Tubulars: Art, Science, and Ritual

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.

[dmalbum path=”/velominati.com/content/Photo Galleries/fr[email protected]/FMB P-R/”/]

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.

[dmalbum path=”/velominati.com/content/Photo Galleries/[email protected]/Gluing Tubs/”/]

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127 Replies to “Tubulars: Art, Science, and Ritual”

  1. What the Seven looks like now having had a respray (obviously in homage to you know who).

    There are a couple of rule violations here, I am sure, including fact that its a compact and I’ve a 12-27 on it (useful on the Paterberg and the Koppenberg, believe me). Its set up for Flanders sportive on 30 March (shame the Keepers tour didn’t decide to participate). Crosstop essential for arresting progress on cassein in event that might involve >15k Belges and hellingen. The new Vitt Paves have a single green stripe down the middle rather than 2 green stripes (see front tyre vs rear tyre), which is mildly irritating. It’ll get saddle bag (Arundel Tubie) to carry spare tub and a C02 canister. Rear wheel is tied and soldered.

  2. @Tubular Swells
    NICE!!! I am registered for this years’ P-R Cyclo in June and will be riding 27 mm Pave’ tubulars on HE’D C2 Belgiums. Did the tubs give you any trouble? How many bars did you run in them and how much do you weigh (if you do not mind me asking!). Thanks!

  3. @Tubular Swells feel free to post as many pics in as many places as you like. I’m sure none of us will grow tired of looking at both the bike in its current form and when previously in action.

    Jealous? Certainly, but only in a good way.

  4. No trouble at all. I overinflated them (110psi) because I always do and because I was paranoid about pinch flats, which was ludicrous in retrospect. I will run 90psi in Flanders, I reckon I could get down to 80psi without any problems. I carried 2 spares (24mm Paves) which turned out to be a waste. 74kgs. I confess to have become slightly irresponsible about tubs and pinch flats on the basis I’ve never managed it. Glass cuts, yes, pinch flats, no.

    Before anyone comments on the Knog light in the first photo citing a rule violation, in my defence if you do the full 255km you start pre-dawn and they insist on you riding with a light. By the Arenberg I had forgotten I had it on.

  5. IF paint jobs are superb. (Apologies for the Syncros seat post, I needed a 27.22m seat post at short notice and this was sitting around in the shed.) With the Ambrosios on, this one has rolled around Flanders. Another triumph of income over ability.

  6. @Tubular Swells

    What the Seven looks like now having had a respray (obviously in homage to you know who).

    There are a couple of rule violations here, I am sure, including fact that its a compact and I’ve a 12-27 on it (useful on the Paterberg and the Koppenberg, believe me). Its set up for Flanders sportive on 30 March (shame the Keepers tour didn’t decide to participate). Crosstop essential for arresting progress on cassein in event that might involve >15k Belges and hellingen. The new Vitt Paves have a single green stripe down the middle rather than 2 green stripes (see front tyre vs rear tyre), which is mildly irritating. It’ll get saddle bag (Arundel Tubie) to carry spare tub and a C02 canister. Rear wheel is tied and soldered.

    Nice rig. I am also fond of the Ambrosios with 36 holes in your previous pic. But soldered spokes, while old-school, doesn’t add to strength of the wheel. Just my hubmle little opinion, but I wheelbuild and I am just not convinced.

  7. @Tubular Swells
    Super info! I, also, purchased and have two 24 mm Paves for spares for the ride and weigh just a kilo or two less than you do. Thanks so much for telling me. Helps my planning tremendously!

  8. @gaswepass

    @G’rilla

    I’ve already decided that I’ll be racing tubulars for next cross season. Dugast Rhino on the front, Typhoon rear. Probably Chris King hubs. Maybe HED rims (wide)?

    Thinking about doing the same; tubeless is satisfactory but not awesome. I want to hit some kind of goal prior to pulling the trigger, so I feel like I earnt it, ya know…

    I built up a set of relatively inexpensive CX wheels last year- Velocity Major Tom Rims, Sapim Spokes, DT Swiss Hubs and Dugast tires… show them to you next week- they made a HUGE difference in the handling characteristics of the bike. The Toms are 22MM wide so the tires profile is quite different from a clincher.

  9. @Dan_R

    Nice rig. I am also fond of the Ambrosios with 36 holes in your previous pic. But soldered spokes, while old-school, doesn’t add to strength of the wheel. Just my hubmle little opinion, but I wheelbuild and I am just not convinced.

    I suspect you are right. Pete didn’t think it was necessary and it hasn’t stopped them getting buckled. Probably purely psychological like carrying 2 spare tubs.

  10. @Anjin-san

    @Tubular Swells
    Is that a man satchel under you saddle? WTF?

    Yes. At the risk of reigniting the great saddle bag debate, I think a discrete man satchel is no less Pro than a sagging pocket full of gear. Pockets are for food, phone, keys and discarded arm warmers/other items of clothing. These days I’d take it off to photograph the bike, but this was taken some 3 or so years ago when I was less aware of bike photo conventions.

  11. frahnk, I’m so jealous. I haven’t been able to tear mine up as I’ve got issues with my bones. the quacks, as always, give conflicting advice. I s’pose imitation is a form of flattery, if you know what I mean…

  12. @Tubular Swells
    I agree with @Dan_R that is isn’t necessary, in fact I’d add that tied and soldered spokes make the wheel more rigid, hence less forgiving of the cobbles. Tying and soldering is traditionally predominantly used to stiffen a wheel, not strengthen it. And a stiff wheel is less able to flex and give, putting it more at risk of potential problems – not really what is ideal…

    I’m sure your rear wheel will be fine though, I’m not trying to be the voice of doom here!

