When it comes to bike tires, there are two main options: clincher and tubular. This is a question that often arises among cyclists, triathletes, and recreational bikers. But why are there two types of bike tires? Each type has its own reasons and following. In this article, we will provide you with the definitive low-down on which tire you should choose.
Clincher Bike Tires
Clinchers are the “normal” tires that most people are familiar with, ranging from childhood bikes to BMX racers, mountain bikes, and comfort bikes. Clinchers are more common and are generally viewed as the standard option.
Clinchers have an outer “carcass” designed for different types of bikes. The name “clincher” comes from the fact that these tires “clinch” to the rim of the wheel with a bead of hard rubber. Similar to car tires, a clincher has an open bottom, and it stays on the rim by clinching to it.
In order to operate, clinchers require an inner tube. The tube holds the air and creates solid pressure against the tire. When you pump air into a clincher tire, you are actually pumping air into the tube, and the tire sits on top of the tube.
You have a couple of choices for valve stems to pump air into the tire. The Shrader valve is wider and more basic, commonly found on kids’ and standard bikes. The Presta valve is thinner and sleeker, typically found on road or triathlon bikes. However, you need to make sure you have a bike tire pump that can accommodate the Presta valve.
Clincher tires are easy to install and relatively easy to fix on the road if you get a flat. There are many great clincher tires available, and the choice depends on the combination of durability and performance you are looking for. Currently, our favorite clincher tire is the Vittoria Rubino Pro.
Tubular Bike Tires
Hardcore cyclists and road bike racers have long considered tubulars to be the gold standard. Tubular tires provide a dreamy ride due to their lighter weight and tight adherence to the rim.
Tubular tires may look similar to clinchers on the outside, but they work in a very different way. Tubulars are completely round, so there is no open part of the tire that needs to clinch. There is also no tube needed; the tube is essentially sewn into the tire and is part of it. As a result, a tubular tire is one piece, while a clincher tire consists of two pieces (tube and tire). Tubular tires are often glued to the rim because they tend to move around without glue.
Although tubulars are less common, they have a strong following among road and triathlon cyclists. They are generally lighter and sometimes more durable. However, if you are not used to working with tubulars, it may take some practice to become proficient with them. It is important to note that tubulars can be a pain to install and repair.
Our favorite all-purpose tubular tire is the Vittoria Rubino G+.
Comparison of Clincher vs. Tubular Bike Tires
Here are a few pros and cons of tubulars vs. clinchers, based on our experience and input from experienced cyclists:
- Cost: Clinchers tend to be less expensive than tubulars, with a price difference of around 20-30%. Clinchers are cheaper because when a tubular goes flat, the whole tire needs to be changed, while with a clincher, you typically just change the inner tube.
- Simplicity: Clinchers are considered more straightforward and easier to work with. Tubulars require gluing them to the rim, which can be a tedious job. Changing a clincher is usually quicker and less time-consuming compared to changing a tubular.
- Durability: Tubulars tend to be more durable due to their construction. They have the tube sewn to the tire, offering more strength and eliminating the risk of pinch flats or small debris causing a flat.
- Weight: Tubulars are generally lighter because they don’t have a clincher bead, and the tube is part of the tire itself. The weight difference can be around 200 grams per tire compared to a clincher setup.
- Road Fixes: Clinchers are easier to fix on the road, especially if you have experience. Changing a tubular can take more time and requires patience. Moreover, carrying a spare tubular takes up more space compared to a spare clincher tube.
- Safety: Tubulars can be ridden at very low pressures, allowing for a safer stop when getting a flat. Clinchers, on the other hand, can cause major handling issues when going flat.
- Availability: Clinchers are generally more widely available and come in various models suitable for different types of bikes.
Which is Better: Clincher or Tubular?
For about 80% of cyclists, especially newer riders, we would recommend using clinchers. They are easier to use, change, and are more affordable. It is also more convenient to carry spare tubes instead of spare tubular tires. Clinchers are more universal, increasing the chances of getting help from other cyclists in case of a flat tire.
However, if you have a bike with tubular rims, it is worth trying tubular tires before making a switch. You might find that you prefer them with a little practice. Some cyclists fully convert to tubulars and prefer them over clinchers.
What About Tubeless Tires?
In recent years, tubeless bike tires have gained popularity. These tires do not require inner tubes and clinch to the wheel without needing 360 degrees of surface area. Many believe that tubeless tires are the future of cycling. They are lighter, require less maintenance, and have better puncture resistance due to the absence of tubes. Tubeless tires also often come with a sealant inside to take care of minor leaks.
Tubeless tires are becoming more common on new bikes, with rims suitable for both tubeless and clincher tires. Keep an eye on tubeless tires, as they are likely to receive more research and development attention from manufacturers in the future. Tubeless tires may provide a slightly different riding feel due to factors such as rim weight and sealant usage, but this can be minimized by investing in higher-end rims.
This article focused on clincher and tubular bike tires primarily for road and triathlon bikes. Clinchers are recommended for the majority of cyclists due to their ease of use, affordability, and wider availability. However, if you have tubular rims, it’s worth giving tubular tires a try after some practice. Tubeless tires are also a growing trend and may be the future of cycling.
For more information on triathlons and cycling, check out our other articles on the best entry-level triathlon bikes and the top road and tri bike tires. Remember, different types of bikes, such as gravel, mountain, and fat bikes, have their own tire considerations.