Tubulars: Art, Science, and Ritual

Tubulars: Art, Science, and Ritual

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As Keepers Tour crossed from dream to reality and routes over the cobblestones of Northern Europe were sketched out, with it came the familiar tingling in my fingertips and uneasy sensation at the base of my spine as my mind starts its irrevocable journey towards categorizing as mandatory an unnecessary indulgence. I was going to need a wheelset and tubular tires that were up to the job.

The folklore goes a long way towards that justification; Paris-Roubaix is the race where every trick of the trade is exploited to deliver riders safely to the finish. Equipment which usually carries riders for a season or more finds itself in the trash heap after a single day on in Hell – maybe good enough for training but certainly not be trusted for another race. Special wheels are built, and only the strongest tubulars are glued to the rims. Aldo Gios, De Vlaeminck’s mechanic, is said to have aged his tires in his wine cellar to allow the rubber to harden, making them more resistent to punctures.

Ignoring the possibility that there may be some difference in strength, speed, or skill with which the Pros ride over the Cobbles, it didn’t take me long to determine that it wasn’t so much a matter of wanting a set of tubulars for Keepers Tour, but that it was indeed my obligation. I have a responsibility, after all, to the attendees of trip that I not fall off my machine and bash my head open on a cobblestone. Messy, certainly, but it may also frame the event in a somewhat negative light, and I think we’d all like the opportunity to do this again some time. The only way to assure I don’t suffer some catastrophic equipment failure and jeopardize the trip was to build a set of wheels based on the same components the Pros select for the purpose, and line them in the same rubber they choose. Logical, really.

The seduction of symbols was the first phase, followed quickly by the art of building wheels. The final step was to procure the right tires for the job. FMB is perhaps the most revered name in hand-made tubular tires; inspection of photos of Roubaix will reveal the pale yellow or green sidewalls of the FMB Paris-Roubaix tire on many of the wheels bouncing over the cobbles – often rebadged on order to satisfy sponsorship obligations.

I needed a set, naturally.

The tires were ordered in December, as from January onward Francois (of Francois-Marie Boyaux from which FMB takes its name) becomes overburdened with orders from the teams riding Roubaix and indicated he wouldn’t have time to squeeze in an order from a nobody such as myself. They arrived in February, at which point they displaced a few bottles of wine to age in the darkest corner of our basement which doubles as our wine cellar. Having mounted another set of tubs on the wheels in order to bash the bejezus out of the wheels so as to make myself a little less certain that I buggered the wheel building process, they had to wait until this past week to be mounted.

They have not yet been ridden, but they certainly look the business.

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Gluing on a tubular tire is a glorious study in patience and settles beautifully in the intersection between art, science, and ritual. And the glue smells distressingly fantastic.

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// Folklore // Look Pro // Nostalgia // Racing // Technology

  1. @Chris
    I have a decent set of clinchers. I have been riding Mavic Ksyrium SL Premium’s and they have been great, but they are just no comparison to my HED C2 Belgium’s with Chris King R45 hubs and 27mm Vit Pave tubs.

  2. I’ve no doubt decent clinchers are great but I’m perfectly happy with my tubs. I’m also completely aware that I haven’t experienced some of the more negative aspects of tubular ownership and my current view point may change rapidly when I do.

  3. What do you do when you get a flat while riding tubs? Can you patch in the field like a clincher/tube, or do you have to carry a spare under your seat?

  4. @mcsqueak

    What do you do when you get a flat while riding tubs? Can you patch in the field like a clincher/tube, or do you have to carry a spare under your seat?

    I carry a spare under my seat but I have also read something about some glue/plugger stuff that you put in the tire itself to seal up the hole. I have flatted before on tubs back “in the day” and I just rolled off the flat and put on the spare. Not really that hard at all. But I do need to look into the glue/plugger stuff as well.

  5. @mcsqueak
    That would be the the more negative aspects of tubular ownership that I’ve yet to experience. You could do a patch job in the field but you’s have to unstitch the casing in the right spot, pop a patch on and restitch. Takes a bit of skill, apparently.

    The other options are to have some sort of gloop sloshing around in your tubs in anticipation, squirt it in after the event or go for the old school spare strapped under the seat and hope that your glue job isn’t too good and you can tear the punctured tub off the rim before riding home somewhat more gingerly on the spare.

