After recently writing about tubulars vs clinchers, and how in 17 years of racing I’ve never flatted a tubular, I had the opportunity to experience first hand how tubulars perform flat yesterday. My rear tire (a fairly new Vittoria Corsa Evo CX) did a pop-psst-psst-psst-psst at mile 10 of the FrimMan 70.3 . I was going pretty good on the bike too. Somehow it didn’t fully deflate, so I rode it for a few miles and then stopped to check it – I could push my finger down to the rim but there was some air in there. So I rode it soft for a total of about 9 miles until I hit the hilly/turny section of the course, and it was just too scary. By this time all the guys in my wave had caught and passed me (I was 3rd or 4th when it popped).
So I started walking, and it quickly became clear that if you flat with a tubular and no spare, you are pretty much out of luck. No one was riding tubulars, and I didn’t expect anyone to toss me an $80 tire anyway. One guy from the Cyclonauts team riding a black Guru did toss me some tire foam, and for whatever reason this didn’t work – it came right back out all over my disc, and in fact the little bit of air I had left made its escape and the thing was dead flat (Cyclonauts guy – thanks for the help – if you read this, I owe you a free bike fit – you looked pretty uncomfortable!).
I was on a long climb, so I walked it for a long time. I knew my friends lived near the top of the hill and would probably be up there cheering, so I hoped I could grab a wheel from them – if I ever got there. I really underestimated how far away I was from the top of the hill. I even tried to ride the dead-flat tubular and that was just too dicey and I was afraid I would damage my disc anyway. I did finally make it up there, to about mile 22 on the course. Just then the neutral support moto showed up, and he said, “tubular? Sorry, you’re out of luck!”. But luckily my friend was there and after some back and forth I finally got a rear wheel and was back on my way. Total time lost? At least 40 minutes.
As I started hammering around the hilly loop trying to make up some lost time, I saw no less than 8 flats in about 8 miles. Over the next 36 miles I must’ve seen 10 more. Two teammates flatted, one of them twice. I heard the neutral support guys said that they fixed at least 45 flats. Yipes! And the weird thing was the road looked and felt pretty smooth for the most part.
Takeways: I made a conscious decision not to bother carrying a spare tubular. I didn’t feel like dealing with lashing the thing to my seat post. However, on a course like that, it was quite possible to get two flats (just ask Normann) and then I would’ve been toast anyway because there is no way I’m going to drag around two spare tubulars. It’s quite cheap and easy however to bring two spare tubes with you, plus any number of competitors will offer to toss you a tube. I likely would not have been able to ride a flat clincher for 9 miles like I did the tubular, but so what – I wouldn’t have had to, even if I didn’t have a spare tube or CO2 – there were plenty offered to me.
So here again I reiterate what I concluded in my article: you are better off with clincher race wheels. The supposed tubular advantages of being less prone to flat, and rideable when flat, are not really advantages. If there is glass all over the road tubulars won’t help you. And if you go totally flat (it was pretty unusual that mine held some air), even though you COULD ride on it, you won’t want to.