Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tubes, Tubeless, or........Tubular?

When I think of tubular tires, I usually think of road cycling, old school racers with spares wrapped around their shoulders, or maybe cyclo-cross. I don't consider mountain bikes for tubulars. Tubulars for mountain bikes? Yep! Seems that there is a movement afoot to give all us dirt heads a reason to sniff glue!

It's not a new idea, actually. Back in the day, in the 80's to be precise, Gary Fisher worked to bring tubular mountain bike tires to the market. While they had definite benefits such as better cornering traction, pinch flat resistance, and over all lower rolling resistance, riders never got on with them and the idea was withdrawn. Now it's being ressurected again and this time, it just might catch on.

The aforementioned benefits still apply, but the deterants to running such a format needed to be addressed. First and foremost was what to do in case you flatted. It's not an appealing idea to have to carry a pre-glued mtb tubular around your shoulders these days. Besides, it'd clash with your Camelback! No, the idea now is to eliminate flats in the first place. Much like Stan's No Tubes has done for tubeless, the new breed of mtb tubular has sealant inside to self heal puctures. Another conundrum to running tubulars is the special rims that usually must be used. However, tire company Tufo has remedied that situation with it's tubular-clincher tires that have a tubular casing and a bead on either side of the tire that can lock into the hook bead of a clincher rim. Not all adherants to the tubular mtb revolution do that, however. Reynolds believes that the high end, racer mtb entusiast will be swayed by the stiff and light carbon mtb tubular wheelset. The overall weight savings of going tubular are really appealing to such folks since almost all the weight saved is at the outer most part of the wheel assembly where it hurts you the most if it's there.

Tubes, tubeless, or tubular? Will 29"ers ever see tubular tires? With the great appeal of losing outer wheel weight with tubular tires and rims, we just might. Especially if 29"ers catch on with the upper eschelon pro riders that can demand and get pretty much what ever it's going to take to win. It'd be interesting to see if it would work, but for the "common" trail rider, it may never happen. No matter what is done to get the format to work, the issue of sidewall tears, especially for rockier, rootier terrain still looms large. It's not really advantageous to add material to a tubular to combat that issue, since it would automatically take away the suppleness and low weight of the format- the very reasons you'd want a tubular in the first place.

That being as it may, I'd sure like to see some made in a 1.8-2.0 inch range with a racey tread pattern. Probably would be the ultimate gravel grinder tire!

Talk about your niche markets..................

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