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I've been using tubeless tires with great success on my mountain bike for a year or so, and the time is here to replace the wheels on my cross bike. I was thinking of getting another pair of stan's rims (the Alpha 400 seems best suited for cross). A little background on my riding - I use the cross bike for road/trail commuting, CX racing and general recreation. I would guess that 30-35% of its' miles are off road, and a good bit of this is on rocky/rooty singletrack.

I'm a bigger guy also so when I flat it is typically a pinchflat. The idea of a more flat-free commute has great appeal to me. I'd assume the ability to run lower pressures would help a lot for the singletrack riding and the sloppier races as well.

Do tubeless tires offer significant benefits for a cyclocross bike?

The reason I ask is that I've heard horror stories about conversion kits on road wheels (most centered around the dreaded "burp"). Does a tubeless specific rim eliminate this? I'd assume that it does, but that opinion is largely formed by my experience with the stan's mountain bike rims. I'd love to hear from anyone who has actually ridden a cross bike with tubeless tires and/or rims.

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Could you clarify what the exact question is? Is it something like, "Are tubeless tires compatible with ordinary cyclocross rims?"? –  amcnabb Oct 8 '12 at 20:25
    
I was trying to find out whether or not tubeless tires offered significant benefits for a cross bike. The articles I linked below eventually convinced me to give them a try and I literally just put a new stans wheelset on my bike. Once I've gotten a few rides in on them in different conditions I will probably elaborate below and accept the answer. –  AlexCuse Oct 9 '12 at 16:16
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

So I decided to take the plunge and try the tubeless wheels. I've got about 80 miles of road and gravel riding on them now, and figured I should start formulating an answer. I ended up using the stan's alpha 400 rim because of my weight and the lack of rim brake compatibility in their cross specific rim.

So far it's been as advertised. The tires can run at much lower pressures than I was able to run with tubes, to the point that if I come back onto the road I actually feel like the tire is going to tear off the rim when taking tight corners too fast (these are corners on neighborhood trails and such, it is not nearly as pronounced when riding on real roads). The lower pressure lets the tires hook up really well off road - probably not as well as a wide set of tubulars but much better than the tubed tires I've used in the past. So I would say yes, there are significant benefits.

There are a few gotchas to be aware of though, namely the lack of tire selection - the tires I wanted to run would not lock into the bead. Even at low pressures they would blow off. I ended up going with a set of (non-tubeless) continentals that my shop had lying around. It took a while for sealant to permeate the tire, but they are working great now. I think there are only a handful of tubeless specific cross tires at this time, but feel certain more will be coming. With the alpha (road wheels) you also need a special rim strip (in addition to the yellow tape) for higher volume cross tires. With some tires this is not needed (or even detrimental), but it ended up being needed for mine. I'm sure you could jury-rig something but I would just plan on spending another $40 or so on these strips (just a rubber strip with a valve stem built in). I've been told this is not needed with the iron cross rims.

All things considered, I think it was worth the hassle so far. The stans wheels are great - very stiff when cornering, and I saved almost a pound at the rims off what my factory wheels weighed. I will come back and post more once I've done some singletrack riding and a race or two.

edit - so I've done some singletrack riding and one race, and now I'm really starting to see the benefit. The stans wheels don't really allow super low pressures (I burped at about 22 psi while preriding the race course) but they feel great at 30. This is for a 220 lb rider with 35mm tires, using the rubber strips. The wheels hooked up really well on the slick grass course, and held up well to dismounts/remounts. At this point I'm ready to call the experiment a success. Looking back the only thing I would have done differently is go with a tubeless-specific tire (it took a long time for sealant to sufficiently permeate the non-tubeless tires I used).

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I found this series of articles from Cyclocross magazine on tubeless tires for cross - seems to have a mostly positive impression (though the comments are another story).

Going Tubeless in Cyclocross - Part 1

Going Tubeless in Cyclocross - Part II

Going Tubeless for Cyclocross – Avoiding the Burp, Choosing the Best Tires, and a DIY System (Updated, Part III)

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If you're getting new wheels anyway, I'd just get tubulars for cyclocross. I don't know anyone that would recommend tubeless for 'cross. With tubular, you'll get the advantage of running low pressure that you are after. There are also a wide variety of tires that will be suited to your needs. They might not be perfect for your commute, but if you prep them with some sealant you should be fine.

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I'd probably agree if it was a dedicated racing bike, but I don't know that tubulars really fit the utilitarian nature that I'm after. But maybe I'm just irrationally scared of carrying a tire instead of a tube. I'll certainly consider this - can you recommend a tubular wheelset in the $700 range for comparison? –  AlexCuse Sep 6 '12 at 13:26
    
A very popular hand built wheel set around here is kinlin tb-25 or velocity escape rims with velocity hubs. Even if you upgraded to a white industries hub, you'll still come in under $700. Not the flashiest or anything, but solid, easily maintained. –  Tha Riddla Sep 6 '12 at 16:26
    
I'm going to say that going tubular is a personal choice. It depends on how committed you are to racing. If you plan on being a serious racer with dedicated race only gear, I'd go tubular. However, If you want something versatile for commuting on, I'd go tubeless. You can use most tubeless wheelsets with a tube if you get a flat, or throw clincher tires on in a pinch. Often times, you can convert your existing wheelset to tubeless for very little expense compared to a new wheelset. –  Benzo Sep 10 '12 at 12:42
    
That's about where I ended up after consulting a couple friends and local shop (I go elsewhere for wheels so they have no reason to steer me wrong). I still like this answer - it was good to get a more race-focused opinion, in case I ever start finishing competitively and want to step things up a notch ;) –  AlexCuse Sep 12 '12 at 18:18
    
It's true, tubulars don't burp. They just tear off of the rim. –  joelmdev Aug 24 '13 at 13:19
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