FMB Tubulars

Even in these troubled times, most of us continue to ride our bikes, at least here in North America. We’ve been encouraged that even during the ‘shelter-in-place’ in the San Francisco Bay Area, solo bike rides continue to be permitted.

Over the last year, we’ve worked on re-introducing FMB tubulars to the North American market. FMB tubulars perfectly complement to our Rene Herse clinchers. They feature similar no-nonsense tread patterns for road, dirt and mud. FMB’s three casings all offer supple performance, but they vary in their degrees of sidewall protection.

If you’ve watched the Spring Classics, you’ve seen FMB tubulars in action. These are the tires that professional racers buy with their own money for races that really count. Races where the best tires can make the difference between winning or not finishing at all.

I met François Marie, the owner of FMB (François Marie Boyaux), many years ago. We did a feature for Bicycle Quarterly on his small shop in Brittany, where he and his small team make the world’s best tubular tires by hand, one by one.

François explained how the tire tread is glued onto the inflated casing, so there are no inbuilt stresses. Most hand-made tubular tires are glued on a flat table. When a ‘flat-glued’ tire is inflated, the tread is stretched into the convex shape. And when the tire deforms as it rolls over the surface, the tread wants to resume its original, flat shape. Stretching it back into the convex shape with each wheel revolution takes extra energy.

As part of Bicycle Quarterly’s tire tests, we tested the performance of two otherwise identical hand-made tires: one with the tread glued to the inflated casing; the other flat-glued. The tire that had its tread glued to the inflated casing – like FMB’s tubulars – was significantly faster.

Why aren’t all tubulars glued on an inflated casing?

First, you need a large number of wheels – one for each tire that is in production at a given time. So this technique can be used only for small-scale production.

Second, you can push down only so much on the inflated casing, and the glue bond requires optimum conditions to be durable. This is fine in Brittany, where it’s rarely hot and humid – but this technique does not work well for making tubulars in tropical southeast Asia. When the production of most hand-made tires moved away from Europe, treads started to separate from the tires, and makers switched to ‘flat-glued’ construction.

As an aside, Rene Herse tires (and most other clinchers) are made in large tire molds, so their tread also naturally assumes its final, convex shape.

Why tubular tires? A tubular (top) has a round casing, so it can deform around most of its circumference. A clincher (bottom) is constrained by the rim on one side, so it’ll deform only on three sides. So the tubular is more supple, more comfortable and faster on rough surfaces.

My FMB tubulars are one big reason why I love cyclocross. The feel of relatively narrow and yet incredibly supple tires rolling over soft surfaces is intoxicating. There is little that compares to it.

On the road, tubular tires transform a narrow-tire racing bike: Gone is the chatter that you get with narrow clinchers, replaced by supple comfort and supreme grip. That’s why professional racers have used supple tubular tires for almost a century now. And it’s no secret that for special races, professionals mount FMB tubulars, even though they have to pay for them. (FMB puts their sponsor’s logo on the sidewalls.)

A second advantage of tubulars is their resistance to pinch flats, because tubular rims have a flat profile that distributes the load and doesn’t easily pinch (or cut) the tire. Tubeless technology has allowed clinchers to catch up somewhat here, which is why tubulars aren’t an absolute necessity for tough races any longer.

FMB tubulars come with three casings. Their standard casing is made from cotton. It offers superb all-round performance. The silk casing (above) is the ultimate you can find in tubulars, both in performance and supple comfort. And the reinforced, green PRO casing is intended for extra-tough conditions.

FMB tires haven’t been available in North America for a while. Now we are excited to announce that Rene Herse Cycles is now the exclusive North American distributor for FMB tubulars. We have a large selection in stock, from the ultra-light 23 mm Performance TT (280 g) to the 30 mm-wide Paris-Roubaix that has been ridden to countless victories on the cobblestones of the Spring Classics.

We also offer FMB’s fabled cyclocross tubulars. There is the Sprint 2 with its minimalist tread pattern for optimum speed on dry courses…

The Grippo Speed has a more pronounced knobs for added traction.

The Slalom’s elongated knobs are said to offer superb cornering grip. The green tire you see above has the reinforced PRO casing – designed for races and rides where the more supple cotton or silk casings might suffer from sidewall cuts.

And finally, there is the venerable Super Mud. It’s my favorite FMB tire: The small knobs grip tenaciously in mud, and the large open spaces in between prevent the tread from clogging up.

