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Tri Bike Tires: Clincher Vs Tubular Vs Tubeless

If you’re a runner who’s taken the leap into doing triathlons, congrats! It’s a fun challenge and an excellent way to incorporate cross-training that can benefit you physically and mentally.

But it’s entirely possible that you’ve been completely confused trying to figure out what kind of tri bike tires you should be using. Clincher vs tubular vs tubeless… What does it mean and why should you even care about it?

We’ll go through each one and explain why it’s good to know and how choosing the right tire can boost your performance!

The Ideal Tire

There is such a thing as the ideal tire. It won’t necessarily be the same tire for everyone, but there are certain boxes it needs to tick!

Here are the things you need to look at when choosing the right tire for you:

Weight

A heavy, chunky tire will only weigh you down on the road.

You’ll need to expend more energy pedaling, which means you’re likely to fatigue faster and possibly add seconds or minutes to your final time.

Choosing a light tire is the best option for keeping a good pace. You’ll stay streamlined on the road and won’t need to expend extra energy, which means you’ll finish faster and can put in more intense effort when you need to.

Puncture-Proof

Although you’ll be carrying a puncture repair kit in your bento box, you don’t actually want to use it!

Repairing a puncture can waste precious minutes. It could be the difference between a PR and an average time.

Traction on Road/Trail Surfaces

You never know what the conditions may be like on the day of your event. If it’s a little slippery, you want to know that your tires are safe and stable.

You’ll most likely be looking at a slick to semi-slick tire. A slick tire is smooth, ideal for riding on the road as it provides low rolling resistance, helping you to go faster.

A semi-slick tire is the best of both worlds. The middle is smooth with low resistance, but the sides have some small, chunky lugs to offer resistance if you happen to do some off-road riding.

Durability

Tires aren’t just cheap. You really don’t want to be replacing them every other race! You should be looking for something that’s strong and long-lasting, and won’t lose its grip quickly.

Price & Comfort

Obviously, you’ll need to stick to your own budget. But we highly recommend finding an affordable tire that has all of these features, plus excellent reviews.

It’s not worth going for a very low-priced tire that doesn’t have adequate grip, won’t last you very long, or is prone to puncturing.

Types of Bike Tires

Bike tires come in three types: clincher, tubeless, and tubular. We’ll compare each to figure out their pros and cons.

Clinchers

Clincher tires are the first choice for around 90% of cyclists. They’re super easy to put on your bike and just as simple to maintain. This makes them an excellent choice for cyclists of all levels, but particularly good for beginners.

These tires clamp (or clinch) to the rim of your wheel. The wheel has a small lip, onto which the tire clinches using a bead.

Clincher tires have an inner tube, which provides pressure to keep the tire on the rim and keep the tire inflated.

Pros

  • Easy to Install

Clinchers are the easiest tires to put on your bike. Because of the handy overlapping-lip system, they’re very easy to put on and take off, requiring little technical skill.

  • Easy to Repair & Maintain

If you happen to get a puncture, it’s a simple process to get to the tube so you can fix or replace it quickly.

  • Affordable

Clincher tires are usually more affordable than the other types. This is a bonus because they’re still excellent quality tires, and you’ll be able to get more tire sets for your money. In the long run, this can work out quite a lot cheaper than others.

  • Huge Selection

Clinchers are the most common type of tire you’ll see on bikes. Because of that, there’s a huge variety of manufacturers.

They’re also available with different types of beads. Typically, those on the more affordable side of the spectrum use steel beads. More pricey ones use a Kevlar-type material, which keeps the weight down.

  • Reliable & Safe

Clinchers are extremely reliable. They don’t often have big problems and can generally be used for long periods of time without any hassles.

The clincher mechanism also protects from the tire blowing off the rim. In fact, you could inflate the tire up to twice its recommended size before it blows off due to pressure.

If well taken care of, clincher tires can last you ages.

Cons

  • Punctures

The biggest disadvantage of clincher tires is that they can puncture. There’s usually no puncture-proofing, which leaves you open to the possibility of needing to stop and repair your tire during events.

If your tire punctures while you’re riding at speed, it can be quite dangerous. Always inspect your tires before your race and try to avoid sections of road that contain debris.

  • Weight

Steel beads in clincher tires can add a significant amount of weight to your bike’s wheels. This means you need to put in more effort to pedal and turn the wheel. In turn, your legs will get fatigued more quickly, slowing you down.

More expensive models use lighter beads, but the average clincher tire that most beginners and intermediates will consider comes with steel beads.

Tubular Tires

A tubular tire is a one-piece tire that doesn’t require an inner tube. They do require a special rim, though, so you can’t just mount them onto anything.

