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“The tubular predates the rear derailleur. It’s outlived steel and alloy — it’s reigned supreme in the era of carbon and aerodynamics. No more. 100 years at the top is long enough.” That’s a line from Specialized’s latest product press release and one that says a lot about where the American company sees tubeless road headed.
Today Specialized has officially announced its S-Works Turbo Rapid Air, a race-focused tubeless tire that claims to be faster, grippier, more comfortable and more puncture-resistant than its own impressively good tubular. It’s a tire we spotted in prototype form at the Santos Tour Down Under in January, and again when Fabio Jakobsen won on them at the Tour of California. And according to Deceuninck–Quick-Step team mechanic Nicolas Coosemans, the team has been trialling them since May 2018.
The S-Works Turbo Rapid Air features a patent-pending design that Specialized says changes the construction method, reducing the (common) number of overlapping casing layers from three to two. “We created a tire with a more supple crown to lower rolling resistance, a thicker sidewall to better support cornering loads, and a bead that easily locks into the rim,” the press release reads.
At the time of publishing, Specialized had not provided further information on what this construction method is, the resulting weights of the tires or what sizes will be available. Based on imagery, we know at a minimum, there will be 26mm (as raced by Deceuninck–Quick-Step) and 28mm options.
Riding in support of Julian Alaphilippe, Michael Morkov is using the tires at this year’s Tour de France (he was using them at the Tour of California, too, while riding for Jakobsen). Our global tech editor James Huang asked Morkov about a puncture he experienced during stage 1, at a time when four other team riders were riding tubeless, too.
“I didn’t know I had a puncture,” he said. “I could hear the liquid coming out, but before I even looked down it was already sealed. After the stage, I pushed on the tire and I don’t think I even lost half a bar (approx 7PSI). In that way, it’s an amazing tool — some punctures you cannot get around, with this system you will save a lot of punctures during the race.”
“They feel fast, they feel more comfortable and I feel I have much better grip with them,” Morkov said of the new tubeless tires, before explaining why by stage three he was the only rider still using them. “So far we don’t have that many wheels available, so it’s only a few guys will use them. And some riders are quite conservative, especially coming into the Tour de France, they want to race what they know.”
That sentiment is backed by Coosemans, who suggested the young mechanics and young riders are all for it, while the older generation prefer the old school. Coosemans explained the motivation for the move away from tubulars is a continual pursuit for improvement, with tubeless being faster and with better flat-protection for the riders. Tubeless tyres also save the mechanics “quite a lot of time in work, and if you have a better product, it’s even better,” said Coosemans.
One key benefit for tubulars in races is knowing that the glued tire will stay on the rim in the event of a high-speed puncture. According to Coosemans, the team hasn’t yet specifically tested what happens to a tubeless tire in an event of a flat that doesn’t seal, but did say the firm fit of the tire gives the team confidence.
This is hardly the first time Specialized has made noise about the limitations of tubulars. Back in 2015 Specialized was proudly claiming its Turbo Cotton clinchers (run with latex tubes) offered a benefit when racing against the clock – something its sponsored teams have used in key time trials since.
It’s been over a decade since we first saw the introduction of road tubeless to the market, but it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the technology. Only recently has it seen a resurgence of interest, and with that, industry predictions that it’ll be the commonplace pick in professional racing in the coming years. And Specialized is hardly alone in the movement, with the likes of Continental’s GP5000, Vittoria’s Graphene 2.0 tires, and Schwalbe’s rumoured next-generation tubeless all adding legitimacy to the space.
While pricing has not been provided, Specialized’s new Turbo Rapid Air tubeless tires are expected to hit shelves sometime between September and November of this year.