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2020 Tour de France tech: Inside EF’s tubeless tire foam party

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2020 Tour de France tech: Inside EF’s tubeless tire foam occasion

At no different time in fashionable highway racing historical past has there been such a multi-pronged assault on the once-untouchable tubular tire. Nevertheless, with each group perpetually within the seek for free watts — and a growing body of evidence that ultra-fast-rolling tubeless and even tube-type clinchers now supply precisely that — there’s a definite absence of telltale tubular glue scent within the air at sure group pit areas.

Velocity isn’t all the pieces on this area, although, so there’s additionally been a shocking quantity of experimentation as groups and riders work out make varied clinchers work finest for his or her distinctive wants. The EF Training First group has maybe probably the most intriguing setup so far — and it includes a “sponge”.

Security first

One of many largest causes tubulars have continued so long as they’ve is as a result of they keep on the rim when flat, which is especially useful once you’ve obtained a puncture and may’t seize a spare wheel or bike straight away. Using on a deflated tubular clearly isn’t perfect, however the truth that it’s securely glued on to the rim is a giant plus for professional racers, as is the truth that the tire — even when flat — nonetheless covers the perimeters of the rim so the rider is much less prone to be rolling on naked carbon fiber or metallic.

Tubulars are nonetheless typically lighter than clinchers, nevertheless it’s additionally a giant draw for professional racers that they’re securely glued on to the rim so that they keep on whether or not or not there’s air strain inside. Picture: James Huang.

Clinchers, then again, aren’t almost as accommodating when ridden flat. Air strain is what holds the tire on the rim, in any case, and even when the tire manages to remain seated, the casing nonetheless tends to fold over, exposing the naked rim to the bottom.

The sealants sometimes utilized in tubeless setups can current issues, too. Most beginner riders have only one, or at the least some small quantity, of bikes at their disposal which might be ridden frequently. In distinction, professional groups have a whole lot of bikes and wheels readily available, a lot of that are mendacity fallow in a service course or truck, and with tires already put in. With a tubular tire, you’ll be able to reliably seize a wheel that’s been hanging from the rafters for a couple of months and be good to go. However with tubeless, the liquid latex sealant contained in the casing will possible have dried to some extent, which not solely diminishes the self-healing functionality within the occasion of a minor puncture, but additionally introduces a probably dramatic degree of imbalance that’s hardly fascinating when rocketing down an alpine col at 100 km/h.

In different phrases, tubeless setups are one more instance of how skilled racers’ wants will not be the identical as yours and mine.

Tire sealant has an annoying behavior of drying up over time. It’s a comparatively minor inconvenience for beginner riders, however it may be a giant drawback for professional groups. Picture: James Huang.

A bit of froth apparently goes a good distance

High-level groups are notoriously secretive relating to technical improvements they consider will give them even the slightest edge, however EF group rider Mitch Docker could have inadvertently spilled the beans throughout a current episode of The Cycling Podcast, wherein he interviews considered one of his group mechanics, Jac-Johann Steyn.

Steyn describes how EF is utilizing its Vittoria tubeless setups, and it’s something however typical. EF mainly isn’t actually utilizing sealant in any respect — at the least not in the way in which it’s usually used.

Tubeless highway tires are normally arrange with a small quantity of liquid latex sealant inside to make sure all the pieces stays hermetic, and to assist seal small punctures. EF is seemingly doing issues in a different way, although. Picture: James Huang.

“We put together the tires somewhat bit totally different to what they usually advocate to us,” Steyn stated. “We mainly brush the tires with sealant earlier than so it dries out. It’s similar to the small bubbles of air escaping, we simply seal that off. That’s one thing we’re experimenting with now, as a result of tubeless is clearly a brand new factor on the highway for us, simply to ensure, ‘is it working, is it not working, do we have to put sealant, will we not must put sealant?’ And in addition, for those who put sealant, like now, we’ve been off for 3 months, it dries out so we’ve got to alter the tires regardless that the tires are nonetheless model new.”

That method takes care of 1 drawback, however there’s nonetheless the problem of safety if and when the tire does go flat in the course of the race and the rider has no alternative however to hold on. And it’s right here the place EF’s method is especially intriguing.

“We’ve got, I name it like a sponge inside,” he continued. “I can’t go into element about it as a result of it’s at all times a secret to different groups, however yeah, that’s mainly our security and you may nonetheless experience it. You continue to have that little bit — it virtually feels such as you’ve obtained like two bars in your tires so you’ll be able to nonetheless experience with it wherever you have to go.

“That’s mainly the aim of that. It’s that can assist you get to some level the place you will get a brand new wheel. Sooner or later, I believe that’s what we’re going to go. And it’s additionally a security factor. Like for what we’re utilizing, for those who don’t use that foam insert and the tire’s deflated, and it comes off, you might crash.”

Docker himself confirmed the effectiveness of the group’s method when he described his expertise of getting a flat on the highway.

“It’s fairly good,” he stated. “I punctured yesterday and it was good. I didn’t know I had a puncture till I went round two corners and also you kind of felt the again slip out. You possibly can have ridden it fairly a good distance.”

Whereas Steyn certainly didn’t go into nice element on what precisely EF is placing inside its tires, it sounds comparable in idea to the froth inserts which have already been well-liked for years within the mountain bike world — gadgets like CushCore, Huck Norris, the Vittoria Air-Liner, and Effetto Mariposa’s Tyre Invader.

For many of those merchandise, the first profit is that it permits riders to run decrease air strain — thus bettering tire traction — with out worry of pinch-flatting or damaging a rim. Alternatively, liners that fill extra of the tire cavity, similar to CushCore and Air-Liner, additionally present extra casing assist in order that the tire feels extra secure that you simply would possibly in any other case anticipate at these decrease pressures.

Shrouded in thriller

What precisely the group is utilizing isn’t solely clear (and group representatives declined to remark once I requested for added data). The extra voluminous varieties of foam tire liners can be overkill in a highway scenario given the upper inflation pressures, so the extra fundamental ones — that are primarily simply higher-density strips of closed-cell foam spanning the width of the tire casing — appear extra possible given their decrease weights and really minimal impact on rolling resistance.

Nevertheless, one thing like a purpose-built and dramatically downsized CushCore insert that helps lock the tire beads on to the rim and cushions the rim from direct contact with the asphalt isn’t outdoors the realm of chance, both. Regardless, on condition that not one of the main tire insert firm at the moment affords one thing sufficiently slender for highway use signifies that EF is both utilizing one thing custom-built, or is serving as a take a look at mattress for a pending launch of a manufacturing product.

EF is one group that has been fairly bullish on tubeless highway tires. However thus far, all we’ve discovered on group bikes on the Tour de France are tubulars. Picture: Phil Golston.

Both means, it’s price stating that EF doesn’t seem to have really made use of this “sponge” in this year’s Tour — from what I can inform, the group has reverted again to conventional tubulars for these earlier levels. Nevertheless, it’ll be attention-grabbing to see if this novel tubeless setup makes an look later, notably on stage 18, which features a little bit of gravel, or the person time trial two days later.

No matter EF is hiding inside its tubeless tires, this definitely looks as if an escalation by way of groups’ quests for a efficiency edge, and one which isn’t prone to decelerate any time quickly.

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