Mounting Tubular Bike Tires

30 years ago, if you were a serious cyclist or racer, you knew all about mounting tubular tires on your bike. As high quality, relatively lightweight clinchers appeared, convenience won out over ride quality and tubular tires and rims became the bastion of very serious riders and racers. Some pro cycling teams even started using clinchers in races like the Tour de France.

Tubulars have begun to enjoy a resurgence in popularity these days and a lot of everyday riders and triathletes are starting to use them. Weight saved on wheels is far more important than weight saved anywhere else on a bike and tubular wheels are generally lighter. Tubular rims have less metal because they don’t have to hang onto the tire, and tubular tires can be made from whisper thin silk and the lightest ones weigh only about as much as 56 M&M’s.

Tubulars are glued onto a rim, unlike clinchers which have a bead that is gripped by a lip around the rim. An improperly mounted tubular can roll off the rim during cornering so it’s important for new users to know how to mount their tires properly.

First of all, get a set of tubular rims. Tubular tires cannot be mounted on clinchers but I’m sure that someone has tried to do it. Next, mount an unglued tire on the rim. Tubulars can fit extremely tight and it’s better to find this out before you put glue on the tire. If the tire is a tight fit, you can stretch it to make it easier to get onto the rim. It’s incredibly frustrating to be stuck on the side of the road, fighting to get a too tight tubular onto the rim. If you’re not sure how to do it, I posted a short video demonstrating how to do it on YouTube.

Once you’re sure that the tire fits properly on the rim, you can glue it on. If you have a wheel truing stand it makes the next part much easier and cleaner. Put the wheel on the stand and then put a pea size dab of tubular glue between each spoke. Now spread the glue around the circumference of the wheel. Some people wear a rubber glove and use their finger to do this. I like to use the little brushes that plumbers use to spread solder flux around joints. They have a shiny metal handle and black synthetic bristles, and a big bag of them can be bought at the hardware store for a few dollars.

Once you’ve finished spreading the glue around the rim, run a bead around the inside of the tire and spread it out with the brush. Try not to get it all over the sidewalls because it looks messy. Insert the valve stem through the valve hole, and then roll the tire onto the rim, ensuring that it’s centered. Use the edges of the rim strip as a reference to ensure that the tire is straight. If it isn’t, you can rock the tire back and forth to break the bond and reposition it. When you’re satisfied that the tire is set properly, pump it up and set it aside overnight to let the glue dry.

If you have a spare tire that’s never been glued or that was previously glued but the glue has dried out, now is a good time to put a thin layer of glue on it too. Hang the spare tire up overnight to let the glue dry before rolling it up and tucking it under your seat or wherever you carry it. It will stay tacky enough that if you have to mount it on the rim, the bond will be strong enough that you can get home safely and then glue it on properly. Just don’t do anything too crazy until you’ve done that.

If you’re obsessed with weight or if you’re a cycling purist who likes tradition and arcane knowledge that sets you apart from other cyclists, get yourself a set of tubular rims and enjoy the ride that only a good set of tubulars can provide.