Until now I have had clincher tyres on every bicycle I have ridden. Most of the riders I see on TV are using tubular tyres. I have heard that tubular tyres are more pleasant to ride on, safer in the event of a puncture, but more difficult to fit. They are certainly more expensive.
I was building a new set of wheels for my Rourke bike, because none of my existing wheels looked right on it. I could have gone with the H Plus Son TB14 in high-polish silver, fitted some clincher tyres with canvas-coloured sidewalls and it would have looked how it ought to.
Instead I decided to take a chance on tubular tyres. I was apprehensive because the idea of gluing tyres to the rim is a little scary, and sounds time-consuming. It’s also concerning that you can’t just change the tube if you get a puncture while out on a ride.
I got past the inability to change a tube and continue when I realised that I can’t do that now anyway: in ideal conditions it takes me about 2 hours to change one tyre on my Campagnolo Zonda clincher wheels. Realistically if I get a puncture on those I am calling my favourite taxi company and asking them to send a minivan to take me home.
While you do need to glue tubulars to the rim, you don’t have to use liquid glue to do it: there are a few variations on double-sided-sticky-tape which you can use instead. I used Velox Jantex for my first installation and it was fairly painless. I estimate that it took about 30 minutes of active work to install both tyres, although quite a lot more in elapsed time.
Because Velox Jantex is supplied without any instructions I took a look at what others on the internet are doing with it and then synthesised my own method that worked very well. Here is what I did:
- Starting just to one side of the valve hole, wrap each rim in tape to the other side of the valve hole. Make sure that the tape runs centrally all the way around the rim.
- With the backing paper in place, mount a tyre to each rim and inflate them to 5 bar. Leave them like that for an hour or so. The idea of this step is twofold: stretch the tyre to the right size, and apply some pressure to the rim-tape interface.
- Deflate the tyre, lift it from the rim at the valve, and put something round and rigid between the rim and the tyre. I used the barrel of a pen.
- Inflate the tyre to 1 bar. This gives it shape but leaves it malleable enough to manipulate.
- Start to peel the backing paper from the tape on the side of the valve with the pen. Peel it as far as where the tyre meets the paper.
- Now roll the pen until it gets to where the backing paper now starts. At this point the part of the tyre near the valve will start to stick to the tape, so make sure that it is straight. When I did this I found that the tyre was strongly inclined to be straight; I would have needed to try quite hard to make it misaligned.
- Repeat the last two steps until all the backing paper is gone.
- Remove the pen.
- Do the whole pen/tape process on the other wheel.
- Inflate the tyres to 10 bar and leave them for 24 hours so the glue has a chance to cure.
In contrast to installing clinchers none of these steps is particularly physical. So far I say think the tubulars are easier to work with than clinchers.
I haven’t ridden them yet; I felt it was important to write down what I thought of the difference in mounting difficulty without the temptation to justify the process by reference to the result.