  6. @mcsqueak

    @Buck Rogers

    @Chris

    I carry this stuff, and my buddy has used it to successfully get home.
    http://www.tufonorthamerica.com/accessories.php

    A bit easier than carrying a spare, but the downside is once you use it, you gain some weight in the tub.

  7. Ah, interesting! I guess if you don’t flat often (knock on carbon) then it’s probably worth the risk/hassle for the better road feel.

  8. I had my first opportunity to test Vittoria Pit Stop sealant last weekend having run over some nasty bit of debris on the road. I was told it will fix small punctures completely. It got me home but the tire wasn’t holding pressure very well. Ended up having to replace the tire as I think the tube was pretty well trashed — the damage must have been more than a simple hole. Should have the new tire glued up in the next day or so. I may do an autopsy on the dead tire to see what happened inside. It was a bit sad to be running clinchers this weekend and look forward to being back on the sew ups. Meanwhile I’ll keep bringing the sealant, and also an extra preglued tire under the seat. Well worth any additional trouble.

  9. The only downside to strapping a spare under the saddle is that if you are a bit of a short ‘rse like me then there isn’t much room for anything else that you might like to attach to the seat post. I’ve just got myself a new rear light in order to lengthen my available riding time. The battery is mounted onto the seat post with the spare tub strapped on over it but it has ended sticking out behind the saddle a bit which just looks a bit messy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sport it by folding it tighter.

  10. @Buck Rogers
    That’s the exact hub/rim setup I’ve been lusting after for my cross bike (Chris King/HED Belgium). But unfortunately, Chris King doesn’t make a rear disc hub that’s 130mm wide. Maybe they’ll roll out a model within the next three months while I save up the cash.

  11. @G’rilla

    @Buck Rogers

    I too am eyeing that combo, though in the clincher version, as my Rule #58 breaking Neuvation M28s gave up the ghost with rim cracks after 3200km. Lesson learned – at least it was a relatively cheap one. I’ll be going 32 spoke 3x from now on, like my my OpenPros. The road surfaces around here suck and they are just a lot more comfortable under my fat ass, especially when mounted with 25s, not to mention more durable. I intend to use them for road and move the OpenPros back to my CX bike though. I’d love to go tubular on them, but all my other rims are clinchers and I kind of like that I can swap all my wheelset/tire combos as needed. Perhaps someday I’ll man up and do it.

  12. Well Gents, I have made my first foray into the tubular world.

    All told, the process wasn’t too bad. I did mask off the brake track of the wheels just in case the mess got out of hand. I stretched and glued a spare before starting the others, and it resides in a jersey pocket for now. The ride quality is superb, and these wheels just beg for speed! Huge upgrade in my world.

  13. @Velosophe
    Welcome to the fold. Nice call on the skinwalls.

  14. @Velosophe
    Sheeeit, that’s the spirit. Tubs and those wheels, there must be a better word than upgrade. The bike looks fast just sitting there. Nice.

  15. @Gianni

    Truth be told, the entire shebang is brand new to me. Went from 80’s italian steel with 9sp Dura Ace and Open Pros to this. Yeah, upgrade is a bit lacking of a description!

    It’s a two-wheeled revelatory rocket ship!

  16. @Velosophe
    Momma, you skipped the aluminum and titanium steps and went straight to rocket ship! Why not? That steel bike is not seeing the light of day anytime soon. You know what is fun? Train on the steel during the week and haul ass on Cervelo on the weekend. It makes it feel extra great.

  17. @Gianni

    Awesome. I might have to do that to keep renewing this crazy rocket booster sensation. I do love steel frames. Being new to the carbon thing, I must say I was a bit shocked to unbox the frame and wheels. Surely these wafer-thin plasticy things cannot withstand what I intend to do unto them!

  18. @Velosophe
    Beautiful bike and really nice wheels.Really like it.Good to know that you’re enjoying tubulars riding qualities.If you’re new to tubulars I think you will like and appreciate the article in the link below if of course you haven’t read it already.Cheers.

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2011/03/bikes-and-tech/frances-fmb-tire-maker-for-the-cobbled-stars_164665

  19. During commentary in the Women’s MTB XC World Cup race today, Thomas Frischknecht mentioned that the Scott MTB team he manages has one mechanic who does nothing other than build wheels and install tubular tires.

