After a three year absence from InterBike, I decided that rather than aimlessly roaming the labyrinth of booths I would purposely seek out only the product in which I already had interest. Now that cyclocross season is on and the disc brake question already decided, we can go back to the cyclocross racers traditionally fave topic: tyres. Specifically, I wanted to see what was available now that the majority of companies had finally gotten onto the tubeless bandwagon.
Tubeless tyre development has been annoyingly misguided when it comes to non-mountainbike applications. Whether it be road, cyclocross, or the newest trend of gravel” (aka “all-road”, “adventure”), several companies or collaborations thereof have tried to bend the industry to their own design parameters but have fallen short of re-making the market in their own image. To date several similar and (in practice mostly interchangeable) standards have emerged. Shimano and Hutchinson pioneered road tubeless as a rigidly defined set of standards for rims and tyres which have nonetheless proven heavy and overly demanding on rim/tyre bead tolerances while also tethered to now-outdated fashions of (narrow) rim width. Ultimately the market has mostly abandoned the original road tubeless standard for tyres bigger than 28mm in favour of lighter and more forgiving designs, though the downside is that theres not much to reign in varying tolerances across the industry. Regardless, the newer designs mostly rely on liquid sealant to prevent air leakage and a contoured well inside the rims tyre cavity to aid in seating the tyre bead. These tyres are variously named tubeless ready, sealant compatible, and now tubeless easy among other phrases. The rims that they best fit have been heavily influenced by Stans NoTubes wildly popular rim designs.
Schwalbe Paris-Roubaix worthy S-One 30mm tubeless clincher
Initially developed more than a decade ago, the original road tubeless standard was designed around 23mm road racing tyres and ~20mm wide (~16 internal width) rims, typical at the time. Keep in mind that this predates the big cyclocross boom that came in the later 00s, so 30mm plus tyres were not at all at the forefront of product development. As cyclocross became an important segment, many innovators were eager to apply the knowledge and lessons gained with tubeless in the mountainbike realm. Now with the fast growing interest in so-called gravel bikes, theres even more potential to capitalize on tubeless in wider casings. In fact, the once assumed racing standard of 23mm race tyres has rapidly been losing favour to 25mm, and all recent road rim designs have drifted towards 23-25mm (external) width rims.