How to Choose Between Clincher vs Tubeless Tires

Founder, Mr. Mamil

Bike tires can be a complicated subject. There are three main types of bicycle tires on the market today; clincher, tubeless, and tubular.

Each has its benefits and drawbacks. In this article, we’ll compare clincher and tubeless tires and discuss the pros and cons of each.

  • Clinchers have been the most popular type of tire for a long time. It’s constructed with a bead that hooks into the rim of a bike wheel. You remove the tire and replace the inner tube when during a puncture. Clinchers are sometimes referred to as folding tires.
  • Tubeless tires have recently become popular in road cycling and have been prized by mountain bikers for their better puncture-resistant qualities and ability to run at low pressures.

Key takeaways

Deciding on what tire type is right for you comes down to your riding type. 

  • Clinchers for general riding if you’re looking for an excellent all-around tire that requires the least fuss and expense in maintenance, installation, and repair. They’re the cheapest, easy to install, and offer many options at all prices.
  • Tubeless for improved comfort and lower rolling resistance. Running tubeless tires at lower pressures makes them a more comfortable ride.

Tire construction

The tire construction is what sets them apart. While both tires have a tread, casing, and sidewall, how they are tied together varies.

  • Clincher tire is made up of 2 separate pieces.
    • Tire casing wraps around the bead, usually constructed of steel or kevlar. The bead then hooks into the rim.
    • Inner tube is placed inside the tire and then mounted to the rim before being fully inflated. The tire cross-section is shaped like a U. A bead is built into each end of the U and circumvents the tire.
  • Tubeless tires are similar to automobile tires. They consist of a beaded tire with no tube attached to the rim. The air is held into the tire by applying a liquid sealant.

Wheelset compatibility

There are two common types of rim design in road bike wheelsets today. Clinchers and tubeless tires are cross-compatible to a certain extent, depending on the rim design.

  • Hooked rims are the most common and can be used with clincher and tubeless tires. If you’re using a tubeless tire on a hooked rim, you’ll need an inner tube, as the hooked rims are not airtight.
  • Hookless rims were introduced in 2020 when Zipp launched their Zipp 303 and 404 wheelsets. The rims have a smooth, rounded edge without a hook to hold the tires.

Check the wheels’ specifications, especially when it comes to hookless rims. Leading wheelset brands such as Zipp and Enve have a tire compatibility chart to ensure you use the correct tire model and size.

Tire weight

Clincher tires are lighter than their equivalent tubeless tires.

The weight difference usually ranges between 15% to 25%, depending on the tire model and brand. The table below shows the weight difference for some popular tire 28mm models available in both clincher and tubeless versions.

Tire modelClincher, 28mmTubeless, 28mmWeight difference
Vittoria Corsa G2270g310g40g
Schwalbe Pro One250g280g30g
Goodyear Eagle F1235g315g80g
Pirelli P Zero Race225g275g50g
Weight comparison between clincher and tubeless tire of the same model

Tire weight can be deceiving when viewed individually. Ideally, you want to view the weight as an entire wheel system; tires, tubes, and wheelset.

  • Clincher tires, while lighter, require an inner tube. An inner tube can weigh between 80 to 100g each. You can shave off some weight if you opt for latex instead of the standard butyl tubes.
  • Tubeless tires only require sealant and tire valves. The total weight is 10 to 20g, depending on the sealant amount and valve length.

The overall weight clincher and tubeless setup can vary significantly depending on your chosen setup.

Ride quality and performance

There’s much to consider regarding ride quality and performance tire type. And while much of this is subjective, there are some important characteristics specific to each tire type to point out. 

Rolling resistance (RR) is created by friction between the tire and the inner tube inside clincher tires. One of the well-known tricks among cyclists to minimize this is to rub some talcum powder in the inner tube before installing them.

Tubeless tires have lower roll resistance than clincher tires. This is due to the absence of the inner tube.

That said, there are some exceptions. Clincher tires with latex inner tubes eliminate the friction, resulting in a lower rolling resistance comparable to a tubeless tire.

