Clincher, tubular, or tubeless tyres? – CyclingTips

The ideal tyre

The ideal bike tyre is light, puncture-proof, and grips well with a long life and reasonable price while providing low rolling resistance and plenty of comfort for the rider. In practice, some of these qualities are mutually exclusive (e.g. light tyres aren’t puncture-proof), so cyclists are forced to compromise on one or more features, depending on their actual needs.

It is easy to view a tyre as a static structure with a single function, namely to contain air and prevent it from escaping, but there is a lot more going on out on the road. Indeed, a tyre is very dynamic, constantly changing shape to accommodate changes in the road surface, the angle of the wheel, and the weight of the rider.


It is for this reason that the suppleness of a tyre is a highly prized trait: the more readily that a tyre can conform and rebound as the wheel moves over the ground, the better its grip, rolling resistance, and overall feel (including comfort).

The choice of materials largely dictates the final weight, suppleness, and durability of any tyre. Lightweight materials typically yield a fast tyre with low rolling resistance and a supple feel, but they will be susceptible to punctures, quick-wearing, and expensive. Heavier, coarser materials increase puncture resistance, are harder wearing, and cost less, yet suffer from higher rolling resistance and provide less comfort.

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These principles apply equally to clinchers, tubulars, and tubeless tyres. Indeed, there are far more similarities than differences between the three tyre-systems:

1. All three comprise a woven casing that envelops an air chamber with an outer layer of rubber for the tread;

2. All three make use of the same kind of materials and construction processes;

3. All three look the same once mounted and inflated on a wheel;

4. And all three can be designed to meet the needs of different riding disciplines, performance levels, and pricepoints.

By contrast, the only real distinction rests with how the air chamber is formed and contained by each kind of tyre. For a tubular, that chamber is fully enclosed within the tyre. In contrast, the tyre forms only part of the air chamber for clinchers and tubeless tyres and the rim bed must complete it, where the former depends upon an inner tube, while the latter does not.

The choice of a tyre-system starts with the wheels

Each tyre system requires a dedicated rim design so a rider’s choice of wheels/rims ultimately dictates what kind of tyre-system they can use. Simply put, a tubular tyre cannot be mounted on a clincher rim, and a clincher tyre (tubeless or otherwise) cannot be fitted to a tubular rim. And while it’s possible to fit a tubeless tyre to a standard clincher rim, the only way that it can be inflated is with an inner tube. Similarly, a standard clincher tyre can be used on a tubeless-ready rim with an inner tube, but the only way to achieve tubeless inflation is with a tubeless-ready rim and tyre.

The design of a tubular rim is quite distinct from a clincher since the former lacks sidewalls to hold the tyre in place. As a consequence, tubular rims are always lighter than an equivalent clincher rim. The concave rim bed helps with seating the tyre however the security of the tyre depends entirely on an adequate amount of glue or tape.

The distinction between tubeless-ready and standard clincher rims is much finer, since the two share many of the same features. Thus, the two have the same kind of hooked sidewalls (though hookless rims have started appearing for tubeless tyres) and a rim bed with some kind of valley. The ridges on either side of that valley are normally more pronounced for a tubeless-ready rim than a standard clincher rim.

These ridges mate with the beads of a tubeless tyre to form an airtight seal and account for the distinct snapping or popping noise that is normally heard when inflating any kind of clincher tyre (tubeless or otherwise) on a tubeless-ready rim. Owners may also find that the tyre has to be dislodged from these ridges when changing or repairing a tyre.

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The strict requirement for a dedicated rim means that there is no easy way for consumers to experiment with different tyre-systems unless they have access to a suitable wheelset. With that said, if an owner is using standard clinchers in conjunction with a tubeless-ready wheelset, then all that is needed is some suitable rim tape, tubeless valves, sealant and a set of tubeless tyres to test the appeal of the system.

Clincher, tubular, or tubeless tyres? - CyclingTips

Clincher, tubular, or tubeless tyres? - CyclingTips