|A 40mm tubular from FMB proposed for gravel racing. Image pinched from BikeRumor.com|
Flat tires can be ridden on, (until the tire carcass shreds or comes unglued), but repairs to tubulars are not often done and then only by skilled craftsmen and not immediately in the field. Typically one either carries another tubular tire pre-glued for replacement or one has to change out wheels from a "pit" on course or from a support vehicle, as you see often in Pro road racing.
So......why would one want a tubular for gravel road riding or racing? Well, for one thing, pinch flats would be non-existent theoretically speaking, as there is no traditional tube which would be separate from the tire to pinch. However, a cut tire is much more likely, if pressures are run low. Secondly, tubular tires have famously low rolling resistance and corner very well. Finally, there is a certain faction of cyclists that would find running tubulars something that would tickle their romanticized notions of cycling. So, for them, it would be justified.
I've written about the possibility of tubular tires for gravel road riding before here. In fact, I was so curious that I had Velocity build me a set of tubular wheels to try it out on based upon a tip from the folks at Challenge Tires years ago that they, (or someone) was going to make a big, wide tubular. That didn't happen so I actually laced the hubs over to some clincher rims this past Summer and hung the rims from the rafters.
|With the typical gravel here in Iowa being chunky, loose, and deep, would tubulars survive the punishment?|
Tubeless tires typically are pretty bombproof out on gravel these days. It isn't impossible to have a flat, cut a tubeless tire, or to have some other issue, but those instances where tubeless gravel tires fail is rare and getting ever rarer. Even tubed tire use is easier on the maintenance side, and repairs are a snap in the field. Tubulars? Not so much.
This all has become relevant again because of a company famous for making tubulars, FMB, which has come out with an idea for a tubular gravel tire. (See the BikeRumor.com article here) In my opinion, this FMB tire is a stab at seeing what the reaction to a tubular for gravel racing might be. There is really no sense in the tire shown otherwise since the casing is huge, exposed badly on the sidewalls, and the tread is simply a CX tread glued on to this bigger casing. It isn't a practical design.
If this gains favor amongst racers, and FMB actually does a design worthy of use, which this design exercise clearly is not, then what? Well, it will be one more reason for the riders who are using these to call for support vehicles. I mean, you aren't really going to expect anyone in their right mind to carry a spare tubular and rip off the damaged tire, replace it with a pre-glued spare in the field, and carry onward, are you? Of course not! This isn't going anywhere unless gravel racing becomes just like Pro road races. So, unless the UCI gets behind this, or unless gravel races open up to going in the direction of Pro road races, this idea has zero merit. Because tubeless tires are already a far better idea than this is.