TUFO Heron Tubular Wheels & XC5 29″er Tubular Tires – On Test: by c_g

Only recently we introduced you to the exceptionally lightweight AMERICAN CLASSIC Race 29″er wheels (here) and now we have taken delivery of the next wheelset for long term testing. Only these are tubulars. Since the specifications are very similar, this somewhat revives the old discussion/comparison between tubeless and tubulars on a 29″er MTB level.

Tufo Heron

Tufo Heron 29 tubs and XC5 Tubular tires

Many of our readers may disregard MTB tubulars as something only pro racers need, something that has no real relevance to them, but in my opinion this verdict is too short sighted. I agree – to this point tubular MTB tires have been attractive to racers only. The options in available tires was decent, but limited to dry conditions and racing-only tires such as the SCHWALBE Racing Ralph 2.0 tub, GEAX Saguaro 2.0 tub, some DUGASTs and the TUFO XC2 Plus. I also agree that this will remain to be the premium stronghold of tubulars, but our Eurobike´12 news showed that the TUFOs XC4 29″er and XC5 29″er (here) are aiming to put a wider perspective to 29″er MTB tubulars. As some may recall, I have had extensive riding time on board of a few tubulars, such as the GEAX Saguaro 2.0 tub (here) or the TUFO XC2 Plus (here) and I always came away deeply impressed, by the ride qualities, but wishing for a more aggressive tread design and larger volume – and while not in one tire, CZECH tubular manufacturer TUFO have made that wish come true.

It would be easy to knock out tubulars, due to their unfamiliar mounting procedure. Which when done the traditional way by gluing really can be very elaborate and messy, but when done with the TUFO double sided gluing tape really is pretty straight forward – see here Some dismiss tubulars since they require a specific tubular rim. But we at TNI dare to look at things from our own perspective and will give these wheels/tires a good go, evaluating them (also) by ride performance. Criticism like the inability to quickly change a tire before a ride and the impossibility to repair them on the trail are points well justified and inherent to the tubular system. However; our real world experiences so far have shown that snake bites very unlikely to happen, punctures (if happening) often can be assisted by injecting some sealant, and severe casing damages more often than not have you take a long walk home with any type of tire. When it comes to ride quality though, my position stands firm: Well made tubulars are awesome and surpassing any clincher type tire out there in smoothness and rolling resistance. What is more, tubular rims are rather simple structures and can be produced at very low weights from either carbon or alloy (several manufacturers offer products for 29″er MTB application like AX-LIGHTNESS -tested here-, ENVE, BOR, AMBROSIO, … and TUFO). So really, building a set of MTB tubs isn´t really out of reach or elevated for a enthusiast biker ;).


TUFO Heron 29″er wheels and XC5 29″er tires. So much for discussing the tubular versus clincher concept – now to our very real testing samples:

The structural basis of the test are TUFO´s own Heron 29″er wheels (already mentioned in the Eurobike´12 post here). The wheels are more or less traditional built sets with well proven high end components: – The robust and super light DT-SWISS 240s hubs (star ratchet freewheel, Centrelock)

The equally high end SAPIM CX-Ray bladed spokes (28 pcs, 2x crossed) and the TUFO Heron 29″er carbon rims, which are applying different carbon weaves into one structure. Around the spoke holes there is a 3k-weaving, while everything else visually seems to be made up of UD-carbon. The proprietary alloy nipples are completely inside the rims, something other manufacturers are doing as well (e.g. ENVE). Unfortunately this means you have to take off the tires if the need comes for retensioning the spokes – let´s hope it won´t happen too often ;).

TUFO offers their wheels only with a set of their tubulars already installed (usually the XC2 Plus – on demand any other tubular, in our case it came with the XC5). Considering the combo the asking price of € 1590.- does not seem too elevated. There also is a Lefty specific version available. TUFO states a maximum rider´s weight of 92 kg or 203 lbs fort he Heron 29″er.

If you´d like to go more budget and 200g added weight don´t bother you, you could go for TUFO´s ALCA 29″er wheels, which rely on an alloy rim, DT-SWISS 350 hubs and 32 spokes (here 3x crossed), which sell for € 770.- or. 790.- fort he X12-version (also with tires installed). Since the wheels came with tires installed we couldn’t weigh the Heron 29″er wheels separately, but in theory after subtracting the tires (see weight further down) and the gluing tape (appx. 30g per wheel) we calculate a really good 1455g (this would be 775g for the rear and 680g for the front).

As mentioned, the tubular tires mounted on the wheels are the XC5 29 that TUFO states as training and all condition tires. The casing is a bit more robust than their other MTB tubs (a lower 120 TPI count as opposed to 210 TPI) and the truly aggressive tread design should make them a perfect match for our mixed and demanding trail conditions this time of year. The TUFO XC5 29er tires sell for € 89.90 a piece. At an actual 609g (we received one separate tub sample) the XC5 29“ is right in the middle between a light weight race tire and a everyday all-arounder.Our test sample tires come in at 48 mm casing width and 50.5 mm tread width when inflated to 2.0 bar – all being very true and precisely manufactured (something many tubular manufacturers are struggling with).

By tread design, dimensions and weight the TUFO XC5 run close to the WTB Moto 1,9 TCS 29er (introduced here) – only that the XC is more rounded by cross section. Since we simultaneously are running the Moto on the AMERICAN CLASSIC Race 29 wheels – a direct comparison is only practical … accompanied by the final testing of the WTB Moto.

With these two combinations we have something very similar by specs but fundamentally different technological approach – which makes the comparison all the more interesting.