Difference Between a Clincher and Tubular Wheelset

racing-cyclistClincher vs Tubular Wheelsets

When discussing the differences between a clincher and a tubular-style wheelset, wise men say that to every thing there is a time and a purpose.  The wisdom may come with knowing when and where to use either.

Essentially, a clincher-style tire has a separate tube and tire and is secured to the rim with air pressure. This pneumatic sealing technique is how the clincher gets its name, as the outer tires bead is “clinched” between the inner tube and outer rim bead.  Taken to its extreme, the largest clincher tires in the world today are the drag radials used on top fuel cars.

Fueler teams have known for many years that for ease of maintenance and safety at high speed, it's difficult to beat a tube that is independent of the tread.  The main reason that passenger car tires do not have separate inset tubes is that in sustained high-speed, heavy-usage applications, a separate tube can rub on the inside of the outer tire, creating friction and heat-softening the rubber.  Bicycles don't have this problem as they typically run at much higher air pressure, and have a great deal less load to bear than a passenger car does.

A tubular-style tire is more like a conventional cars, where the outer tread is integral to the air-containment chamber of the tire. The main difference between a bicycle tubular and a car tire is that the bicycle tire is glued onto the wheel rim, whereas the cars is secured in place by exactly the same means as the clincher.  At one time, the tubular tire was the only performance option for bicyclists, but recent advancements in wheel and tire technology, as well as the market-wide acceptance of performance clincher wheels, has made the clincher the dominant tire in racing today.

The only real advantage to using tubular-style tires is their reduced weight, as this style of tire does not need the thick rim bead that clinchers require to seal.  However, with widespread usage of lightweight alloys and composite materials, most racers have become willing to accept the negligible weight difference between the two in favor of the clincher's added reliability and ease of maintenance.

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