? | Source

Which bicycle tire type will help you go faster?

It may seem strange to think about aerodynamics when you're choosing your bicycle tires. How can you compare the aerodynamics of a 23mm clincher and respective clincher. The key is in the smoothness of the transition with the rim. Generally a set of tubular tires will form a smoother connection with the rim however the improved aerodynamics will correspond to a few seconds over the course of a century and therefore is an insignificant difference. The clincher versus tubular tire debate certainly isn't decided based on aerodynamic advantage.

The main factor- Ride quality differences

Once you've ridden both tubular and clincher tires you will know that there's a clear difference in ride quality in favour of tubular versus clincher tires. Many pro athletes ride tubular tires for that particular reason.

Riders often feel they can lean further into a turn when riding on tubular tires as a top quality tubular tire will always ride exceptionally responsively and with a high level of consistency.

An additional factor for the pro's is the fact that you can roll along on a punctured tubular tire while you wait for your team car or a service point on course. That's not possible on clincher tires as once the tire bead is not held in place you have a major safety issue.

What do you prefer?

What's your favourite- Tubular or Clincher Tires?

Please feel free to leave comments below.

Thanks for reading

Liam Hallam (CyclingFitness on Hubpages)


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    • capon profile image

      Tony Capon 

      7 years ago from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom

      Over the years I've learnt to repair my own tubs. This certainly mitigates the costs of punctures. But I must say that over the years i have had relatively few punctures in tubs, though when on a "joy-ride" I will always carry a spare. Tony

    • CyclingFitness profile imageAUTHOR

      Liam Hallam 

      7 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Capon- you can't beat that feeling on tubs however there's always that risk that a puncture will have smoke coming from your wallet. I saw a guy puncture 2 and write-off a set of Planet X Carbon Fibre wheels in the first 10 miles of a club ride recently.

    • capon profile image

      Tony Capon 

      7 years ago from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom

      I ride tubs and clinchers. Tubs for time-trialing and clinchers for everything else. Occasionally in the summer I'll go out foe a "joy-ride" on tubs, It feels luxurious!


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