Coming unglued

I was charging up the narrow track, taking what Manslaughter later called “an aggressive line,” when the bike spun out, fishtailed, and stopped. Figuring I had run out of legs due to the severity of the pitch, I jumped off and started to push. The rear wheel wouldn’t spin.

I looked down and saw the reason. The rear tubular had come off the rim. I looked more closely as I reseated the tire and saw that the rim, which was new, had very little glue on it.

“I’m done for today,” I shouted up to Manslaughter, pushing the bike up the trail to where he waited, simultaneously pissed at ending the ride early and euphoric that it hadn’t happened going downhill.


I’d bought the wheels about a month ago, my first tubular rims since 2008, when I had sworn off them for good. Despite having ridden nothing but tubulars for almost thirty years, when I traded in my steel bike for a plastic frame, the new Specialized had come with Zipp clincher 404’s. I still remember talking to the sales guy.

“I’m not sure about clinchers,” I said.

“Dude, everyone uses clinchers. Tubulars have been dead for twenty years. No one even stocks them. They cost $80 each. They are a huge pain to glue on. No one has a spare if you get two flats in one ride.”

“Yeah, but I kind of like them … ”

“It’s not ‘back in the day’ anymore. Time rolls on. The new clinchers are just as good as tubies, and in some cases better. And they’re cheaper. And they last forever.”

He had me at “cheaper,” and I think he knew it. “I suppose it’s time to ditch the whole tubular thing and move into the new century,” I reasoned, for no good reason.

When the first big clincher revolution came about in the late 1980’s, I had continued using sew-ups only because I didn’t know how to change a flat. It was easier to glue on tubulars, ride with an extra 15-lb. sew-up, and do the infamous tubular-flat road change than it was to learn how to deal with a simple clincher inner tube.

Junkyard still reminds me of the first time he ever saw me change a clincher flat, which happened to be the first time I’d ever done it. “Never, ever, ever saw someone try to put the tube on top of the tire. That was fuckin’ amazing.”

Still, I learned, and am now pretty darned proficient at changing clincher flats. I helped Tink get her tire changed about a month ago in less than thirty minutes.

And the old shall become new again

You can imagine how pissed off I was when I realized that tubulars were back in fashion, and for cyclocross, they weren’t simply in fashion, they made the difference between 37th and 38th place due to the lower tire pressure you can run. When it became clear that I would have to race ‘cross again this year in order to avoid being assigned house chores, I nutted up and bought a cheap set of tubular rims.

“37th, here I come!” I muttered gleefully.

Of course I’d thrown away all my tubular gluing equipment, which consisted of a busted stretching rim, a couple of coat hangers, a plastic baggie, and rim cement. Rather than reassemble this pro toolkit, I then made a mistake. I asked someone to glue the tires on for me.

It’s called “non-delegable” for a reason

Some things you delegate, and the older you get that becomes pretty much everything. But three things you never delegate: Having sex with your own wife, drinking your own beer, and gluing on your own tires. And if you have to delegate any of them, you better make damn sure that it’s #1 and #2 before you delegate #3.

Tire gluing is a non-delegable duty because when it’s done badly the result is almost always a catastrophic crash. If it’s the front tire, it’s guaranteed to be a bad crash. And if you’re riding with someone else, they’re probably going down, too. For me it was stupid luck that I happened to roll it on the uphill rather than going through the fast, steep, sharp, rocky, high-speed, plunging descent a few hundred yards ahead.

When I asked the friend to glue on my tires I had known I was making a mistake, because even though someone else can have just as good sex with your wife as you can (probably better), there’s simply no way they will care as much as you do about gluing on your tires. Why is this? It’s simple. The more glue you put on the rim, the more of a hassle it is. With a big schmear of glue you have to either hang up the wheels for a few hours to let the glue harden, or you have to try and put on the tire (which itself has a nasty bead of sticky shit all around it) and risk covering everything in glue.

When I say “everything” I don’t mean the obvious — rim, tire sidewall, maybe a dollop on the spokes. When a gluing session goes south you get glue on the floor, your feet, your teeth, underneath your nails, your hair, your glasses, your hubs, your tools, your palms, and, in a complete meltdown, on the interior of the wall that you punch through screaming in frustration. The friend who is gluing on your tires, even for a fee, doesn’t love you enough to coat himself in adhesive, and he’s probably trying to save some glue for his own wheels, and he’s not about to cover his workstand in mastic.

