We're entering a new stage of the Clincher tyre vs Tubeless tyre debate...

It used to be the case that you chose your wheels and then you chose your tyres. With recent developments you may well need to chose your tyres first, as that can dictate what wheels you can get.

Zipp recently released two new wheelsets; the 303s and the 303 Firecrest. Both are tubeless only.

Enve have launched their new Foundation 45 and 65 which are tubeless only as well (the same as the more expensive 3.4AR and 4.5AR).

Conversely Roval recently released two flagship wheelsets (the 1270gm Alpiniste and the 50/60mm Rapides) which are clincher tyre only. They are expressly not suited for tubeless tyres.

Which is strange as Specialized have invested heavily in tubeless tyres, and the previous generation of Roval wheels (the highly regarded CLX range) were marketed as clincher AND tubeless compatible.

So apparently the customer is now getting less choice. And how can that be a good thing? Well, it's not quite that clear cut.

First a super quick overview of clincher vs tubeless:

above: Zipp's new 303S have been designed for tubeless only - no clincher here - which in this case means less material, and thus lighter weight at lower cost.

Clincher tyres are the familiar, long-established variety that everyone knows; you have a tyre and an inner tube and off you go.

Tubeless is, as its name suggests, a tyre that does not need an inner tube. You pump the tyre up, add a small amount of sealant, and the tyre and rim form a perfect lock so air does not escape.

The stated benefits of tubeless are greater ride quality, lower rolling resistance and improved puncture resistance... All good so far.

The issue lies in the fact that there is no official 'standard' for rims and tubeless tyres; all the manufacturers do their own thing. Some tubeless tyres go onto a rim easily, others are an absolute pig to install.

below: the overall construction of a "tubeless" tyre is not that different from a conventional clincher - the main visible clue is the additional outer strip running along the edge of the tyre, to form a tightly sealed airtight bond with the rim

I really like tubeless; and if you get a puncture it does (often) seal immediately with the sealant.

The issue is on the rare occasions it doesn't and you need to put an inner tube in. Let me tell you from personal experience a tubeless tyre is many times harder to get onto a rim than a normal clincher one. I can take a clincher tyre off with my fingers alone; I once spent 90 mins wrestling with a tubeless repair.

Tubeless has completely taken over the MTB scene and increasingly dominates the gravel/adventure world. But those tyres are 45mm+ wide and you'll be runnning relatively low pressures in the 18-30PSI range

That's very different from a road bike with 25-28mm tyres and higher pressures at 80+ PSI.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that road tubeless is very, very hard to get right; and the issue if it goes wrong can be catastrophic at those higher pressures.

So the fact that wheel brands are now starting to say "pick a version and optimise for it", rather than trying to compromise and be all things to all people, is actually a good thing in my eye.

below: Roval's ultralight Alpinist wheelset is clincher-only, and by concentrating on just one type of tyre interface they've been able to keep the weight down.

If you look at a clincher and a tubeless tyre construction they are very different. Compromise is the enemy of performance; by designing rims around one type of tyre they can make huge performance gains.

The new Zipp 303 Firecrest is both cheaper and 150gms lighter than its predecessor; Zipp put this down to being tubeless only, with less material required to obtain the same stiffness and strength, as opposed to trying to cover all the bases.

Similarly Roval's Alpinist wheelset weighs in at just 1270gms; and that's for a disc brake clincher wheel. That'd still be considered light for a rim braked tubular!

Again Roval said that because they made the wheel inner tube only (and not tubeless compatible) they could make it lighter...

Of course there are still wheelsets you can buy that are both clincher and tubeless compatible, the Enve SES range (with their notoriously fussy tyre compatibility) and the DT Swiss road range are just two examples. But I think going forward wheels are increasingly going to go "either/or".

In much the same way most of the latest bikes are now designed from the ground up to be Disc brake only. It's much easier for product engineers to design a bike for one braking system than to create a platform which needs to take disc brakes on some models and rim on others. The few exceptions, like the latest Dogma F12, might look similar between disc and rim versions, but are created as almost completely separate bikes, such are the differences in construction required.

below: Vittoria's Corsa G2.0 tyres use a tightly-woven, super-supple 320TPI casing to give a plush ride quality even when running tubes.

So, tubeless or clincher: Which should you buy? The million dollar question!

There is no right answer across the board; there are people who swear by tubeless and will never go back. Others who think it's still an immature technology on the road scene...

My personal view is that for high performance racing/events where you are on 25-28mm tyres and running reasonably high tyre pressures a good clincher and inner tube is hard to beat. Particularly with the latest generation of 320TPI casings, super supple and responsive, such as the Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton or Vittoria G2 range.

If you are looking for increased compliance, with wider tyres on a wider rim running at lower pressures (i.e. at least a 28mm tyre which measures 31mm when inflated on wide rims) then tubeless becomes very attractive.

Or to put it another way; for an Alpine event or on my aero race bike I will run 26mm Turbo Cottons.

And for my endurance/ultra bike I will be on 32mm GP5000 tubeless.

Ultimately it's good to have the choice. Either option will work, and is perfectly practical when properly implemented. But compromise is pretty much always a bad thing when it comes to cycling, especially when you're trusting your life to a thin strip of rubber at high speeds. So making the choice at point of purchase seems a far more practical approach than designing wheels to accept both systems and making a compromised choice later on.