It’s attached using special rim tape or glue. The actual tubular tire is stitched to a casing that is glued or stuck to the rim.

Pros

  • Weight

Tubular tires are the lightest type of tire.

This makes them excellent for speed events such as cyclocross, and they’re mostly used in these kinds of races. But using a tubular tire could give triathletes a speed advantage.

  • Pressure

Tubular tires perform exceptionally well with lower tire pressures. Clincher tires, although more common, don’t perform as well as tubular tires under low pressure.

If your tire ends up pinching flat during the race, your ride quality can still be maintained throughout the ride.

  • Low Risk of Puncture

Despite being able to ride through when punctured or pinched flat, tubular tires very rarely do get punctured or pinch flat.

Because they can run on less pressure, there’s less chance of them puncturing if you do happen to run over something sharp.

  • Better Ride Quality & Safety

Because of their low pressure performance, tubular tires provide a better and smoother ride quality. They’re also safer, thanks to their near inability to puncture and their ability to ride on even when flat.

They usually also have a better grip than clincher tires, which can both improve the ride quality and safety even more.

Cons

  • Need to Glue Very Securely

If the tires are not glued very securely to the rim, it could be dangerous to ride with tubular tires. You need to allow it plenty of time to dry before going on your first ride with these tires.

  • Time-Consuming Installation

Installing tubular tires on your bike is much more time-consuming. If you do need to replace them or repair them, it can take much more time than you may anticipate.

Tubeless

As their name suggests, tubeless tires have no tubes inside them. They’re stabilized by the rim and tire creating an airtight seal.

When pumped, the pressure inside the chamber is enough to sustain the weight of the rider.

Pros

  • Pressure

Just like tubular tires, tubeless tires can run smoothly and comfortably on low tire pressure.

Because the tire casings on tubeless tires are harder than others, they’re less susceptible to pinch flat.

  • Difficult to Puncture

There are no tubes in these tires to puncture. Thanks to the hard casing, there’s very little chance of developing a puncture in one of these tires.

Just in case you do end up with a puncture, tubeless tires have the ability to self-repair! This may not be possible with large tears, but smaller holes should be easily repaired without you even having to think about it.

  • Excellent Ride Quality

The low tire pressure makes for a great ride. It’s typically smooth and comfortable and you won’t feel small bumps.

  • Weight & Rolling Resistance

Tubular tires are extremely light. This is an advantage when you’re going for speed, which is why these tires are mostly used only in race conditions. They have low rolling resistance.

Cons

  • Expensive

Tubeless tires are the most expensive option of the three. They’re definitely a better choice for pros or athletes who are very into their cycling.

  • May Not Reliable Fit

One of the biggest problems with tubeless tires is that they tend to lack consistency when it comes to sizing. This can make installing them difficult and can also make them somewhat unreliable on the road.

If your tubeless tires don’t have the industry-standard labels on them (UST or Road Tubeless), they may not quite fit your rims properly.

  • Need Extra Equipment

Installation can be difficult with tubeless tires. You may need an air compressor rather than a simple bicycle pump. You also need liquid sealant.

Tips to Choose the Right One

Purpose

Obviously, the type of cycling you’ll be doing makes a difference to the type of tires that would be best for you. Cyclocross tires are not going to be the same as mountain bike tires, for example.

But considering we’re talking about triathlon tires, it makes more sense to consider what kind of riding you’re likely to be doing during your triathlons.

Triathlon cycling legs are usually on the road, but depending on the event, there may be some off-road cycling.

It’s imperative that you consider this carefully before buying your tires. Are you likely to do a couple of triathlons that involve off-road riding?

If you’re not at all likely to be going off-road, slick clincher tires are probably the best choice. If off-roading is a possibility, then semi-slick might be better.

Price

We all have a budget. Knowing your budget is also important so you know which tires are appropriate and how to assess them from there.

Having a price in mind also means you don’t have to waste time searching through a huge array of tires only to find that the ones you like are not within your price range.

Technical Features

Beginners might be overwhelmed with the technical features of tires. But it’s important to know some of the details so you understand the capabilities of your tires. If you aren’t familiar with tech specs, it may be worth doing a bit of research before buying.

Maintenance

Are you able to maintain your tires easily or is the technical capability too much for you? It’s essential to be able to maintain your own tires. This is why clinchers are so popular. They’re exceptionally easy to install and maintain.

More advanced cyclists might choose to go for a tubular or tubeless tire. But beginners are likely to find a clincher the easiest to maintain.

Warranty

Don’t neglect to check the warranty when you buy a tire. Know what you’re getting, not just the physical product!

If there’s no information you can find, ask a salesperson to assist you and explain the warranty. You don’t want to neglect it and then need it later on, only to find that it’s not what you expected.

The Wired Runner