Clincher vs. Tubeless Tires: Which Is Best for You?Published on 05/13/2023 · 10 min readCycling Expert Jared Fontaine explains the differences, pros, and cons of clincher and tubeless tires so you can find the right tire for your riding style!
Clincher ridden on gravel not the best many flats this day. It would have been better if I had a tubeless tire. Photo by Jared Fontaine
With the cornucopia of tire technology—clincher, hookless, and tubeless—it may seem impossible trying to figure out the best option for your bike.
For mountain bikers, the answer is easy: go tubeless. Except for the lowest-end mountain bike, nearly every mountain bike is equipped with tubeless wheels and tires. The lower tire pressures are built for grip on the trail, and nearly flat-proof tubeless tires have been a standard in the industry for years.
However, for road cyclists and gravel cyclists, tubeless technology is new and revolutionizing the scene. Here we’ll discuss the three types of tire systems and how to figure out which is right for you.
Three Types of Tire Systems
Tubular tires, or sew-ups, are extremely rare nowadays and are generally the race-day choice of pros or at the local crit race. With a tubular system, the tire and a latex tube are sewed together and glued onto the rim.
Tubular wheelsets are very light—some wheelsets are less than 1000 grams— and the ride feel is super responsive because the many tubes are made from latex. However, except for dedicated racers with team cars, few use them: if you have a puncture, you have to glue a new tire onto the rim—which is not fun if you are 30 miles away from home.
Clincher, or tubed, tires are the most common type of tire system on road, gravel, and hybrid bikes for their ease of installation, low maintenance, and reliability. The wheel uses small hooks to "clinch" the tire onto the rim, hence the name clincher.
Unlike tubular tires, the tube that holds the air to inflate the tire is not attached to the tire. Therefore, a rider can easily change the tube if they get a flat. Also, carrying around a tube is cheaper and lighter than having around an entire tubular tire.
On entry-level hybrids and mountain bikes, the tubes can come with a Schrader valve—the same valve on your car. Whereas higher-end bicycle tires have Presta valves, which allow for tires to be filled with air pressure. Moreover, a Schrader pump cannot be used with a Presta valve. Therefore, it is important that you use a pump that can accommodate Presta valves. Also, tubeless systems are normally Presta-valve only.
Tubeless: Hooked and Hookless
The entire rim of a tubeless tire has to be airtight, and the rim requires a special tubeless tape. In addition, the tubeless rim and tire must be reinforced to hold the tire on the rim. Further, riders install tubeless sealant in the tire to prevent most flats.
Tubeless tires are split into two types of tires: hooked and hookless. Hooked tubeless use a hook on the rim to hold the tire's sidewall like a clincher, and you can ride a tubeless tire with a tube inside of the tire if you are flat.
Hookless tubeless design is the newer technology. Instead of having a hook to hold the tire's bead to the rim, hookless rims use the tire's pressure to keep the tire on the rim. Hookless tires require hookless rims and compatible tires to function correctly.
Pros and Cons of Clincher and Tubeless Wheelsets
Clinchers are the most popular tire system for road bikes and hybrids. No other system is as easy to fix as a clincher—even on the side of the road. There is no sealant to worry about, and the tires are easier to mount. The sidewalls of the clincher tire are softer, so it is easier to stretch the tire onto the rim, and you don't need a compressor to blast pressurized air to seat the tire on the rim. Also, the rim does not require special glue or airtight tubeless tape to ride. Therefore, ease of installation and maintenance is the best reason to use the clincher system.
Clincher systems are generally heavier than tubular or hookless tubular systems. Professional racers use tubular and tubeless methods, as they are lighter than a clincher equivalent. Further, the friction between the tire in the clincher system creates rolling resistance. However, this is very minimal if a rider is not counting seconds. Professional racers in the Tour de France use tubular because riders can coast a mile with it and wait for the team car to change the wheel.
Tubeless technology—both hooked and hookless—also have many benefits over clinchers.
1. Puncture Protection
One of the main benefits of a tubeless tire are fewer punctures due to the tubeless sealant utilized. The sealant will fill in minor cuts in the tire. However, small pieces of flint, glass, and thorns will stick to your tire—especially in wet conditions—and work their way inside the tire to the tube and puncture it. If you puncture the tire, you can throw a clincher tube inside the tubeless tire to get you back home.
2. Lower Rolling Resistance
One of the biggest trends in road and gravel riding is wider tires for a comfortable ride and grip. Wider tires with a lower tire pressure allow the tire to smooth rough pavement, and smoother translates to more comfortable and faster rolling.
Just ten years ago, 23c-width bicycle tires were the norm; a 25c tire was considered fat, and now there are high-performance road tires with 32c widths and larger. Even some Grand Tour riders will forgo tubular tires for the marginal gains of a tubeless tire.
Disc brakes also allow endurance road bikes to fit 35mm tires in a performance road bike frame. In addition, tubeless tires enhance the benefits of more rubber on the ground. That way, tires can run lower tire pressures than a more narrow tire, and then a rider can run even lower pressures for gravel rides and more comfort without the risks of pinch flats.
