Why do riders puncture so often?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

crevaison cyclist

A rider punctures in a race. They’re forced to stop and to stand by the side of the road, often holding up a wheel in the air with a forlorn look on their face. You’ve probably seen it on TV many times, maybe you’ve experienced it too.

Hopefully the rider will get a spare wheel and return to the action. But precious energy is wasted and when the pace is high the rider can lose time and placings. Look to Sylvain Chavanel in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. One minute he’s at the front of the race, the next minute he’s out of contention. It happens so many times a year it seems normal. But is it? Would you work with a tool that let you down so often? If a rim or a crank failed this often nobody would use it.

An outsider to the sport would probably be amazed by the number of punctures that happen in a race. The energy wasted, the races lost, these incidents aren’t a mere inconvenience or hassle. Punctures cost results and points. At times even careers and reputations can be ruined. Why?

First let’s look at the basics of the technology. The “tubular” used by most riders in the pro peloton. It is made from cotton fabric that is stitched around a rubber inner tube. This is then given base tape on one side and on the other first a layer of puncture protection is added and on top of this the rubber tread  is added. The advertorial here explains it well:

The puncture protection is usually a layer of special material, for example kevlar. Here a tough material is woven very tight. The rubber tread is soft for grip but a small piece of glass or flint can easily pierce and the protective layer is meant to stop sharp objects reaching the inner tube. But too much of this protective belt makes for a heavier ride, the material does not deform like the supple cotton or soft rubber.

How?
Obviously a puncture happens when an object manages to pierce a hole in the inner tube. Sometimes this can happen quickly, you ride over a tack and it goes straight in. Don’t forget the weight of you and your bike is spread over the tiny contact patch of the front and rear tyres, if you go over some glass with a sharp edge then even “bullet proof” kevlar can yield. Often it can happen slowly, a shard of glass little bigger than a sugar crystal can slice into the soft rubber treat and sit there, gripped by the rubber and silently slicing away towards the inner tube during hundreds or thousands of wheel revolutions. As you can imagine it is hard to prevent this.

There’s also another type called the “snake bite” puncture when you hit an object like a kerb or the edge of a pothole hard. The whole tyre compresses and the inner tube is torn against the sidewalls of the rim, creating two parallel holes… as if a snake’s fangs bit the tube.

Why do riders puncture so often in races?
Maybe they don’t. Instead it could just be that we see a handful of riders puncturing yet 95% of the bunch are fine. There are no statistics on this. But there are plenty of stories of riders losing a race thanks to a puncture at the wrong moment.

There are differences for pro races. Riders have their jobs on the line so they’ll think nothing of trying to chancing their $2,000 wheels over a sunken drain-cover and the impact can cause a puncture, either the snake bite variety or by slamming any shard of glass or stone home into the tube. Also in a race every bit of the road is used, including the gutter and other places where debris lies. In training you’d avoid these things. This might help explain the high frequency of punctures.

Raymond Pou Pou crevaison

"My kingdom for a rear wheel"

It needn’t be this way
There are technical solutions. You can put sealant in the tyre. This is liquid that you pour into the inner tube and then inflate. In the event of a puncture it is blown out of the hole but solidifies to block the hole.

It’s been used in the past but only rarely. For example FDJ used sealant with tubeless tyres in the 2009 Paris-Roubaix. But a year later Bikeradar.com did a piece called Liquid insurance – the policy no one’s buying at the Tour de France and the reason why teams didn’t use this technology? Conservatism seems to be one factor. “Weight and [lack of] familiarity” says BMC whilst Saxo’s mechanic said “I don’t know if anyone else does or not but we don’t. We were thinking about it. The tyres are pretty good and we don’t get punctures like years before“.

I don’t see weight as a problem. For sure, if you have a pair of featherweight carbon wheels at 1100 grams a pair then you want to save every gram. But add 250 grams per tub and the wheel + tub weight is 1600 grams. Would a rider notice 30g of sealant in each tub, an additional 3.7% in weight? Perhaps but they’d be like the Princess sleeping on the Pea and besides they’d surely notice ride to the finish whilst others around them punctured.

The big problem with the sealant is that it dries out, leaving residue inside. For the amateur, this means topping up with more liquid every few weeks and adding more weight, effectively ruining the inner tube too, especially if the sealant comes with strong chemicals like ammonia. But pros have an advantage here because they use new tubs all the time, tubs are binned so frequently that injecting sealant isn’t a big deal.

But it turns out some teams are using this. I started a draft of this piece last week and a day later it turned out via Velonews that Sky were to test a sealant during Paris-Roubaix. Presumably NewsCorp didn’t hack the blog. Better still, the team didn’t have a single puncture in the race.

Tubeless future?
Tubeless tyres are rare for now but could take over the market in five years’ time. Like a car tyre they don’t have an inner tube but instead rely on the bead to make an airtight contact with the edge of the rim. Done right and you save the weight of an inner tube and reduce the risk of punctures because the tube won’t burst like a balloon. You can put sealant in and with the right technology the rolling resistance – how fast it rides – can be superior. It’s already widespread in mountain biking.

Summary
Everyone hates a puncture. There’s never a good time. But try to imagine it costing you a big bonus at work or even the chance to etch your name in to the history of the sport? Given punctures are so costly to riders and teams I’m still surprised they happen so often. But the technology is hard to perfect. Just as you wouldn’t want to go running with a bullet-proof vest, rolling on puncture-proof tyres would be equally awkward.