    Is this standard for road teams, too?

    http://live.redbull.tv/events/59/uci-canada-xco-women/

  20. So, for those of us without the ability (that is cash) to purchase two FMB’s I was wondering what you run on your climbing/racing wheels?  I now have my new carbon Easton Aero wheelset and I am going to purchase some tubs for them.  I am planning on running the Easton carbon wheelset as my daily (except for rainy/wet days) wheelset and when I occasionally race.  

    I want a bit of a durable tub but something light enough to not be putting a super heavy tub on my carbon wheelset.  Does anyone have any experience with the Vittoria Corsa Evo CX Tire?  Or how about the Vittoria Corsa Evo SC Tire? 

    I run the Vittoria Pave EVO EG Tire on my HED C2 Belgium tubular rims which are my wet weather, tough wheelset and they are great.

    Thanks, just looking for testimonies before I purchase the tubs.

  21. @Buck Rogers

    There is not much difference between Corsa Evo CX and Corsa Evo SC to be honest.If you are after tan classic sidewall just like Cervelo R3 pictured above go for Evo SC.They are both great racing tires but not so good for training or riding/racing in the wet.If you can spend a bit more Veloflex Carbon is a fantastic tubular however it’s gonna cost you around 100$.

    The best all-rounder for the price tubular for training,racing with very good puncture resistance and durability is Continental Competition.Not as supple as Vittoria/Veloflex because of the butyl inner tube however it lasts forever and much more grip in the wet.

    Try Vittoria Corsa Evo CX or SC if you have never ridden on them.They are fucking super fast,no doubt,as long as you pump them up right.Don’t use the pressure below 100 PSI on them because it’s a waste.In the dry conditions the grip is awesome and you can corner very well.And Buck…watch the forward >>>>>>>> direction when gluing.Good luck mate.

  22. @Buck Rogers

    I’ve been running 25mm Corsa Evo CX, they run great and are smoooooooth but I’ve had a couple more punctures than I’d like.  Trying Veloflex Arenbergs next but (a) I’m told they benefit from aging and (2) I am not going to put them on till I need to replace the Vittorias what are on the Ambrosios now.

  23. @TommyTubolare Thanks!

    I will only be using them in dry conditions.  I will run my Chris King R45 HED C2 Belgium’s with the 27mm Vit Pave’ tubs for wet conditions. 

    And thanks for the reminder about tread direction–would not want that to happen AGAIN  (uhhg).

  24. A little more ritual for the tubular users:

    http://biketart.cc/2012/05/david-asks-the-bike-tart-or-how-i-rolled-that-spare-tub/

    Also, just to note that the Schwalbe Milano is a great value training tub that actually rolls quite nicely.  At $35 or so each I’m even happy ruining them by riding home on them if I do puncture.  They might benefit from a spot of ageing though (if such a thing does actually work) as without it they can be a little puncture prone.

    First time back On clinchers for me today after selling my Mad Fibers – I now remember my biggest preference of tubs:  bump handling.  Clinchers are *bouncy*.

  25. Using an ALE Italian Super Leather Black toe clip strap to carry a spare tyre. It may hold a brand of reverence all to itself.

  26. Deutsche technik!

  27. @Velosophe what a beauty.  black, white, and gumwalls, what a lovely combo.

    not that i’ve mounted hundreds of tubs, but most of them popped right onto the rim, similar to clinchers.  received the fmb’s today and i chased it around and around trying to get it on there for stretching.  these things are beyond butter, a whole ‘nother level of awesome.  can not wait to start the glueing.  hoping the v-apron will arrive in time.

  28. @roger Beautiful! I thought the FMB P-R came pre-sealed with that green stuff.

  29. @roger A whole other level of love.

  30. something ive adapted to my glueing style: rather than roll it along a broom handle, i use my Lezyne mini pump to seat the tub. half a bar of pressure, and use barrel of pump and roll it in the rim bed

  31. I am getting ready to mount FMB Roubaixs on my Golden Tickets tonight.  Can anyone comment on how they went on, and were they straight?  Off the rim mine seem like they have a bit of irregular “character” built in.

  32. @Nate

    I am getting ready to mount FMB Roubaixs on my Golden Tickets tonight. Can anyone comment on how they went on, and were they straight? Off the rim mine seem like they have a bit of irregular “character” built in.

    FMB’s are handmade by Francois and his wife; they are not straight. They have character. But they go on great.

