Most ‘cross riders are probably aware of tubeless tyres. Either from riding mtbs, where tubeless tyres are commonplace, or through the cycle press, we’ve mentioned it a few times here on CycleTechReview. I’ve dabbled a little and thought maybe it was time for a more in depth look.
My tubeless experience has so far been limited to Schwalbe’s The One tyre, which is a road tyre. I’ve been using it mounted to Pro-Lite’s Bortola tubeless wheelset. I also went tubeless riding some of the ‘cross sportives organised by the guys at the Wiggle CX Sportive series, including the hundred mile CX Century.
A lot of more experienced, tub riding riders have told me not to bother with tubeless. Tubs are the tyres to use for ‘cross, end of. We all know the reasons for the dominance of tubulars over clinchers in ‘cross racing; the rim shape and construction method means you can run lower pressures without risking pinch punctures. Lower pressures mean better grip, which is essential off road. With modern tyre sealants, such as Tufo’s Extreme that Simon used in his Tufo Elite S3 tubular review, you can also solve the sticky and expensive issue of repairing tubular punctures.
So, if tubs are so great, why bother with tubeless? Well for me it’s a simple answer, cost. Tubs are expensive. And if you want to run more than one pair of wheels it’s time to tell the kids the pony has to go! Also a clincher or tubeless is a lot easier to change if you are only running a single set of wheels and you want to match your rubber to the terrain. Changing a clincher takes minutes, changing a tub? A lot longer and you won’t be doing that half an hour before a race.
I’ve always run clinchers when racing ‘cross, I’m a mid-pack finisher riding for the love of it. If I’m going well I can just about break into the top twenty. So for me, spending a small fortune on a ‘cross specific wheel set was never an option. However as I began to hear about mtb riders using tubeless tyres off road, I began to think maybe it was time to take a look at what was possible.
My first tubeless tyre was a road specific example, The One from Schwalbe, which I rode this year in a wide variety of events and really liked. Next I borrowed a set of ‘ghetto’ tubeless wheels from a friend to ride the Surrey Hills Gravelcross sportive. This home made set-up, running on standard wheels and using Schwalbe’s Smart Sam tyres – which are not tubeless tyres – was a real revelation.
I ran the tyres at much lower pressures than I normally would on an off road sportive. Usually I would be hammering along on 60psi. While this is fine on the tarmac sections, off road it’s a nightmare. The reason for such high pressures was to avoid pinch punctures, which are always going to happen if you ride clinchers hard on low pressures, over roots and rocks. With this DIY set up however, I was running my tyres at 35psi.
Grip off road was much improved and with wide 35mm tyres, a lot more comfortable. And when I did run over some thorns, I was amazed at how easily the sealant did it’s thing. After this I had to have a go myself. And this is where it got a bit messy.
Setting up normal clinchers to run tubeless is not an easy thing and it seems to be a bit of a black art. With so many variables such as rim width/depth, tyre construction and bead type involved it can become a bit of nightmare. I was lucky enough to be able to call on the advice of a local ‘ghetto’ tubeless expert and with his help managed to get some super fat 40mm Smart Sams running on an extra wide touring rim. This set up was what I used in the months leading up to the CX Century and, apart from cutting my front tyre in the first couple of miles on the day, saw me safely through. Since then I’ve tried setting up tubeless wheels to race this year’s ‘cross season, but with no luck.
However with the arrival of Pro-Lite’s Bortola tubeless wheels, I thought perhaps now is the time to step away from the haphazard and make do world of ghetto tubeless and to step in to bright, shiny world of tubeless specific?
What I’ll be trying over the coming months, is to try as many different types of tubeless ‘cross tyre as I can get my hands on. I’ll run them on Pro-Lite’s wheels and race them in my local cyclo-cross league and the odd CX sportive – because, remember a ‘cross bike isn’t just for racing! I’ll see what else you need to make it all work, items like Bontrager’s TLR Flash Charger pump or, keeping to my DIY roots, a ghetto compressor!
The range of tubeless cyclo-cross tyres has been growing, with many now on their second or third development, as manufacturers and riders work out just what they want from the tyre. Some of these that I hope to be trying are; Schwalbe’s X-One and Rocket Ron, Vittoria’s Cross XL, WTB’s Cross Wolf, Bontrager’s CX3 TLR, the Kenda Komando X Pro, Hutchinson’s Toro CX and Clement are bringing out a new tubeless mud tyre, which will go under the name of BOS.
Once I’ve fitted, ridden and raced them I’ll report back and let you know how I got on. It may not be enough to sway you away from tubs, but for new riders looking for a performance up-grade it could prove interesting reading and save you some money, maybe the kids will be able to keep the pony after all?
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