All FMB tires are made to order, and we’ve even asked for a few silk Super Muds. I can’t wait to ride a set on my Alan cyclocross bike – my original (cotton) Super Muds finally have reached the end of their life after 7 seasons of racing. Yes, you read that right – seven years! My FMB tires have proven surprisingly durable (and 100% flat-free), but I have to admit that I rarely have time to race a full season.

Even though the UCI limits cyclocross tires to 33 mm, FMB makes 34s for those renegades who aren’t limited by UCI rules, and who want a little extra air volume. Much wider than that does not make sense with tubulars: A wide tires has so much casing that the clincher rim no longer makes up a significant portion of the tire’s circumference. And that means that with truly wide tires, the advantages of tubulars disappear. But for narrow tires, a great tubular will transform your bike.

We’ve got twenty-one models of FMB tires in stock, in limited quantities.

31 Responses to FMB Tubulars

  1. Singlespeedscott March 18, 2020 at 3:44 am #

    Any thought to gluing your Rene Herse smooth tread to the 34 mm tubular?

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 7:00 am #

      We’ve often thought of making ultra-wide tubulars using our tread. But Rene Herse tires are vulcanized, and the tread does not exist until the tire is ‘baked.’ And once it’s vulcanized, the tread is impossible to remove from the tire. So if we want our own tread pattern on a tubular, we’ll have to make a mold just for the tread. Perhaps in the future?

    • KWW March 18, 2020 at 12:06 pm #

      Alternatively, convince FMB that there is a recreational market for ultra-wide tubulars with less agressive treads – say perhaps FMB could entertain a run of 34mm FMB Paris-Roubaix’s? Not everyone races, and not everyone weighs under 200lb.

  2. Steve Park March 18, 2020 at 7:21 am #

    Are the silk casing 700×30 any more delicate than the cotton casing? I normally run eltralight Compass road tires and find them durable enough. Setting aside price, is silk the equivalent of the extralight Compass?

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 7:45 am #

      According to FMB, the silk is as durable as cotton, just silk is a much more expensive material. When we developed our Rene Herse Extralight tires, we specifically benchmarked FMB’s tubulars for the ride quality we wanted.

    • Noel Hoffmann March 18, 2020 at 10:15 am #

      In my experience, silks have a wonderful sound and feel but are slightly more likely to cut and/or puncture. The also have a tendency to explode when punctured rather than go down more slowly like a cotton tire will.

      My experience is from a long time ago, however, and I have never used FMB silks. If ever I am rich again I would love to have a pair of 33mm silks mounted on my “Sunday best” wheels.

      • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 10:36 am #

        The ‘explosions’ when tubulars flatted were common in the days of 21.5 mm tires that we ran at 115 psi. It affected cotton casings, too. With the wider tires and (much) lower pressures we run today, flats are much less of a problem, and when a tire punctures, it does go down softly.

        Back in the day, I discovered tire wipers. I mounted them on my race bike, and never had a flat again (in 5 years of racing, where before, I had a flat every couple of months.)

        • MaxUtil March 18, 2020 at 11:58 am #

          Since you brought them up, two questions about tire wipers.
          1. Is it ideal to let them gently rub on the tire surface or to try to adjust so they are “just” above the surface?
          2. On some pictures it looks like you are mounting them so the attachment point is behind the contact point with the tire rather than in front. With the attachment point behind, don’t you get a situation where the tire will catch the wiper and drag it back with the tire rotation?
          3. (bonus) I’ve always heard these didn’t really work, but it seems you’ve have good experience. Thoughts?

          Thanks!

          • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 12:47 pm #

            1. They should rub gently on the surface. Setting them ‘just above’ would be nice, but in reality, you’ll be too far off to catch small debris.
            2. The wiper are mounted so they are ‘trailing’ when compared to the rotation of the tire. You are right, otherwise, the wiper would catch and get dragged back. Perhaps there is some confusion on which way the tire rotates.
            3. They do work. You’ve probably experienced that yourself: You ride over a bunch of glass, and nothing happens for a few seconds, and then you hear the hissing sound of air escaping. It takes a few wheel revolutions to hammer the debris into the tire. If you can wipe off the debris before that happens, you are good.
            That said, I no longer use tire wipers. With the wide tires I run, I have so few flats that I no longer bother.

    • T. Nielsen March 18, 2020 at 10:28 am #

      Tubulars are such a pita! But I always have loved them (those old made in Germany contis). I once ran wide on a tricky descent and went into some boulders and rocks. They were placed as energy dispersal for excess storm water runoff. Anyways, the impact was so severe I had a terrible flat spot and two broken spokes on my front wheel. The rim was cracked on both sides almost through. My tire still had pressure and was unscathed. Amazing! I disconnected my front rim brake and gingerly finished the century, many many hours later.