    Stretch them obvs first, but then just mount as usual and make sure you’re stretching enough as you normally would. The tape has a great lip on it that helps you seat it nicely, and from there you seat it based on the overall shape of the tire moreso than how the tread is tracking and how much tape/sidewall is showing etc. Pump up hard and 90% of seating happens automatically; then just tweak it and do the final setting.

    Does that make sense?

  33. @frank Excellent.  How many beers will it take?

  34. @frank FMBs fitted.  They were a bear to get on my stretching rims, but went on the Ambrosios easy.  There is no lack of character in them, either.

  35. Question on tubluars:  After posting a few weeks ago that I have not had a flat since switching back to tubs, I now have a slow leak in my rear tub.  I can pump it up, ride it fine for up to two plus hours and finish the ride with full pressure, or close to it.  But when I then leave it in my office overnight, it is completely flat the next morning.

    My question is, is it safe to try some ptistop or similar stuff or do I just need to replace the tub?

    Thanks,

    Buck

  36. @Buck Rogers

    Question on tubluars: After posting a few weeks ago that I have not had a flat since switching back to tubs, I now have a slow leak in my rear tub. I can pump it up, ride it fine for up to two plus hours and finish the ride with full pressure, or close to it. But when I then leave it in my office overnight, it is completely flat the next morning.

    My question is, is it safe to try some ptistop or similar stuff or do I just need to replace the tub?

    Thanks,

    Buck

    Pitstop or Stan’s would probably work, but before you do that check whether the valve stem core has worked a bit loose.  Twice in the last year a found the same thing, and after tightening the core the tires retained air.

  37. @Buck Rogers I’ve always refrained from using Pitstop or the like in the undestanding that if you put sealant in it, the life will be limited in that the sealant will eventually dry out and/or you’ve got to ensure that the tubulars are always reasonably well inflated even if you’re not using them to prevent the tube getting glued up and ripping itself apart when you next inflate it.

    I carry Pitstop on longer rides on holiday when asking Mrs Chris to pack the kids into the car and find some remote French crossroad would prove impractical and place unnecessary strain on the relationship.

    If you can find someone that does repairs tubulars, they should be able to replace the tube.

  38. @Buck Rogers Caffelatex might be the best sealant for a slow leak like that.

    I have heard pretty decent things about this service too: http://www.tirealert.com/tirealert/Welcome.html

    They used to only use butyl replacement tubes, if that matters to you.

  39. @frank –

    I am curious..how many other brands of tubulars have you ridden? I have had the pleasure to try all forms of Vittorias, Continentals, Schwalbe, Veloflex, Clement and even Dugast, but have yet to ride a hallowed set of FMB..any comparison note?

  40. @Haldy

    @frank

    I am curious..how many other brands of tubulars have you ridden? I have had the pleasure to try all forms of Vittorias, Continentals, Schwalbe, Veloflex, Clement and even Dugast, but have yet to ride a hallowed set of FMB..any comparison note?

    Warning!!!  If you are looking for an objective review on FMB’s from Frahnk, you’re fucked.  He has drunk the kool-aid on FMB’s and even eaten the paper packaging that it came in! 

    Disclaimer:  I am VERY jealous of FMB’s and have never have ridden any.  I ride the working man’s Vit pave’ tubs.

  41. @Haldy

    @frank

    I am curious..how many other brands of tubulars have you ridden? I have had the pleasure to try all forms of Vittorias, Continentals, Schwalbe, Veloflex, Clement and even Dugast, but have yet to ride a hallowed set of FMB..any comparison note?

    Even better than Veloflex, twice as expensive.

  42. @Buck Rogers

    @Haldy

    @frank

    I am curious..how many other brands of tubulars have you ridden? I have had the pleasure to try all forms of Vittorias, Continentals, Schwalbe, Veloflex, Clement and even Dugast, but have yet to ride a hallowed set of FMB..any comparison note?

    Warning!!! If you are looking for an objective review on FMB’s from Frahnk, you’re fucked. He has drunk the kool-aid on FMB’s and even eaten the paper packaging that it came in!

    And sniffed several tins of their tub glue…

    @Buck Rogers

    Disclaimer: I am VERY jealous of FMB’s and have never have ridden any. I ride the working man’s Vit pave’ tubs.

    Odd how a thread gets resurrected on the very day my paves have been forefront on my mind.

    I was out on a true Rule #9 ride when the contemplation of rain dripping from my nose was interrupted by a squishy vagueness from the front. Looking down I could see I had lost air so pulled over to see what the problem was. No thorn, no tack or even gash but the wet surface one section of the sidewall was gently bubbling as though completely porous. Admittedly, they’ve not been ridden for a while but I hadn’t expected that.

