Tubular vs Clincher?
Home Up Carbon or Alloy? Weight vs Aero? Tubular vs Clincher?


74 Main Street Middlebury Vermont (802) 388-6666


Which rims are better, tubular or clincher?

I want a 15 pound bike, but I don't want to use tubulars!

If you're a weekend warrior who always seeks an edge in equipment, especially for climbs, you've just handed the advantage to a fellow rider who's willing to use tubulars.  It's impossible to build a clincher rim as light as a tubular, because the U shape of a clincher requires more material than the box shape of a tubular.  The deeper the rim, the more this factors in.  The bottom line?  If you want a deep rim wheel that's light enough to use for climbing, your best choice is carbon tubular.

You won't have much luck finding a lightweight aluminum tubular rim wheel in the U.S., unless you go custom (and we build wheels 8 ).  Even manufacturers like  Mavic fail to take full advantage of the inherent strength of the tubular rim.  Instead, they just build tubular versions of their best clincher rims, with very little weight savings.

With carbon it's another story.  1,200gm is the benchmark for a really light tubular wheel set, 3/4 of a pound less than a set of Mavic Ksyrium SLs.  1,000gm is the benchmark for the ultra-light tubular wheel set, saving more than a pound.  ENVE Composites' ENVE 1.25 rim weighs in at a phenomenal 250gm, and builds into a 1,000gm wheelset with conventional hubs and spokes.

Just don't want to give up the convenience of clinchers?

Then the debate is over.  We offer six of the lightest factory-built clinchers on the market:

Topolino CTR 2.0 1360gm/pair, alloy rim
Topolino CX 2.0 1360gm/pair, alloy rim
Mavic R-Sys, 1390gm/pair, alloy rim
Mavic R-Sys SL 1295gm/pair, alloy rim
ENVE 45 Clincher, 1365gm/pair, 45mm deep carbon rim
Bontrager XXX Lite, 1320gm/pair, 25mm shallow carbon rim

We also custom build.

If you're still interested, read on!

Which tires are better, tubular or clincher?

Tests show that tubulars do not offer an advantage in rolling resistance.  This depends more on how the materials are used and how the tire is manufactured.  Nor do tubular tires offer much weight advantage over clinchers.  

The tubular's two main advantages over the clincher:

Tubulars allow a much lighter rim.
Tubulars can be far more resistant to puncture than clinchers.  Pinch flats, where the tube gets caught between the rim and the tire bead, are non-existent, because the tube is completely surrounded by the tubular's tire casing.  

Aren't tubulars messy?

The process of gluing on a tubular tire doesn't need to be messy if it's done properly, but it is more time-consuming.  Gluing is no longer the only option for tubular tires, however.  Tufo, a Czech company, makes an excellent "Extreme Conditions" rim tape that safely bonds a tubular tire to a rim.  Several masters riders in our area use this method, and they swear by it.

Yes, it's more time-consuming to change a tubular on the road, but if you pick the right tubular tires, you are far less likely to have a flat in the first place.  

What tubulars do we recommend?

Continental tubular tires are the most puncture-resistant road tires, thanks to a rugged, multi-layer nylon casing and, in Continental's top-of-the-line tubulars, a layer of Vectran for extra flat protection.  Continental tubulars use a butyl tube, which is less supple than latex, but it is more durable.

Yes, Continentals have more rolling resistance than cotton casing tubulars with latex inner tubes, like the higher end Vittorias.  We feel the difference in rolling resistance is far outweighed by the superior durability of Continental, however.  Low rolling resistance means nothing if you can't finish the ride because of a flat.

If you value durability as we do, you will find the Continental GP4000 to be the best tubular currently on the market.  It combines Continental's proven toughness with a seamless casing; instead of the sides of the tire being stitched together around the tube, the casing is vulcanized together.  Lack of a seam improves contact with rim and makes for a more uniform construction, eliminating the occasional "bump" you may find in a hand-stitched tubular. 

The Continental Sprinter is the best tubular if you're on a budget.  You will sacrifice some of the ride quality and durability of the GP4000, but you will still have a stronger, more reliable tire than any other tubular in this price range, as well as many more expensive models by other companies.

What about tubeless?

Tubeless clinchers have become increasingly popular in mountain biking.  Tubeless tires eliminate pinch flats and allow low tire pressure for better grip on wet, loose, slippery terrain.  If the sealant you use stops working for any reason, you can still use a conventional tube to get home.

Tubeless haven't yet had the same impact on the road as they have off-road.  Hutchinson is the best-known manufacturer of tubeless tires, but they still only approve of two wheel sets for use with their tubeless tires, the Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850 and the Shimano Ultegra WH-6700.  

That said, with a proper rim strip and Stan's NoTubes, you can make almost any wheel tubeless.  The advantages of road tubeless are the same as off-road:  no pinch flats, lower tire pressures, and very low rolling resistance.  Tubeless tires are harder to install and inflate than regular clinchers, and the weight savings by not using a tube is potentially significant -- however, at this point, tubeless tires are not as light as the top standard clinchers.