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What are the differences between "clincher" and "tubular" tires? I'm just a casual road cyclist at this point and don't put any more than 200 miles in over the course of the week. I'm looking to upgrade to some better, lighter wheels, but want to make sure I go with the correct type. I'm looking for something that will be easy to fix on the road and doesn't add a lot of complication when problems spring up.

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

If you want simple and easy to fix then you sure as heck don't want tubulars.

Someone else will probably provide more details and links, but clinchers are rims/wheels with a tube, then a tire is mounted over the tube and the bead of the tire is hooked under a lip on the rim.

Tubular rims have no lip. The tire encases the tube completely and is sewn in typically. SO fixing a flat means cutting open the tire and patching the tube, then sewing it back up.

The tire assembly is glued to the rim.

Heat from brakes can melt the glue supposedly and cause tires to roll off.

The rolling resistance used to be much better on tubulars. Unless you are a purist or a pro I don't think there is a reason to go with tubulars these days.

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Heat from the brakes shouldn't melt the glue unless you've used something other than tubular glue, glued the tire on incorrectly, or are riding your rim brakes doing downhill mountain biking, in which case you're certifiably insane (rim brakes and tubulars on a MTB?). –  Stephen Touset May 13 '11 at 1:20
    
So are you saying that tubes did not roll off? –  Tim May 13 '11 at 2:23
    
Tubular tires won't come off the rim unless they've been improperly glued. You can realistically ride several miles on flat tubulars if you have to. Do that with clinchers, and you'll be riding on your rim pretty quick. –  Stephen Touset May 13 '11 at 2:31
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Anyone who has changed tubular tires often will attest that it is not difficult, and the process can actually be much faster than changing a clincher, depending on the clincher and the rim in question. Propper glue application (not too much, but still enough) and using the right glue, are very important steps. Unless the glue is very old, the remaining glue, after the flat tire has been stripped, will hold a new tire on for most triathlon riding as long as you avoid sharp cornering and strong leans.

I have actually toured through Europe on a pannier equiped race bike, using sew-ups, and had great success and a wonderful ride. You just cannot beat the ride that tubulars give you.

As far as repairing the sew-ups go, of course this is done at a later time and hopefully you'll find someone at a shop who does it on a regular basis, to do it for you. But it is really not that difficult to do. However, repairing your flat tubular in the field is out of the question. The idea is to carry a spare tubular tire, or two, and swap it out in the field, and fix the flat later.

Another advantage of tubulars is that you will be changing-out the entire tire, and not just the inner tube. If your flat was caused by something that also damaged the tire itself, and not just the inner tube, then changing out a clincher's inner tube will do little good. This logic also applies to small pieces of glass or steel that may remain in the tire, difficult to detect, after you have replaced the inner tube. After changing a clincher inner tube, once you are back on the road, you may experience a second flat due to the small piece of glass in the tire that you did not catch because you were in a hurry.

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Clinchers tires and rims are more convenient in that they can be repaired easily on the road, are cheaper, and have more options available. However, they are heavier, won't stay on your rim at high speeds if you get a flat, and have a higher rolling resistance.

Tubular tires and rims are more expensive and require a lengthy gluing procedure to replace the tire when it flats. However, they have lower rolling resistance, weigh less, and are potentially safer when going flat at higher speeds (if they have been glued properly).

In my opinion, the practicality of clinchers outweighs the benefit of tubulars in all road-racing scenarios short of pro-level racing. One approach to mitigating the downsides of tubulars, however, is to have a set of tubular "race wheels" that you use only on race day, and a set of clincher "training wheels" that you can repair on the fly if you go flat 40 miles from home.

The one place I think tubular tires still reign, even for amateurs, is at the velodrome. You're never far from a ride back home if you puncture a tire. The opportunity for having a flat is greatly reduced because of the far fewer miles you put on the wheels plus the lack of road debris on the track. And it's far safer to have tubulars in case of a flat, where you can still ride on rubber down to the apron. With a clincher, if you lose the tire, it's easy to fall if you wind up riding on your rim on a 37° banked curve.

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Back when I started riding seriously in the mid-70s, I read about the then-still-fairly-common tubular tires. Glue..Sewing... Not for me... Never regretted avoiding the things, which are now at best...Rare. Maybe pro road racers still use 'em, but they don't have to fix 'em. (hand the wheel to the tech and take a nice fresh one in return...) –  M. Werner May 12 '11 at 23:28
    
I just bought a pair of tubulars for the track, and they come sewn up nowadays. Still a PITA when you get a puncture, but I should get a few racing seasons out of those tires. –  Stephen Touset May 13 '11 at 1:17
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Clinchers

Pros

  1. cheaper
  2. more common
  3. wheels are more common
  4. easier to patch on the road, no need for gluing, stretching tire, etc

Cons

  1. if you flat, you can't really ride on it
  2. some say a lower quality ride
  3. will always be heavier (tube, tire, clincher interface)

Tubulars

Pros

  1. the lightest practical tubulars will always be lighter than the lightest clincher
  2. if you flat, you can ride on it for a little longer
  3. if glued properly and the tire will stay on the rim even if it flats
  4. ride quality

Cons

  1. costs more (rims, tubulars)
  2. more difficult to maintain / repatch as an individual
  3. you could get tire/rim seperation
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