Totally Tubular

Clement tubular rims

After reading up on how to mount tubular tires, I can’t imagine why tubulars are no longer popular. There are really only about 10,000 steps involved in the process, which can span several decades if done properly.  And, tubular tires are lighter and more svelte, and ride better with lower rolling resistance than clinchers, yes?

So, when it came time to put new tubular tires on the French Mystery Mixte I am restoring, I was glad to finally have the chance to immerse myself in the tubular experience. Kind of like surfing the waves…on a bicycle.  It also helps that marijuana is now legal in Oregon.


First of all, I needed to find some MUCH wider tubulars than the skinny 20 mm racing tires, shown above, which came mounted to these very nice vintage Clement rims. After a few years of searching, (Time is not linear, when dealing with tubular tires, nor is it to be regarded in any way. Get over it.) I came across these 30 mm Challenge Strada Bianca tubulars, which really looked perfect.

Challenge 30 mm tubular tires

Once they arrived I was suitably impressed, and offered my prayers to the tire goddesses. Offering prayers is one of the 10,000 steps involved, and it’s kind of like the 1st step of a 12 step program–you can’t miss it and expect to move forward in the process.

Now we move on to the steps involving the tires themselves, not to be confused with the steps involved in preparing the rims. Since the tires are round, it makes sense to mount them to a nice round tubular rim, and stretch the hell out of them by inflating them up to 180 psi. It is helpful, but not required, to have some extra tubular rims around for this very step. Sadly, I had donated my only set (Nisi rims which I had removed from one of my project bikes) to the Community Cycling Center last year.  (No good deed goes unpunished.)  So, I mounted them to the very rims upon which I needed to complete the other few thousand steps (Glue sniffing high coming up…in a few decades), inflated them to 60 psi for a few thousand hours , then to 120 psi, for a few more thousand hours (180 psi to be disregarded). Then, to properly age them, I threw them under the dank crawl space in my basement, in accordance with this helpful advice from BikeSnobNYC.

After a few years had passed, I started to work on the hubs (oops, I forgot to rebuild them BEFORE I started this process, but because Time is not relevant here, it ended up not really mattering).

If one can have an out of body experience while rebuilding hubs, I can attest to the experience with these amazing Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs.  These are the most beautiful and well machined hubs I have ever seen.

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F.B. hub cones and axle – 53 code on cone face – zoom in to see

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I did not polish these hubs.  I simply cleaned them with a degreaser and then was blinded by by shiny finish. The “53” code on the cones is, I suspect, a date code, and that would correspond with the other components on the bike.  I’ll keep it in the back of my mind for now.  I rebuilt the hubs in the quickest Time ever.  I now see the logic of this.  The nice hubs make up for the Time warp involved in properly gluing and mounting the tubular tires.

After rebuilding the hubs and truing the rims, it came Time to contemplate what to do about the glue residue remaining after I had pushed the old tubulars off the rims.  After reading too many articles to list here, I determined that:  1) old glue doesn’t matter all that much so don’t worry about it, and 2) old glue is really scary and will cause the newly glued tires not to adhere evenly to the rims, so lose sleep over it.  Then, I read this guidance from Jim Langley and decided that I would sort of remove some of the old glue on the rims as follows:  I took the plastic handle of one of my brass brushes and spun the wheel in the truing stand while applying pressure with the handle to the rim edges to remove any blobs adhering to the most critical surfaces.  I then took a cone wrench and applied the curved surface to the inner part of the rim, and smoothed out the remaining glue there.  I had also dug out the glue that was imbedded in the spoke holes, which was necessary in order to true up the rims.  And I had to remove a bit of remaining tape that had molecularly bonded with the remaining glue, and came off in small, sticky strings (string theory?) which took quite a bit of Time.

Then, I cleaned everything with alcohol and a clean microfiber cloth.  Whew!

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Day 10,453:  Aaahhh. It is now Time to apply glue to the rims and to the inside of the tubular tires.  Before beginning, it was necessary to have my shop vacuumed and sterilized by an industrial cleaning company, so that not one speck of dirt or dust could make its way onto the rim or tire surfaces during this surgically precise procedure.  As you can guess, that process took quite a bit of Time, and may have never actually happened (in the alternate tubular universe).

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I decided to use Panaracer glue, for no particular reason.  I read the instructions indicated on the glue tube (prior to sniffing the glue), so I felt really well informed about how to use the product.  Then, I ignored the instructions completely.  The final process of applying glue to the rims and the inside of the tubular tires is a real leap of faith.  I applied beads of glue to the rims, skipping over the spoke holes, about 4 sections at at time.  I took an old, but once nice paint brush and smoothed the glue out over to the rim edge, which is the most important place for the glue to end up.  I opened all the doors and windows in my shop area, but even so, I found that it was best to simply stop breathing, for about an hour, as I was painting the glue onto the rims.  Then, not in accordance with the instructions, I painted the glue to the interior of the tubular tire, after having cleaned the surface with some alcohol.

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Then, Time was finally of the essence.  I needed to mounted the gluey tire to the gluey rim, and true it up so that the tire was properly mounted with no high or wobbly spots.  Because the glue had become very tacky at this point, and because my brain was possibly oxygen starved (or on a glue high), I had a bit of trouble getting the tire to true up on the rim, even though I had practiced this maneuver as a “dry run” a few Times before.  While I changed my Latex gloves several Times during this process, I ended up using a rag to move the tire around over the rim.  But, finally I mounted it reasonably well and checked the tire on my truing stand.

I had to take some Time off before tackling the other rim and tire, and I am feeling better.  Now the that the glue has hardened, I can’t wait to corner at really high speeds to see if the tires will roll off and kill me.

Before that happens, here are some of the very helpful resources I consulting during this process:

Jim Langely

Jobst Brandt

Park Tool

Reynolds Cycling

And, of course:  BikeSnobNYC