A lot of people have been asking me about tubeless for CX. Tubeless in CX is sort of like how tubular tires were about 10 years ago. Seemingly some kind of dark art combining wizardry and alchemy. Back in the early days of tubulars it was very hard to come by good tubular tires. You had to know someone who knew someone. Phone calls were made. Emails were sent. Trips to France and Belgium happened. Then you had to either learn to glue the tires yourself or again know the secret handshake to get someone who knew what they were doing to glue the tires for you. This sounds expensive and like a royal pain in the ass doesn't it? It was. But it was worth it. It was worth it from a performance reason as you could now run low pressures without pinch flatting. You still could flat though as there still is a tube in a tubular. Racing on nice tubulars on a rutted rooty New England CX course against a field running predominantly CX tires with tubes is like cheating. Half the fast guys would flat out and the other fast guys would bounce off the roots and off the course. Podium presented by equipment doping. But the most important reason to go fancy French tubulars was to go full CX Diva. People would lose their minds when they saw you roll up with your green sidewall FMBs. My first experience on tubulars was via Molly Cameron. She set me up. I picked the wheels and tires up in Portland when I traveled out for the USGP at PIR. The ride was life altering.
I was hooked. It was like CX crack cocaine. I just needed more tubulars. Little did I know like crack cocaine you basically are just lighting money on fire via your addiction. And it wasn't just tires you now needed wheels. It isn't like a normal clincher tire. You can't change tires easily with tubulars. So you need three wheel sets. If you want to be a BALLER anyway you do. And who doesn't want to be a BALLER? Flatting or puncturing a $120 FMB tubie is no joke. You are out the expensive tire. Then you need someone to glue a new tire on. So let's call it a cool $200. Timing can suck as well. It could take a week to get the flatted tire fixed and ready to go. So now you need a fourth clincher wheel set to train on while your tubulars are getting fixed. Welcome to cyclocross. And all your friends said it was for fun. Liars.
So I played the game. I loved my FMBs. I had a few sets. Then sort of settled in with one all arounder I liked. It wasn't like I was going to podium anyway. So why am I going through the hassle and expense of multiple tires for my Beer League Softball participation. At few years ago I stopped even putting spare wheels in the pit. Frankly tubulars with a bit of Stan's in them really are about as flat proof as you can get. Rolling a tire is probably your biggest risk of ruining your mid-pack finish but with the people who I ended up gluing my tires it was virtually impossible to roll a tire. The glue jobs my mechanic laid down lasted about two years. Maybe a bit more if you wanted to push it. And who has time for constantly checking their equipment? That is silly talk. Ok so to recap. Tubulars are expensive, kind of a pain in the ass but offer unreal performance advantages for racing CX. The big upside is the ability to run low pressures without flatting. I am sure everyone who reads this knows why this is great but maybe for people newer to CX the reason you want to run low pressures in CX is that a tire at say 25-30 PSI will give you way more traction and is way more comfortable as compared to the same tire at 45+ PSI. And realistically if you are running tubes in a CX race with any roots or rocks you need to be at 45+ to avoid flatting. That is unless you are sub-150. But some of that is riding style as well. The more aggressive you ride the higher you would have to run tires with tubes. Ok so that is tubular tires for CX in a nutshell.
At some point you begin to question this lifestyle. Maybe you just can't justify $300 for a set of FMBs. I know I can't at this point. I have Syd the kids hockey to pay for. $300 barely covers a carbon hockey stick these days. So your eye starts to wander a bit. Coming from a mountain bike background the lure to tubeless is pretty easy. Until you see your friends burping DIY tubeless set ups at CX races. Some seem to have a gift for exploding tubeless set ups. Cough * David Deitch *cough. But there sacrifices paved the way to where we are at right now. Right now the system is dialed. And by system I mean tubeless specific rim and tubeless specific tire. Add some sealant of your choice and voila you are now ready to jump into the dark side of tubeless CX. Ok if you are thinking now that you will take your old Ksyriums and get the conversation kit and use some Challenge tires you have I am going to stop you right now. DONOTDOIT. Did DD suffer over and over again so you could make the same mistakes? No. No he did not. So just step away from that old crappy stuff. Sell the wheels. You can get $500 for them right? Ok so get a nice starter set of wheels like the Stan's Grails. They are super easy to set up and are a good wheel to begin with. Buy a set of Specialized tires and really you are good to go. So let's recap. $500 for the wheels + $80 for the tires + $20 for the Stans = $600 and a good raceable set up.
