At the Bench: Gluing Tubulars

The first time I ever glued a set of tubular tires onto rims, I did so with no instruction from any of my co-workers. Given that all of my co-workers were employed by a bike shop, asking one of them—the head mechanic, for instance—would have been a judicious move.

How hard can it be? You have a tire, a rim and a tube of glue. I mean, I’d been using various forms of glue since around the time I was potty trained.

I grabbed a tube of one of the couple of brands the shop carried—Tubasti—which has the drying speed and consistency of rubber cement, and asked it be added to my tab for the week. I then placed a wheel in the truing stand—that much I’d seen a co-worker perform. I then added glue to the spans of rim between the spoke holes; a buddy had told me to avoid getting any glue in there as it would make truing the wheels harder.

By the time I’d finished both wheels, I was not quite half-way through the tube. Because I didn’t want any glue on the brake track of the rims—I’d already heard how glue on a rim can make brakes grabby as a toddler to a pile of Legos—I made sure the glue pooled in the middle of the rim. My gluing job couldn’t have couldn’t have kept the green on grass.

The good news is the wheels were mine, so the entirety of the resulting road rash was mine as well. No faithful customers were harmed in the making of this little fiasco. You can hear more of my story in the first episode of our new podcast, The Crash!, shortly.

The upshot is that months later, after moving to New England, I signed up for the Advanced Mechanic’s Course taught by Bill Farrell at the New England Cycling Academy. Farrell, an educator by mission and temperament, invented the first fitting system based on actual anatomy, The Fit Kit. In addition to learning how to fit riders, I also learned that when it comes to gluing tubulars, one tube = one tire, rather than my .25 per tire equation.

Farrell’s opening observation about tubular glue was that if you tried to put all of that glue on a rim at once the victim and the victim’s victims would have glue dripping from every limb and garment on their bodies. I pictured Wile E. Coyote with an ACME product, then shivered.

The method Farrell taught, and one I refined after spending some time with Doug Hatfield at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., was to use an acid brush to apply a thin layer of glue to the rim after roughening the surface with a wire brush. While letting that layer dry, I’d then brush a layer of glue onto the base tape of the tire—down to every last square centimeter. As that dried, I’d return to the rim and apply a second layer of glue and let it dry. If the base tape didn’t look saturated—that is, if I could still see some white of the base tape—I’d apply another thing layer to it, but that usually only happened with the thicker Vittoria red glue. My last step would be to apply one more thin layer of glue to the rim and after letting it dry for 20 minutes or so, I’d begin to stretch the tire onto the rim.

The other pro trick a friend taught me was to take an old rim, preferably one that had been crashed or had a flat-spot in it, and stretch a new tire that had not been glue, onto it, and then pump the tire up to 140 psi to make sure it was stretched as much as possible. That one step made mounting glued tires notably easier.

The upshot is that I can say I have only ever suffered one rolled tubular in the hundreds of tires I glued over the years. My bosses at subsequent bike shops trusted my work enough to offer it as a premium service. In New England, most shops refused to offer tubular gluing as a service because inexperienced riders could drag brakes on long descents to the point that they would melt the glue and roll a tire in a turn, and then would blame the shop for their lost skin, not their timid descending. Monday-morning quarterbacking that was a tree with no fruit.

So while I’m proud to say that I never rolled another tire and no one for whom I ever glued a tire rolled one, it’s also true that my tires were so well-glued that if I flatted on a ride, I made the call of shame; my first step in removing the flatted tire was to leave it in a hot car for several hours, just to soften the glue, and preserve the skin on my thumbs.

Image: Park Tool

If we could pay our contributors in patched tubulars, we would. Unfortunately, no one—except the author—still rides tubulars. Please help us help them. Subscribe to TCI today.

Join the conversation
  1. markbeaver says

    Back in the 1980’s, when 3M Fastac adhesive briefly became popular for glueing on tubulars, we learned to leave one space between adjacent spoke holes 180 degrees opposite the valve stem bare of glue; so we could stick a tyre lever between rim and tubular to pry off the overly-adhered tire from the rim. Still do this today, with all glues.

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