  13. @Oli

    @Tubular Swells
    I agree with @Dan_R that is isn’t necessary, in fact I’d add that tied and soldered spokes make the wheel more rigid, hence less forgiving of the cobbles. Tying and soldering is traditionally predominantly used to stiffen a wheel, not strengthen it. And a stiff wheel is less able to flex and give, putting it more at risk of potential problems – not really what is ideal…

    I’m sure your rear wheel will be fine though, I’m not trying to be the voice of doom here!

    OK, so it was the wrong thing to do. Whatever. The rear was put out of true last time anyhow. (I like to think it was my massive power over the stones along the Kerkgate into Mater. Needless to say, it wasn’t.) I promise not to let it happen again. I am not advocating having one’s wheels tied and soldered. It was my idea and I am sorry that I have set a poor example for my children and any other impressionable V’nati who may have been watching. I have let you all down. I would ask for your forgiveness.

  14. @Tubular Swells
    Haha, don’t take it so hard! Sorry if it sounded like I was chiding you, that wasn’t the intention – I was just talking wheel dynamics, a subject near and dear to my heart after more than 30 years of building them…I am sure your wheel will be fine, your children will make it to adulthood safely and without mental scars, and the cobbled adventure will be truly amazing.

  15. @Tubular Swells

    No trouble at all. I overinflated them (110psi) because I always do and because I was paranoid about pinch flats, which was ludicrous in retrospect. I will run 90psi in Flanders, I reckon I could get down to 80psi without any problems. I carried 2 spares (24mm Paves) which turned out to be a waste. 74kgs. I confess to have become slightly irresponsible about tubs and pinch flats on the basis I’ve never managed it. Glass cuts, yes, pinch flats, no.

    Before anyone comments on the Knog light in the first photo citing a rule violation, in my defence if you do the full 255km you start pre-dawn and they insist on you riding with a light. By the Arenberg I had forgotten I had it on.

    I hear tell that Boonen, who is a relatively heavy bloke, rides at 5 bar or some such crazy low pressure. Pinch flats not being a concern on tubbies, I guess you want to get as low as you can.

    I suspect they ride a much higher pressure for RVV and the like, however, as that low pressures definitely are noticeably less efficient on the climbs.

    Which brings up another topic of controversy: I decided to listen to everyone who has gotten on board with the low pressure trend and took a few bar out on the tubbies.

    Maybe I’m too heavy (or too powerful?) but my goodness my christmas guiness did that suck balls majorly. The bike was all squishy and climbing felt like the brakes were on. Definitely was going slower as well.

    I think the theory makes loads of sense – don’t go do hard that you’re bouncing vertically, but I suspect that perhaps 8 bar for a rider of my weight (80kg) is likely about the same as a lighter rider rolling along at 7.

  16. @Tubular Swells

    @Anjin-san

    @Tubular Swells
    Is that a man satchel under you saddle? WTF?

    Yes. At the risk of reigniting the great saddle bag debate, I think a discrete man satchel is no less Pro than a sagging pocket full of gear. Pockets are for food, phone, keys and discarded arm warmers/other items of clothing. These days I’d take it off to photograph the bike, but this was taken some 3 or so years ago when I was less aware of bike photo conventions.

    We’re not talking about Pro or un-Pro, we’re talking about Looking Fantastic. And a saddle bag looks just as shit as a sagging pocket. That’s why you wear kit that fits properly, and don’t carry a whole fuckload of shit with you that you’ll end up not using anyway.

    http://www.velominati.com/tradition/la-vie-velominatus-toolkit/

  17. @frank
    (Garth voice) “I like to carry a nice bonus bidon of water in m’pocket — ‘r sumthin…”
    @Tubular Swells
    Pocket #1: Single tube (French valve), lever (single best lever), CO2 w/ valve (any extra comes from another rider or not) — all tucked together w/ Conti wallet (probikekit). Spoke wrench (maybe) to outside strap of Conti wallet (probikekit). Pocket #2: No smart phones — a small phone — or no phone. GU sleeve w/ FRS chew (maybe). Pocket #3: a nice bonus bidon of water (maybe) for whoever suffers the most — or one extra pocket w/ no nice bonus bidon of water. Period #1! Period #2! Period #3!

  18. Those FMB tubulars are sweet! Probably what these were copied from:


    Made by Wobler, branded as Michelin. Interesting thing is they have 60mm valve stems.

  19. Quick update on my tubs journey. Bought my first set of tubs in years about two months ago and rode them for around a month and really fell in love with them and just thought that they were soooo much better than my clinchers. Then my tubular wheelset was squished by an SUV and I had to switch back to clinchers. The ride felt rougher but I thought maybe I was just waxing romantic about the tubs and that there really might not be that much difference. Finally got my tubs back this weekend after they were rebuilt with new rims and HOLY MOLY, they are like butter compared to the clinchers. Rode my normal route on them and there truly is no comparison, the tubs just feel the road so much better and offer such a smoother ride, unbelievable. So, if you are debating tubs for your next wheelset at all, in my opinion, there really is only one choice, and there is no way that you will regret it. Even with the extra “work” of tubs, they are soooo worth it.

  20. @Buck Rogers
    Good to hear you’ve got them back.

    I can’t really imagine going back to clinchers having spent a month or so on tubs. The clinchers were quite heavy and had generic cheapo hubs and rims whilst the tubs are a nemesis dura-ace combo so the improvement isn’t all down to the tubs but the whole feel is just so much more special. I can’t actually imagine a better upgrade.

  21. @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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. @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.

  25. @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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. @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.

  30. @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.

  31. 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.

  32. @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!

  33. @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.

  34. @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!

  35. 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.

  36. @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.

  37. @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.

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