The future could be different for pros and amateurs. Pros can run some sealant and ignore the cost but I doubt ordinary consumers would appreciate this. Longer term tubeless could be the answer, offering low rolling resistance and sealant.

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{ 82 comments }

Rick Chasey April 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

There have been a few rumbling’s about Radioshack’s kit – given they seemed to have an inordinate amount of punctures over the Flanders’ classic season.

Adi Gaskell April 12, 2012 at 10:03 am

Jan Ullrich always seemed to puncture at inopportune times. Of course that’s just a perception rather than anything supported by facts, but still.

Simon Fielder April 12, 2012 at 10:03 am

Surprised about the comments on tubulars or ‘tubs’. These seem quite impractical to the average consumer, for example my local bike store charges £20 per tire to glue these onto the rim and if you’re out on the road you can’t slip in another inner tube like you would with clinchers. I therefore feel tubs and clinchers both have their place and this is unlikely to change in the near future.

Dave April 12, 2012 at 10:04 am

Great read, but I will still ride my clincher!

The Inner Ring April 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

Rick Chasey: I think they were using FMB tubulars, the same as Sky. Maybe time for some sealant?

Adi Gaskell: the perception can come from a moment or two caught on camera. You can ride to reduce punctures, not cutting corners to sharp for example to avoid glass so there’s some skill too.

Simon Fielder: tubs vs clinchers is almost like Shimano vs Campagnolo, never ending debate. I’d just say both can puncture but increasingly the market is dominated by clinchers so there’s more research and investment for these. In the past tubs were the premium product but today’s clinchers are as good and some say offer lower rolling resistance. But both are prone to puncture. And note pros almost always train with clinchers, no team car behind on a ride.

Dave: without sealant?

Dave April 13, 2012 at 11:29 am

Ing, yes without just change the tube if I puncture.

Michael Schreuder April 12, 2012 at 10:13 am

I am constantly amused that more people don’t ride tubeless. When I built up my new bike I bought Fulcrum 2-way fit wheels and run Hutchinson tubeless tyres. You can run lower pressures for much better comfort and have sealant for punctures.
Best of all worlds.

I just wish more companies would adopt this and make more tyres and wheels.

vincent April 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

The limited tubeless tyre choice at the moment might be one factor. I have yet to see a 700 x 25 tubeless tyre in a store.

The Inner Ring April 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I think this could be a case where the industry has to make a collective leap to agree a new technology. See VHS vs Betamax or Android vs IOS vs Windows.

Note Mavic are moving to this with a new product this year and Campagnolo with their Fulcrum brand offer some tubeless compatibility. But we need to see Michelin and Continental offer products here.

Kyle April 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Agreed. These are two significant tire manufacturers who need to promote the value of this technology. Same with Mavic. I hope you’re right and we will see something from them soon. Also it may help to see this in the OEM market as well.

regsf April 12, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Vincent, Hutchinson makes the Intensive 25mm Road Tubeless tire and is working on a 28mm version for fall delivery.

Oleksiy April 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

Coincidentally, yesterday i wanted to try Hutchinson Atom (reinforced) on my Fulcrum Race 1 (2-way fit) wheels. It was pretty easy to mount and inflate (even with a pump). However, with the pressure above 6psi they just pop out of the rim. So I can’t even inflate them to the recommended 8psi. I didn’t seal them yet, tho’. Thoughts?

Oleksiy April 16, 2012 at 11:07 am

I meant over 6 BAR ~ 85psi

Bill Ward April 12, 2012 at 10:16 am

Not sure where you go running but you might want to think about changing it up!

I’ve always thought it verging on ridiculous that professionals get so many punctures given what’s riding on their success (excuse the pun). If conservatism really is limiting their progress in the area that’s a shame as their drive for success should also be driving the technology to the limits before it filters down to us mere mortals..

InTheGC April 12, 2012 at 10:21 am

Insightful as usual – I think the puncture rate is probably minimal given the amount of riders in anyone race, but it does beg to be asked when will somebody invent a completely punture proof yet lightweight alternative?

Roly April 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

Presumably you have the same problem with sealant drying out in tubeless?? (amateurs only of course)

My experience in road bikes on tubeless (without sealent) is that it;s a bitch to fix a flat as you need to squeeze an inner tube in the tyre that wasn’t designed for it!

regsf April 12, 2012 at 10:01 pm

A tube can easily be installed in a Tubeless tire to repair a flat. A Tubeless tire is simply a clincher with a specially designed bead material and bead profile that seals at the rim. The casing itself seals via a rubber layer inside of the tire that’s bonded to the casing. Interior volume is quite the same as a tube type tire. Aside from removing the Tubeless valve from the rim, it’s the exact same process to change as a tube type tire. That said, it’s always going to be difficult to fit a 25c tube into a 23 or 20c tire.

