So you’ve now read different ways on how to secure your cyclocross tubular tires, but should you do it? Your favorite bike snob weighs in on this sticky issue.
Cyclocross, despite its inherent absurdity and discomfort, can hook you easier than your handlebars can hook the course tape. And once you’re hooked, you keep finding increasingly baroque ways to express your enthusiasm for it. Owning duplicate bikes, fashioning pit sticks, wearing skinsuits in 30 degree weather, and cultivating a pretentious affinity for all things Belgian are just a few ways you can tell the world that you’re serious about ‘cross.
But let’s be honest. You’re not truly serious about cyclocross until you start gluing your tires to your wheels. Any dilettante can gently nudge a supple kevlar bead onto a rim, but only the dedicated ‘crosser possesses the strength of character to use adhesives. And riding tubular tires will make your commitment to ‘cross as impervious to doubters as your wheelset will be to pinch flats, right?
Well, before you start pasting things to other things like a kindergartner with ADD you might want to think it all through. Sure, with tubular tires you can run less pressure for more traction and less susceptibility to pinch flats in certain conditions. But there’s also a small drawback, and that is you can’t take them off! Well, technically you can, but it’s really, really annoying and time consuming. And if you’re really competitive enough to need the performance edge a tubular can sometimes give you, you’re also surely going to want to use different tire treads for different conditions and for different courses. So with tubulars, this really means you’re going to need different wheelsets for different conditions and for different courses, since it takes days to properly glue a tire, but only seconds for the weather to change. And of course, this is ‘cross, which means you’re going to need duplicates of everything. So that’s twice as much gluing as you’d need to do for the road.
Hey, I’m not saying tubulars don’t have their advantages, and I’m not trying to disparage the Dugast. I’m just saying they’re not for everybody, and if you want the Dugast just to have the Dugast you might want to think again. Thick wool socks can be great too, but that doesn’t mean you should glue them to your feet.
Also, you need to be wary of the dreaded rolled tubular. (I’m talking about the bad kind that can cost you a race, not the good kind that you smoke.) Even the most experienced rider (and tire gluer) are susceptible to rolling a tire. I watched Tim Johnson do it at the Grand Prix of Gloucester in ’07, and he had to run nearly an entire lap just to get to the pit. Amazingly, he still managed sixth place. But you’re not Tim Johnson. (Unless of course you are Tim Johnson, who I’ve heard does subscribe to this magazine and visits this website, in which case I’d like to say I was impressed at how you clawed your way back Tim!)
So what am I saying? Am I bitter that I don’t have the career or talent such that tubulars really impact my life in a meaningful way? Absolutely. If I had the time, money, mechanics and talent would I use them? Very possibly. But I’m also saying that if you’ve got limited means and can’t afford multiple sets of tires and wheels, you’re probably better off with a pair of clincher wheels, a sock drawer full of clinchers, and a little time to pre-ride the course to choose your tires, scout out those annoying pointy things, and choose the perfect psi. For the majority of riders, flexibility on race day can be more important than a flexible casing.
This article was originally published in Issue 4 of our print magazine.