  3. Richard March 18, 2020 at 7:51 am #

    Thank you for stocking these!

    I just ordered a pair of Paris-Roubaix (30mm, silk casing), which will be the first tubulars I’ve ridden since I wore out my last pair of Clement Paris-Roubaix Seta tubulars. I never imagined I’d ride such a tire again.

    In retrospect, it’s amusing that everyone “knew” those tires were wrong for normal road riding (too wide, too heavy, too slow). Once I tried them there was no going back.

    I have a vivid recollection of rounding a corner side-by-side with a rider on skinny cotton tubulars pumped up hard. The turn was shaded by a large tree and was always a bit damp and slippery. The other rider lost traction instantly and went down hard but the wide silks held fast.

    That experience and others like it convinced me to fit the widest reasonable tires to every bike I’ve ridden since, and which, until relatively recently got me a lot of strange looks – and sometimes sympathy(!) for having to push so much harder because of my “slow” tires.

    I’m glad for the evolution in thinking and the great choice of tires that might otherwise not be available. Can’t wait to see what comes next 😉

  4. Simon March 18, 2020 at 8:04 am #

    Sorry but it’s inaccurate to say FMB were unavailable in North America, ARG Sports in Montreal have had them for years as a distributor.

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 9:40 am #

      You are right, there have been left-over stocks at some distributors for a while, and some small shops have imported these wonderful tires on their own, but until now, there hasn’t been a distributor who’s consistently keeping FMB tires in stock.

  5. Christian Burkhardt March 18, 2020 at 8:54 am #

    Any chance of making these as a tubular clincher like Tufo?

    I love riding tubular with sealant. I feel it’s a better ride than tubeless without all the mess.

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 9:44 am #

      Tubular clinchers (which are tubulars with a thick base that fits inside a clincher rim) have some fans who like to ride tubulars on clincher wheels. However, they are heavy and you still need a heavy clincher wheel, plus the few models that are available aren’t very supple. Most of us prefer supple clinchers: They are lighter, more supple and easier to fix on the road.

  6. Noel Hoffmann March 18, 2020 at 10:07 am #

    Fantastic news. I loved the Italian-made Clement Campionato del Mondos and Vittoria Paris-Roubaix but wore out my last pair more than 20 years ago. I have been able to use FMB every once in a while, but there never was a reliable supply here in America. Of course, with the economy the way it is, I have no idea when I will be able to order a pair, but at least I know where to get them when the time comes!

  7. Ulrik Haugen March 18, 2020 at 12:13 pm #

    Do you have anything to add about the branding (it doesn’t look as crisp as the René Herse tires).

    (I feel somewhat ill-mannered for calling attention to it but very often you have interesting explanations to things i might never have looked more closely at unprompted so i’ll ask anyway.)

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 12:43 pm #

      Yes, these are very hand-made. The logos are stamped onto the casings by hand. You’ll also see glue remains along the edges of the tread. Basically, these tires are intended for professional racers who want to go fast and win. I find the hand-made look very charming.

      By contrast, our Rene Herse clinchers are also assembled by hand, but the logos are decals that are applied and then fused with the tire casing when the entire tire is vulcanized. We still have more variation than mass-produced tires – mostly along the edge of the tread, since our tread is much thinner there.

  8. PK March 18, 2020 at 12:13 pm #

    With modern sealants there is no need to have a needle and thread handy for occasional flats. That makes these even better.

  9. Brendan March 18, 2020 at 12:44 pm #

    Do these have a removable valve core, so sealant can be injected?

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 1:51 pm #

      The valve cores are removable.

  10. Morten Reippuert March 18, 2020 at 3:38 pm #

    Just curious, Is this the stock that was ordered by the Pro teams for April now season is cancled? FMB’s are also hard to get in europe unless you place orders very early.

    Veloflex are made in europe too by the very same staff that was made redundant when Vittoria moved the production of their handmade tires to Thailand almost 30y ago.

    Nice handmade tubualrs are just nicer than anything else, a well made 28mm tub will transform a classic steel roadbike with rimbrakles into a very capable bike on quite rugged terain..Another plus for tubular is the rims where you can save 50-70g pr wheel and still keep the strength and stiffness.

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 5:22 pm #

      I wish we could get the professionals race tires with the Rene Herse logo on them!😉

      Veloflex tubulars are flat-glued – as were (and are) the Vittorias. They are nice, but not in the same league.