Roly April 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

also is this another place for graphene?!! a film the width of a sheet of paper would require the weight of an elephent concentrated on an area the size of a pencil-tip to penetrate, apparently. Expensive mind

Dave A April 12, 2012 at 11:21 am

Funny how the old becomes new again I remember tubulars were all we could get and mixing my ‘shalak’
solution with ‘metho’ so I could get the right thickness before pasting it round my rim and applying my tube so they were ready for the next day to race on
Usually when we punctured we just put the new tube straight on if the shalak was still a bit tacky
There was also a glue that was carried in case it was’nt
I’m still sticking with my clinchers to , to many bad memories

Larry T. April 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

I’m of the mindset who wonders why there are not MORE punctures? When you see the peloton spread over the entire road width it’s amazing there are not flats left and right. It’s like when you ride with someone who insists on riding way over on the “dirty” edge of the pavement – they get more flats and doesn’t it drive you nuts wondering why the hell they won’t move over a foot or two to the cleaner part of the road? Especially as you stand around waiting for them to change the damn thing?
I’m puzzled at the road tubeless marketing – when Michelin finally won Paris-Roubaix with their clinchers way back when, it pretty much removed all the genuine reasons (especially for the non-pros who aren’t racing) to use tubulars. Why one of the makers of the road tubeless stuff isn’t paying a team or two to use these things makes me wonder if they really are any good? Surely with a large payment (just like Michelin did) they could find a team who would use these? A team would surely take the dough as long as the things were not a lot worse than what they were currently using. Again, teams rode on Michelin clinchers against the conventional wisdom that said they were no good. They were NOT simply rebadged tubulars, as we watched a Gatorade mechanic mounting some up and spoke at length to him. He loved ‘em! No more messy glue, waiting for things to cure after changing tires, etc. As Laurent Fignon wrote in his book, once his team rode on ‘em they decided in some ways they were actually superior to tubulars! The only real issue left was/is the possibility of the tire coming off the rim in the event of a flat. Tubulars are a good insurance policy against that, but the road tubeless folks claim theirs will NOT come off if/when they go flat – so why not road tubeless in the pro peloton? Are they NOT as good as a Michelin clincher with a tube?

ToTheBillyoh April 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Great comment thanks. You guys teach me so much. The adoption of technology (or not) is a fascinating study. In many areas of life demonstrably inferior products (eg VHS videotapes) win over their superiors because of marketing (and hosts of other non-technological) reasons.

Wasgs April 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm

The VHS prevail on top of Betamax because of the profit it brought to an entire new industry: PORN. Betamax was better quality but much more expensive then VHS (filming and watching equipment and tapes). Being way cheaper and good enough for its purpose, VHS was perfect for the explosion of the porn movies market. Off course with the market growing, the margins were bigger and VHS moved to the family usage, killing Betamax for good.
The comparison to the tires is difficult. The tubeless is not cheaper and is not creating a new industry. The clicher afficionado user (me being one) is quite happy and will be difficult to move it unless the tubeless is way cheaper. The clincher is already the VHS. The only way to replace it is if DVD show-up = cheaper, much more durable and very easy to find… and you don’t have to rewind.

ZachOlson April 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I ride road tubeless and did recently ride a flat for about 12 miles. My pump happened to crap out at the same time that my tire wore thin enough to develop a permanent slow leak. It’s not fun, but you can do it. I think it’s just a matter of time before a team makes the jump. Tradition is important in cycling and I think team mechanics and most team officials like the tried and true.

Rick Chasey April 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

Presumably the weight of the riders has an effect on the number of punctures?

Also – I remember club cyclists were saying that if you hang around towards the back of groups ‘strange things’ happen, especially re punctures. – I guess that’s as much about being to pick your own line as much else.

It’s no coincidence riders like Boonen tend to get fewer punctures in races like Roubaix.

Roadie61 April 13, 2012 at 12:03 am

Agreed. I’ve been riding road bikes for 32 years and had my first puncture just last year. Friends could never believe that I had never flatted before. Weighing only about 110 pounds I figured was the reason I had such good luck.

I always spend the extra dough for tires which best resist puncturing, according to tire users and “expert” reviews. I’ve always ridden on clinchers, and as long as my bike is light weight, I don’t mind having a bit of a heavier tire than others if it’s gonna keep me on my bike and off the side of the road.

Too bad puncture-stats aren’t kept. Love to know how many flats Vladimir Karpets (75 kg @ 191 cm) has had compared with a small rider like Levi Leipheimer (60 kg @ 170 cm). Of course, physics, strategy, specific tire quality and luck all play roles in punctures, too.

funknyuyao April 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Liked the piece a lot, thanks as always.

Where I live and ride right in (Coastal China), there are tons of exploded glass bottles and other crap on the road. What kills the tires though is all of the metal shavings that fall off of the overloaded pickup trucks that the scrap dealers are driving away from the machine shops that are on every corner. There is so much metal on the ground that some of the folks actually make extra cash by attaching a 3 foot metal bar with magnets to the back of their trikes and suck up the scrap that fell off of the scrap dealers trucks. The shavings are sharp and laugh at the thought Kevlar.

I tried sealant, nearly all brands of tires and even some solid urethane tires ( which don’t corner too well at 30mph). Sealants were messy, when I did flat it would shoot a rooster tail of leaking sealant over my back as the wheel rotated, and over time the “sealant” sealed the valves shut, so I could not even inflate the tires. The only thing that works for the me here is tire liners, “Mr. Tuffy” and the like. I tape them in and they stay put, and now the only way I flat is with major metal shavings (need a tire patch for those) or a snake bite. I used to change flats daily, now it is about once a month. $20 a set goes a long way towards, love them!

bikecellar April 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I raced on sprints and tubs back in the 70s, now use clinchers which used to be called wired ons, the bead (now kevlar?) was wire and there was a big difference between the two in terms of weight and rolling resistance, not so much difference nowadays, but a tubular rim with it’s box section shape must be more resistant to impact damage than a clincher rim and the ability to continue riding for longer with a flat is a plus as well. I remember racing on 8 1/2oz tubs and training on 10oz or more. The very lightest were silk fabric, around 6oz, reserved for track and good surface TTs. If I had the disposable income necessary to do so I would race tubs and train on clinchers. The modern clincher is very good but still at a (I feel) a slight disadvantage.

