As I mentioned when I first fit them, one of the perceived drawbacks of tubular tyres is that if you get a puncture you can’t “just pop a new tube in and carry on”. I put that in quotes because I have personally never found it particularly easy to change the tube on clincher wheels, and about 10% of the inner tubes I’ve ever bought have air-retention issues from the factory (predominantly at the base of the valve stem).
Today I had the opportunity to test whether the experience of changing a tubular tyre in the event of a puncture is actually harder, similar or easier to changing a clincher. It’s easier.
The first thing to say is that the puncture I got was a big cut right through the tread which deflated the tyre quite suddenly. I noticed because the ride suddenly got a lot harsher. I then had to ride a few hundred metres downhill and around a corner to get to a safe place to change the tyre. As expected the glue held the tyre onto the rim securely even with the tyre fully deflated; the same puncture on clinchers could have been considerably worse.
I first tried to reinflate the tyre with my hand pump in the hope that some of the sealant I put into it months ago would be able to fix it. This was a somewhat forlorn hope because I couldn’t hear any sealant sloshing around inside the tyre when I shook it. Subsequent inspection of the tyre tread reveals at least five similar gashes which have caused me no problems; I suspect that explains where the sealant has gone.
When the sealant failed to fix the problem I removed the wheel from the bike and set about getting the tyre off the rim. Rocking it back and forth soon gave me enough separation to fit an allen wrench between the rim and the base tape, which helped to prevent re-adhesion while I was getting the rest of it off. It was difficult-enough to get the tyre off the rim that you believe it will not come off without deliberate effort, and didn’t take much longer than removing a clincher.
I then fit my spare to the now-bare wheel, which I was dreading somewhat: it’s a 22mm Continental Sprinter Gatorskin which is somewhat-notoriously undersized and therefore difficult to fit. Happily my efforts pre-stretching it had been sufficient to make it bend to my wishes. I then added a bit of air, got the tyre to look centred, and finally inflated it to the extent possible with my hand pump.
I texted my wife before beginning to try and change the tyre, and again once the whole job was complete. The messages were 16 minutes apart, quicker than I can change a clincher in my garage, which means that it’s easier for me to change a tubular than a clincher on the roadside. I will do it much faster if it happens again, now that I have experience.
Downsides of tubulars in this scenario:
- The replacement tyre is not properly glued to the rim, and therefore you need to be more cautious riding it. Prudently you would just take the shortest route home.
- You need to carry a complete spare tyre with (dried) glue on the base tape. This is not a big deal as it isn’t much larger than an inner tube.
Upsides of tubulars in this scenario:
- Much faster to change.
- Very easy to change the tyre without using tools.
- You know that the spare is good.
- You know that you won’t damage the spare during installation.
- The size of the puncture is irrelevant you’re replacing the tyre as well anyway.
- You can ride on the flat for a short distance without breaking anything.