Bike Tech: Tubular vs Clincher Tyres

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published November 30, 2011

The design of tubular and clincher tyres may be different but their performance is getting closer than ever. But which should you go for?

Written by: Ian Buchanan
Both styles of tires have seen significant enough improvements over the past decade that the gap between the two styles is narrower than ever. Tubular and clincher tires—by design—remain quite different, and it is important to recognize where each style excels so that you can choose the wheel and tire style that best suits your needs.

Puncture Resistance: Because tubular tires often have higher tire pressure than clincher tires, they can be less prone to pinch flats and punctures. However, flat protection technology within a brand of tires usually transcends the style of tire and thus clincher flat protection is better than ever. Continental offers the same effective and lightweight Vectran flat protection layer in their GP4000 clinchers and the GP4000SR tubular. Winner: Slightly toward tubular.

Rolling Resistance: Rubber compound, how forgiving the tire casing is, how rough the road, tire pressure, rider weight, tubular glue or tape being used, and the material of the tube are just some of the variables that affect a tire’s rolling resistance. Certain tests show a mix of tubulars and clinchers in the top 10 of the lowest rolling resistance tires tested. In general, soft and supple casings, which are not always the most puncture-resistant, combined with latex tubes (tubular or clincher) result in the lowest rolling resistance numbers. It is noteworthy that the lowest Crr (Coefficient of rolling resistance) on tubulars requires proper adhesion between the rim and tire. A poorly glued tubular can shift on the rim, thus creating friction under load, and will have a higher Crr than a tubular that has firmer adhesion. Winner: Very slight toward a sufficiently glued latex tube-equipped tubular.

Ease of Installation: It is usually assumed that clinchers are easier to install than tubulars, but one type of tire doesn’t carry a big advantage over the other in this regard. In a race situation, a tubular can be easier to change than some of the tightest fitting clincher tires, and it can be easy to break tire levers and puncture tubes when changing. It’s a tie!

Weight: Even the lightest clincher wheels are usually a couple hundred grams heavier than the tubular counterparts because 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 (such as frame weight) and thus wheels can be a good place to save weight, especially on hilly courses. Winner: Tubular.

Ride Quality: Ride quality is one of the main reasons that many pros ride tubulars—a high-quality tubular rides smoothly, compliantly and responsively. While tubulars have held the advantage for years, latex tubes in combination with softer rubber compounds and casings have helped some of the best clinchers start to approach a good tubular. In fact, the newer tubeless style clinchers from Hutchinson have proven to give even the best tubular tires a run for their money in terms of ride quality. Vittoria, Zipp (made by Vittoria) and Veloflex are examples of leading brands when it comes to ride quality in both their clincher and tubular tires. It’s a tie!

Pricing: While there are fairly solid tubulars available at similar prices to top-of-the-line clincher tires and tubes, the best quality tubular tires will cost $35 to $50 more than the best clinchers. Winner: Clincher.

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.