Pros are ditching tubulars to switch to the improved performance of road tubeless thanks to the premium construction of Specialized’s all-new Turbo RapidAir tires. Many of the riders of Deceuninck Quick-Step have opted for the new tubeless tire at this year’s Tour de France due to claims of lower rolling resistance, better grip, and it tangibly more supple ride. But marketing claims aside, it seems that early season results by the first riders to test the Turbo RapidAir prototypes spread word-of-mouth through the team ranks.
Specialized Turbo RapidAir pro-level tubeless road tire
We saw Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen win a sprint finish at the Tour of California this spring after having a mid-race puncture self-seal, and then go on to rave about their faster feel post-race. Now it seems more of his teammates are following suit. Apparently 5 out of 8 riders started the 2019 Tour on the new tubeless tire.
Is the yellow jersey holder racing each day with Turbo RapidAir tubeless tires on his Tarmac, or is he one of the few holdouts on tubulars? Valve stem nuts are a giveaway of the tubeless setup, while the natural cotton basetape peeking out above the rim is a telltale sign of tubulars. Actual tire labels are harder to confirm, since Julian Alaphilippe’s bikes have been spotted with or without production hot stamps.
Development of top-level road tubeless tires seems long-overdue. We’ve seen wholesale adoption of tubeless on pro mountain bikes, basically erasing the market for elite MTB tubulars more than a decade ago. But even though proponents of road tubeless have claimed lower rolling resistance, improved grip, better flat prevention & a smoother ride, most (but not all) road tubeless tires have been made with stiff, heavy vulcanized construction that couldn’t compare to high-quality tubulars in the end.
Now, Specialized looks ready to set a new road tubeless benchmark with their all-new Turbo RapidAir tubeless road tire. Specialized says founder Mike Sinyard’s first product was a tire, and even though we think of the brand more for its bikes now, they have continued to develop several premium road & MTB tires over the years. The Turbo has been sought after both as a tubular & a clincher. Now Specialized calls the new Turbo RapidAir the “best handling, smoothest riding, and fastest rolling tire our pros have ever used“. And that seems to be backed up as it’s the first tubeless tire we’ve seen typically conservative road pros pick over tubulars.
Many tubeless tires use many overlapping layers of butyl-impregnated fabric to get the necessary airtight construction & strength for road tubeless. (Road tubeless with pressures of ~100psi is definitely a bit more complicated than MTB tubeless where pressures are closer to ~30psi.)
Specialized says their new RapidAir road tubeless tire feature a patent-pending construction with just two fabric layers under the tread’s contact patch for increased flexibility. That will be crucial in matching the suppleness of tubulars, but more importantly in surpassing them on rolling resistance due to less hysteresis as the tire flexes & returns to shape.
While the crown of the Turbo RapidAir tire is more flexible, the sidewalls are thickened to offer stable support while cornering, and presumably anti-abrasion protection. The tire also features a tubeless-specific bead said to snap easily & securely to tubeless-ready rims, for easy tubeless setup.
The remaining plus of tubeless is sealant inside. Specialized says their RapidAir sealant was developed to combat the ‘run-flat’ capability of tubulars, by eliminating the flat in the first place.
Pricing & availability
Specialized hasn’t yet given much more specifics on the new road tubeless tire like what sizes will be available (besides the 28c versions we see here, and the 25c versions on Elia Viviani’s Venge above) or how much it will cost. But they have committed to consumer availability this autumn 2019. We’ll be waiting in anticipation.