Tubeless Cyclocross

October is here, and so is the rush to dial in some new wheels before the season is in full swing.

Tubeless seems to be gaining some traction, both with new wheel offerings that are tubeless specific, as well as more people out there willing to give it a try.

If you give this a try, you should consider reliability as the #1 goal.  Weight, looks, materials, etc.  are all less important.  If you're going to experiment, do that with a set of wheels you train on.  Keep the race stuff reliable, because you bash stuff a lot harder in races than you do in training.  

Reliability Factor #1: Wheel Choice:

You can get a huge head start in reliability by using the right kind of rim.  A rim is either designed for tubeless use, or it's not.  If it's not, it's not a deal breaker, but it means YOU have to figure out how to convert it into a tubeless friendly setup.  And I hate to say it, but it's never going to work as good as a tubeless specific rim.   Your mileage may vary, but I am pretty sure this generally holds true.

Let's take a look at the two types of rims, side by side:

Regular clincher rim cross section (Velocity Deep V):

Tubless specific design (Stans Arch 29er):

You can see the bead hook design is different.  There's a lot of room in the clincher rim for the tire bead to move around.  In the tubeless rim, the tire bead doesn't really have any room to wiggle around.  Room to wiggle is generally bad, because when that happens, your tire will most likely loose it's seal and "burp" some air.

The rim on the left (clincher rim) can work, but it's not going to be super reliable unless you alter it.  In this case, you could add an additional layer of rim tape (or two).   Every rim design will require a little different tweak formula to be more reliable with a tubeless setup.  Some rims might not work at all. 

You see how this is kind of a gamble?  It is.  Your best bet is to go with a tubeless specific rim.  You can build them yourself, have them built up, or buy a pre-done wheelset from an ever growing list of vendors.  I think the list now includes Stans Notubes, Giant, American Classic, Alex and Industry Nine.  I'm sure there are others.

Reliability Factor #2: Tire Choice

The strength of the tire bead is pretty important.  If the tire bead is weak, or tends to break, your tire could blow off the rim.  I've had it happen before.  Not fun.  Some tires work better than others.  A lot of tires out there that are not marketed as tubeless ready are very good.  I've experimented and found numerous tires that work well:


Tire: Rating (1-5) Comments
Michelin Jet 4 Sidewalls seem a bit less durable
Michelin Mud2 5 Works awesome.  Sidewalls a little weak when the tire gets aged
Kenda Kommando 4.5 Solid tire, perhaps a bit less supple than the others
Schwalbe Racing Ralph 5 Temperamental mounting.  Do it right or you will have problems
Maxxis Raze 3 Trouble sealing/burping, but I'd like to have another try with this brand. 
Continental Twister Pro 1 Not a good tire.  Even worse for tubeless use.

Tires I'd like to try:

  • Specialized Captain
  • Continental Race and Speed
  • Everything Kenda
  • Clement PDX
  • Hutchinson tubeless tires

I'd like to try all of these tires, but my experimental trials are bound by personal budget and time available to tinker.  So when it comes time to buy another pair of tires, I'll get something from this list. 

Reliability Factor #3: Mounting

You really need to mount the tires the right way.  If you don't, you're just setting yourself up for trouble.  Having a tire hold air in your garage is NOT an indication of reliability.  If you skip either of these two steps, you're probably going to be disappointed.   So if you want to give it a legitimate try, do this:

  • Soap suds:  Brush soap suds on both sides of your tire.  This will help the tire bead pop into the right place, all away around, and seal up well.
  • Shake and Bake:  Once you add sealant, you need to shake the tires and lay them on their side for 5 minutes (each side 1-2 times).  

I would show you the videos I tried to make for this post, but they really suck.  Better to just go to notubes and check it out:

Road Tubeless Kit from Stan's NOTUBES on Vimeo.

De Ronde 2012

It's coming...

Ronde PDX - de ronde van west portlandia

2011 Blind Date #5

blind date 4_1I somehow managed to make it to all five Wednesday night races this year.  It was really fun. 

Tonight's race was okay, I guess.  I got the hole shot again, which makes three times out of five.  They award a bag of Stumptown "Hairbender" coffee beans for that, so I've won three bags and be well caffeinated this Fall.

