Whether you are new to cyclocross or an experienced competitor, you will no doubt realise the importance of having the right equipment for the sport. A quality frame and lightweight fittings are essential to give you the best chance of being easily able to carry the bike as well as being able to pick up speed again quickly following the remount.
Tyres and wheels are important decisions for any rider as the ride you get, the traction achievable and the performance of the tyres can make or break a race for you. Most riders these days are using lightweight aluminium rims mounted with either clincher or tubular tyres.
Clincher tyres are the type found on most leisure bikes and on many bikes used for other sporting disciplines and are of the familiar construction where the tyre and inner tube are separate. The term clincher comes from the tyres stiff edge which is sometimes reinforced with wire and designed to ‘clinch’ onto the wheel rim.
Tubular tyres are somewhat different, in that the inner tube is sewn into the tyre itself to create a sealed unit and the unit is then attached to the wheel. This is normally done using two sided tape or specialist glue (whatever you do never use superglue!) onto a purpose designed rim. These rims are called sprint rims in the UK and in the US referred to as tubular rims.
The decision of whether to go with tubular or clincher wheels is one which is fraught with pros and cons on both sides. Supporters of the tubular variety of wheel and tyre claim that it gives a much better ‘feel’ of the ride surface, enabling more precision and a better ride altogether.
What is for sure about these tyres is that they can be run at a wide range of pressure, from around 25 up to over 200 psi. For the cyclocross rider, being able to run at incredibly low pressures without the risk of pinch flats means better traction on slippery or muddy surfaces without the need for extreme knobbles on the tyre.
Because of the reduced need for very knobbly tyres the wheel is better on smooth surfaces too, increasing your chance of a good sprint on the tarmac sections of the course. They also weigh considerably less than clincher wheels do.
On the downside there is little way of repairing your tubular tyre if you do get a flat. This means that unless you have a support crew working with you, you will need to carry a spare tubular tyre with you throughout the race, rather than a small inner tube as would be the case with a clincher wheel.
In the professionals opinion there is nothing better than a tubular tyre for cyclocross bikes but unless you are competing at professional or semi pro standards, it is unlikely you will notice the marginal improvements these wheels will make to your performance. However, with prices for tubular cyclocross wheels starting at £100 per wheel and rising to over £300 (and with potentially having to replace the whole tyre in the event of a flat) the difference will definitely be noticed by your bank balance. Like any upgrade… it’s worth it, if you can afford it.