TUBULAR TIRES – FUNDAMENTALS

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Mechanics, Racing

One of the biggest considerations for performance cyclists is weight. Everyone knows that the lighter you are, the faster and more efficient you are. Bicycle manufacturers have come up with incredibly light frames and have used all kinds of materials to make a bicycle as light as possible. There’s one way to make things a bit lighter. A tubular tire is one of those ways. A tubular– also called a sew-up, tubie or tub is basically an integration of the tire and tube.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

Essentially in this setup, your tire and tube are stitched together and then, with the help of a special adhesive glued to the rim itself. Sounds messy, doesn’t it? It is. When you get a flat tire, you then have to remove the tubular tire from the rim and repair or replace it. The tube is essentially a part of the tire as it is sewn into it. As a result, the tubular is just one piece, whereas the humble clincher is two pieces (tube and tire). Tubular tires are glued to the rim because they tend to move around a bit if not glued. That’s it for the differences on the tire, the rim itself is also quite a bit different than compared to a clincher.

Tubular rim

Tubular rims don’t have the usual “clincher” along the inner edge on the rim. So the only thing holding the tubular tire onto the rim is air pressure and the special adhesive. As you can imagine getting rid of the clincher edge on the rim would end up saving a lot of weight on the rim alone.

ADVANTAGES OF TUBULARS

  • Typically lighter than an equivalent clincher setup due to the lack of rim bead.
  • Easier to accelerate and better during climbing.
  • You can run a wider range of tire pressures with less risk of pinch flatting.
  • Ride quality generally feels smoother than it does for clinchers. That’s why racers like them.
Cyclocross tubulars

DISADVANTAGES OF TUBULARS

  • The process of setting up tubular tires and repairing them if you do flat.
  • Gluing on a tire can be a mess, and it takes time for the glue to dry, but using the newer adhesive rim tape is somewhat easier.

Some would argue that as long as you learn how to work on a tubular, it is every bit as easy to change as a clincher.  That is the problem though – most beginner and intermediate cyclists have not worked on tubulars, but they how to work on clinchers. The gluing of the tubular tire to the rim can be a tedious job, but something you get good at just like changing a clincher tire

DO I NEED SPECIAL ADHESIVE?

The basic principles that apply to adhesive bonding apply to tubular mounting. Ideally, there should be enough adhesive to bond the tire and rim but not excessive amounts of glue. Excessive amounts of glue can become especially susceptible to failure from heat. There will be limits on the strength of the bond between rim and tire.

Tubular cement must hold the tire to the rim, but yet be flexible and giving enough when the tire is impacted laterally. Epoxy or hard glue would tend to shatter when impacted rather than yield during a shock. Tubular cements tend to use volatile solvents that must bleed or dry out before the bond is fully secure. While the application technique is critical to maximum bonding strength, glue brands will vary in quality and adhesive strength. Gluing a tubular to a rim is a complex process that requires experience. If you are not familiar with this concept it would be better to let your local bike shop handle it.


Choosing to go tubular or not is ultimately a choice left up to you. It great to have super lightweight wheels and tires that let you pick up pace super fast, especially when racing. During races, punctures aren’t a worry and fixing them isn’t too big a deal with the right tools and experience. However, if you’re doing anything other than racing you might want to reconsider your choice of buying tubulars.

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