Clincher vs Tubular Smackdown

Dear Rouleurs,

I’ve been having bike model/part upgrade envy for a few months. On my usual ride along Port Phillip Bay, I’ve been seeing lots of new road bikes. This combined with my growing obsession with road bikes with disc brakes has made me very twitchy. So rather than fork out thousands for a new carbon fibre cyclo-cross number eg GT, Giant, Trek etc…, I’ve locked onto the idea of buying a set of second hand carbon fibre rims. However, even this relatively simple decision has had me oscillating wildly on the key issue of clincher vs tubular tyres. For nearly 33 years of life I’ve been happily riding around on clinchers blissfully unaware that any other alternative existed. In a word….bugger 🙂

So here’s the Marv 101 on Clincher vs Tubular Tyres.

A clincher is what most of the cycling community would consider a ‘normal wheel’. It has a separate tyre and inner tube. The tyre has what is called a ‘bead’ ie a reinforced lip, running around the inside edge. This presses the tyre on to the rim as it’s inflated by the inner tube.

A tubular is a tire that is stitched around an inner tube. The tyre is glued to the rim bed using either special tub glue or double sided tape.

So onto the beauty contest.

Aspect Assessment The winner is..
Puncture Puncture are one area where tubular tyres are a clear winner. Tubular tires run higher tire pressure than clincher tires and tend to be less prone to pinch flats and punctures. From a safety perspective, apunctured clincher is highly likely to come off the rim where as a flatted tub will stay in place, glued to the rim. This is the primary reason that tubs are still favored for racing by professionals. Tubular
Versatility The versatility of clincher wheels makes them the go-to choice for the majority of cyclists, from regular sportive riders to weekend club riders. For example, a set of clincher wheels can, with a simple tire change, cover everything from a gravel ride, to summer crit, and then cyclo cross. Clincher
Maintenance From what I’ve read, the merits of ‘on the side of road’ maintenance’, tubular gluing is only marginally more difficult than trying to get off and on a tight fitting tyre. However what is beyond argument is that its cheaper to fix a clincher and that its much easier to carry spare tubes with you on the road. Clincher
Braking Braking from high speed puts a lot of heat into a bike wheel rim. On a long descent, this can raise the temperature of the air inside a clincher, increasing its pressure and blowing the tire off the rim. Or, it can soften the cement or glue holding a tubular tire to the rim; in the worst case, the tire may creep around the rim or even roll upside down, leaving the cyclist riding on the base tape. Neither is a good outcome. None – It’s a tie
Weight Even the lightest clincher wheels are usually a couple hundred grams heavier than their tubular counterparts as tubulars don’t require the heavier hook bead rim construction of a clincher.,Rotating mass, especially at the perimeter, is more valuable weight than static mass (like frame weight) and thus wheels can be a good place to save weight, especially on hillier courses. Tubular
Aerodynamics Tires and rims are narrow enough that the biggest aerodynamic variables tend to relate to tire width and how smooth the tire transitions to the rim.In general, clinchers on the newer wider rim profiles offer the smoothest transitions as they don’t have the interference of a tubulars base tape. Clincher
Rolling Resistance It’s a difficult question to resolve, since there are so many variables involved.,The best evidence suggests that a road clincher rolls slightly faster than a directly comparable tubular and the reason is that the cement, tape, or glue holding the tub to the rim is soft and compressible but not very elastic. It allows the tub to flatten against the rim at the point passing over the ground but slows its return, so some of the energy absorbed as the tire compresses is lost to slow recovery. Clincher
Durability/Reusability Tire durability and wear is about the same between equivalent level clincher and tubular tires for the same reasons why traction is similar – brand technology is usually shared in both styles. Clinchers do have the advantage of being able to have a staple or small nail removed from the casing and being ridden again while a tubular can be more difficult to repair if the casing is cut. Clincher..just
Cost The best quality tubular tires will cost $35-$50 more than the best clinchers. Clincher

The winner is:
Clinchers…I think.
If you want maximum performance through the lowest weight, most aero profile and smoothest ride for racing and events I would still look at the tubular version of many carbon aero wheels.  However if, like me, you are looking for one wheel set to race and train on, the overall performance of clinchers wheels is closer than ever to their tubular counterparts.