It feels like summer has just begun in Seattle, and yet cyclocross season is just two months away. ‘Cross is huge fun and riding multiple laps on a slippery course is a great way to hone bike handling skills. If I take a corner too fast, I’ll scrub off most of my speed in a big slide. The next time around, I slow my corner entry speed to find that perfect balance right at the limit. And if I feel that I’ve braked too much for a section that looked more tricky than it really was, I can go a bit faster the following lap. Since mud is soft and speeds are (relatively) low, the risk of injury is relatively low even if you make a big mistake and fall off your bike.

Traditionally, cyclocross was raced on standard road bikes during the winter off-season. Until about 1970, you could put on a set of knobby tires, and your Tour de France-winning road bike was ready for ‘cross. For about 50 years, road bikes then featured narrower tires, and dedicated ‘cross bikes were born. However, the idea that a ‘cross bike should essentially be a road bike remained, hence the UCI instated a rule that limited tires to 33 mm wide for cyclocross.

Tubular tires (top) have remained popular in ‘cross long after they fell from favor on the road. For racers who are bound by the UCI tire limit of 33 mm—and also for those who enjoy the idea of riding a road bike off-road—tubulars remain the best choice. Tubular tires sit on top of the rim, so the entire tire flexes and absorbs bumps. That makes them more comfortable, faster, and less likely to bottom out than clinchers (bottom), which are constrained by a U-shaped rim. (The advantage of tubulars decreases as tires get wider, since the rim makes up less of the tire’s circumference. That’s why there aren’t ultra-wide tubulars for gravel racing.)

FMB is the last company to make tubulars by hand in France, in a small shop in Brittany. These amazing tires are made to order. They are sewn by hand (below), and the treads are glued onto the inflated tire casing to minimize inbuilt stresses and maximize speed.

Rene Herse Cycles has been importing FMB tubulars for many years now, after falling in love with the tires when I returned to ‘cross racing. To ensure that all racers can get the tubulars of their choice, we are now taking pre-orders for the ‘cross season. Orders will be taken until July 13. Since FMB tubulars are made to order, the earlier you order, the sooner you will get your tires.

Of course, FMB also makes the world’s best road tubulars—tires that have been ridden to victory in the biggest races. Coming in widths from 23 to 30 mm, with cotton or silk casings, these are the tires you’ll want if your bike is equipped with tubular rims. We have most models in stock, and you can pre-order the others.

Of course, ‘cross is great fun even if you don’t race on a dedicated ‘cross bike. Most races in North America don’t enforce the UCI 33 mm tire limit, unless you race as a pro. All others can race any bike they want, and run clinchers like our 700×38 Steilacooms (above), named after an iconic ‘cross course near Seattle. Whatever bike you ride, I suggest you join the fun and give ‘cross a try. And if you live near Seattle, I hope to see you at the races!

More Information:

  • FMB tubular pre-order