I’ll be the first to admit it but I’ve always loved tubeless tires for the road. While slightly heavier the ride quality was smooth, pinch flats were eliminated and the tires felt faster. So when Hutchinson introduced the Bulldog (an aggressive knobby pattern) and Piranha (side knobbies with a low profile semi-slick center knobby pattern) cyclocross tubeless tires I thought this was a marriage of the best qualities of a tubular and a clincher tire – the ease of installation of a clincher and the ability to run low tire pressure without the worry of pinch flats. I thought the days of gluing tubulars were a thing of the past.
However the first incarnation of tubeless ‘cross tires were hit and miss. When they worked they were spectacular. The ability to run low pressure without concern of a pinch flat is crucial to being competitive in cyclocross. However, after a few sessions and frequent pressure changes the tires started to ‘burp’ after jumping back onto the saddle following a dismount or when hitting a sharp bump. For those not familiar with the term, burp is when the tire bead comes unseated for just a second which allows the air to escape. After just a couple of burps the tire is completely flat.
Hutchinson has addressed the burping problem by replacing the bead in the Piranha and Bulldog models with carbon. In my experience this has eliminated the sudden release of air in the tires. Admittedly I have not raced on this set-up. I conducted some test runs to see if I could get the tires to burp and I couldn’t. They held the air which makes me think that the problem was the bead in the previous models and the stiffer carbon bead corrected the issue. One note – I set up these tires on Shimano tubeless ready rims and used Hutchinson’s Protect Air sealant. Other rim set ups can cause the installation of the tires to be, let’s say, problematic.
Cycling blogger Cosmo Catalano chronicled on his Twitter page the experience of mounting Hutchinson Bulldogs to his Easton Ascent II wheels using Stan’s conversation kit. After three days of work he finally managed to install the tires. After a test ride on what he described as, “a pretty typically bony New England fire road, plus some grass and single track” he had some minimal air leakage, but still thought the ride quality was better than clinchers. I think the moral to that story is tubeless tires have their place, but they can be finicky to work with. While it is possible to mount tubeless tires to non-tubeless wheels using kits like Stan’s Tubeless System, it can cause hours of frustration depending on the tire model.
Looking for a cheaper alternative to tubular tires? Tubeless tires are the way to go. The ability to run low pressure and eliminating pinch flats are their selling points. Also, they seem faster which could be due to the elimination of an inner tube that causes friction. I attended a media junket a few years back and Cannondale cyclocross pro Tim Johnson was the guest. He taught us media hacks a few ‘cross tips and one was tire selection. He recommended a knobby tire up front and semi-slick for the rear in general race conditions. His reasoning was that unlike steering on the road, where the rider’s weight is on the back wheel, steer using the front wheel with body weight pushed forward. That’s why the a front knobby tire is used as traction. Johnson told us that it didn’t matter that the rear wheel could break loose as long as the front stuck. Since then I’ve run the semi-slick Piranha for the rear and knobbier Bulldog up front. Of course terrain conditions can alter that tire selection.
One issue I had was the Hutchinson tire website. It contained several broken links and the descriptions of the Bulldog and Piranha tires were obviously switched (the site calls the Bulldog a semi-slick – something it is clearly not). My Chrome browser also gave me the warning a “High Risk Website Blocked.” Frustrating…
An interesting thread on the Cyclocross Magazine forum concerning tubeless tires
Tips for installing tubeless tires here.