Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Tires: The round rubber part of the wheel.
Though that is the basics on tires, my article probably needs to be longer than a tweet. So, here is a simplified overview on tires.
There are 3 general categories of tire, as I see it. You can argue there are only 2 categories, or as many as 5, but I am skipping over solid and tubiclinchers because of their rarity in triathlon.
The first type of tire is the Tubular. The Tubular is the “OG” tire type, though not necessarily the original type of tire. Tubular tires are 1 piece, with a tube sewn into the tire itself. The Tubular is glued on to a rim. The rim itself is unique with the outer edge being a concave surface for the tire to be glued onto.
Tubular tires are still very popular in road racing and are the standard on the track, but have lost some ground in triathlon and mountain biking.
Benefits of Tubulars:
No pinch flats
No limitation tire width based on rim width
Wider range of tire pressures
Latex inner tubes (latex tubes are much more supple and flat resistant than butyl)
Disadvantages of Tubulars:
Learning to glue a tire
It takes a day for glue to cure and be rideable
No simple fix for a flat
Selection (there just aren’t as many options)
Latex inner tubes (most tubulars have latex tubes that bleed air)
Clinchers are the second type of tire on my list (and could arguably be the other type in a 2 category system). A Clincher is the tire that many of us are used to riding. It is a 2 piece system in which the tire and inner tube are separate things.
The Clincher is also known as an open tubular. Instead of being sewn together opposite of the tread like a Tubular, a Clincher is left open and bread is attached to the edges that hold the tire to the rim. A Clincher rim’s outer edge consists of a (usually) flat rim bed bracketed on both sides by a straight sidewall. The sidewall doubles as the braking surface on rim brake rims, and sometimes has a hook on the end to grab the bead of the tire.
Clinchers are the most popular tire.
Benefits of Clinchers:
Easy tire changes
Only the tube needs to be replaced after flat
Many, many options are available
Disadvantages of Clinchers:
Rougher ride compared to Tubular
Tire width limited by rim width
Smaller recommended tire pressure window
Tubeless is the third category of tire on my list. I believe that tubeless has become popular and differentiated enough that it deserves it’s own category. A Tubeless tire, at first glance, looks very similar to a Clincher tire. However the tire constructed is such a way (typically wrapping the bead with extra butyl rubber) as to allow the tire to be airtight. The difference in the rim of the Tubeless tire is much more easily seen compared to the Clincher. The rim bed for a tubeless is modified so the bead of the tire is forced against the sidewall to provide an airtight seal. Finally the most obvious difference, there is no tube.
Tubeless is the standard in mountain biking, and gaining popularity in road and triathlon.
Advantages of Tubeless:
No pinch flats
Able to ride at super low pressures
Disadvantages of Tubeless:
Limited high pressures
Weight (a tubeless tire typically weighs more than a clincher with a superlight tube)
Sizes (narrow tubeless tires are very rare)
Those are my 3 categories of tires. I personally ride Tubeless 90% of the time, and the other 10% on Tubulars. If you have any questions feel free to contact me. If you disagree with my categorization, also contact me. I love talking tires!
*To defend myself for this article. It is surprising difficult to describe the shape of a rim without getting overly complicated.
Coach Adam is an IRONMAN University Certified Coach, USAT Level I Certified Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and VFS Master Bike Fitter based out of the Western Slope of Colorado. Contact Adam at adam@TeamMPI.com