Kasper April 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

In Fotheringhams book The Fallen Angel: Tha Passion of Fausto Coppi, wh writes about Coppis relationship with his trainer and masseur. But one of the things that are mentioned, is that Coppis was very prone to punctures early on in his career.

Apparently his trainer manage to improve his technique on the bike, where to look pedaling and so on and apparently this had a positive effect on his punctures.

ave April 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I last flatted almost 20 000km ago, on clinchers and latex inners.
Ocassionally I ride through broken glass, often ride over chips, bad roads, and I have no flats.
So I always wondered why the many flats in pro races.

But if there are four punctures in a 200km race with 200 riders, that statistically means a puncture for any given rider every 10 000 km. That’s quite a bit, isn’t it? Almost 3 full Tour de France with no flats at all.

It would be good to know the statistics for punctures, maybe there’re much more than 4 punctures / race.

Acciaio April 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I’ve always liked riding latex tubes with clinchers. They seem to be harder & more expensive to come by now. I’ve always thought they felt better and flatten less but it’s a very fuzzy logic as to whether there really is any difference.

Eddi April 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Remember as Olano rode the last kilometers of the championship ’95 in Colombia (an won it) on a flat rear tire?

Brentrecord April 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm

You can’t compare 20,000km training to a pro’s race wheels- bit like saying your Toyota Prius will finish every formula 1 grand prix it starts!
Pro’s race on the lightest, fastest , most reliable , best rolling tires they feel they can get away with (most of the time). To race on anything less may get them to the finish but won’t make a difference between the front group or the laughing group.

KoKo April 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Re. Larry T
I’ll have to agree with Larry on this one. If you think of it like this: there are 248 starters x 257.5km of the Paris Roubaix that means collectively if they all finish of course they will cover 63860km! Imagine how many punctures you would expect if you covered the equivalent distance as one rider. So actually find the amount significantly smaller than what one would expect. Having said that there is a very good argument about rider positioning allowing them to avoid punctures as David Millar tweeted
“I’m a professional & even I’m amazed that TOMMEKE!TOMMEKE!TOMMEKE! can control the crazy variables of Roubaix.”

a different ben April 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

We used to call tubulars ‘singles’.

You’re welcome, don’t mention it.

The Inner Ring April 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Money dictates a lot but this seems one area where things are different. Take Michelin, the do sponsor Ag2r… but the riders often use tubs made to look like Michelins that are actually made by Vittoria! Note the squad is sponsored by Reynolds who make tub and clincher rims. So here we have a team sponsored by Michelin that doesn’t use their products.

Koko: good thinking but still, the rate of problems is still high compared to other parts.

Larry T. April 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Inner Ring – good point! Perhaps it has more to do with the WHEELS than anything else? Back-in-the-day those Michelin clinchers went onto aluminum rims, there was no-such-thing as carbon. Road tubeless mounts on aluminum rim as well – are there ANY carbon wheels that can take road tubeless? If the team thinks the sponsor’s product is not-so-good for their purposes I can see them simply putting labels on ‘em like you say Ag2r is doing, while taking the sponsorship monies. But it doesn’t do much for the image of the sponsor if this is obvious. Perhaps the promoters of road tubeless need to get behind the production of carbon rims to mount them on? Would THAT get teams like Ag2r to actually race on them? Regarding tire problems, is the rate actually higher than other sports using tires? F1 and MOTOGP are both sports where tire management is key and failure costly. Part of the sport IS equipment choice after all – as they used to say in motorsports, the best combination is the one that wins the race and blows up just AFTER the finish line – you got all the performance that could be had out of your machine that way.

Anonymous November 14, 2013 at 1:28 am

Hutchinson RT-1 (rebranded Corima Aero+ derivatives) are tubeless-specific carbon wheels and have been around for a few years already.

Ken April 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Have there been any experiments with “run flat” technology used on secure limos? Can the traditional air-supported tire be replaced by some advanced graphite design? Time to think outside the box.

Anonymous November 14, 2013 at 1:30 am

Rolling resistance is way higher with all current run flat and airless technologies.

Gingerflash April 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm

My twopenneth as a mountain biker: –

Sealant drying out isn’t a major issue. It lasts about a year before it’s no longer effective.

Weight really isn’t an issue either. Even in a 2.2inch MTB tyre, you use about 50ml of sealant, weighing about 55g. For a 23mm tyre, you’d use maybe 10- 20ml. Of course, if the sealant allows you to dispense with your kevlar strip, then you lose a bit of weight from the tyre and improve rolling resistance too. Given that so many teams are willing to use 50mm or even 80mm rims for marginal aero gains, I don’t think the weight of sealant is a good argument not to use it.