For gravel riders, tubular and tubeless tires can ride lower tire pressures without the risk of pinch flats. Pinch flats happen when a rider hits an obstacle in the road and the tube pinches to the rim, which can cause a flat and, worse, can damage the rim
3. Hookless Tubeless Is Cheaper
Most full carbon-fiber tubeless wheel systems are more affordable than their clincher counterparts. For example, a clincher or hooked tubeless wheelset can cost $2,500 or more, and hookless wheels can easily have it for around $1,000 to $1,500. The savings comes from a more simplified manufacturing process, since they don't have to create the lip on the rim to hold the tire to the rim.
1. Setup Is More Complicated
You will need more expertise and skill to set up either a hookless or hooked tubeless tire. Clinchers are easy to change, as there is no sealant, tubeless, or valve stem tape to deal with; moreover, clincher tires do not require extra sealant. After a while, in a tubeless system, the tubeless sealant will dry out, and the rider will have to take the tire off and clean the dried sealant out of the rim and tire.
Also, you have to install tubeless tape, which needs to be stretched tightly on the rim to make the rim airtight. Moreover, hooked tubeless tires are notorious for being incredibly difficult to mount on the rim, since the rubber has to be much tougher to hold the tire to the rim and can be very difficult—you will need a compressor to seat the tire on the rim.
To further complicate matters, after a while, the sealant will dry inside of the tire, and the tire will need more sealant. You will have to take the valve core and top up the sealant. The sealant will need to be cleaned out of the tire within a year—which can be a sticky mess. A clincher tire, in comparison, requires a tube tire and rim tape.
The next difficulty plaguing hookless technology is compatibility. The rims and tires MUST be tubeless-compatible. Typically, the sidewall of the tire and rim will state so.
Currently, hookless technology is very new, and manufacturers have not standardized the width of the rim and tire. Since there is no hook holding the tire to the rim, if you mount the wrong-width tire or pump the tires above the top level, the tire will pop off the rim and can be deadly if a rider is descending and their front tire blows off.
On top of that, the industry is moving toward fatter rim widths and tire widths, making it harder to find a compatible tire. If you have ever mounted different bike tires, some are more stretchy than others, making it harder to find the best tire. Many manufacturers will state on their websites which tires are compatible with their wheel systems, and riders need to stick to these tires only.
3. Tire Pressure
Hookless tires have a lower-limit tire pressure riders can pump their tires up to. Clinchers can be pumped up to 180 PSI, even though most riders rim between 90 to 120 PSI since there is a hook holding the tire to the rim. Hookless tires usually have a limit of around 70 PSI; therefore, heavier riders who generally need more PSI may have a problem riding these tires.
Should I Go Tubeless or Clincher?
The answer depends more on tire usage. If you are riding gravel or cyclocross or have a separate winter bike, I would go with tubeless, especially hookless, technology.
On my winter cyclocross bike, I use the Vittoria Rubino Pro for its longevity, puncture resistance, and reliability. The Rubino is the endurance, more tire-wear-resistant line of the Corsa family of tires. They are heavy, at 400 grams a tire—nearly twice the weight of a summer tire.
Further, keep in mind that cyclocross and gravel riders require different tread patterns of gravel tires depending on the road conditions. If the cyclocross course or gravel course is very wet and muddy, riders will use 33c. Further, cyclocross races regulate the width of tires and wheels for added traction, and lower tire pressure for more grip in loose gravel, mud, dirt and other uneven pavement. If the cyclocross course is dryer and has more sand pits, the tire's tread will be finer.
Most gravel bikes will accept road-sized 700c wheels, and 650b wheels can fit a 35c to 40mm tire to a 700c wheel. Moreover, if the rider wants to ride on even more aggressive terrain, they can use a smaller 650b wheel with a 50mm gravel tire. Also, lower tire pressures are better for comfort and lower rolling resistance.
When the frost melts and the spring and summer comes, I want a lighter, faster, grippier tire to win those Strava Personal Bests. Therefore, I look for a fast 200-gram tire with a softer casing like the Continental GP5000 and the Vittoria Corsa Fold G2.
To prevent side cuts and sharp objects from slicing the side walls of the tire, the wall thickness is larger. The problem is that you lose the suppleness and stretchiness of the tire, which creates a stiff road fill and increases the difficulty of installing them to the wheel. The center tread is bald for fast riding, but the sides of the tire have small treads for shedding water on winter rides. The G+ version adds graphene to the compound of the tire to increase service life and grip. Last year I rode 2,000 with almost no tire wear.
However, if you are a roadie like me, I am not as interested in technology, as it is harder for me to travel on flights with tubeless tires. To take a bike on the plane, you have to deflate the tires and remove the sealant. I feel that the extra maintenance is not worth it just yet. I am waiting for the industry to establish better standards for road tubeless.
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