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Death of the Tubular?
Almost, but nope. I did get you to click on the link to see what I was going to say this time!
I started riding and racing back in the '80s and I've been on tubulars since then, changing this old dogs habits may prove to be difficult! That said, I spent the weekend giving tubeless tires a real, honest try.
The set up: If you've been following me you'll know that I've been riding a super slick set of wheels that I recently built to really give tubeless a shakedown. The heart of the wheels are the incredible White Industries CLD hubs. The White's, being a boutique hub, are light, strong and in my case, super shiny (I went with the polished silver, they will blind you on a sunny day!). Spoke duty was covered by Sapim's Laser spokes, 24 up front and 28 rear. Rim's are the new(ish) H Plus Son “The Hydra”. I chose the rim for several reasons: it's disc ready (no braking track), it's tubeless compatible (not ghetto tubeless), it's on the wide side (25mm), it's fairly light (455grams on my scale), finally, I'm not seeing much written about them so I figured I'd give it a go!!! The wheelset, sans tape, tire and disc weighed in at a respectable 1625g. Rubber duty is covered by the Clement (now Donnelly Sports) MXP tire. To test, I wanted a tire that I knew well and I've ridden the Griffo tread for quite some time!
Saturday was spent at a practice race. The course was tough and had the usual suspects for course elements, dirt, gravel, mud, grass, bumps, turns, barriers, log jumps... all the good stuff (the only notable item missing was sand). I dialed my pressure to what I'm finding works for me with tubeless 24 front, 26 rear. Here's what I found.
Going straight: if you blindfolded me and switched wheels between this tubeless set up and tubulars, I'm SURE I couldn't tell which were which. Yes, they were that good... in a straigh line...
Bumps: Bumps were interesting. If it was one isolated bump, the tubeless set up felt fantastic. Things changed a bit when it was multiple bumps, like braking bumps before a corner. In this situation the tubeless tires seemed to “rebound” much more. Almost like a car with worn out shock absorbers. The deeper I got into the bumps, the less control I had. I'm going to experiment more with pressure to see if that helps but I could definitely feel a big difference between tubeless and tubular here (with tubular winning).
Cornering: Cornering was where I felt the largest difference. If the corner was smooth both in texture (bumpiness) and radius, it was a draw as to which I liked better. If the corner had bumps, I felt like the handling of the bike was a bit upset with tubeless as compared with tubulars. It's that rebound thing again... Downhill, bumpy turns... Yeah, give me my tubulars back!!!
Mud: Mud seemed to just amplify the above findings. Straight, I couldn't tell a difference. Turning, smooth was fine, bumpy the bike got wonky.
Off-camber: Ok, I'm not going to write too much here as I need to experiment more with tires/tire pressures. At the tire pressure I set, the tubeless tires fold over to a point they would yank the bars hard enough to make the bike difficult to control. The tubulars didn't do that. I don't want to declare a winner/loser without more experimenting with tires/pressures here.
Ease of set up: Do we even need to discuss this? Tubeless hands down wins for time efficiency. That noted, I've got tubular gluing down to a near art and can get the job done quickly and neatly... But that's from 30+ years of doing it...
Ok, on to Sunday! For sake of time and space this won't be a blow by blow review. Let me just tell you that Suday was spent riding a local mountain biking park on my CX bike. I started the ride worried that I'd be walking home, previously every tubeless tire/wheel combo I've ridden at this park has ended up punctured, burped, broken, dented or a combination of these. I packed a couple of extra tubes planning for the worse and set my pressure just like Saturday. Entering the park there's a little climb leading to a twisty trail that's full of roots. This section of trail is short, I'd guess no more that 2 minutes to blast through it. I hit the gas and hoped for the best... Countless rocks and roots, some pretty bad sounds of bottoming rims but never that dreaded hiss of a punctured tire! Shocked... Well, fast forward an hour of aggressive trail riding and much to my surprise... No flats, no burps, no bent rim beads. This was a first for me! I don't want to jump to conclusions but this wheel/tire combo worked!
So, am I ready to throw out my tubulars??? No. I still feel that in a race situation they handle better. BUT, I am willing to concede that for bombing around in the woods, I enjoyed the tubeless tires! Add to that the ability to change to different treads, having a wheel quiver of one, being able to spend less money on tires... This may just be on to something!
To be continued after more "testing"....