I led the race for a little while, but three guys were soon on me like glue.  Eventually, they came around and rode off; I couldn't follow them.  But it was a good time, for sure.  They added some great chicanes to the course, and it was dry and fast.  I didn't even need to clean my bike after the race.

If you're in Portland, consider giving one of these races a try next year!

photo courtesy dmroth

2011 Blind Date #4

I really like these Wednesday night races.  They're pretty low key, and you can still get a race in without dedicating the better part of a day to it.  I left my house for the race 45 minutes before start time!

The course was fun, as always.  I lined up on the inside, but since I arrived to the 90 degree right-hander first, I got through it in front, accelerated, and "won" the hole shot Stumptown coffee bean prime.  There was a power climb on the back side that just kicked my butt, especially in the first few laps.  A group of guys formed in the front, and I was not on that train.  Once I got warmed up, I worked my way up and held the gap to under a minute, but I could not catch them.

I might be improving.  I felt better and I was able to go harder, but still not as hard as I would like.  I think a proper warmup and a good start this weekend will give me a better idea.  I also think my seat slipped down and I've been slowly inching it up every time I ride.  Time to get out the tape measurer and check for sure.

2011 Cross Crusade #3: PIR

pir3thumbPIR is always fun.  It's usually rainy for this venue, and the mud here is the good stuff:  Grade A cyclocross mud.   This year, however, we had dry ground and sunshine.  I guess that's okay. I'll admit is was nice not having to clean the bike after the race.

I started slow and kept riding pretty slowly until about 20 minutes to go.  Someone passed me and I finally switched on.  I rode fairly good after that, and started to feel like a bike racer again.  If I could do that from the start, I'd be elated.  I'm not there yet, but I felt something kinda good.  Good thing the race lasts a whole hour!

If I can make it to the race next weekend, it will be a fun one.  I like the course at Washington County Fairgrounds.  It's pretty flat and has some really fun twists and turns.  It's kind of like a cyclocross crit. 

I don't know how much longer my season will go.  It's possible I'll close it out with my favorite venue, Barton Park.  Maybe hit the USGP in Bend, but I'm just not sure I can do that.  I'm just going to enjoy what comes my way, and hopefully keep improving as I go.  This cyclocross stuff is pretty fun.

Photo: Dave Roth

2011 Cross Crusade #2: Ranier

After the barriersThe Ranier High School course is pretty fun.  Lots of long sweeping turns and some fast downhill sections.  It's also got this GIGANTIC hill that just goes up and UP and UP.   I don't like that part very much.

I was hoping to have a better race than last weekend at Alpenrose, along with no mechanical problems.  I might have done a little better, but I'm still very sluggish.   I'll keep plugging away, hope to keep improving slowly but surely.

As far as my race, I think I started near the middle of the group.  I felt pretty good in the start, getting clipped in okay and then really putting the pressure on the pedals.  That's when my chain skipped with a load CLUNK.  My foot came out of the pedal and I was in the middle of a charging pack straddling my top tube.  That sucked.  I have a new chain, new cassette and I just aligned the derailleur hanger the other day.  Everything was perfect in warm up, so maybe I got something stuck in there just before the start.  I don't know why it happened, but I'm glad I didn't crash and get ran over by 30 guys.  Sh*t happens.

Anyway, I got going again and saw a huge heard of racers in front of me.  I did okay for a while but then started to fade after a few trips up that damn hill. 

Where is that brake lever?I had a little crash about half way thorugh the race, and I broke my shifter's brake lever off.  Turns out I could still shift okay, but I had no rear brake for the rest of the race.  You can see it missing in the photo to the right.  Something new to fix!

So I finished the race, and I'm glad I did.  That hill didn't get any easier, but there was lots of fun corners and short hills that I needed practice on.

Next week is PIR.  It's a little more flat than these first two races, so we'll see what happens.

Photo courtesy  Shift Focus

2011 Blind Date #2

Oh yeah, this just happened!  Rain and MUD in the dark!  Holy cow, that was pretty awesome.

I took the hole shot and got a special prime of Stumptown coffee.  That was cool.  Then I slowly got passed by several people.  Jeff Standish and I had it out for a lap or two, that was pretty fun.  Riding in the heavy mud was great.  It's so good to have a ride like that under my belt already.  I think I'm getting better, slowly.  Must be patient.