I knew all that.

I also knew that even for someone with the mechanical aptitude of a newt, this was the one mechanical failure that is typically both catastrophic and ALWAYS YOUR FAULT. You either did a shitty job gluing on the tire, or you delegated it to someone without first making them screw your wife and drink your beer.

Settling up

So when I contacted my buddy to let him know what had happened I wasn’t surprised when he said, “Sorry.” There was nothing for me to say, because regardless of how it had happened, it was my fault.

Not having glued on a tire in several years, and never having glued on a ‘cross tire, I made a fair mess of it, slathering glue on the sidewall of one tire, and gluing on the rear tire with the tread pointing in the wrong direction. But it took two full tubes, and the next day when I hit the trail at full gas with Tumbleweed, the Gooseman, and Google Wills, I did it knowing that whatever mechanical I had, it wouldn’t be a rolled tire.

And it wasn’t.

21 thoughts on “Coming unglued”

  1. Im glad tire gluing isnt in the workbook for the Cycling merit badge. I can only imagine the horror on the parents faces when their kid comes home with mastic covering 95% of their body. Gluing should be left to skilled, married, beer drinking adults.

  2. Ah yes, the days of glue. I remember well the last tire I glued. I was renting an apartment in Century City that was white. That means white walls, white carpet, white furniture. Well, it was white until it was tinged with brown glue. That stuff is like The Blob, it just continues to multiply. You were not exaggerating when describing all the places that glue ends up.

  3. OK, Seth, sheesh, send me your tires and wheels and I’ll glue them on for you. Don’t send glue.

  4. Now you’re talkin’! Had to be done two days before the race. Essential tools for gluing include the truing stand, Clement Gutta, 3M Fastact, and time. The true fanatics also put a thin layer of the Fastack on the tire, before the 15-20 minute pause. The pause is filled with beer, or wine, and other substances, including potato chips…. by then the tire is properly stretched on the stretching rim (who didn’t have ten of those in their closet?), Using the truing stand to apply the gutta, then the Fastack, resulting in a ‘fesh’ job. Having purely centered tires with no evidence of crooked valve stems, sloppy spills on the rims, or sidewalls was a sure sign of a real bike racer. Do you remember Del Mundos and Paris Roubaixs for training and 230 and 250 g setas for racing….oh what fun(?) I rode to North Carolina on Del Mundos one summer. (Yes, that whole long distance thang…) Fast touring, fast training rides, motorpacing at 120 psi…

    1. Winemaker, evidently everybody did it the same. Oh, the memories! I limited my rims for streching to 3-7 depending on how much my mother complained about my hoarding. Clement 50’s and Roubaixs, Then on to 250 Setas. I finally had had enough with repairing sew-ups by 2003. Gluing was a walk in the park compaired to cutting the tires apart and sewing them back together. What a pain. I haven’t looked back.

  5. Hello fsethd-san,

    As a newbie here how do I get to the title index with associated dates so I can find previous posts?

    Is there a way to post photos or videos so they show up rather than just a URL?



    +1 mph Faster

    1. I have no idea about any of this … I guess you just copy and paste the URL, not sure. I don’t post video or photos due to copyright law.

  6. Oh ….. and after riding sew-ups for years I am all clinchers now and sew-ups (and the glue) are gone forever …… unless ………. you could convince me that I could go measurably faster with sew-ups ……….. I am waiting for a tubeless that has a good Crr … or some novel airless solution that does not flat.



    +1 mph Faster

    1. Yeah, I’m all clinchers, too, except apparently now that I’m not. Naturally, after all that fuss, I flatted in today’s raced and DNF’ed. More glue time ahead.

  7. I’ve observed well-respected, local bike shop mechanics taking what I consider unacceptable shortcuts, on tubular gluing.

    I *might* consider letting a UCI Protour mechanic glue my tubulars … but even then I’d be wary.

    I’d always rather glue my own, because its my face & teeth on the line.

    A properly glued tubular will stay on the rim more securely than a typical clincher after a puncture, a comforting thought when I’m in a crazed pack of wanker racers descending curvy roads at 45 mph.

  8. When more of us tubbies, fewer of us will need to carry two spares. Pros-tubu-lytize. It is the way.

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