Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cyclocross Tubeless

Last year at this time I switched my mountain bike over to a tubeless wheel/tire setup. Now I am experimenting with tubeless for cyclocross. The objectives are the same in each case: run lower tire pressure to increase handling and ride quality while eliminating the chance of a pinch flat. Is it a cure-all? Certainly not. The risk of a pinch flat is gone because there’s no innertube, but in its place is the risk of a burp. That’s a momentary separation of tire and rim, resulting in a big pressure drop and, probably, a bit of a walk. I have had a couple of promising cyclocross races ruined by pinch flats, so I want to see what tubeless can do for me.

The really serious cyclocross racers swear by tubular tires, which offer even lower pressures, unbeatable cornering and run-flat capability. No, thanks. The cost is prohibitive and, anecdotally, I have seen more tubulars come unstuck from their rims than all other in-race tire failures combined.

On the mountain bike, I haven’t had any trouble with my tubeless setup. On the cyclocross bike, the jury is still out. I tested the setup for the first time at the end of our practice session at Royal Oaks Park last Tuesday, then did the entire practice session with that setup this week. There were no issues, and I felt like I could have gone even lower with my tire pressure. I’m counting on the extremely tight fit of Bontrager CX3 tires on Shimano Ultegra rims to burp only under extraordinary circumstances, if ever.

For me, tubeless is worth a try. If things go badly, then I will fall back to a traditional setup. Even accounting for the extra weight of the tubeless-ready tires, running the new wheelset with tubes would be a lighter and stiffer alternative to my aging Mavics.

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