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I bought an older second-hand racing bike, which has tubular tires mounted. I went to a bike shop and wanted to buy a spare tubular tire, but they told me:

Wow, such an old bike! No, we don't have tubular tires. No shop has them. They are not used anymore nowadays. Instead, use an inner tube an a tire.

Is that true? If so, why?

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Google "tubular tire" and you'll get dozens of hits. As I understand it, they are still used by serious racers. But hardly anyone else, since they're a royal PITA to maintain. See Sheldon, as usual. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 31 '13 at 11:04
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I use them everyday. They're not a PITA, just different. –  Ritch Melton Jul 31 '13 at 11:23
    
Tubular tires aren't all that recommended or used by recreational riders. Flats are a hassle as you need to carry glue and spares which are bulky. Racers used to use them almost exclusively because they had less rolling resistance (Were faster), and whole wheels were swapped out when flats occurred. With the modern rims/tires/tubes, that is mostly no longer the case. You can get clincher combinations that are as fast or faster than tubulars. –  JohnP Jul 31 '13 at 14:53
    
I carry a spare, but no glue. It fits in a small bag under my seat. If I'm going far (70-100 mi), I'll carry a tube of sealant under the bag too. –  Ritch Melton Aug 1 '13 at 1:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I alternated tubulars and clinchers (different wheelsets) on my commuter bike for over a year and it was clear that I had fewer punctures with tubulars. In fact, I have so few punctures that I have to reglue tires after a year or so since the glue dries up. YMMV.

  1. when a tubular does flat, you almost never get a catastrophic deflation (bang), you get slow leaks.
  2. if you're careful you can ride on a flat. I finished the last mile (uphill) of a race on a flat.
  3. they are more comfortable, especially when cornering because of the suppleness of the side walls.
  4. you can get a sub 1500 gram wheelset for well under $500 (Campy Record and Mavic Reflex). Try that with clinchers. Tubular wheelsets are generally much lighter than clinchers.
  5. if you do get a slow leak, tufo or stan's tire sealant will almost certainly fix it.

Now all of my bikes run tubulars. For my commuter bike I use Tufos which last forever despite the broken glass that you inevitably see on roads. For racing Veloflex are superb. And as was mentioned tubulars dominate the cyclocross scene.

Once you get the hang of gluing, it's not really a big deal. The main disadvantage in cyclocross is that you need multiple wheelsets to be able to shift tires on short notice due to weather changes. Dry vs mud, say, requires two completely different treads.

Finally, for most places in the US you have little choice but to buy your tubulars off the web since the LBS is unlikely to stock them. See: http://www.worldclasscycles.com/tubulars.htm

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Nice link. I didn't know you could get rally's in 25 mm. –  Ritch Melton Aug 4 '13 at 2:28
    
Did you ever determine the cause of the punctures? I rarely if ever get actual through the tread punctures with my clinchers (never used tubulars). However, I do get flats, especially with my 23 mm, because the tube gets caught between the rim and the bead when mounting, or the tube was twisted (which is only apparent after I remove the tube and you can see deformation on the tube), or I didn't put enough pressure and hit a pot hole, leading to a snake bike, or the rim tape moved leading to exposed spoke holes. Basically, all stuff that would never happen on tubulars. –  Kibbee Oct 25 '13 at 12:42

I also got a set of tubular rims with an old vintage racing bike and I've stuck with them. I don't find them to be a hassle, but gluing does take a little technique and practice to be able to do it neatly. I think most people who haven't done it are afraid of the gluing, but if you like to tinker with things its not difficult. With sealant, I rarely have to change tires, so I find myself gluing a new rear tire about once every 2k miles.

You can find tubular road tires at bike shops and online at places like: http://www.biketiresdirect.com/search/tubular-road-tires http://www.competitivecyclist.com/components/tires.39.html

and others I'm sure. What you'll find is there aren't as many sizes and brands as clincher tires, but there is a decent selection. The two tires I'm riding on right now, and the two hanging in my garage have come off of eBay.

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Now there's a hint for the uninitiated: buy spares and keep them for later. They toughen as they age, to a point. –  andy256 Oct 25 '13 at 0:53

Tubular tires are very common in cyclecross; their construction and the way they mount to the rim make it possible to run a lower tire pressure.

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Tubular tyres are still popular with racers and many others. It is most certainly not true to say that no shop has them or that they are not used these days. One of their most overlooked advantages is that carbon wheels for tubs are cheaper than their equivalents for clinchers. Personally, I love riding tubulars and only use clinchers on my indoor training bicycle!

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