Clinchers, Tubeless, and Tubular Tires

In last week’s paper, my article, “Tires — Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” provided some history of the pneumatic tire and reviewed the importance of maintaining proper tire pressure, especially to avoid a “pinch flat.” To follow-up, I thought it might be helpful to discuss three options of tire setups on the market today and note some advantages and disadvantages of each.


The most standard setup is the “clincher,” consisting of an outer tire and an inner-tube wherein beads of the tire interlock with flanges in the rim. The clincher setup is still the most economical, and the tires of this arrangement can be quite easily removed and put back on after. Clinchers allow for easy repair or replacement of the inner tube, after which you’re once again on your way.


For the past two decades, tubeless tires have become increasingly popular for mountain bikers and are now becoming more common across the board. They rely on a much tighter and more precise fit between the tire bead and the flange of the wheel to lock the tire into place. Such a snug fit allows the tire to stay sealed on with adequate pressure to not need an inner-tube at all — at least most of the time.


The lack of an inner-tube in the tubeless setup bears two additional advantages. One, the chance of a pinch flat becomes significantly reduced as the rim would have to pinch through the much thicker and tougher tire itself to go flat this way. Secondly, tubeless tires can be injected with liquid tire sealant to self-repair from small punctures such as shards of glass or thorns of a tree branch.


The first time a rider recognizes this self-repair taking place is often an unforgettable moment. There may be a slight hiss, then suddenly no noise as the sealant dries upon exposure to the air. It’s very much like magic. But this sealant can only work on punctures up to a certain size; afterward, you may need to insert a plug (aka anchovy) or remove the tire and insert an inner-tube to finish the ride. Yes, you read that right, carrying along an inner-tube is still recommended even for those running tubeless tires.


Those running tubeless tires should practice tire repair before venturing out on the trail. The super-tight tire to rim arrangement that allows one to forego an inner tube means that tires can be much more difficult to remove and replace than a clincher tire. Tire levers, patience, and practice are the right combo to get you out of the woods on this one.


The last setup worth mentioning is tubular tires that have a combined tire/tube which is mounted to the rim by a special glue or tape. This is a very light, high-performance setup, but even more difficult to repair than a flat tubeless tire. While popular among road racers who can switch out a tire completely if supported by a follow car, it is generally not recommended for recreational riders.


Are you an avid biker looking for an adventure this fall? Then mark your calendars for the weekend of November 16 and 17 for the annual Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastián Challenge—a 70-kilometer route climbing from our coast up to a Pueblo Mágico of nearly 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) in elevation. Register today:


Remember: keep Puerto Vallarta safe and friendly by always sharing the road with care and looking out for bicycles.