More reading : The Differences Between Latex and Butyl Tubes

Puncture resistance qualities

Better puncture protection is perhaps the number one reason tubeless tires have become popular in recent years. 

Tubeless tires are more immune to the dreaded pinch flat.

A pinch flat is also known as a snake-bite puncture; the inner tube becomes pinched between the tire and the rim, resulting in two tiny telltale snakebite holes. 

Tubeless tires are paired with a liquid sealant to self-repair when punctured. The sealant will eventually dry out or dissipate, so you must top up periodically.

If a tubeless tire is gashed, it will spew all that sealant on your clothes and bikes, making for a complicated cleanup process. Worse, the poor guy behind you in the bunch will be splashed all over too.

Ease of tire installation

Most cyclists can install clincher tires easily by themselves.

It’s also one of the reasons why cyclists prefer clinchers, as it can be quickly replaced with a new inner tube from the saddlebag. The clincher tire only has to be partially removed on one side to replace the inner tube. Some can get it done in under 5 minutes, while others take up to 10 minutes or more. 

You’ll save time and energy if you inflate the tire using a CO2 inflator instead of a hand pump.

Installing tubeless tires can be a real challenge.

Although design advancements in tubeless tires and rim technology have made the DIY installation possible, it’s still not easy. 

To seat the tire bead correctly, you’ll need a strong gush of air which most standard floor pump is incapable of. Bike mechanics use an air compressor for this. Alternatively, you can also look for floor pumps with a chamber that stores the air up to 160psi before being released at once.

Besides, tubeless tires also require liquid sealants to create an airtight seal between the tire and the rim. This makes for a potentially very messy installation process.

More reading : How to Set Up Tubeless Tires

Tire pressure

Tubeless tires run at much low tire pressures.

This makes them especially advantageous to cyclists who run tires at low pressures to improve traction and shock absorption.

Tubeless wheelsets have a maximum tire pressure of 73psi, which is way below the minimum air pressure for clincher tires.

Clincher tires don’t have this feature, requiring a minimum air pressure to prevent the tire from coming off the rim. Attempting to run clincher tires at lower pressures is a recipe for disaster.

More reading : How to Find the Ideal to Road Bike Tire Pressure

Tire availability and choices

Clincher tires are widely available everywhere.

The variety of tires can be a significant factor in deciding which tire to use. Consider the budget you have to spend on tires and the performance and durability you need.

You can expect many variants of clincher tires, from low-end budget tires to high-end racing tires. You’ll also have many different manufacturers to choose from. They’re readily available from online retailers or at your local bike shop.

Tubeless tires may not be as ubiquitous as clincher tires, but that’s quickly changing.

You’re only likely to see them on high-end mountain bikes and some road bikes. However, the market for tubeless tires is growing quickly. With their advantages in puncture prevention and the ability to run lower tire pressure, tubeless tires quickly become the tire of choice for many cyclists.

Most tire manufacturers are increasingly adding new tubeless lines across the mid-tiered pricing range.

Tire costs

Clincher tires can be found in every price range.

As clincher tires are typically found on all entry-level bikes, expect to find many budget options here. There are many expensive high-performance clincher tires with lightweight advanced rubber compounds too.

Although inner tubes are generally inexpensive, they are costly as they must be replaced when punctured. You can save money by learning to patch and repair the tubes yourself.

Tubeless tires are more expensive than clincher tires.

This is because most models today are either in the premium range. As such, you find better rubber compounds in a tubeless tire than you will in a clincher tire.

As tubeless tires become increasingly popular, expect the price to come down as budget versions are made available. For now, however, expect to pay more for a tubeless setup.

Remember that you must also invest in a tubeless bike pump to save tire installation costs at the bike shop. Rim tapes and valves are also required for installation. In terms of ongoing costs, you will need to periodically top off the sealant in tubeless tires.

Alex Lee at Mr.Mamil

Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.

He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.