In mountain biking, the difference between tubed and tubeless (with sealant) is amazing. I used to ride at 40psi and get a couple of punctures every ride. Now I ride at 25psi, have better grip, more comfort, less rolling resistance and I haven’t had a flat in three years!

Paul I. April 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm

One thing to consider is that those of us who are not racing can easily carry tools and a spare tube in a saddle bag, so if we do puncture while riding clinchers, changing the flat is no big deal. We are also more likely to ride tires that are designed to last, rather than to be as fast and slick as possible. The only flat I have had in the last three years was caused by an accident when I hit the kerb.

cd April 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Just went tubeless w/Stan’s wheels/sealant and Hutchinson tires. Love it so far. Lower PSI, better handling and hopefully many fewer flats. I think they make a ton of sense.

Very surprised that no teams run tubeless for Roubaix. Shocked actually.

Larry T. April 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm

cd-your comments are pretty typical of the road tubeless folks. I’m always curious as to – Lower PSI than? Better handling than? Fewer flats than? The wheels and tires tend to be more expensive so it’s interesting to compare ‘em to more conventional, cheaper stuff to determine if these claimed advantages are a) real and b) worth the extra cost and mounting/sealant issues. As I wrote earlier, I too find it tough to understand why this supposedly advanced technology is not on pro team bikes, especially for cobbled classics…unless it’s not as superior as is claimed?

Anon April 12, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Aren’t Michelins tubs made by Michelin using the old Wolber equipment that they inherited when they bought Wolber?

The Inner Ring April 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I know they bought Wolber in the early 1990s but look closely and the Michelin tub looks identical to a Vittoria CX. Note the herringbone on the side and the diamond in the middle.

JT April 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I am big fan of road tubeless, used it for a couple of years, liked it a lot, but I am not using it right now. The quality of the tire selection is limiting and they are over-priced. You can run lower pressure compared to a similar clincher tire with tube (which results in better feel) and you do mostly eliminate pinch flats.

I am currently using Michelin Optimum Pro 700/25 clinchers and I find I can run the same pressures I was running with a 700/23 tubeless set-up and the quality/durability/price are better than the tubeless options currently available (last I checked at least).

I think Tubeless has a bright future for both the Pros and recreational riders, but more manufacturers need to get behind it and provide better tire options. As for rims, a Tubeless tire will work just fine on most rims regardless of whether they are “tubeless ready”. I also wonder why someone doesn’t pay a team run Tubeless. Maybe when Michelin comes on board.

TheDude April 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm

No mention of thread count, suppleness, handling, etc. with regard to the never ending story (debate) on the merits of tubular versus clincher. I’ve compared a Zipp 404/Vittoria tubular and clincher set up, and maybe it is just mental fancy, but the tubular set up feels much smoother and confidence inspiring in criterium and time trials I have used for comparison. Why do pro riders not wear padded jerseys and shorts to reduce collar bone and hip fractures? Maybe the same reason tubulars continue to prevail… habit, legacy, nostalgia, homage to history. :-)

karsten April 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I rode Schwalbe ultremo zx clinchers at 120psi for about six months with no punctures and didn’t mention it to anyone, then one day i told my friend and on the next ride i got 2 punctures. Since then i get regular punctures every other ride. So my input is -if you find something that works keep your mouth shut!

chuck April 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm

nice read. however I would be interested in knowing the number of punctures in Paris Roubaix
for the past 25 years, using races in 5 year increments. Along with this, it would be interesting to see the average speed of the races noted in the data.

Bruce Ritchie April 12, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Is there any argument to say the gain that tubeless v’s tubs or clinchers gives is negligible, but that the manufacturers still need to sell their wares hence little appetite to make the move on their part. Good article as usual.

surrounded by hills April 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Is there any argument to say the gain that tubeless v’s tubs or clinchers gives is negligible, but that the manufacturers still need to sell their wares hence little appetite to make the move on their part. Good article as usual.

cd April 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm

@ Larry T – Better than other clinchers I think is the answer (lower PSI, more comofrt, less flats, more surface to grip). Not so sure about tubulars, but I don’t consider them an option for me. I run the Hutch’s at 80-85-psi. I think there’s also somethign about how the tubeless sit on the rims that also add contact surface with road. We have a few elite teams around here that are sponsored by Stan’s and they all rave about them. Also Stan’s sponsors a race series so I in part like the idea of supporting this company.

I can’t disagree with small and expensive selection of tires. The Hutch’s were recommended to me by a lot of people.

Adrian April 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Typical. I read this article and then I go out and get 2 flats.

regsf April 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Full disclosure I do Marketing and PR for Hutchinson.

Hutchinson invented Road Tubeless and co-created UST MTB Tubeless.

Tubeless has had slower market acceptance for a variety of reasons. First, when the technology was launched, there was only one compatible Shimano Dura-Ace wheel-set available. Today there are many. Campy, Shimano, Fulcrum, Easton, DT, Stans, Corima etc. The buy-in to try Tubeless was initially expensive, $1,200US for a compatible pair of wheels. Now you can find wheel sets in the $500US range.

Hutchinson has been a sponsor of the FDJ team for many years and currently also sponsors Europcar.
FDJ has used special 28mm Intensive Road Tubeless at Paris-Roubaix for some years and in fact performance shows there were less punctures on Road Tubeless than tubulars because Tubeless completely eliminates the pinch flat factor. FDJ uses Hutchinson Protect’Air Latex fluid in their tires.

