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By Andrew Juskaitus, VeloNews technical editor
Here’s a quick update on my earlier reporton Michelin’s announced plans to begin testing its tubeless road tiretechnology.I also wanted to thank all those readers who sent in additional questionsfor me to ask Michelin’s Steve White when I finally managed to corner himon the phone. As luck would have it, White called me early this morningto clear-up my questions.The following is an edited transcript of our discussion:
VeloNews: Steve, how easy will it be to seat and inflate a tubelessroad tire? I’m also curious how regular riders might be able to patch andreinflate tubeless road tires out in the field?Steve White: I need to first clarify that the production versionsof our tires are still far from being finished. I can only provide answersto your questions based on feedback from initial testing prototypes andwhat we as Michelin hope to achieve with this tubeless road technology.That said, the feedback I’ve heard from our testers indicate seating andinflating our tubeless road tires should be as easier, or even easier insome cases, than a tubed tire. I know some riders have experienced difficultieswith inflating UST mountain bike tires, but consider that the road rimwe’ll be using with our road tires is much narrower than a UST mountainbike rim. This means the tire beds won’t have far to “travel” to slip intothe airtight bead locks. We’re hoping to make the inflation process aspainless as possible-even with a hand pump when out on the road. As faras repairing a flat on the road, we haven’t yet finalized how riders willbe able to achieve this. Certainly a patch will work, but we’re also workingon another solution which might be far easier to work with when at theside of the road. I’ll know more shortly.VN: Will the tires be lighter than conventional road tires?
SW: Again, we’re far off from consumer-version production, butI’ve been told the weight of our tubeless road tires will be either thesame or just slightly more than a traditional tube/tire configuration.The special rim Mavic is working on might also be slightly heavier (becauseof the aggressive bead locks) than a traditional clincher rim. If thereis any weight difference, that will be the small price to pay for the improvedride quality and slower/safer leakage in the case of a penetrating flat.
VN: Will riders be able to run sealant in these tubeless tires?
SW: Although I’m not aware that we’ve done any ride-testingof running sealant, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t run some typeof sealant in these tires. Even with the higher pressures, it would probablybe a good idea (if you’re willing to run increased rotational weight).VN: How different will the new tubeless rims be from currenttechnology. Current Mavic rims (such as Ksyrium) don’t have internal spokeholes which effectively makes them tubeless compatible right now. Willthe new rims feature significantly more-aggressive bead locks, or willcustomers be able to use their current wheels with the new tires?
SW: Because the tires are running such high pressure we’ve hadto work with Mavic to design a completely new bead lock on their rims.Consider that most racers prefer to run 110-120 psi in their tires, thenadd considerably more pressure from the heat of a descent, and you’re talkingabout a lot of pressure now. Regular tire beads and traditional clincherrims couldn’t safely handle these pressures, so we designed much more aggressivebeads on our tires, as did Mavic with its tubeless road rim. Racers willhave to buy/build new wheels to run our tubeless tires.Some reader’s questions for Steve White:VeloNews Reader: What are the benefits of going tubeless on theroad?
SW: Our research has shown that a traditional tube and tireconfiguration causes measurable friction when rolling down the road. Ifwe can eliminate the tube, this will improve the efficiency of our tiresby decreasing the rolling resistance. Also, puncture flats will leak moreslowly allowing racers to ride longer until support reaches them, or possiblymake it back to the pits in a criterium.VNR: Will the tires ride like tubulars?
SW: All I can say now is that because the tires don’t have theinternal friction of a tube moving around inside them, they ride totallydifferent then a standard tire/tube configuration. We’re hoping the racerswe have testing them tell us they ride even better than a tubular.VNR: When can I get them?
SW: We’re going to race them in 2004, and possibly make themavailable for the 2005 season. Only when our testing is 100 percent completewill we offer them for sale to the public.Technical Editor’s Note: I received many e-mails asking why Michelinis calling its technology “new” when Tufo has been producing “tubeless”tires for some time now? The Tufo semi-tubular clincher tires are differentfrom Michelin’s technology for a number of reasons. First, the Tufo tiresare essentially tubular tires with clincher “wings” to allow them to beinstalled on clincher rims. The Michelin tires are completely “open” clincherswhich can be patched like a traditional tube tire-Tufo cannot be easilyrepaired. While it’s true the Tufo tires are “tubeless” because of theairtight lining that is utilized inside the tire, they mimic the buildof a tubular tire (which run a inner tube sewn inside them). Michelin’snew tire has no tube, only an airtight coating on the inside of the tire-theairtight rim completes the other “half” of the tubeless chamber.