With the European road season just kicking into gear, tech spotters have a lot to look forward to. Over the next few months many new products will be put through their paces, being raced on by the pros for the first time. One product that’s poised to have an impact on the upcoming Spring Classics is the tubeless racing tubular. Logan DeBorde has been following the story.
Tubular tires have long been the mainstay of professional bike races, offering weight savings, superior ride feel and grip, and perhaps a little extra speed when compared to clinchers. When the Tour de France was run without team support, riders would carry them on their backs, pre-glued and ready to go. While the quality of clinchers has improved steadily in recent years, racers at the highest levels still choose to use tubulars.
In all that time, the construction of tubular tyres has essentially remained unchanged. A loop of casing is wrapped around a tube and sewn together before the tread is glued on. The quality of the casing essentially determines how light and supple the tubular will be, while different rubber compounds are chosen to suit different conditions.
The Dugast Tire Company has been making tires since 1972, always the same way: by hand. But in the last 12 months the company has been working on something new: eliminating the tube from tubulars.
Richard Nieuwhuis is the current owner of Dugast and he explained that it was feedback from riders that prompted the new idea. Mountain bike world champion Nino Schurter had noticed that, as World Cup courses for the cross-country discipline evolved, the demands for traction and durability became higher. Many riders had gone tubeless, using specially constructed rims and a combination of beefed up tires, air-sealing tape and latex sealant. But the weight was a downside to the system.
The idea for a tubeless tubular is not exactly new. In 1991 a Czech company, Tufo, pioneered the tubeless tubular by creating a fully sealed rubber tyre with the tread molded into the casing (like a conventional clincher). Clement adopted the same approach to create its CX tubulars and while the strategy makes for a robust tyre that is generally easy to repair with sealant, the tyres aren’t as supple as a traditional tubular.
Dugast decided on a traditional approach for their tubeless tubular, choosing to use cotton casing and a glued tread to preserve the ride quality and grip of the tyre. However, finding a way to make the cotton casing airtight was a major challenge.
After six months of development, Dugast found that they could seal the casing with a layer of latex and neoprene. A “weave of glues” is then used between the cotton layers to tune the ride quality by varying the rebound and damping qualities of the tyre. This also leads to a 10% reduction in weight for the tubeless tubular.
Dugast has been testing MTB versions of their tubeless tubular since June 2015, with release planned for March, and CX versions since December. Nino Schurter won the 2015 XC Mountain Bike Worlds and the Rio Olympic test event with the new tyres while Wout Van Aert, Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Lars Boom were all using Dugast’s tubeless tubulars at the recent CX worlds at Zolder.
Race wins aside, Schurter has reported zero flats after eight months of use, which included a rim failure in one instance, and multiple thorns in another.
Dugast says that the new tubulars can be used with a specially developed sealant (20ml per tyre) to improve puncture resistance, if required. They also claim that the traction of the new tyres is so good that riders are able to run higher air pressures to enjoy the benefits of a firmer tyre.
All of these benefits promise to translate well for road use, and indeed, a tubeless tubular could be a game-changer for events like Paris-Roubaix. Which is why Dugast has been working on a tubeless tubular for the road, and according to Nieuwenhuis, Astana and Cofidis have started testing the new tyre with plans to tackle some cobbles later this month.
If all goes well then Dugast tubulars, which have been absent from the peloton for the last few years, may be making a comeback at the Spring Classics this year.