So why not more acceptance of Road Tubeless on pro teams? Conservatism, superstition, and fewer choices of wheels. Road Tubeless has shown itself to offer many of the advantages of tubulars plus some; no pinch flats, tire stays on the rim when punctured (this is the main argument against clinchers for pros, clincher blowouts can lead to catastrophic results when a blown tire and tube come off the rim). Tubeless beads lock on the rim and stay seated when deflated so a rider that’s flatted can continue to roll on the tire as with a tubular. It’s effectively run-flat technology. In fact, Hutchinson manufactures all the run-flat wheel technology for NATO, US Military and President Obama’s vehicles. Add fluid to Tubeless and you effectively have a self-repairing solution.

Bicycles are really the only vehicle that use pneumatic tires with tubes. They’ve all but disappeared from all other vehicles. Hutchinson is trying to change that.

Regarding tubular manufacturing, there are some collaborative efforts going on in Europe primarily because tubular casing manufacturing is less prevalent today. As tubular popularity waned (as high-performance clinchers started to steal market share), there was a consolidation of tubular casing manufacturing in Europe. It didn’t make financial sense for many manufactures to continue making tubular casings for a niche market. That’s why there’s often collaborative efforts for tubular manufacturing. Hutchinson has collaborative tubular manufacturing with Dugast and Veloflex. Hutchinson manufactures all its tubular treads and all the tubular treads for Dugast.

Hutchinson still maintains a factory in Montargis, France. One of the few first generation bicycle tire manufacturers (1890) to continue to produce tires outside of Asia.

The Inner Ring April 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Thanks, this is great disclosure.

Rouleur recently featured Hutchinson and whilst we think of the bicycle division, this is a tiny corner of a giant business doing rubber and more.

regsf April 12, 2012 at 8:56 pm

My pleasure, one addition regarding the cost of a Road Tubeless tire. Because there’s no tube, EVERY Hutchinson Road Tubeless tire gets mounted, inflated, submerged into a transparent water dunk tank (to check for leaks and imperfections) and hangs mounted for 24 hours to check for absolute airtight quality control. Although seemingly more expensive on the front-end, their flat-free performance will lower tire cost and maintenance in the long haul.

Roly April 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

How often do you have to put sealent in?? Does it dry out like some have mentioned above? Because without this tubeless are dead in the water. I have seen numerous punctures (WITHOUT sealant) and this leaves you with a tubeless tyre with a hole in, either you insert an inner tube, or you have to somehow fix the tyre!

It’s this that puts me off. If you had to buy the sealant once and forget about it then fine but if you need to keep filling it up and it gums up the valve for pumping then this will not lower tyre cost and maintenance in the long term.

regsf April 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Roly,
Hutchinson tubeless can be ridden without sealant without a problem. I am doing that on my bicycle right now. Sealant is not required, just recommended for extra protection. Depending on the puncture, Hutchinson’s Protect’Air Max Latex can repair a puncture up to 2mm. MOST IMPORTANT: Hutchinson makes a patch kit that repairs Road Tubeless tires. So, if sealant doesn’t solve your problem you can either patch the tire (from the inside) or install a tube to get you home. Hutchinson recommends 30ml sealant for a road tire. The life of the sealant depends on use of the bicycle and weather conditions (sealant will stay liquid longer in more humid environments and less in dryer conditions). Also, Tubeless valves are available with removable cores so there’s no chance of gumming up the valve when installing sealant.

Stephen April 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Sky didn’t suffer any flats at PR because they weren’t really racing.

Steppings April 12, 2012 at 8:25 pm

After reading this article and some great following comments, I am tempted to try the tubeless route. Incidentally, has there been ANY development of the humble inner tube for what seems like a hundred years?

The Inner Ring April 12, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I suppose they have got lighter. I was thinking the other day someone should make one with a carbon valve instead of the “heavy” brass. Maybe no performance gain but good marketing.

Mark Rushton April 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Yet Discovery used Hutchinson tubulars that were actually re-badged Veloflex Pave. Veloflex quietly have a niche in rebadging their product altho’ Basso rides their Record tubular quite openly. Those FMB are over £100 each I think and they don’t give them away.

regsf April 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm

They aren’t rebadged Veloflex. They are Veloflex casings made to Hutchinson’s specs with Hutchinson’s specially manufactured treads mounted on top. All of Armstrong’s Tour de France victories came on these tires. See my comment above regarding collaborative tubular manufacturing.

Bert April 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm

regsf might hire me after this.

I’ve just bought my second set of Hutch Fusion 3 Tubeless. Expensive yes, but considering the first set gave me 6,000km (no lie – I measured and lost 30g or rubber per tire, so maybe could have got more – I tip scales at 150lbs) WITHOUT a single flat (running on Fulcrum 2-way fit rims and Stan’s sealant), I consider them to be of good, no make that excellent value. I run with 85-90lbs pressure and they are a plush and seemingly fast ride. I am unsure about the claim for lower rolling resistance.

Issues that persist for me is 1) they are pigs to mount so I am glad it’s only once per season to clean out and refresh the sealant and 2) if ever I puncture and sealant doesn’t save me, even though I carry a spare inner-tube and CO2, after fussing for a while, I fear I might be hitching a ride back to the city.

