When the phone rings, you answer it. That’s a pretty well accepted practice even if songs about spider webs and the rise of texting and voicemail would have you believe differently. When the phone rings and it’s Richard Nieuwhuis of A. Dugast you drop everything, find the nearest pad of paper and listen. His enthusiasm and excitement for the sport is clear in every word and every action he’s taken in the cycling world.
As a student of cycling I’ve learned to listen to every little things. I pour over photos, tweets and news articles like a true “fanboy” and listen intently to whatever English broadcast is available (learning flemish is pretty difficult in Texas). Most of the time tidbits in the commentary are things I know, information I read on a myriad of websites, found researching rider stats or read in a tweet. One thing stood out during the recent commentary during Cyclocross Worlds in Zolder: the favorite riders in the race were on new tires!
You’d think that for a race as prestigious as worlds that equipment choices would be set in stone weeks before. Sponsors changed on January 1 for some teams and riders would have tested their new equipment well before that (does Chrome’s incognito mode work for sponsor commitments?). But when you’re dealing with Richard and Dugast Tires you might be accustomed to hand delivery of new tires in the pits at some of the worlds biggest races!
The Dugast Tire Company has been making tires since 1972 the same way. By hand. The small and dedicated staff, led by current owner Richard, sews the cotton casings around latex inner tubes, adds the distinctive patches and glues on the iconic treads. That’s not going away and the amazing quality and ride characteristics of the handmade tubular will stay.
Richard and Dugast are highly involved with those they support, going to all the big races to watch, get feedback and even glue up new tires. The newest developments all started with a conversation. Four-time (and current) World Champion in cross-country mountain bike Nino Schurter quickly noticed that as World Cup courses for the XCO discipline continued to evolve the demands of traction and durability became higher. Many riders have gone tubeless, using specially constructed rims and a combination of beefed up tires, air sealing tape and latex sealant and while tubeless clincher technology has progressed steadily and has many benefits, weight is not at the top of that list.
When you race at the highest levels you demand every advantage you can get within the spirit and rules of the sport. Team Sky has coined that marginal gains and bicycle racing has become a science in many aspects. On the XCO Mountain Bike sidelines you’ll find racers using normal clinchers with latex tubes pretty often for their weight and ride quality alongside those using tubeless and a few who use tubulars. In pro road racing you’ll rarely find something that isn’t a tubular, though manufacturers and teams have started experimenting with clinchers and tubeless in the past few years. Pro cyclocross isn’t much different with the top racers using tubulars and only a handful of riders using tubeless or tubed clinchers for practical or sponsorship reasons.
Dugast always looks to give their racers this edge and create products that the bicycle riding masses will also love. When Nino came up and needed something new for that edge Dugast knew that to progress tubular technology the innertube had to go. Anyone who’s studied the market will know that Tufo pioneered the tubeless tubular by creating a fully sealed tire with the tread molded into the casing. Tufo tires are created in a similar way as a traditional clincher but is sealed to create a gluing surface. Ride quality is determined by the compounds used in the rubber and the threads per inch used in construction. Tufo continues to create great tires and more recently the Clement tire brand was updated to utilize the same methods and has gotten their tires all over the pro and amateur cyclocross circuits.
Dugast is a little more traditional, utilizing a sewn-up cotton casing with a cotton base tape and rubber tread attached to the casing. The cotton casing gives exceptional ride quality and traction when run at appropriate pressures but the latex innertube is vulnerable to pinch flats and punctures that are hard to seal with sealant. To remove the innertube you need to create an airtight casing which with cotton is tougher to do than rubber. Dugast has never been afraid of innovation having once released a studded ice tread now banned by the UCI and a tread with glass mixed in for traction in the toughest of conditions. It’s taken over 6 months of R&D under riders but Dugast believes they’ve cracked the technology. Dugast has been testing MTB versions since June 2015 and cyclocross versions since the December Holy Week.
Utilizing a latex and neoprene layer to make the cotton airtight they’ve layered in a “weave of glues” in between the two cotton layers to tune the ride quality. They use this layer to tune both rebound and damping qualities of the tire to provide as much useful traction as possible and keep a great ride quality while offering a more durable tire. Cyclocross tires with the new tubeless technology are in the final stages of testing while new MTB tires are ready for release. Richard also mentioned bringing this technology to the road peloton and believes it’s perfect for Paris Roubaix and other cobbled classics and told me to keep a close eye on road teams in the near future.
The tires already have a pedigree. They won the 2015 XC Mountain Bike Worlds along with the Rio Olympic test event under Nino Schurter and the recent Cyclocross worlds at Zolder under Wout Van Aert. Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Lars Boom were also on the new tires. Boom told Dugast that he was running almost double his usual pressure of 1.3 bar by airing his tires to 2.1 bar and Sven Nys adding nearly half a bar compared to usual at 1.8! Dugast also believes that the new tires helped Boom ride into the top 15 after his back row start and comparing to the Namur World Cup where he rode traditional Dugasts.
The Tubeless Tubular might not be for everyone at first. Richard believes that those that come from a road background or MTB will like the new feel faster than those used to Cyclocross tubulars that fold and roll under you at low pressures. He hasn’t decided where the new tires will fit in the product line but will continue to tweak the ride quality to suit the most riders. Thanks to the added rebound and damping of the tire he cautions that it requires a different style of riding and control when comparing to traditional tubulars but that once you’re all-in the benefits are great.
Durability is also claimed to be top notch and Schurter has ridden the new tires for 8 months in both training and racing with zero flats. I was told a story of a tire that survived a rim failure and even one that survived 6 thorns after a race in Tuscany. The new tires can be used with a liquid sealant designed especially for Dugast, only using 20ml per tire. Dugast even wants the new tires to be raced in the Cape Epic, a race known for tire failure from terrain and where flat changes are the norm. A product that holds up when the team car isn’t behind you will also be great for those riding and racing for fun!
MTB Versions of the new tubeless tires should be available in March while Cyclocross and Road versions are continuing testing.
This is an updated version of the article that was posted here on 2/1. -LD 2/3