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Hi folks

It's time to upgrade from clinchers, so I'm looking for recommendations for tubeless or tubular wheelsets. I'm getting a lot of peer pressure from friends to go with tubeless but I also see those same people having beads popping off during races, and needing to do lots of "experimentation". I just want wheels that work right the first time. Here are the parameters:

  • cost: $500 (without tires)
  • rim brakes
  • rider weightL 165 lbs on the high side. Will use it for cross racing, but still training on my clinchers
  • I don't want to do a tubeless conversion unless I can be convinced it will "just work" the first time, in keeping with my cross racing philosophy of always keeping it simple.

Opinions? Thanks in advance!

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It's hitting critical mass out here, surely partly due to my influence with some buddies, but for the first time ever last season, we had a cx ride (7 or 8 people?) and everyone was riding tubeless.

There's a reason top-level pros are racing tubulars - the do provide a supple ride, and often don't have to glue themselves, and even at times are never far from support on training rides. If budget was no concern, I didn't have to spend all the time gluing, and I never flatted in training, I'd always ride tubulars too (well, except for summer when I ride fatter tires than tubulars come in).

Some people even love the process of gluing.

You can see where I'm going with this, but tubeless works great if you get the right combo. I've had the luxury of trying a lot more tires and wheels than most. Issue 22 also has some good detail on tubeless variables. But because of the ability to change treads, cost, flat resistance (pinch, glass, thorns) and 85% of the low pressure benefits of tubulars, I'm a big fan of tubeless for busy amateur cyclocrossers who aren't afraid to get messy with a little sealant, be anal with setup (as much as you'd need to with tubulars) and pay attention to variables. 

Good luck! Keep us posted on what you end up with. If you go tubeless the best advice I can give is just because it says tubeless doesn't mean it's great for low pressure cx. There's mtb, road, and cx tubeless. CX is the hardest but it really does work. 

Hi Andrew

Thanks for being the voice of dissent here. I'm leaning pretty hard toward tubulars given cost (I can go with a used set on the cheap) and the fact that I really intend to only race them (and admittedly try them out at cross practice some nights). So wheel support will always be nearby. 

That said: what are the real options for tubeless rims for CX? Stans Alphas, and... what else? I'm looking at $850-1000 for a single wheelset and the used market is pretty slim.  I do see lots of Shimano and Fulcrum tubeless wheelsets on eBay but I have the impression they're road only, not really for cross.  Beyond that, there's the WTB rims to try but I'd still have to build it up into a wheel (basically the same cost as buying a complete wheelset from Stans.)

I'm surprised NOBODY including me said it, but TUBELESS is the hands-down winner in terms of cost. Your options:

1) use existing wheelset and a DIY strip or buy Stan's NoTubes cx rim strips (make sure they're the right width).

2) buy a great used wheelset, as you might do with tubulars, but one that you know will work well with tubeless (I can help a bit);

3) buy/build a tubeless-ready wheelset, starting with rims. WTB is an option as you mention...I don't actually think the Alpha is a top-end tubeless option (the Iron Cross is but is disc) but it comes down to tires and tire choice. For example, Road Tubeless wheels work great in cx but only with two brands of tires since the bead interface is so critical... American Classic's Tangent rims have been great so far with a Kenda SCT rim. Perhaps the best we've tested. Industry Nine been working well too. 

if you want tire choice, conversions are the way to go. The fact that the Kenda-sponsored NoTubes team does not use the SCT tires should tell you something:

all three options will be way, way less that $850. and you can find used clincher wheelsets often far cheaper than tubulars (typically because tubulars = racing = higher end components).

with the $850 budget, you could come out of this with 2-4 pairs of tubeless-ready wheels if not more. list your existing clincher wheels and I can comment on your specific options. 

I interpret your desire to make the wheel/tire change to get increased speed and/or less flats, not to save weight. you can gain a lot of speed by being able to run lower pressure, even on your existing wheelsets. a good number of my teammates had new tubulars ready for the season but never glued them up to race this past season simply because tubeless was working well for them and it was far easier to race/train on the same tire, same tread, at the same pressures. there's something to be said for that.

don't get me wrong - I love the ride of tubulars - and many tubular-related companies do business with CXM - but for my own personal racing goals, time constraints and budget, tubeless is the way to go. your desire though for a tubeless setup "to just work" should also apply to tubulars - and in my experience, getting a rim and tire combination to have a super strong hold has as many variables as tubeless because of different profiles of base tape, tire shape and rim shape. 

I think with the flurry of recent responses regarding the viability of tubeless, the one thing I'd emphasize is that cost is not the reason to go tubulars. There are many valid reasons to go with tubulars, but cost is probably one reason NOT to go that route, whether from wheels (comparing new to new or used to used) or tires. Good luck! 

I have ridden and raced tubeless since 2007, with tubulars mixed in thanks to the luxury of riding many different bikes and wheels. As has been mentioned by several, both can work well with the right setup.  How many times have I seen rolled tubulars?  too numerous to mention.  How many times have I seen brand new $100 tires ruined in the first laps?  Lots.   OTOH, I've seen failed tubeless setups just as many times if not more.  Cyclocross tubeless is relatively new, but as it has become established, the setups are more reliable.   Here is what we know:

road tubeless is NOT even close to the same as CX tubeless, the latter being more akin to mountain bike tubeless, which is now proven successful.  If you stick to established CX tubeless setups, you will be successful at your weight (addressing the OP here).