If regsf is good at his job and others amp-up their product slate and marketing efforts, I am confident that over time this technology will be better adopted by amateur club warriors and ever-conservative pro teams alike. Here’s a good parallel… consider how new-school early-90′s snowboarding technologies changed (and continue to do so) the face of the uber-conservative alpine ski industry. All for the better. Look where MTB is today (and for some time now) regarding tubeless and follow. It’s only a matter of time.

Until then and for me, it’s “set it and forget it”. I like that as I have more enough to worry about already.

regsf April 12, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Bert, thanks for your input. I’ve just started doing PR for Hutchinson and as you can see, I read only the finest cycling blogs. Road Tubeless evangelists such as yourself are hugely important to Hutchinson’s marketing efforts. I’ve not met one Road Tubeless user that didn’t think it wasn’t ride changing technology. Regarding repairing flats. Carry the smallest tube you can and limit the fluid in your tire to 30ml of sealant. That will keep the mess to a minimum. Just carry a small cloth to absorb any liquid sealant when removing the tire. Another tip, when removing the tire after getting the first section off the rim don’t “rake” the lever around the tire. That may damage the bead. Just remove it section by section. Cheers !

Samsnead April 13, 2012 at 6:32 am

Regsf, would you recommend bringing the Hutchinson repair patch kit and pump/co2 to fix any holes on the road vs a tube? I plan on running tubeless WITHOUT sealant. Thanks

regsf April 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Absolutely if you have had success in the past patching tubes a tubeless tire is even easier as the casing is more rigid than a tube. And if you think about it, you’re actually booting the tire at the same time. One thing to note though, using sealant often self-repairs many tiny punctures that you may never be aware of. I picked up a thorn one time, broke it off flush and rode the tire for another month with the thorn visible in the tire (although it was ground off flush). Tire lost no air.

Chromatic Dramatic April 13, 2012 at 2:45 am

I’m primarily a MTBer, and have been running tubeless since 2005. In that time I have not had a single puncture, where as before I’d get them fairly regularly, especially of the pinch flat / snake bike variety.

Inrng. I’m not 100% sure about your argument that Tubeless are lighter than a clincher set up.

Yes, you don’t have a tube. You don’t have a rim liner, but in MTB’s at least, this is countered by extra weight in the tyre itself, and works out to be slightly heavier.

While I don’t also need to put a sealer in my tyres, I do, as it just stops punctures.

The other benefits of Tubeless. They roll better. They allow lower pressures (again to roll better)…

But they are also a biatch to mount.

While I would have to defer to regsf re his comments about not coming off the rim when you get a puncture. It is relatively common in MTB’s for tubeless tyres to “burb”. When I say relatively common, I’ve only had the problem once, and that was because I had too low pressure in my tyre and had to brake suddenly. If this happened on a road bike, you’d be stuffed.

That said, the next set of wheels I get for my road bike will be Tubeless compatible…

Larry T. April 13, 2012 at 9:40 am

Great information, especially from regsf. Based on all this I will likely be riding on my current setup of Vittoria CX open tubulars (clinchers) with Michelin A1 tubes, Michelin rimstrips, Torelli/Ambrosio rims laced 32 3X at 90-something PSI for as long as I can buy replacements. The road tubeless sounds just wonderful for the folks selling them and perhaps in cases of riders who suffer from pinch flats a lot. I can count the punctures I get personally AND those on our rental fleet in Italy during an entire season on one hand and quite often have a few fingers left. I can mount and dismount most of the tires with nothing more than my hands, check the air pressures a couple of times a week with a squeeze test and everyone’s happy. In my experience a LOT of trouble folks have with the “ancient” tire/tube technology is caused by cheap inner tubes. To me an inner tube is like a condom…would you buy cheapo ones to save money even if they failed now and then? Cheap tubes are a high-profit item for retailers so they tend to get the cheapest they can find. We use ONLY Michelin, which I believe may still be made in France. They are the ONLY tubes with consistent quality that I know about and we use nothing else. Disclaimer: We get no sponsorship or assistance from Michelin or Vittoria.

regsf April 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

All Michelin tire production is now in Asia. Hutchinson and Continental are the only two manufacturers still producing clincher tires in any quantities in Western Europe.

benedictus xvi April 18, 2012 at 10:30 am

condoms are not to be used in italy.

Dave A April 13, 2012 at 11:34 am

All sounds a bit like Kodak and the dark old days

Robert Merkel April 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm

It seems to me that if teams were prepared to sacrifice weight and rolling resistance for more puncture-resistant tyres, the manufacturers could make them tomorrow. Indeed, they already do, at least in clincher form.

Larry T. April 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm

regsf – Maybe because I go through only a handful of ‘em each season, the boxes of Michelin tubes I have still say “Made in France” on ‘em. I’m far from a marketing expert but the Michelin example used some top flight teams like Gatorade, Super U and Carrera to debut their clinchers. Once some fairly big races were won using them, the purists had less reason to resist. I have to admit to being one of those who gave up on gluing, stretching and crying over flats and switched only after seeing these top flight teams winning on them. It’ll take the same thing to get me to consider road tubeless – I’m the reverse of what they call the “early adopters” I wait until there’s almost no doubt about a product before I try it.

regsf April 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Yes, in the late ’80′s early ’90′s tire manufacturers made a big push to get the pro peloton on clinchers. A big reason was that clinchers are much less expensive than tubulars so the cost of sponsorship is greatly reduced. It never took hold as the problems and risks of flatting and riding on tube type clinchers is just too great. Additionally, gram for gram, a box shape tubular rim will always be stronger and lighter than a clincher rim with the bead flanges. There was that weight factor too.