  43. @Chris

    @Buck Rogers

    @Haldy

    @frank

    I am curious..how many other brands of tubulars have you ridden? I have had the pleasure to try all forms of Vittorias, Continentals, Schwalbe, Veloflex, Clement and even Dugast, but have yet to ride a hallowed set of FMB..any comparison note?

    Warning!!! If you are looking for an objective review on FMB’s from Frahnk, you’re fucked. He has drunk the kool-aid on FMB’s and even eaten the paper packaging that it came in!

    And sniffed several tins of their tub glue…

    @Buck Rogers

    Disclaimer: I am VERY jealous of FMB’s and have never have ridden any. I ride the working man’s Vit pave’ tubs.

    Odd how a thread gets resurrected on the very day my paves have been forefront on my mind.

    I was out on a true Rule #9 ride when the contemplation of rain dripping from my nose was interrupted by a squishy vagueness from the front. Looking down I could see I had lost air so pulled over to see what the problem was. No thorn, no tack or even gash but the wet surface one section of the sidewall was gently bubbling as though completely porous. Admittedly, they’ve not been ridden for a while but I hadn’t expected that.

    Ooooh, that stinks.  They were pave’s that you had on?

  44. @Buck Rogers very stinky! I suspect that’s the end of the road for that one and it’s twin already has pitstop in it. I keep saying it would be good to learn how to repair them, I should give it a go with new tubes.

  45. @Chris

    @Buck Rogers

    @Haldy

    @frank

    I am curious..how many other brands of tubulars have you ridden? I have had the pleasure to try all forms of Vittorias, Continentals, Schwalbe, Veloflex, Clement and even Dugast, but have yet to ride a hallowed set of FMB..any comparison note?

    Warning!!! If you are looking for an objective review on FMB’s from Frahnk, you’re fucked. He has drunk the kool-aid on FMB’s and even eaten the paper packaging that it came in!

    And sniffed several tins of their tub glue…

    @Buck Rogers

    Disclaimer: I am VERY jealous of FMB’s and have never have ridden any. I ride the working man’s Vit pave’ tubs.

    Odd how a thread gets resurrected on the very day my paves have been forefront on my mind.

    I was out on a true Rule #9 ride when the contemplation of rain dripping from my nose was interrupted by a squishy vagueness from the front. Looking down I could see I had lost air so pulled over to see what the problem was. No thorn, no tack or even gash but the wet surface one section of the sidewall was gently bubbling as though completely porous. Admittedly, they’ve not been ridden for a while but I hadn’t expected that.

    It seemed like fate to post on this thread this morning. I had a day of gluing tubulars ahead of me at the shop today as track racing season has returned to Seattle and many folks needed new tires on their race wheels. So when I was logging in to make my VSP picks…this thread was at the top of the random list. As I have a set of Nemesis( 2 actually) wheels in my own stable..I dream of having some FMB’s on them someday. But I must admit..the Vittoria Corsa SC’s I’m using now are quite nice!

  46. @Chris

    …………interrupted by a squishy vagueness from the front. Looking down I could see I had lost air so pulled over to see what the problem was. 

    I managed to triple puncture at the w/e on The Butler so was knackered when I’d used foam and spare so had to bail and resort to getting a lift to base.  I’ve seemed to go for years without a puncture and this spring is making up for that big time.  Lost count of how many I’ve had.  Then again the roads are so bad and with so much of it being fine flint slivers it’s a bit of a ‘mare.  Roll on some cleaned up roads.

  47. @Teocalli

    @Chris

    …………interrupted by a squishy vagueness from the front. Looking down I could see I had lost air so pulled over to see what the problem was.

    …Roll on some cleaned up roads.

    Let’s hope so.

    Yesterday was also a day of hitting potholes hidden beneath murky puddles.

  48. @Haldy My Paves are on Nemesis rims as well. Got them cheap on ebay from an ex racer who’d acquired them in Belgium. Came with old school Dura Ace hubs. Got them re-laced to suit my bulk and they’ve gone three years, countless pot holes and two Roubaixs with the Keepers without needing so much as a turn of a spoke key. There are a couple of small cracks in the coating but they’re over 20 years old. Can’t ask for more than that.

  49. This is happening very soon!

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