This article carries on from Tim Bateman’s previous piece on Tubulars
It is no coincidence that it was Swiss former Cyclocross World Champion and MTB legend Thomas Frischknecht who reintroduced tubular tyres to MTB, especially in the XC disciplines of XCO and XCC (Short Track).
Frischknecht was a constant innovator who actively developed his bikes to chase any tactical advantage he could get. Using his Cyclocross background, and realising the ability to use a 650C Zipp rim with a disc hub, Frischknecht commissioned custom 26” tubulars from the boutique tyre artisan Andre Dugast. Sponsored at the time by Ritchey, Frischi supplied clincher MTB treads to Dugast who then glued them to his own casings. Fritschi used them to great success towards the end of his own career.
To quote Frischi:
“Bikes and their equipment got a lot lighter over the years. But basically for all the riders. You can only value something if you’re a step ahead of the others. In my case this are my tubular wheels. They are much more comfortable to ride, give more traction, have less rolling resistance and are a lot lighter, too. It’s just that the industry’s is not ready to make this become a standard. This gives me an advantage for another year or so. ”
Today, Frischi is manager of the Swisspower MTB team featuring riders such as 2009 World Champ Nino Schurter, and World Championships medallist Florian Vogel and all of this team use tubulars for racing. Schurter himself won the Stromlo Worlds on Dugast Rhino treads. A most unlikely course for the use of something previously so exotic and fragile!
However, this cutting edge technology is now available to the general market. Production wheelsets are made by Ritchey, DT Swiss, Reynolds, Gipiemme and other manufacturers. Carbon and alloy rims are available off the shelf. And while Dugast may be the legendary tyre maker, such expense isn’t needed as you can buy MTB tubulars from Schwalbe (Racing Ralph), Tufo (XC1, XC2 and XC4 treads), Geax (Barro Race and Saguaro) and Challenge (MTB One).
Tyres are still perhaps double the cost of a top end clincher. Not a great problem if only used as “race-day rubber”. The Tufo tyres are actually a vulcanised construction so they contain no tube that can be punctured. Lately, Dugast has produced a wider XC tyre called the Fastbird (Florian Vogel pro model) in up to 50 mm width.
Several changes in MTB Technical Regulations have probably helped in the adoption of MTB tubulars – notably the transition to shorter courses, and the provision of technical zones. All this means the distance to spares has been reduced, placing less need on self sufficiency and need to repair in the field.
And what of the Marathon XCM discipline ? Tactical changes may make tubulars more attractive soon. The last few XCM World Championships have been ridden more like a road race … higher speeds, with teams of riders working together. Tactically, having team mates to share wheels like road riders lessens the risk. And with higher speeds and drafting with leading bunches, once a rider punctures the chance of riding back to the front of the race is lessened whether using clinchers or tubulars.
Not much comfort for the Swiss rider Ralf Näf who used custom Maxxis Dugast tubulars at the 2008 Marathon worlds – Näf flatted off the podium while in 3rd place! Of course a conventional flat may have lead to the same result.
29ers are also increasing synergies between CX and MTB …. larger sized tubulars are increasingly available too, lending acceptance to the larger wheel format and the MTB tubular market.
Of course, tubulars in a Stage Race are still very much a riskier proposition. It will be interesting to see what future developments bring. For now they may remain the sole domain of top professionals who can afford the expense of having spares and mechanics in the stages tech zones.