Larry T. April 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I understand what you mean. If I were a pro, and someone ELSE had to deal with stretching, gluing and paying for my tires, I would quite likely still be riding tubulars. And for a team manager, who would want to risk losing a rider to injuries caused by the (rare) situation of a clincher tire coming off the rim at high speed? I don’t remember it ever happening to the teams I mentioned who used the Michelin clinchers back-in-the-day but as you wrote, teams are conservative and reluctant to change unless the risks are very low and the potential gains are real. The weight issue is interesting as it seems plenty of teams are willing to use heavier wheels for their supposed aerodynamic superiority, though of course a clincher rim will NEVER be equal in strength for a given weight or weight for given strength. I wonder if a maker of road tubeless offered wheels that were competitive in terms of weight and/or aerodynamics along with a nice chunk of euros to run the road tubeless if they’d find a taker for the same reasons Michelin did with Super U, Gatorade and the others, especially as the risk of the tire coming off is supposedly much, much less with road tubeless. After all, the conventional wisdom on clinchers at the time was they too were heavier, had greater rolling resistance, less resistance to pinch flats, wouldn’t corner as well, would come off the rim too easily when flat, etc. etc. My other wonder is why the other tire makers have yet to jump on this supposedly superior technology?

Rob April 13, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I can’t believe no one has brought the major issue of why pros still use tubs today. It’s the carbon rims! Any clincher carbon rim is generally 100-200 grams heavier and that’s all rotating mass we’re talking about and that’s before rimstrip. Oh and the other kicker is that aside from a few, most carbon clinchers have serious heat build up issues which can easily cause a blow-out on a long, technical descent.

Corima have tried a full carbon, tubeless wheel, but that’s still heavier too.

Jody Prummer April 15, 2012 at 7:11 am

I have been putting sealant in my tubulars for four years and have not had one flat. I only race on them so they don’t get as many miles. Before I started using sealant I was getting 2-3 flats a year. I only put more sealant in once a year.

ToTheBillyoh April 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

My son has purchased a new Orbea MTB and in searching for tyres I notice on the Hutchinson webpage they are spruiking a “solid” tyre branded “Serenity”. So the technology is changing once again. Or am I very late to the party?

GFK April 16, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Disclaimer: My company, Velotech Cycling Ltd, are (amongst other things) the longest-established service & warranty providers for Campagnolo in the UK.

A lot of great info here & I’d not seen some of the info that regsf has put up. Nice one!

Really, just some random notes to add to what’s here …

Tubulars rims are inherently lighter than clincher and even tubeless clincher, as Larry T has pointed out. Not so well known or understood though, you can build a pretty light, rigid, tubeless clincher rim because there are no holes penetrating the rim floor so damaging it’s structural integrity – this was and is part of the philosophy behind the *non*-2WF Campag Zonda, Eurus & Shamal and the corresponding Fulcrum product.

In low spoke-count wheels, rigidity of the rim increases in importance because of the the distance between supported points in the rim. Hence, if you build a rim with a more rigid (by virtue of the fact it is continuous) rim floor, you can shed a little weight out of the rim as a whole AND run fewer spokes, so at least in theory potentially improving the aerodynamic performace of the wheel and the spinning weight of spokes / nipples, too. It’s a delicate juggling act though.

The way that a tubular tyre deforms against the road is different to the deformation of either a clincher or a tubeless clincher which accounts in part for the slight difference (some might say superiority) in handling.

Heat build up in carbon rims is one reason that carbon clinchers are often eschewed in favour of tubulars where convenience plays second fiddle to weight, ride-soft as well as ride-flat ability etc … although some tubular cements are quite heat-sensitive and issues with rim heating on alloy rims allowing tubulars to move are not unknown, let alone parallel issues on carbon rims – still, that tends to be less catastrophic than a clincher suddenly letting go due to overpressure etc. At least sometimes (not always) you can see it / feel it coming!

Some tubeless rims are sensitive to sealant – Campag and Fulcrum both warn against sealants containing Sodium Hydroxide for instance – it can cause accelerated corrosion of the rim internally.

The place that you really want to take rotating weight out of the wheel is right at the periphery where it has the greatest rotational inertia so affects handling and acceleration most – so long-term, tubeless with minimal sealant will out-perform “standard” clinchers in this aspect & possibly, as deformation against the road is different again to a tubed clincher, maybe in adhesion and feedback, too – loosing the friction between tyre and tube also affects handling, rolling resistance and feedback from the road positively, too.

Interesting that no-one has made mention of tubeless tubulars like Tufo – sometimes they have a slightly “wooden” feel in my experience, but for specific uses they can be great – CX for instance – super-low pressures, no possibility of pinch-flats …

RD April 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s because they feel that the most supple (and least puncture-resistant) tires provide so much better a ride, that the greater possibility of punctures is a reasonable trade-off for them. The ratio between suppleness and punctures in their mind is better for the light and supple tires than it is for the heavier and slightly more puncture-resistant tires. Personally, I’m not so sure, but at the same time I am certain they have been through this same thought process in their minds, so I can only assume they’ve made this decision for this reason.

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