Ok before we delve too much into the whole tubeless CX experience lets go over some pitfalls etc. I know I am always super positive and don't get all negative. It is easy to set up a tubeless tire on a wheel like the Stan's Grail. If I can do it you can. I am a total hack. Seriously. Here is how it works. Ideally you do this outside on your driveway. You need a bucket of soapy water and a hose. Again ideally. Get your new wheel. The wheel should be taped with Stan's yellow tape and have a tubeless valve. Make sure the nut on the valve is tight to the rim. I have found most problems setting up a tubeless tire can be traced to the tape of valve. Usually if I am having trouble with a tire that is the first thing I will do. Put fresh tape on and a new valve. It solves most problems. The next answer to a tubeless tire that is losing air is just add more Stan's and shake. Or ride. Riding actually helps the tire seal. It moves all the sealant around and sets it up nicely. Ok so you have your bucket and hose. I put the tire on the usual way. Then I mount the bead and leave a little off the rim. I put one scoop in and then turn the tire so the sealant goes around the tire. I flip the tire and pop the bead on. Then inflate with a floor pump. Inflate until you hear the bead pop. It makes a great pinging sound. Some rims like the HED don't ping. Not sure why but you can see the bead is seated by looking at the sidewall. Make sure the bead is evenly on the rim.
Thom did an awesome video about tubeless. Check it out here. Dan does it s bit differently than I do. I am lazy so that is probably why I do it the way I do it. The little bottles of Stan's are really nice for adding more sealant or even doing the set up the way Dan does it. The valve cores can be removed and you just squirt the contents of the bottle into the tire. Easy breezy. Ok so let's delve a bit deeper into the world of tubeless. So why did I decide to go all in? Zank and I were talking about the season. I had run tubeless for the entire last season. I had already ordered a set of brand new FMBs. Green sidewalls to match the new SSCX. Cause you know. Baller. As we were about to place the order for a set of tubular wheels I asked Mike if we should just go full tubeless. He agreed that there was no reason we should be running tubulars. Tubeless at 25 PSI does the same job as a Tubular. In fact it might be a tad more durable. And you have so many great tire options right now. When tubeless first came along there really weren't that many good tubeless tires for CX. Now there are so many. And not just traditional CX but Gravel or Monster CX. Nothing is better than a big fat tubeless tire for getting shreddy.
Ok so we agree it is cool. And it is super easy to set up and fix. Honestly that may be reason one to go all in. I ended up tearing my front tire at Secret Squirrel. With Stan's you don't always know you have a puncture because it seals. As I was pumping up the tire the other day I saw air shooting out of the sidewall and then the Stan's sealed it. But the tire had a bunch of glass cuts so it was time for a new tire. I grabbed a Clement tire I had and installed it in 10 minutes. It cost me nothing. I said RIP to my old Specialized tire and went for a really nice ride. The advantage here isn't just ease of fixing a flat but that if you want to swap to a file tread of a mud tire you can do it in 10 minutes in the parking lot before your race if you really wanted to.
Ok so this sounds amazing Chip. I am all in. I salute you. But just so I don't lie to you it can be messy. And you will shoot Stan's in your face at one point or another. Let me share a few "horror" stories. So this is my fault. Pure laziness but I got a front flat riding in Cutler the week before D2R2. I sort of laughed as Stan's shot out of the tire and then sealed. I was like man this is sooooo cool. I got home without even having to change the tire. Then like a dumb person assumed the tire was fine. D2R2 needs to be respected. I did not respect D2R2. So I left that tire on. Again it takes 10 minutes. I should have thrown the tire out and put a new one on. Anyhow. So of course the tire is flat the morning or D2R2. I won't lie I was freaking out. I pump it up and Stan's shoots out of multiple glass cuts. But seals. So we roll out and I forget about it. We get about 5 miles and I hit something and all those Stan's scabs just rip off. My bike and my face are being sprayed by Stan's at about 20 mph. Good times. I go through this cycle for about 5 more miles and then just pull off. Fixing a tire with Stan's in the field is no big deal but messy. I open the tire up and dump what ever Stan's out in the dirt. I boot the tire and put a tube in. Inflate and we are back on the road. Maybe ten minutes with the boot. So not the end of the world but messy.
I guess if that is the horror story its not really that bad is it? So again I can't state enough to go with a a system. There are so many good rims and wheels. I love the HED rims and the NEXT wheels. Those are my faves. Stan's are ok but they aren't that durable. I dented the hell out of them. But they still held air. Just maybe not that nice of a wheel. Tires are all great right now. I would say Specialized are the most supple. But less durable than the Clements. The WTBs are awesome. I love the bigger gravel tires they offer. The good news is most of the tires are between $40-60 so you can experiment. Good luck and if you have any questions I am more than happy to help