Having a light would have been a good thing tonight.  I brought one, but it didn't fit on my 31.8 bars.  After half way through, it didn't matter anymore.  It took forever to get cleaned up in the dark but it's all good now.  What a blast.

2011 Cross Crusdade Grand Opening: Alpenrose

alpenrose3It's on!  Now that we have the first Cross Crusade race under our belts, the cyclocross season is officially in full swing here in Portland.  As is tradition,  the series started off at Alpenrose Dairy.  This is a great venue, and the course is always good and hard.  Today was no exception with a surprisingly heavy feeling course, with a lot of big bumps to inaugurate our backs into cyclocross mode.

I usually have a hard time here because it's the first big race of the season and I'm not really "in shape."   Further, this course requires a lot of "strength" and "conditioning" and "hard work," which means one must be "in shape."   I had an okay race, but nothing exciting.  Overall, I'd say it's a performance worthy of a "meh," but at least I wasn't anywhere near last place.

I reckon I felt better than I did at Barlow last weekend.  I had one minor crash, which hurt the ribs and I (in hindsight) kind of rode a little tenderly after that.  If I can keep the training going, I hope to catch up to a lot of my peers in a few weeks.  Just in time for the muddy races.  Until then, I've got to face the music and go up against a lot of guys who have worked harder and are more prepared than I am.  C'est La Vie.

It was nice to be out there again, to line up with a lot of the same faces I've seen in years past.  The crowds were wonderful.  I heard my name a dozen times every lap.  Totally rad.

Next week:  Ranier High School.  This is another course that requires "cardiovascular conditioning."  I'll probably go anyway.  At least the ridiculously big climb is partially paved and not that bumpy.  Goal:  keep improving, getting stronger and smoother.   I also really need to figure out my remounts.  I've been doing this for a long  time, and I think I've had 2-3 good ones in that time.  Somebody please help me.

Photo courtesy sosvelo

Alprenrose is tomorrow

The big season opener is tomorrow.  It's gonna be nuts. 

Still haven't gotten word from the doc about my rib/s.  It's probably fine.  Still hurting, but I went for a good ride on Friday and everything  but standing was quite bearable.   No problem.

See you at Alpenrose, 1500 crazy cyclocross racers.  My goal is to not get last place.  Totally doable. 

2011 Blind Date #1

blind date 1_1I made it to the first Blind Date cyclocross race Wednesday night.  Since it wasn't until 8:00, and I was able to go straight after soccer practice.  It worked out pretty well.

I felt better in this race.  A lot better than Sunday.  I was sitting in 2nd place for the first lap and a half before I went down hard after lapping wheels in a corner.  It hurt like crazy.  It took me a while to get up, and then get the bike operable, but I kept going and was still in an okay position I think.  A few laps later, my left crank fell off.  That wasn't very awesome.  I went and got a wrench, tightened back on and kept riding for another 5 or 6 laps.  I lost probably almost 10 minutes doing that, so I'm sure I got last place, but at least I was the fastest DFL'er of the day.

I had a lot of mechanical mishaps today.  Crank fell off, and then the stem came loose from the steerer in my crash and kept slowly turning more and more sideways as I rode.  I finally had to stop and straighten it out after it got beyond 30 degrees out of alignment.  Kind of trippy to look down and see your bars so sideways!  My seat slipped down, too.  But that's fine.  I should have everything dialed in on both bikes by Sunday.

I'm hurting pretty bad today.  I am hoping I didn't crack a rib, but I have a feeling that's what happened.  My daughters were enjoying seeing daddy writhing in pain when they made him laugh.  I'm waiting on x-rays to see, but all that will really give me is a time frame for how long until I'm feeling better. 

The good part is I felt good out there.  I am not going fast, but I was faster.  I was quite comfortable on the bike, especially in the corners.  It was my first ride on tubeless tires this year.  My oh my, I've missed them so.  I'm trying a new tire out for this dryer weather.   I only had it on the front but it will be on both wheels this Sunday.

So I'll fix things up and hopefully make it to Alpenrose for the Cross Crusade kickoff!  You can't stop me.  You can't!  Ow.

Photo courtesy Dave Roth,

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