What I have found so far:  Stan's rims work VERy well,  but NOT the Alpha series that was designed for road tubeless. Use the  Iron cross or Crest, though neither is for rim brakes specifically.  INdustry 9 Torch i25 seems just as good. WTB ChrisCross i19 or Frequency i19, but specifically with the WTB CrossWolf tire (I just haven't tried other tires on this rim yet) is also reliable .  IN general, tubeless ready tires will be more plug and play reliable than converted tires.  Vittoria TNT, Specialized 2Bliss, Kenda SCT, and Hutchinson tubeless all seem good.  

Other rims look promising (American Classic Argent and Easton EA90XD- see Issue 22), and more are coming out.  More tubeless ready tires are coming out.  

I look at my wheelsets and my tubeless setups (even some conversions using rim strips) are my "reliable" wheels for off road or mixed terrain rides. I have more tread choices and the tires are cheap.  I can change tires the night before and not worry about the glue setting.  I race them with confidence that I will finish, with less worry about a flat.  if I flat in the middle of nowhere, in the best case, tire will seal; in the worst case, I can always put a tube in to get home.

However, I appreciate tubulars.  The rims are slightly lighter than their clincher counterparts (and because mine are carbon!).  I can ride a flat tubular for a long time.  They can be run at ultimately lower pressure (the low end for tubeless for me is 20, for tubulars 18, but I don't like either that low anyway)  More typically I'll run a tubular at 23-25 and a tubeless at 27-30, depending on the tire, just because I like the way it feels.   I cannot change tires on a whim, reliable gluing is a couple of days. Tires are more expensive, and arguably less durable (I would not slam down a rocky trail on my tubulars---well, maybe if I was using tubeless tubulars!)

You can make your choice, but don't discount tubeless, and I wish others wouldn't make blanket statements that one is superior to another.  

I used the Alpha 400's last year with with Kena Slant Six SCT's down to 20lbs (I weigh 145lbs) with no burping at all.  I will be going disc this year and  had disc hubs laced into the  400's and will also be running a the Crests from my mtn bike with another tread patter (not sure of what yet).  What issues did you have/see with the Alpha rims when used for cross?

Even NoTubes does not recommend running the Alpha's for cross without a rimstrip.  If you buy their rubber strip then they are essentially bulletproof.  If you don't want that hassle, the IronCross has no such issues ... but it has its own.  On the other hand, for disc wheels they are outstanding and if you never intend to throw road tires on them (pressure limitation) they are great.


I raced all of this years GACX series on Ultegra wheels, with Vittoria XG TNT tires, and Kenda Kommando SCT tires. I had really good results with this set-up. No burps, no punctures. I didn't necessarily run crazy low tire pressure, but the coarse's where much smoother tubeless than with tubes. Tire pressure depended on the race coarse, but I follow the rule "if you don't bottom out at least once, your pressure is too high". I also weigh 165 lbs. Iv'e seen Ultegra wheelsets online go for $400

oof, tough call.  Lots of good points here.  First, tubular wheels are cheaper than tubeless if you are not going carbon.  Tubular tires are not.  I run Iron Cross rims on my singlespeed and they have been bullet-proof.  I built the wheels out of some inexpensive hubs and they are sweet.  Tire choice is somewhat unlimited.  However, some work better than others (as noted by Andrew) and some just don't work.  Not mentioned by many but the Bontrager CX tires mount up really easy and hold well at low pressure.  Another note - you CANNOT use Iron Cross rims on the road - max pressure is 45psi and that is pretty much a hard limit - I have blown off more than one tire by going over.  I do call partial BS on everyone that claims easy tire changes ... these are not clinchers ... tire changes are easier than tubulars but it is both a messy process AND with many combinations, takes time for the sealant to seal the bead.  I would never just swap tires and then go race ... I like to give them at least an hour (over night is better) to ensure that everything worked "this time".

On the other hand, my regular race wheels are some Major Tom tubbies ... I overkilled the hubs as I got a great deal on some DA.  Waste of money - use inexpensive hubs as they will never see a lot of miles but they will see a lot of abuse due to conditions.  You can find or build decent tubular wheels for under $300 all day long.  You need 2 sets (preferably 4) and that is where the cost comes.  In your case either find 2 sets of tubulars and run all conditions to muddy tires (my favorites are the PDX) or just stick with tubeless, forget about the other guys and have fun.

super good point on the tubeless tire changes! easier and faster than tubulars, but "not clinchers".  Awesome.

Thanks Marc.  The OP just picked up my Major Tom/Ultegra wheels.  He's going tubular, dude.

Know it's a done deal but throwin' in my $0.02. 

Stans Iron Cross (brand new from Performance Bike(!!) $529 - 20% sale). Stans Ravens ($51x2). Total: $525.

Ran 27-30psi 175# rider. Not one problem. Pretty much all bumpy hard-pack except long mud pit at San Jose SupCat but still these tires still powered through. I am ready to buy a second identical setup. Hmm carbon Iron Cross' coming soon?!


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