  11. Brian Postlewaite March 18, 2020 at 4:57 pm #

    Very pleased that you’re promoting tubulars; I thought I’d jumped the shark wanting to build a bike with them.

    Curious what rim recommendations you have. I’m intrigued by the Ambrosio Nemesis, which also aren’t regularly available in NA. If they’re good rims for FMB, maybe you should consider distributing them too!

    • Jan Heine March 18, 2020 at 7:59 pm #

      Tubular rims are pretty versatile. I run my 33 mm Super Muds on narrow 1980s Ambrosio racing rims. The only (minor) problem is that the brake track is not quite tall enough, so I have to keep my cantis perfectly adjusted all the time. In other words: Any tubular rim will work.

    • Morten Reippuert March 19, 2020 at 12:00 am #

      NOS camapagnolo V-Profile (Omega V, Lambda-V, Ypsilon-V & Seoul 88) are proberbly the tubular rim with the highests strength and stiffness to weight ratio. And they are very easy to build on and very well made. Average realworld for a 32h version is 390g.

      Jobst Brandt messured vertical stiffness on hundreds of wheels and found wheels build on these rims to have the the lest vertical flex. (including Lightweight, Zipp etc).

      Only problem is they where discontinued in 1998.

      NOS campagnolo boxsection rims similar to the Ambrosio Nemisis & F20 are also very well made and better made than the Reflex rim made by mavic fpr the past 20y. XL and Pave versions are 22mm wide.

  12. Marcoroni March 18, 2020 at 5:07 pm #

    Great to see FMB, previously only available in US through an the East Coast distributor for racers, now distributed by Rene Herse Cycles. Tubulars are amazing tires that have to be riidden to be appreciated, with their very agile feel that is hard to find in most any clincher. They are not practical for everyday use as they are now expensive, but worth the extra cost, effort, process to mount and the more durable version variations make this worthwhile.

  13. Marc Smulders March 18, 2020 at 5:50 pm #

    Hi jan,
    Another highly interesting article.
    One bit of text had me wondering though: ‘A tubular (top) has a round casing, so it can deform around its entire circumference’.
    That sounds logical, but in reality it seems not to be true; since the bottom of the tire is glued to the rim, that portion of the circumference won’t deform.
    I have no experience with tubular tires (yet, hopefully someday), and I don’t doubt the suppleness of tubulars, but seeing that the non-deformable portion of the circumference of tubulars seems about the same as that of clinchers, I’m thinking it there might be some other reason for the difference in suppleness?

    • Jan Heine March 19, 2020 at 12:02 pm #

      You are right, there is a little bit of glue that constrains the tire (although Jobst Brandt said that the tubular is always moving on the glue…) I corrected the post to say that the casing can deform around “most of its circumference,” rather than “its entire circumference.”

      Perhaps the best way to visualize it is looking at the height of the tire. On a tubular, you get the almost the entire height of the tire as suspension – the rim is a little curved, so you lose about 1-2 mm. That means a 25 mm tubular can flex about 23-24 mm before it bottoms out on the rim.

      On a clincher, you have the sidewalls that are about 6 mm above the bead seat. So on a 25 mm clincher, you have only about 19 mm before you bottom out. That is a significant difference.

  14. Donald Dickson March 20, 2020 at 8:59 am #

    I’ve been trying to figure out a way to mount tire wipers on my Gunnar Sport without fenders and with recessed brake center bolts. Any ideas? I have resorted to putting sealant in my tubulars in the mean time.

    Also, is your stock recent production ?- I’ll get a pair now and age them in the wine cellar while I wear out the tubs I have on hand.

    • Jan Heine March 20, 2020 at 1:15 pm #

      With recessed brake mounts, the tire wipers we sell are difficult to mount. Putting them on the front of the brake is possible, but since the mount is a round wire, it might allow the brake to flex more – not a good thing. There used to be tire wipers that used a flat aluminum mount, which you could sandwich on the brake bolt even at the front. But those were mass-produced, whereas the current models are bent by hand, one by one.

      On the rear, you might be able to attach the tire wiper to the chainstay bridge, if it has a hole for fender mounting. (It should face downward, trailing the tire.

      The FMB tires we were made earlier this year. You don’t need to age tires for long – the rubber cures within a month or two, so these are pretty much ready by the time you get them. Tire experts say that aging them longer doesn’t do much good, but it doesn’t hurt, either. And with the current situation in France, it may be best to stock up while they are in stock.