Tubular Tires vs. Clincher Tires
A question I frequently get asked by amateur cyclists is, “Which tire is better, tubular or clincher?” To answer this question lets look at the advantages of both.
Clinchers are the wheels most people are familiar with. The tube and tire are separate from one another. A clincher tire’s main advantage is that when compared to a tubular they are very inexpensive and usually very durable. If you get a flat tire, it is only a $5 tube that you either replace with a new one or put a $.05 patch on and your on your way. If it is a tear or a large cut in the tire a $45-$65 replacement tire is in order. When you get flat on a tubular tire, unless you are good with a sewing needle and thread, you usually throw it away. Because of the construction of a tubular tire, which is discussed below, patching a tubular requires a person to unsew the threads holding the tubular together, finding the hole in the tube, patching it, and then re-sewing the tire. Replacing a tubular tire will cost you $80-$200.
Tubular tires are different in that the tire is sewn shut around an inner tube and the tire is then glued to the rim. So why are tubular tires so popular? When tubular tires were at the height of popularity they were superior in quality. Made with silk casings, natural rubber tread and latex tubes, tubular tires were much better than any clincher tire on the market at the time (1980’s-1990’s). You can still find tires made this way but they are rare and expensive.
Now jumping forward to today’s tires, clinchers have made leaps and bounds in performance and technology, better casings, better tread and rubber compound. They can be very light and some of them are essentially a tubular tire that hasn’t been sewn shut resulting in a similar ride quality, similar light weight and similar road feel as a tubular. Because tubular tires haven’t made the same dramatic improvements clincher tires have made, the advantage of the super smooth ride, fantastic cornering capabilities and puncture resistance, you can now get on a clincher tire.
With the improved quality of clincher tires and the sometimes status quo quality of a tubular, you may be wondering which one is faster? Forgive me if I sound aloof or indifferent, but fast is as fast does. If you’re in shape and have been training, whatever tire you are using will be fast. There are other things that can be advantageous for an athlete and common sense changes that could be made to one’s bike before race day (A topic for another day) but whether you are riding a clincher tire or a tubular probably won’t be the reason you win or lose.
Both tires are, by today’s standards, very high quality, lightweight, durable, dependable, and as fast as you make them go. So if you prefer a tubular tire, make sure you glue it on properly (another topic for another time) and go for it. If you prefer the low cost and ease of use of a clincher tire, go for it. For the intermediate and beginner cyclist the clincher tire is the best most sensible way to go. They are not only easier to change in even to of a flat, they are less intimidating and “complicated”.
Written by Matt Simpson
Published: Dec 14, 2009